Linking School Students with the ISS

Project Date: March 2021

ARISS Project 2021


Linking the ISS with Avoca State School

March 2021 the club worked with the Avoca State School as part of the ARISS Educational Outreach Program.


ARISS is the Amateur Radio International Space Station project and is a joint venture bringing together the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS, with school children all over the world. This is the Wikipedia link.

Many astronauts hold amateur radio licences and willingly give up some of their precious spare time to chat with 'earthlings'.

The project is coordinated by NASA through the ISS Ham Radio Project as a resource to educate students, teachers and parents about living and working in space. It's part of STEM learning so school systems in many countries take up the offer.

The participating school is required to join forces with their local amateur radio club to apply for a live ISS/Earth chat.

Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club partnered with the Avoca State School and on Thursday 11th March 2021 twelve enthusiastic students chatted with Astronaut Colonel Mike Hopkins, a licenced amateur with the callsign KF5JG.

We began by forming a partnership


We formulated a plan with with school Principal Michael Kiss, for BARC to buy the equipment and provide the radios, antennas and expertise.

Meanwhile the School would design science classes centred around space, space travel, living in space etc., which would culminate in a study of the International Space Station.

We lodged the application and understood it could be a 12-18 month wait in the queue, however the pandemic of 2020 changed the world, and many schools withdrew their requests.
Our application was fast-tracked and we were allocated a 'window' in March 2021... leaving us a mere 4 months lead time.

It was time for some quick thinking.

Antenna construction got underway


Members began to design and build the satellite tracking antennas.

Behind the scenes we were learning how to operate the tracking software to control the separate antennas.


Due to the speed that the ISS is traveling there would only be about 10 minutes of communications time so it was imperative that we tracked for as long as we could hold the signal.

Working Bees

Almost every weekend in the lead up to the event, a band of willing workers created the tripod and antennas.


They tested and configured all the equipment, including the Yaesu Rotator which the club purchased to control the 2 antennas through the vertical and hirizontal planes while tracking the path of the ISS.

Everything had to work if we were to make that contact.

Thanks to Isaac VK4NEU, Keith VK4KDS, Michael VK4JAF, Ross VK4JRO, David VK4DAV, Dan VK4OH, David VK4DN & Peter VK4FPDG for the many hours devoted to this club project.


Things were coming together at Avoca School

A basketball court beside the Hall, an ideal level surface for the installation.


The Antenna array was assembled but more height was needed, a problem we overcame by renting a scissor-lift for a couple of days!


Inside the school hall - Mission Control was taking shape


Kenwood TS2000 transceiver (and a spare). Laptop with tracking software for the antenna array (with spare).
ISS tracking on the big screen so people could watch the approach of the ISS!
We had a small window in time and space to make and hold the ISS contact, so we duplicated everything, in case of a failure anywhere in the system. Redundancy right down to having a spare antenna in case our array failed. We were as prepared as we could possibly be.

Principal and Staff created an atmosphere to inspire everyone


There were rocket launches on the grass outside. Virtual Reality sets so everyone could experience 'being inside the ISS'.

A fancy dress parade with prizes and a general invitation to all students and families to be with us on the night.

Each class was represented at 'Mission Control' stations, and the 12 students who spoke to Mike Hopkins were presented with framed certificates to commemorate the event.


The students even built a Lego ISS model during lunch breaks, so the ISS had been the talk of the school since the school term began.


Everything was ready, we had a countdown clock running on the big screen... then 5 minutes before signal capture we were hit with a massive interference, registering 60dB on our meters.
We had no idea what it was, perhaps a faulty LED lighting system starting up nearby?
But now you'll recall all those 'spares' we were packing....


At 5.57 and 15 seconds the ISS came into our sphere and we established contact.


We used a spare Telebridge unit to make the initial contact and as the overbearing interference dropped away, we switched back to the radio equipment for a direct RF contact.

Ross VK4JRO and Gail VK4ION were maintaining the tracking of the ISS using the Yaesu rotator so we could switch seamlessly from the Telebridge to our Kenwood TS2000 radio once the interference ceased.

The students and the audience were not aware of the situation or our hasty switching between equipment, and the back-and-forth between student and astronaut contact flowed seamlessly.

We maintained the contact for just over 12 minutes and slowly lost the signal as we watched the ISS gracefully pass out over the Pacific Ocean.

