How to use Satellite QSOs for SOTA

AMSAT LEO QSOs are quick with limited information being exchanged. What follows is the AMSAT recommended standard QSO. Information exchanged is call sign and grid square. Is the following QSO sufficient to log as a SOTA contact?

Suggested Fox-1 Basic QSO Tips A very busy single channel FM satellite is like any FM repeater and you do not call CQ. Exchanges will be crisp and very short, so do not expect to have a lengthy conversation about the weather or your station configuration. To previent interfering with other stations listening before transmitting is important: if two other stations are in the middle of the exchange, let them finish. Even though a pass is short, the exchanges are even shorter. You will get a shot so please be patient and respectful of others.
• Listen for others • Listen for yourself using full-duplex operating technique “W4ABC” (make sure you have your 67.0 Hz CTCSS switched on!) • You hear “K9XYZ” • You say “K9XYZ W4ABC EM74” • You hear “W4ABC K9XYZ QSL EN52” • You say “K9XYZ W4ABC QSL 73”


Sadly, from the perspective of 3 years later I don’t think the AMSAT recommended QSO was adopted. I’ve been listening to FM satellites (ISS and SO 50) this week and it is chaotic. Everyone calls CQ or from a Russian operator I heard “CQ Sputnik” . Most operators insist on signal reports. I’ve heard “What is my report?” repeated many times. I can’t see the value for a repeater but I guess people want something to put in their log.


Hi, A report may tell you how well you are getting into the bird. Apart from callsigns the Grid Square would be useful for SOTA as an alternative to the summit code. Most people consider a QSO needs an exchange of callsigns and one other piece of info not known to the other station. Whether it is a report or GS or both doesn’t matter.


But the transmission comes from the satellite, not your station which is why it doesn’t really mean anything.

The grid square is useful but I’ve not heard many people giving it. The majority just seem to follow a normal QSO format.


Not in North America. The most common exchange on the LEO FM sats is call and grid. It is still very chaotic and difficult to get four contacts for the activation, but fun to try. I have worked some satellite from summits, but I come up empty on passes more often than I make contacts.

Malcolm VE2DDZ


I activate summits using satellites whenever possible. (I also manage the @Sats_and_SOTA Twitter feed to promote the same.)

This is me on W4V/AB-025 this past April making a CW QSO on XW-2D with XE1HG for his Satellite CW WAS in Virginia.

FM birds are chaotic but not impossible to operate for SOTA. I usually focus on linears (AO-7 and RS-44 for transatlantic QSOs) with very good results. It is definitely not an easy way to activate but it is 110% fun!

For logging, band and mode are obvious. I place the name of the satellite into the comments of each QSO. The QSO time can be difficult to pinpoint since there isn’t a spare hand in my setup to write down each QSO as they occur. I have an inline recorder whose internal clock is set to UTC and I simply do the math from the start time to the recorder mm:ss at the time of the QSO to note the approximate time while I’m transcribing the pass at a later time.

I’ve not experienced the lack of results that others have mentioned here, but I do share the concern that the General Rules do specifically state that a signal report must be given as part of a SOTA QSO. Since the convention in the US is to give grid squares I simply ensure that I can accurately hear theirs and communicate mine to complete the “call and one piece of info” minimum exchange.


I listened to a CW Beacon yesterday (XW-2F). It was the first time I had heard CW from a satellite and the way the tone changed rapidly was surprising. I had programmed in channel steps of 1KHz and could rapidly flick through them but this was too coarse a step.

Are you using software to control the rig? I know this can be done in the shack but doing it portable is an extra challenge.


The original question was “is the following qso sufficient for a SOTA contact?”
Surely it’s certainly not for a valid SOTA contact , it’s just another repeater, albeit a high one.


Check the General Rules out, you might be surprised. And tempted to launch a balloon.


Having read the rules as suggested I am indeed surprised but it certainly adds interest
I was wondering what I would do with the huge inflatable Santa after Xmas



First you must be received by the bird. If your signal is marginal you will have a strong if the down link is strong but still marginal signal as far as readability and S/N goes… So the report does matter. You might be dropping out 30% of the time.


