Back in 2007 a friend of mine told me that it was possible to hear the space shuttle with a simple radio receiver. I didn't quite believe him so I decided to study this bold statment. I quickly found other people on the internet that had done this with simple equipment.
One of the first pages I found was Satellitenwelt and this guy had some cool recordings. And I soon found out that there was an IRC called #hearsat where other nerds like myself could talk about all this stuff. On UHF-Satcom I found a lot of information and soundclips from fellow nerds across the world.
The first attempt my friend and I made was in june 2007. We had seen on the news that space shuttle Atlantis (STS-117 mission) was about to be launched. Some weeks earlier I had received my Dorne & Margolin DMC120 satcom antenna that I found on eBay. At the time I had two 685A receivers from Reaction Instruments that we could use. The day came and we spend a lot of time setting it all up. And we heard NOTHING...zip, nada, zero!
After the failure we figured that we needed help from the other nerds on #hearsat. Two months later the space shuttle Endeavour (STS-118 mission) was ready. And this time it was going to be a success...or not...again NOTHING! I decided that I would need some sort of low noise amplifier between the antenna and my radio. In my junk-box I found an "Low" noise amplifier from Watkins Johnson and used that. The noise figure of this LNA was about 4 dB (7-8 dB measured) but I didn't know better back in 2007.
In february 2008 it was time for space shuttle Atlantis (STS-122 mission) to be launched. This time I would use my Watkins Johnson WJ-8615 receiver which is better then the Reaction Instruments receivers. Again NOTHING...but this time I found out that my radio was out of calibration. And this is an old receiver and it was WAY out of calibration. I thought I was listening to 259.7 MHz but it was closer to 269.7 MHz and of course I didn't hear a thing.
March 2008 was the month that I first heard the space shuttle with my own equipment. I didn't think I would hear anything because people on #hearsat talked about a bad transmitter on Endeavour. STS-123 was launched on the 11th and this time I could hear it very weak.
I have later learned more about the space shuttle communications system. It turns out that the UHF system has two power settings. In the HIGH setting (which is normally used) it transmit 10W of power. And in the LOW setting it only transmit 0.250W of power. I think it is pretty amazing that a 0.250W signal send from the space shuttle passing over the netherlands can be picked up by my little antenna here in Denmark.
And from there on I pretty much heard the shuttle every time it was launched. And I'm still listening in...
...and now the year is 2011 and the shuttle program has just ended. As one of the guys on #hearsat said "We're all suffering post-shuttle depression here!" and he couldn't be more right. The main idea with my page has always been the space shuttle and now that has reached the end.
According to CNN the shuttle has carried 355 people into space from 16 countries.