Each student asked two questions and Mike Hopkins was just wonderful, acknowledging the student's name and answering the questions.


Together with the audience of around 400, we heard that the ISS makes its oxygen by splitting water into Hydrogen and Oxygen.
That the current science experiment that Mike was working on was monitoring Worms In Space!

In the lead up to the event we had been working with the students so they were familiar with the microphone and saying 'over' when they wanted to hear a reply.
They refined their questions during these practice session and on the night their their On-Air etiquette was perfect.

Questions the Students asked astronaut Mike Hopkins

These are the questions, you can hear the answers below

  • Have any experiments in the ISS produced evidence of other life forms in space?

  • How long is a typical mission on the ISS?

  • How long did you have to train to become an astronaut?

  • When people built the ISS, how did they send it up into space?

  • Why don't meteors hit the space sttion?

  • What is your favourite thing about being an astronaut?

  • If you could make a time capsule to represent your stay on the ISS, what would you put in it?

  • Would walking on the moon be the same as space walking outside of the ISS

  • Once you return to Earth, what process do you have to follow?

  • How do you geet oxygen to breathe in the Space Station?

  • Why is the Space Station split into different sections for different nations?

  • What do you struggle with most on the Space Station?

  • What do you do for recreation in your spare time on the ISS?

  • What types of experiments are you currently running and how does zero gravity affect them?

  • What kind of food do you eat in space?

  • How many people can be in the Space Station at the one time?

  • What is your main job on the International Space Station?

  • What job would you have if you weren't an astonaut?

  • Do astonauts play pranks on each other and what's the best prank you've seen or done?

  • What is your favouite thing to look at on Earth from the International Space Station?

  • How long from take-off does it take to reach the International Space Station?

  • Do you need more sleep in space than you do on Earth?

  • The ISS is exposed to extreme heat and cold. How is the temperature regulated?

  • How have Science experiments on the Space Station affected life back on Earth?



Downlink Audio with Mike Hopkins KF5JG answering the students


In July we returned to Avoca State School one last time to tie the ribbons on the ARISS Project

We presented the school with a scale model of the ISS which was sourced from Germany, and constructed/painted by Club members.

The original model didn't have the recent ISS addition of the Cupola so a friend with a 3D printer found the plans, and created the missing piece for us. Now the ISS model is up to date.

Commemorative certificates were presented and the school intends to build a cabinet to display the model.

Avoca School Captain presented the club with a certificate of thanks for the project.

David VK4DN presented the Model to Principal Michael Kiss.

Visitors Remarks

We asked our visitors to record their thoughts so we can preserve the event in the clubs history

Snapshot of the visitor's book

ariss21a ariss21b ariss21c


In a project of this size there are so many people to thank.

It is a special thanks to the following:
Avoca State School Principal Michael Kiss, teacher Helen Cook, and all ancillary staff.
Thanks to Gail VK4ION who designed the Certificates presented to the students who had the two-way amateur contact with the astronaut on the ISS on the night.
A thank you too to club member Lorraine VK4FCCW who greeted and guided visitors / assisted the BARC team and shared our guest book for visitors to sign.

And David VK4DN, our hard-working Secretary, who insired us to do this and was the driving force to keep the project on track.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime event for those kids! And so very exciting for all involved!


School Principal, Michael Kiss, David VK4DN and Dan VK4OH

Some of our team


Special Thanks to Shane Lynd


Shane Lynd (left) receives a certificate of appreciation from David VK4DN acknowledging his tireless support.

Shane VK4KHZ is based in Mackay and is the co-ordinator for ARISS contacts in Australia.
He guided us every step of the way to ensure we had a successful contact on the night.

Because our contact was fast-tracked and we hadn't acquired all the hardware we needed, Shane loaned us some essential equipment.
He also was in contact with Michael Kiss at the school to assist in their preparations as well, and he operated the Telebridge system from his QTH allowing our contact to work in the first few minutes of the contact.

The club purchased (and begged and borrowed) a lot of equipment for the ARISS project and it will be put to good use in future club activities.
We hope to take the antenna array to JOTA, so scouts can see what's involved in tracking and communicating with Amateur satellites!

This was a wonderful achievment for the Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club and we hope to bring you more stories of our growth, terror and successes.

Contact Us


Bundaberg Amateur Radio Club
PO Box 129
Bundaberg Qld 4670