Yea the first time I heard a CW tone with a doppler effected pitch I freaked out a bit. It takes some getting used to and each time I have to spend a few seconds getting my brain ready for it haha!

My setup is totally manual. It’s complicated enough to pull off a QSO so adding a computer into the mix is unnecessary. I tune the up and downlinks by ear.


I’d agree that it takes some skill to do portable satellite work. And that
the QSOs are NOT the same as doing it through a terrestrial FM repeater. It’s very sporting to be out there with a handheld beam, one
or two radios (so you can duplex and hear yourself coming back),
have some way to log, etc. I’ve done a lot of it portable, mobile, even
AMTRAK mobile with an HT and rubber duck. Sadly, no SOTA activations. (I had not heard of SOTA at the time).
73 and good hunting !
John, K6YK


Not for Sota activators … but maybe for chasers…an interesting tracking project for schools for LEO SATs from Australia


I was happy to see this discussion get resurrected since I didn’t even know SOTA existed when this thread started.

I try to mix satellite contacts into my activations whenever possible, and I disagree that satellites are “just another repeater”. I have only done linear/SSB satellites from summits when it’s possible to drive close to the summit, since I don’t have the super portable gear to make those contacts all fit in a backpack (yet). Linear satellites definitely require more specialized equipment and skill than FM satellites, and even those require quite a bit more skill than just hitting the nearest repeater.

FM satellites are their own challenge, because they require additional radio gear (for full duplex operation) and higher risk to make them work out. If you end up running late on an activation where you were planning an FM satellite pass, or you end up on a satellite pass with a lot of QRM, you’re looking at a failed activation unless you have HF contingency plans or are willing to wait sometimes several hours for another viable pass. The unstable condition of the FM satellites currently in orbit means there’s a strong chance that you can’t count on a satellite being operational, as well. In the past year it’s become increasingly difficult to operate FM satellites with just the 5W from an HT which often means carrying a 50W mobile radio (plus battery) on the uplink so you can run 10W to improve your odds.

In general I tend to prefer the FM passes even with those caveats because it is easier to fit full duplex FM gear in a backpack and assemble it on a summit. I’ve done several FM activations where I got my required 4 contacts with a single satellite pass but I had a tough time getting local simplex contacts due to the remoteness of the summit. At least in the US, satellites are one of the most accessible options for longer distance contacts for Technician licensees and they require some patience to pull off. In some cases I would argue satellites are maybe the best way to activate summits, if they have rocky or small activation zones as is the case with many of the desert summits here in W7A. Without the need to get a mast or wire antenna up you can make long distance contacts with very little need for open or flat space. I log my satellite contacts with the satellite name in the QSO comments.

All that being said, I think more people should try satellite passes for their SOTA activations! I’ve had a handful of S2S contacts via satellite and those are especially rewarding (my first S2S on my first ever activation was via SO-50, pictured below). Even though I’ve upgraded beyond Technician I’m still just as likely to bring my satellite equipment as I am HF gear when heading to a summit.

Me working an SO-50 satellite pass from W7A/MS-060 with a Kenwood D72 and Elk log periodic antenna:


That’s an interesting antenna, a dual band yagi with the feed apparently into the first element. I’m using two traditional yagis, one for each band, fixed to a plastic pipe. This is because I already had them but clearly there are alternatives.

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On my most recent satellite activations I have switched almost entirely to an Arrow II Yagi, which is lighter and seems to pack down better into a backpack but also needs a diplexer if not using two separate radios. It really comes down to whatever I’ve decided to pack for each activation. When chasing local VHF activators at home (no visible antennas allowed) I’m just as likely to use the Elk as it’s less likely than the Arrow to get caught on door frames as I rush out to the yard with my HT :grinning:


I don’t own an Elk but can confirm that the Arrow is very packable and it’s weight can be further reduced:

I bring mine on every activation now for use on 144-fm.


Agreed on the Arrow weight reductions. I have one of the aluminum booms with holes drilled into it by WY7AA and it makes a big difference. I understand it’s possible to do the same with the Alaskan Arrow and take only 1 of the 3 boom elements for a less performant but still functional and even lighter weight satellite antenna.

With the weight reductions the Arrow becomes much easier to perch on shrubs etc for longer distance contacts: