A Christmas Present from the International Space Station

This year, the Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station are transmitting Slow-Scan TV (SSTV) images to Earth via Amateur radio.

The images are Russian (from one of the Russian cosmonauts currently on board the ISS) - and apparently (according to a Russian friend of a friend) the images are to do with celebrating Yuri Gagarin's 80th birthday. There are 12 in total being transmitted - the image I captured happens to be the 12th!

So, how did I get into doing this? I have dabbled in amateur radio for a while, and I heard about the SSTV images from the ISS. I set out one evening while the ISS was passing over to see if I could pick up any signal on my handheld radio. It was quite an eerie experience - if you haven't heard SSTV transmissions before, they're kind of an unearthly whistle/screeching noise. Couple this with the isolation (I was standing in a field), the cold evening, and the fact that it was pitch black and deserted outside, and you have the ingredients for a pretty surreal experience.

I was lucky enough to capture the most part of an image that evening, and here's the (partial - poor quality) image I managed to get. It doesn't look like much - but that picture came from space! I'm still a little starstruck (no pun intended) and today will go down in my memory as one of the highlights of 2014.
ISS SSTV image (12/12)

Want to receive your own? Read on.

Receiving SSTV from the ISS

Advance warning: contains amateur radio jargon

Well, all you need is a £10 DVB stick (RTL2832U chipset), a little bit of open-source software (GQRX and QSSTV), and a lot of luck.

In GQRX, set your monitoring frequency to 145.800MHz (the downlink frequency for the ISS and a few other radio satellites). Make sure you adjust the squelch value properly - you don't want an SSTV transmission that's full of static! The SSTV image encoding from the ISS is PD180 (this is important if you only receive a partial image).

Then it's just a question of waiting for the ISS to fly overhead and recording when you can!

Good luck.

Charles Newey's Image
Charles Newey