A Winter’s Fox Hunt

Tracking a Fox During a Fox Hunt

Tracking a Fox During a Fox Hunt

Jamey, KC1ENX let the N1FD foxes loose in Nashua, NH this past weekend to give all of us a chance to track them down. This is not the first time that our foxes have roamed to wilds on New Hampshire. We let them loose during our summer picnic this year. We always have fun and improve our radio direction finding skills while doing a Fox Hunt!

Fox News Alert!

Fox News Alert!

We woke this past Saturday to a Fox News Alert! Fox News contributor Jamey, KC1ENX reported –

“Two foxes have been spotted in the Nashua area! It has been reported that N1FD-fox1 was heard on Route 3 this morning on 146.565. It has also been reported that N1FD-fox2 could be heard from close to N1FD-fox2’s location on a frequency of 146.535.”

Hunting the Large Fox

I went down to our shack and turned on the 2m rig. Sure enough, there was the howl of the large fox (audio recording above) so I gathered my HT and Elk Yagi antenna and set off to track down the Wiley critters. I stopped just beyond my house near Rt. 122 in Hollis, NH to get an initial fix. Sure enough, I heard the large critter’s bark coming from the general direction of Nashua. A couple of fixes along Rt. 3 indicated that the fox was in a den in Mine Falls Park so I drove there and parked. By this time, the fox was clearly audible on the mobile rig in my truck. I switched my HT to the big fox’s third harmonic frequency and headed for a high spot on a bridge in the center of the park. Sure enough, there the Wiley critter was – just ahead on the trail.

The Large Fox in its Lair

The Large Fox in its Lair

I got very close to the large fox when I encountered Bob, W1FDR who had a very effective close in system which used an HT and a dish. Bob said:

“Lets team up and we’ll track the critter down”

So we did team up and it did not take long to find the fox’s hideout. We both signed the fox log and turned our attention to finding the smaller fox.

Hunting the Small Fox

Bob W1FDR by the Small Fox’s Den

Bob W1FDR by the Small Fox’s Den

The small fox was audible from the large fox’s den using my Yagi and HT. We tracked the small fox across the soccer fields at Mine Falls Park and over a small ridge. Once we got close, Bob used his dish system to track down the small fox in its den.

Fox Hunting Equipment

Fox Hunting Equipment

The combination of my Yagi and Bob’s dish system worked very well for hunting the foxes. The Yagi was surprisingly directional at longer range and this made it relatively easy to get close to both foxes. Bob’s dish was great for the final, close-in location of the foxes in their dens.

I had a great time hunting the foxes and I am looking forward to another hunt this coming Saturday after our breakfast get together at Parker’s Maple Barn in Mason, NH. I am looking for some folks to team with again for the hunt this coming Saturday. Talley-ho!

Fred, AB1OC

Propagation Prediction Websites

Is 20 meters open to the location of the latest DXPedition on the bands?   When is 6 meters open for Sporadic E?  Looking for a weak signal 2 meter contact with a specific grid square?  There are websites you can visit that give you a prediction of whether the band you are on is open to a given destination.

HF Propagation

N0NBH Propagation Widget

N0NBH Propagation Widget

The simplest HF propagation prediction is the widget that is seen on many Amateur Radio Websites – QRZ.com, DXSummit.fi, and more.   This gives you a rough idea of what bands are open day and night. Data is based on the Sunspot Number, A and K indices and other indices.  But this doesn’t take into account many factors like your location, the DX location, the characteristics of your station and the DX station.  Just because 15m says Poor doesn’t mean you won’t hear anything on the band.

VOACAP – HF Propagation Prediction

VOACAP Point to Point Prediction

VOACAP Point to Point Prediction

VOACAP, is the Voice of America Coverage Analysis Program, and provides detailed information about the HF propagation.  You can choose transmitter and receiver locations from many cities around the world.  It also provides choices of Antennas, Power, Mode, and more for each end of the contact. You can look at several different views of propagation.  If you spend some time delving into the details of propagation visit this site.

