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Ham picks up signal from China’s Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter

An amateur ham radio operator announced on February 10th that he has been able to pick up a radio transmission from China’s Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter.

As reported on, Canadian radio amateur Scott Tilley, VE7TIL, has snagged another signal from deep space. His latest conquest has been to copy the signal from China’s Tianwen-1 (pronounced “tee-EN-ven”) probe, which went into orbit around Mars on February 10. Tilley told that the probe’s X-band signal was “loud and audible.”

“It was a treasure hunt,” Tilley told He explained that while the spacecraft did post its frequency with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), it was too vague for precise tuning (X band is between 8 GHz and 12 GHz).

What makes this detection especially interesting is that it indicates the possibility that in the somewhat near future some ham might actually be able to win the Elser-Mathes Cup. According to this article [pdf] from the national ham radio magazine QST, by the late 1920s there was a desire to create a new challenge for hams, as by then they had managed to devise methods for communicating across the entire globe.

Amid this disillusionment, [Colonel Fred Johnson Elser] visited ARRL [the national ham radio organization] and had the pleasure of meeting League co-founder and first president Hiram Percy Maxim, whose many interests included Mars. Elser reported that Maxim even owned a globe of the planet, with all of its known features demarcated.

Elser returned to his home in Manila and befriended Stanley Mathes, a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy who had been stationed in the Philippines. Based on their shared belief that Amateur Radio technology would improve at a prodigious rate, Elser and Mathes devised an award for the most ambitious Amateur Radio contact they could imagine. In honor of Hiram Percy Maxim’s love of the Red Planet, Elser and Mathes established the Elser-Mathes Cup, to be awarded for the “First Amateur Radio Two-Way Communication Earth & Mars.”

That cup has remained unclaimed since it was established in 1929, more than ninety years. The detection by Tilley above using ham equipment suggests that a winner might soon be able to lay claim to the cup. However,

Fred Elser and Stanley Mathes stipulated that the contact must be two-way, and that the transmission on the Mars end of the contact cannot be generated by a “robot.” Until we can put a ham on Mars, the Elser-Mathes Cup will go unclaimed.

As almost all astronauts are also hams, all that must happen is for an astronaut to get to Mars, land, and communicate back to Earth using ham equipment. While this will not happen soon, the possibility it will happen in the not-too-distant future is finally becoming a reality. Stay tuned.

Hat tip to ham Don Huddler N4RRT.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Jeff Wright

    Wasn’t there a book on 160 meter, called the Everest of Ham?

  • David M. Cook

    Yes, the full title is “Homer Simpson‘s Lifetime Ambition: The Everest of Ham”. Best quote, page 58: “I‘ll eat my way to the top, then slide down.”

  • Jay

    I had the privilege of meeting Mr.Tilley in 2018 after his satellite presentation at a radio convention in Vancouver B.C. He has found many dead or hard to reach satellites like IMAGE and LES-5. Most of the equipment he uses is off the shelf.

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