A highlight of the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC)'s Long Night of the Stars open-house was live, public amateur radio contact with astronauts onboard the International Space Station. Now you can watch the video.
During the radio contact, the station was orbiting almost directly overhead at an altitude of 360 kilometres at 20:54 local time on Saturday, 18 September 2004. The discussion was broadcast on-site to all visitors via ESOC's loudspeaker system and elicited passionate applause.
The idea to host an amateur radio call with the ISS as part of the Long Night events came from Michael Khan, who works in ESOC's Mission Analysis Section and is a keen member of Darmstadt's "Arbeitsgemeinschaft Astronomie und Weltraumtechnik" (AAW), a local amateur astronomy club.
ESOC radio club members were quick to endorse the idea, and Khan contacted Gaston Bertels, the manger for Europe at ARISS (Amateur Radio on the ISS). With a sell-out crowd expected at ESOC on 18 September, it wasn't too difficult to get approval for the call.
ARISS helps students get keen on technology
The all-volunteer ARISS program aims at helping students experience the excitement of amateur radio by talking directly with crewmembers on the ISS and in so doing boost interest in science, technology, and space.
The call was placed from ESOC's amateur station, call sign "DL0ESA," located in a container trailer on top of the centre's parking garage. "The club has equipment to operate on amateur radio short-wave bands at HF, or high frequency, as well as VHF (very-high frequency) and UHF (ultra-high frequency) and some microwave bands," says Rolf Maarschalkerweerd, from ESOC's Spacecraft Operations Engineers Office and a radio club member.
Video coverage of rare event
The call is now history, and earlier this week club members finished editing a video report of the conversation with ISS astronaut Mike Fincke (to watch the club's video, access the link at right).
The video programme shows Alessandro Donati, from ESOC's Mission Control Technologies Office, handling a live phone feed of the radio conversation (the ARISS's Bertels had asked to listen live).
Beside him is Boris Smeds, club chairman and head of the Systems and Requirements Section, who operated two PCs used for automatic antenna tracking and calculation of Doppler shift and other signal parameters.
Others who volunteered in the call included Stefan Bode, from the local Greisheim town radio club; Stefan provided frequency control for up and downlink Doppler compensation and acted as back-up for manual antenna pointing; he also ran the amplifier that broadcast the conversation on-site to the public at ESOC. Many other members of the club supported the effort as well.
In the call, after answering questions on a typical day aboard the ISS (scientific experiments and on-going maintenance) and what the crew do for relaxation (call their families and watch DVDs), Astronaut Fincke wished ESOC visitors "A special goodnight" before the station orbited out of line-of-sight radio range. He also urged listeners to "Think about other humans and our future together."