VOACAP Prediction from DXSummit.fi

VOACAP Prediction from DXSummit.fi

For a faster view of whether you will be able to contact a specific DX Station that is currently on the air,  the DXSummit.fi spotting website has incorporated propagation predictions on their website.  If you find a DX station spotted there that you contact, just right click on the DX callsign and select VOACAP from the drop-down.   You just need to choose whether you are a Basic (100 watts and a Wire) or a Super station (Amplifier and Directional Antenna).  You can also look at views of Short Path or Long Path.  It will give you a good view of when you need to be on which band to contact the DX station.

6 Meters – The Magic Band

DXMaps - 6 meter openings

DXMaps – 6 meter openings

The best website that I have found for 6 meters is DXMaps.com .  It provides a map view of the world or you can select a continent. Based on spotting network data, it shows 6 meter contacts and color codes them by Sporadic-E, Multihop ES, Meteor Scatter, etc…  even Aurora.  You can also get a view of 10 meters, 2 meters or 70 cm.  If you sign up for a free account, you can subscribe to real time notifications when there is an opening near you.

2 Meter Propagation

VHF Propagation Map

VHF Propagation Map

Looking for a tropo opening for a weak signal 2 meter contact?   Visit the website http://aprs.mountainlake.k12.mn.us/ to see a VHF Propagation map.  This shows tropo openings as color coded clouds – with brighter colors for the longer openings.    This is based on APRS data.

These are the websites that I like to visit to understand the propagation forecast for the day.  If your favorite site is not on the list, add a comment so that we and the rest of our readers can check it out.

DX Alarm Clock Part 2 – Hardware

The DX Alarm Clock

The DX Alarm Clock

I recently wrote a blog article about the DX Alarm Clock software – here is Part 2 of the Series on the how I built the hardware for the DX Alarm Clock.

DX Alarm Clock Hardware Components

The DX Alarm Clock is based on a Raspberry Pi 3 computer and an Adafruit Pi-TFT Touch Screen Display.  The list of components, along with links is below.  Since I built the Raspberry Pi almost a year ago and technology is always advancing, some of the parts are no longer available or have better replacements available.  I’ll provide information on what I used and a recommended replacement.  Approximate prices are included.

 

Rapberry Pi 3

Rapberry Pi 3

 

Motherboard: Raspberry Pi 3 ($35) – includes a 1.2 GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM CPU, Build in WiFi, Ethernet, 4 USB Ports, an HDMI port and audio port (3.5″) and Bluetooth.

Also you will need a power adapter  ($10) and Class 10 Micro SD card ($15) for the Raspberry Pi.  Ours is a SanDisk Ultra 64GB Micro SD Card.

Pi-TFT Touch Screen Display

Pi-TFT Touch Screen Display

Display: Adafruit Pi-TFT 2.8″ Display with Capacitive Touch Screen ($45).  A slightly larger, 3.5″ display is now available.

PiBow Case

PiBow Case for Raspberry Pi and Touch Screen Display

Case: Pimoroni PiBow Case for Raspberry Pi and Pi-TFT Display($20)

Kinivo Speaker

Kinivo Portable Speaker

Portable Speaker:  Any small portable/rechargeable speaker will do.  Mine is a Kinivo, but it is no longer available.  Any small speaker will do as long as it is Bluetooth or has a 3.5″ stereo connector.

 

Raspberry Pi Development Environment

Raspberry Pi Development Environment

Raspberry Pi Development Environment

After constructing the Raspberry Pi, case and TFT Display, the next step was to connect it to a monitor via the HDMI port, a mouse via one of the USB ports and to a Bluetooth keyboard.   Then I loaded the Raspbian Operating System onto the Raspberry Pi via the micro SD card.  I first copied the OS to the Micro SD card using a PC or Mac and then inserted the card into the Raspberry Pi and booted from it.  You can find a good tutorial on how to do this at https://www.raspberrypi.org/learning/software-guide/quickstart/

Once Raspbian is installed, you will have a windows like GUI (Graphical User Interface) environment with a web browser, and a number of additional applications included.

