Space Transmissions is a radio program containing segments which I’ve divided into two categories: transmissions from spacecraft directly, and transmissions which are bounced off of things in space, so echoes of ourselves.
The audio clips presented here are historic recordings, some I’ve recorded myself, and some related art pieces. I produced this while a resident of Wave Farm in July of 2014, and it was aired on WGXC, 90.7 FM in Green and Columbia counties near the Catskills in upstate New York. The program archive is here: http://wgxc.org/archives/8530 and below is the annotated playlist from the about 2-hour show.
PART A: Transmissions from spacecraft
Historic Satellite sounds
Recordings from NASA and Ham radio operators—many of them by Roy Welch WOSL, and compiled in a few places online, such as Amsat.org/amsat/features/sounds/firstsat.html and Matthias DD1US at www.dd1us.de
Live transmission from the passing satellite NOAA 18, at 137.9125 MHz (during the live airing of this program). I installed a quadrifilar helicoidal antenna on top of a ladder and extended a cable from it up through the window of the radio studio and into my Funcube Dongle Pro+ radio on my computer, and listened to the transmission using SDR# software. Here is a sample of the sound:
Some of my satellite sound recordings in July.
International Space Station
PC Sat [Prototype Communications SATellite]
The Funcube satellite (officially FUNcube-1 or AO73) is an educational small ‘cubesat’ with the goal of enthusing and educating young people about radio, space physics and electronics. It was built by volunteers in the UK and the Netherlands and has related software collaboration tools for receiving and sharing data, more information on the project here. There are over 100 cubesat missions to space–they are typically inexpensive, grouped together for launch, often as secondary payload to the International Space Station then launched from the ISS later. Cubesats and other ‘micro’ satellites are making space exploration available to schools, small groups, and individuals.
Cube Sat Lunar Lander/Orbiter Project – interview with Dr. Carl S. Brandon, Principal Investigator
I spoke with Dr. Brandon about a particular cubesat project, where a handful of professors and students at Vermont Technical College built a satellite and are now tracking it in space. More about their project is here: http://www.cubesatlab.org/ Dr. Brandon is a professor of Science and Aeronautical Engineering Technology, oversees the project and works on the satellite communication systems. Here is the interview (15 min 27 sec):
PART B: Transmissions bounced back from things in space
Documentary about the satellite Echo1
At 9:48 begins the buildup to actual voice-bounce event; at about 10:15 are the first bounced words, a recording of a short speech by President Eisenhower, and at about 12:45 is the first phone call.
A reading from Sounding the Margins: Collected Writings 1992-2009 by Pauline Oliveros, about her ‘Echoes from the Moon’ piece. Here is the excerpt on google books.
Moonbounce from the HAARP array in Alaska by the amateur radio operator K7AGE.
World Moon Bounce Day
World Moon Bounce Day is a global event where both commercial and amateur radio operators bounce signals off the surface of the Moon and back to Earth. It was first celebrated on June 27 2009 (GMT), and countries around the world participate as the earth turns and during a 24 hour event the Moon is visible to all countries. Notable events: the first World Moon Bounce Day had Apollo astronaut Bill Anders as a guest, where an interview with him was bounced off the moon (recording here); and a world record for lowest power data signal returned from the moon was set with a transmit power of 3 milliwatts –about 1,000th of the power of a strong flashlight filament globe–the transmission was sent from a 26 m dish at the University of Tasmania in Australia and was received, after the moon bounce, by a large dish in the Netherlands.
Katie Paterson’s Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon)
Earth-Moon-Earth (E.M.E) is a form of radio transmission whereby messages are sent in Morse code from earth, reflected from the surface of the moon, and then received back on earth. The moon reflects only part of the information back – some is absorbed in its shadows, ‘lost’ in its craters. For this work Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was translated into morse code and sent to the moon via E.M.E. Returning to earth fragmented by the moon’s surface, it has been re-translated into a new score, the gaps and absences becoming intervals and rests. In the exhibition space the new ‘moon–altered’ score plays on a self-playing grand piano.
