Launching your own satellite into Space is becoming a relatively affordable option, but it still involves huge risk and costs. Whilst we won’t be launching our own satellites just yet, we can learn more about amateur satellites through educational and research projects. Participating in an existing project is easier than you may think, with a general understanding of computers, at the cost of a couple of coffees.
It’s an impressive achievement when a project launches a satellite into Space, but it is arguably a more challenging achievement to build and maintain a global network of listening stations that make experimentation and observations possible.
The sky above you in your area of the world is a valuable resource. As a satellite circles the Earth, it will eventually come in range of your location. The signals received by your Ground Station are relayed back to the project via the Internet. Without coverage all over the world, there may be vast areas where nobody can listen to the satellite. Time is a precious resource whilst a satellite is in Space and waiting for the next Ground Station to come into range may cause delays to research and experimentation.
If you are interested in learning more about satellites and radio, then FossaSat satellites and their excellent community on Telegram is a great place to start. They are launching new satellites, which are always exciting to track and receive, but also you could be part of their worldwide Ground Station network. In order to transmit signals, you will need an Amateur Radio / Ham Radio license, but anyone can receive the signals from the satellites.
A Ground Station can be built using an ESP32 based microcontroller with an integrated 433MHz LoRa radio module. This can be purchased for around $20 and no electronics knowledge is required, making this an accessible project for education and learning.
The following videos below by Andreas Spiess provide a starting point for learning about the Fossa Ground Stations and the launch of FossaSat-1. Unfortunately, FossaSat-1 is no longer operational, but the Ground Stations are still receiving signals from satellites like Norbi, which was developed at Novosibirsk State University.