The first Amateur Radio equipment was delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) in September 2000 and an Amateur Radio station was established onboard for use by Astronauts who are licensed Radio Amateurs. Commander William Shepherd, KD5GS, made the first Amateur contacts in November of that year. Most of the astronauts on the International Space Station are licensed Radio Amateurs and sometimes during their spare time they talk to other Radio Amateurs back on earth. There is a special thrill in talking to an astronaut out in space!
Almost any 144 MHz FM radio will receive the ISS, you can even use a general coverage VHF scanner with an external antenna. As far as the antenna is concerned the simpler the better. A ¼ wave ground plane has a high angle of radiation and works well. You can receive the ISS outdoors using a 144 MHz hand-held with its helical antenna but a 1/4 wave whip will give far better results. The aim to start with is simply to listen to the sounds from the satellite. You can check the current mode of operation on the ISS Fan Club website.
The ISS amateur radio station is used primarily for school contacts. These educational contacts enable students to communicate directly via Amateur Radio with the Astronauts and ask them questions. In recent years a number of schools have made contact with the space station thanks to volunteers from
The ISS is in a very low orbit and so is only in range 5 or 6 times each day and then only for a maximum of 10 minutes on the best orbit. This means you need to make sure you’re listening at the right time to hear it. There are a number of websites that tell you when to listen such as the orbital predictions on the ISS Fan Club site. Frequencies and much more information is available on the AMSAT websites and the ARISS link below.