Participating in Citizen Science with Your Ham Radio

By H. Ward Silver

Hams have supported “real science” since the earliest days of wireless when everyone was an experimenter. One of the best examples is the series of “Listening Tests” conducted in 1922–1923, in which hams supplied many of the observations that helped establish the existence of the ionosphere. Amateur radio and science have gone hand-in-hand ever since.

The ARRL publication A History of QST, Volume 1: Amateur Radio Technology describes the 100-year story of collaboration between hams and scientists, discovering and inventing technologies at the foundation of our present-day wireless world.

ARRL Ham Radio
The ARRL publication A History of QST, Volume 1: Amateur Radio Technology.

Today, there are several opportunities for hams to participate in scientific research. These are just a few of the opportunities hams have to make real contributions:

  • High-altitude ballooning: Student teams and individuals launch weather balloons with APRS equipment to track the balloon position and altitude. Data and images are either transmitted back to the ground or stored on a memory card and recovered along with the balloon.
  • CubeSats: Working with universities and government space programs, teams of students and researchers build micro-scale satellites that beam telemetry data from on-board experiments back to Earth. Some satellites also have simple repeater or translator stations on-board that hams can use for point-to-point communication.
  • HamSCI (Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation): The HamSCI group was initially formed to make radio observations of the total solar eclipse in August 2017. Since then, it has branched out to several other projects and is working on designs of instruments that hams can build and use themselves to take and share measurements.
  • Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers (SARA): If keeping an eye on the sky sounds interesting, check out the SARA website. it can help you build your own equipment, find kits, or purchase preassembled gear.