This gave me a development environment that I could use to build and test the DX Alarm Clock software.  I used the Python language to develop the software.  I used the Python IDLE development environment, which is included in the Raspbian OS.

Interested in Raspberry Pi Amateur Radio Projects?  See the article on a Raspberry Pi Satellite Rotator Interface.

A Portable Satellite Station Part 5 – Plans for Our 3.0 Station

Satellite Grids Worked

Satellite Grids Worked

We’ve made about 250 contacts with our Portable Satellite Station 2.0 and we have worked 106 grids which should be enough to earn a Satellite VUCC. The picture above shows the grids that we’ve worked via Satellites. We’ve learned a lot about satellite operation and had a great deal of fun in the process!

Portable Satellite Station 2.0 Goals

Portable Satellite Station 2.0 Goals

We’ve met all of our original goals for our 2.0 Station and we’ve used it portable at License Classes, Field Day, and other Amateur Radio Demonstrations. We’ve also shared presentations about our 2.0 Station with Amateur Radio Groups here in the New England area. The question that we get most often about the 2.0 Station is “What are your plans for the Portable Satellite Station 3.0”?

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Goals

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Goals

Well, here is the plan. We are working with a local group to secure and host an ISS Crew contact. The ARISS folks have published ground station requirements for these contacts. Here are the primary station requirements:

  • Transceiver with 50–100 W output, 1 kHz tuning steps, and 21 memories capable of storing split frequencies
  • Low-loss coax (such as 9913 or LMR-400)
  • Mast-mounted receive pre-amplifier
  • 14-element yagi antenna with switched circular polarity
  • Antenna rotators for azimuth (0–360°) and elevation (0–180°), with an interface for computer control
  • Computer running tracking software for antenna control (including flip mode operation)

Fortunately, our 2.0 Station meets or exceeds almost all of the primary station requirements with the exception of the antennas. The required antenna upgrades will shape the plans for our Portable Satellite Station 3.0.

M2 Antenna Systems 2MCP14

M2 Antenna Systems 2MCP14

ISS Crew Contacts are conducted using 2m Simplex radios on the ISS. We choose the 14-element circularly polarized 2MCP14 yagi from M2 Antenna Systems to meet the ARISS requirements for 2m. Here are the specifications for this antenna:

2MCP14 Antenna Specifications

2MCP14 Antenna Specifications

The 2MCP14 antenna offers a good balance between gain (12.34 dBi) and boom length (10′-6″) and is near the size limit that is practical for use in our Portable Station. This antenna provides an additional 3.14 dBi of gain compared to the M2 Antenna Systems 2MCP8A yagi which we are currently using in the 2.0 Station.

M2 Antenna Systems 436CP30

M2 Antenna Systems 436CP30

While not required for an ARISS Crew Contact, we are also going to upgrade the 70cm yagi to a 30-element circularly polarized M2 Antenna Systems 436CP30 yagi. Here are the specifications for this antenna:

436CP30 Antenna Specifications

436CP30 Antenna Specifications

This antenna is a good match for the upgraded 2m yagi. The 436CP30 has a boom length of 9′-9″ and a gain of 15.50 dBi. This antenna will provide an additional 2.2 dBi of gain compared to the M2 Antenna Systems 436CP16 yagi which we are currently using in the 2.0 Station.

Satellite Antennas Setup Portable

Satellite Antennas Setup Portable

The new antennas will require some modifications to our portable antenna system arrangement. They will need to be mounted on a cross-boom near their centers. As a result, a non-conductive fiberglass cross boom will be required to avoid problems with pattern distortion.

FGCB60 Non-Conductive Cross Boom

FGCB60 Non-Conductive Cross Boom

We will be using an M2 Antenna Systems FGCB60 Cross Boom which has removable, non-conductive end sections made from fiberglass material. The removable ends will make it easier to transport the antenna system. We will also need to make a new mast which is 24″ longer than our current one in the 2.0 Station to create the needed ground clearance for the longer antennas.