Radio engineer Stan Nelson uses a Yagi antenna in New Mexico to detect 54 MHz TV signals reflected from meteor trails. When a meteor passes over his observatory–ping!–there is an echo. Live stream link: http://topaz.streamguys.tv/~spaceweather/ In the past, spacecraft, space junk and meteors were monitored this way by a ‘space fence’–the US Air Force Space Surveillance Radar–but it was shut down in 2013.
The International Space Station passing through the ‘Space Fence’
Chris Fallen, a research professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, used HAARP (the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program) to test something known as the “Luxembourg Effect” where radio signals at different frequencies bounce off the ionosphere and mix together. The two different musical performances were essentially mixed in space.
John Cage Meets Sun Ra (1986)
Unedited Segments of the Historic Concert:
June 8, 1986, Sideshows By The Seashore, Coney Island, NY
And finally an excerpt about static from Earth Sound Earth Signal p. 119, ‘From Brainwaves to Outer Space’ where space static is played on the radio in 1933:
Monday night May 15, 1933, at 8:30 p.m. the Radio Magic show broadcast its episode “Hearing the Radio of the Stars.” It aired on WJZ and the NBC Blue Network from New York City following Today’s News with Lowell Thomas, Amos ‘n’ Andy, a couple of songs, and one-half hour of the Marx Brothers, Groucho and Chico. The host, Orestes H. Caldwell, was knowledgeable and clearly explained the astronomy, radio, and electronics involved. As editor of the industry magazine Electronics, he was one of the people responsible for moving the word electronics into vernacular usage. The guest of the show was Bell Labs engineer Karl Jansky, who ten days earlier had been featured on the front page of the New York Times: “New Radio Waves Traced to Centre of the Milky Way; Mysterious Static, Reported by K. G. Jansky, Held to Differ from Cosmic Ray.” The story left the requisite dismissal of alien communication to the end of the article. Jansky’s detection of extraterrestrial radio marked the beginning of radio astronomy as a science. Schooled in direction-finding antennas that had underscored studies of the ionosphere in the 1920s, Jansky focused his research on locating a persistent high-frequency noise. Making sure to eliminate the noise of his “singing amplifier,” he patiently recorded data over many months, reducing other variables to three types of noise: the crashing static of local thunderstorms, “very steady weak static” from distant thunderstorms, and “a very steady hiss type static the origin of which is not yet known.”13 Caldwell, the WJZ host, began by putting Jansky’s accomplishment in the context of long-distance reception. Previous programs in the series had “taken part in some long-distance broadcast pick-ups—from across the continent, from Europe and from Australia. But tonight we plan to have a broadcast pick-up from further off than any of those, a pick-up that will break all records for long-distance!” And just moments before introducing Jansky, Caldwell opened the national radio lines to the sound of the center of the galaxy: In a moment, I want you to hear for yourself this radio hiss from the depths of the universe. We are going to let you listen in on Mr. Jansky’s sensitive radio receiver there at Holmdel, N.J., and you will hear the noise of static. Part of this static you will hear is due to atmospheric causes right here on earth, like any static. But another part of what you will hear is that extra static which comes from the depths of space itself and is continuously changing in position around the horizon, as is detected and evidenced by thousands of records kept at the receiving station. Now, through the courtesy of the Long Lines department of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, I will let you listen on the sensitive receiving set at Holmdel, 50 miles southwest of New York City. Mixed in with the static you will now hear, will be the hiss of radio from the start. HISS (10 seconds) Please understand that a large part of this sound you just heard is due to earthly static, but mixed with it, is the slight but regularly changing static hiss which Mr. Jansky discovered as coming from a definite point in the sky of stars. Let’s hear this radio hum from the depths of the universe once again. HISS (10 seconds)14 Caldwell’s appeal to a national audience to listen to the static within the static, no doubt unprecedented, was in keeping with the occasion. The disjunctive magnitudes behind long distances had been normalized by astronomy; suns many times more powerful than our own had been reduced to stars twinkling in the night sky. But somewhere in the static was a static sound “which astronomers tell us is at least 30,000 light years from the present position of earth and solar system,” which meant that the magnitude of the source was not measured against the sun, but against a terrestrial power of a national radio broadcaster: “The power necessary to transit to earth even such a radio hiss as the stellar part of that hiss we have just heard, would have to be pretty prodigious. It would take a radio station many millions of millions of millions of times as powerful as any we have on earth today.”