MARTS Jan 2016 ISS Talk Review

On Friday the 29th of January 2016, four Essex Hams crossed from Essex into Kent to enjoy the hospitality of MARTS, the Medway Amateur Radio Transmitting Society. Making the trip were Dorothy M0LMR, Richard G7OED, Graham G7JYD and Pete M0PSX.

Members of MARTS regularly make the trip through the tunnel to the monthly Essex Skills Night, hosted by CARS, so a group visit over to Kent was well overdue. MARTS meet weekly at Tunbury Hall in Chatham. Dorothy and Richard have visited before (see Dorothy’s MARTS November Report), and Dorothy is a regular on the MARTS net. Here’s a summary of the evening, prepared by Pete M0PSX:

I arrived just slightly ahead of the start of the meeting and received a friendly welcome from MARTS member John G6IVP. As other member started arriving, the hall soon began to fill up, including a few familiar faces who I’ve met at the Essex Skills Night. Especially good to see Terry G3VFC (a big supporter of both Essex Ham and the Skills Nights in Danbury) and Ozzie G1OFL, a member of Kent RAYNET.

Full marks to MARTS for their tea and coffee, plus the rather too tempting array of cakes, doughnuts and biccies… a couple of which kept me company on the way home! After some socalising, it was on to the evening’s main event…

ISS Contact – Behind The Scenes

Speaker for the evening was Steve Thomas M1ACB, RSGB Regional Manager for England East and East Anglia. Steve was one of the six RSGB representatives at the first Tim Peake ISS contact in early January, and has been heavily involved in the preparations, so was in an excellent position to offer a unique insight into just how much planning and effort goes into arranging a schools contact like this.

RSGB's Steve M1ACB presenting his talk on the Sandringham School ARISS contact
RSGB’s Steve M1ACB presenting his talk on the Sandringham School ARISS contact

The plan to involve schools started with Tim’s announcement in March 2015, with the shortlist of 10 schools being confirmed in September. A lot of work has taken place to make these contacts possible, with involvement and co-operation between organisations such as ARISS, ESA, AMSAT-UK, NASA, BATC and the RSGB, as well as of course, the schools and the amateur radio clubs supporting the schools.

December 15th saw Tim blast off to the ISS, with various launch events. Steve was at the Cardiff launch event, and gave an overview of the day. The RSGB were able to have a very good presence at the launch event, in front of some prestigious organisations. Steve reports that one key lesson learned, is not to put all of the sweets out in one hit, especially if there are groups of primary school kids around!

With Tim now in orbit, the focus was firmly on the first contact – the morning of the 8th of January 2016, at Sandringham School in St Albans. Three girls were put through the full Foundation course with the help of the Verulam Amateur Radio Club, who were there on the day of the contact supporting the event. Year 10 pupil Jessica was selected as the lead for the contact, and got her licence and the callsign M6LPJ in time for the contact. Ahead of the contact, there was also a very popular Buildathon for others at the school – with 24 youngsters building receivers using RSGB kits funded by the Radio Communications Foundation (RCF).

On the day of the contact, a special event station was running, using the callsign GB1SAN – the callsign used for the actual contact with GB1SS. Jessica was in control of the PTT throughout – Although a daunting task, and with the world watching and listening, she was incredibly calm and professional, even though the initial delay in making contact was a little ‘tense’.

The rest is pretty well known and has been heavily reported. If you want to see the entire event, a full YouTube video is available: Sandringham School ARISS Contact (Youtube)

Steve filled us in on a few things that haven’t been included in some of the other reports – including what happened around 90 minutes before the actual contact. The school’s headmaster is licensed, and he had been keeping an eye on the pass times. Everyone involved was encouraged to head outside – as the sun had yet to rise, the ISS was clearly visible, allowing the announcement that they’d be making contact “next time around”.

Steve M1ACB from the RSGB, explaining the ISS tracking dashboard
Steve M1ACB from the RSGB, explaining the ISS tracking dashboard

After the event, and LOTS of TV and radio interviews, there was still activity, with other classes coming in to see the setup, and the Verulam club running a station on HF. Jessica M6LPJ was introduced to the HF station, and was put on, mid-pile-up, to try a few QSOs. An already busy pileup wasn’t eased after Jessica announced she was the one who’d made first contact with Tim Peake. Steve’s not heard an explosion of noise on 40m like that ever before!

Another unexpected surprise, post-contact, was the headmaster receiving a call from a Houston, Texas number – with a connection to Tim, who thanked the school for the historic contact.

Steve’s presentation (driven using his iPad as the controller), was a good mix of text and more importantly, photos, showing behind-the-scenes at the launch event and first ARISS contact – and those in attendance now know what to look out for at future events.

There was also some talk of the “legacy” – that schools such as Sandringham will be encouraged (and supported) to keep the momentum, with follow-up sessions, involvement with local clubs, possible Foundation courses, and hopefully even in-school amateur radio clubs.

The new RSGB 21st Century Hobby video received a couple of mentions in Steve’s talk too – The video was played at the December launch event, and played full-screen in front of the media at the school, as well as streamed around the world. The video was introduced by the RSGB’s Youth Committee Chairman Mike 2E0MLJ, and was very well received. The video features several members of the Essex Ham team, and is narrated by our very own Kelly M6KFA. Great that some Essex talent has helped to promote the hobby and hopefully inspire youngsters to get involved in the hobby.


A cracking talk from Steve M1ACB, with lots of insight into what goes on to make a contact like that happen, and managing to convey a sense of the feeling in the room when the first faint crackles of Tim appeared. Another nine UK schools are on the shortlist for a possible ARISS contact between now and Tim’s return in early June. A huge undertaking, but a massive opportunity for the spotlight to be shone on amateur radio, and one we as amateurs should seize!

Richard G0OED, Dorothy M0LMR and Graham G6JYD - three Essex Hams in Kent
Richard G7OED, Dorothy M0LMR and Graham G6JYD – three Essex Hams in Kent

Thanks the MARTS team for making the four Essex visitors so welcome, to Terry G3VFC for the tour, and to Steve M1ACB for putting a lot of effort into a polished and informative talk. Thanks also to Ozzie G1OFL for the demo of Broadnet, on a mobile phone with a PTT – I managed to make my first Broadnet contact (with Paul M0LOM from Essex RAYNET).

Written by Pete M0PSX

Making contact on Broadnet, via a phone phone with a PTT
Making contact on Broadnet, via a phone phone with a PTT

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  1. M0LMR 31 January 2016 Reply

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