PS-2M and PS-70CM Polarity Switches

PS-2M and PS-70CM Polarity Switches

The last piece of the 3.0 Station Antenna upgrade is to add switchable left-hand and right-hand circular polarity. This will be accomplished via M2 Antenna Systems PS-2M and PS-70CM switchable polarity feed point upgrades for the 3.0 yagis.

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

We have a DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box from a previous project and we can use it to control the relays in the Polarity Switches which will be part of the 3.0 Station antennas. The box will allow us to select any combination of left and right-hand circular polarization on the 3.0 Station uplink and downlink antennas.

We should have all of the parts here for the 3.0 upgrade by the end of the year. We’ll post more as the project proceeds. Other articles in the Portable Satellite Station series include:

You may also be interested in the satellite station at our home QTH. You can read more about that here.

Fred, AB1OC

Meteor Scatter Rocks! – Work’in the Orionids

AB1OC 6m USA Grids

AB1OC 6m USA Grids

I’ve been pretty active on the 6m band the past few years. As you can see from the image above, we’ve worked most of the grid squares in the eastern third of the United States on 6m. I use a mix of modes on 6m including SSB Phone, CW, JT65, FT8, and MSK144. The addition of the MSK144 mode for Meteor Scatter contacts has been a lot of fun and has added some new grid squares to my total.

Orionid Meteor Shower Forecast

Orionid Meteor Shower Forecast

One of the fall Meteor Showers, the Orionids, occurred not too long ago and I decided to focus on MSK144 during the Orionids to see how many grid squares I could work. The shower mast most active over a 3-day period (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

MSK144 QSO with WA3LBI Using WSJT-X

MSK144 QSO with WA3LBI Using WSJT-X

The latest WSJT-X software supports a relatively new digital mode for Meteor Scatter contacts – MSK144. A Meteor Scatter contact made using MSK144 is shown above.

Meteor Scatter Pings Detected via MSK144

Meteor Scatter Pings Detected via MSK144

Meteors create short propagation enhancements when they burn up in the atmosphere. These short propagation bursts enable very brief (approximately 1-5 second) propagation on the 6m band.

The video above shows an example of an MSK144 Meteor Scatter QSO using WSJT-X.

6m MSK144 QSOs During Orionids

6m MSK144 QSOs During Orionids

So I bet you may be wondering how many 6m QSOs and grid squares was I able to work during the Orionids? I made a total of 23 Meteor Scatter QSOs using MSK144 during the 2017 Orionids. The image above shows the 16 grids that were worked using MSK144 during the three-day period. A few of these grids were new for me on 6m.

I used our Flex-6700 SDR, our SteppIR Yagis, and about 200w of power to make these contacts. It was a lot of fun making contacts using MSK144 Meteor Scatter on 6m. I am looking forward to future Meteor Shower activity!

Fred, AB1OC

Students Analyze HAB-2’s Flight Data – Nashua Area Radio Society

The HAB team members in NARS have created a five-session curriculum to teach physics, atmospheric science, and radio technology that we use as part of our HABlaunches. The last session is the most fun of all – analyzing the telemetry data from our HAB’s flight to see what the students can learn from it.

Source: Students Analyze HAB-2’s Flight Data – Nashua Area Radio Society

We got together with the students who did our HAB-2 launch this week to analyze the data from the flight and to preview some of the videos that HAB-2 captured during its flight. You can read more about what we learned from the flight data on the Nashua Area Radio Society website via the link above

Fred, AB1OC

HAB-2 Sets Altitude Record! – Nashua Area Radio Society

We flew our High-Altitude Balloon for the second time this past weekend. Our second High-Altitude Balloon Flight (HAB-2) was part of a STEM learning project that we did with STEM club students at Bishop-Guertin High School in Nashua, NH. The students did all of the flight prep and launched HAB-2 at approximately 11 am ET from a school in Winchester, NH. Parents, teachers and local students joined us for the launch as did several members of our HAB team.

Source: HAB-2 Sets Altitude Record! – Nashua Area Radio Society

Our students prepared, launched, and tracked HAB-2 this past weekend. Their HAB made it to almost 118,000 ft! You can read more about the launch and the flight on the Nashua Area Radio Society’s website via the link above.

Fred, AB1OC