how to receive radio transmissions from the space shuttle?
February 27, 2007 11:55 AM   Subscribe

I want to purchase a radio (receiver) that can pick up transmissions from the space shuttle (preferably unedited), etc. What range do they broadcast in & is this possible? Also, (unrelated), is it possible to purchase glasses or binoculars that let's you see infared?

I know the big professional radio guys can pick up some broadcasts from nasa's mission control & from the space shuttle...but can a general layman (such as myself) purchase a radio/device that can do it also ? & do i need to mortgage my house to buy one?

I know you can pay someone to adjust many video cameras to record "night vision" during the day & therefore view in infared... but is there anyother way to do this?
posted by foodybat to Technology (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a How-To.
Here's a list of repeaters and frequencies, there might be one in your area.
NASA TV is streamed.
posted by Floydd at 12:16 PM on February 27, 2007

Looking at the table of frequencies from Floydd's link, it looks like you need to find an HF receiver capable of operating in SSB mode. I have a Sangean ATS-505P which tunes LW/AM/FM/HF with continuous coverage from 1711-29,990 kHz including SSB. It should be able to tune the WA3NAN repeaters, but I haven't tried it yet. Universal Radio carries them for $120. Grundig is another well-known name in shortwave receivers, look here for reviews.
Buying an HF receiver will also introduce you to "the wonderful world of shortwave radio listening," which in the U.S. means a lot of conservative religious stations and Anti-American propaganda courtesy of Radio Havana. (Not entirely true; I pick up a lot of really cool stuff from Canada, NHK, the BBC, and others when the conditions are right.)
Unless you live in D.C, you will probably need to set up an external antenna as well. If you live in an urban area, consider building a magnetic loop antenna. The built-in whip on portable receivers is an excellent antenna for picking up all sorts of local noise from power lines, appliances, nearby industrial equipment, your PC, etc, but it is not very good for picking up low-power signals. You will also need to know a little bit about HF propagation to figure out which frequencies will be most useful at what times of the day.
posted by leapfrog at 12:53 PM on February 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I should also note that there are a few wideband scanners (like the Uniden BR330T or Yaesu VR-120D) which can tune HF (that is, shortwave, like the WA3NAN repeaters) as well as the VHF channels which are actually transmitted by the shuttle and crew, although that reception will be limited to times when the shuttle is overhead and the sky is clear. It will also be able to pick up any local repeaters on the 2-meter band (144-148 MHz).
But, with great bandwidth comes great antenna problems. The "rubber duck" style antenna that comes with it will be well suited for picking up your neighbor's cordless phone and not much else. You will need to find or build other antennas to pick up anything but the strongest signals in the HF and VHF bands.
posted by leapfrog at 1:10 PM on February 27, 2007

It should be noted that the documented frequencies referenced in Floydd's link are from 1989. I suspect they're likely to be pretty out of date.

The other page, with howto information, is more likely accurate.

WA3NAN has their own site which is fairly up to date, and includes an external link to amateur repeaters that carry NASA radio. If there's one of these in your area, any decent Radio Shack scanner, coupled with a slightly better antenna than what it comes with, would probably work for you.
posted by autojack at 1:24 PM on February 27, 2007

I just think that it's worth clarifying that most of the frequencies listed, including all the HF ('shortwave') ones, are not coming directly from the Shuttle. They're being relayed via a club in Greenbelt, MD, which is affiliated with the Goddard Center. Basically, they monitor and interact directly with the Shuttle, and broadcast the results on terrestrial frequencies, which are then retransmitted by various people on VHF repeaters all over the country. I'm not sure that's it's really any more "direct" to listen to a ground-based HF repeater, than it would be just to listen to it streamed over the internet with equipment you already have, but that's just me. (Although, if you have an interest in HF/SW radio besides just as a way to hear Shuttle audio, by all means go for it! Both Amateur radio and shortwave listening are great hobbies.)

If you want to listen to the original HF transmissions from Greenbelt, and you don't live in the DC metro area, you might want to do some reading on HF propagation, since that's going to influence whether you'll hear anything or not. Googling will turn up enough information to let you read about it for the rest of your life, although the introductory movie here isn't too bad.

If you want to listen to the Shuttle directly, the second half of the page on Floydd's first link is a good start. (As others have pointed out, I think the TOTSE one is more of historical interest.) But you're only going to be able to hear them when they're overhead, and you have a fairly directional antenna pointed at the part of the sky where the Shuttle is. (You'll probably want a handheld Yagi antenna in addition to a handheld VHF receiver or scanner.)

During a Shuttle mission, you can get the orbital data from AMSAT or NASA, and plug them into a simulator program which will tell you when it'll be overhead, and where to point your antenna.

Alternately, if you're interested in this stuff, the best and most fun way might be to find a ham club nearby, and see if there's anyone there who does AMSAT stuff; they'll be able to get you started a lot faster than you'll ever do on your own by reading stuff online. Some things are best learned in person.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:36 PM on February 27, 2007

Hmmm. Nasa frequency pick-ups and infrared binocs. Just what are you looking to do?
posted by parmanparman at 3:06 PM on February 27, 2007

Thanks for the link, Kadin2048!
posted by ae4rv at 3:20 PM on February 27, 2007

That was my first Flash movie, by the way.
posted by ae4rv at 3:21 PM on February 27, 2007

The Shuttle doesn't communicate directly with the ground. It communicates via TDRS. And communication with TDRS is digital, even for voice.

I'm not sure it can be received from the ground, but if it were, what you'd receive is digitized voice. Unless you knew what codec they were using, and how to crack any encryption they're using (and I'd bet it is encrypted) you'd be SOL.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:17 PM on February 27, 2007

No, there's no purely optical way to make infrared visible. You need electronics to do it, like that video camera trick or "night vision" goggles or whatever.

I think you'd have to add energy somehow - IR is lower energy than visible light. UV can make stuff fluoresce in the visible range, but IR cannot.

I've done a fair amount of IR photography, for fun, and have researched this kind of thing sort of extensively. It's a neat world, and it would be fun to see IR.
posted by aubilenon at 5:28 PM on February 27, 2007

Most of those night-vision things work by simply removing IR filters.
posted by delmoi at 6:03 PM on February 27, 2007

Removing the IR filter from a video camera or digital still camera gets you "Near-IR" vision -- that is, the part of the IR spectrum that's relatively close to visible light. You'll probably need an IR lamp to see anything interesting in the dark. As far as I know, you won't be picking people out of the underbrush with NIR -- for "heat-vision" you'll want a (traditionally cryo-cooled) Far-IR camera, which tends to be MUCH more expensive (to the tune of thousands of dollars). This's what firefighters and the military use.

On the other hand, I recently saw an episode of This Old House where an energy auditor used what looked like a modified MiniDV camera to spot poorly-insulated areas in a house, which would require thermal vision, so maybe my background is no longer correct.
posted by Alterscape at 12:50 PM on February 28, 2007

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