ISS Crew Contact Part 2 – Project Updates as We Countdown

ISS Crew Contact
ISS Crew Contact

We are counting down to our ISS crew contact which will take place during the first week in December. Steps in our final preparations are taking place on almost a daily basis now. Several of us visited Hudson Memorial School yesterday to work out final plans for setting up our ground stations and the supporting Audio Visual and Data Systems.

We are also working closely with the ARISS team to finalize our contact details including prioritizing candidate ISS passes, finalizing student questions, etc.

We are posting frequent updates in the Youth Forum on the Nashua Area Radio Society website and I thought that some of our readers here might be interested in seeing these posts too. You can follow the link above to check for what will likely be new updates on our progress every few days.

Fred, AB1OC

ISS Crew Contact Part 1 – Ground Station Design and Construction

Satellite 3.0 Station Control Details
Ground Station for Satellites and the ISS

Our planned ISS Crew Contact is almost here! It will take place sometime during the first week of December (December 3rd – 8th) at the Hudson Memorial School (HMS) here in Hudson, NH. I am planning a series of articles here on our blog to explain the process for preparing our ground station(s) and making our contact.

The Beginning

Dan Pooler, AC1EN who is a teacher at HMS began this process almost a year ago by reaching out to the Nashua Area Radio Society. Dan wanted to do an ISS Crew Contact at his school and asked if we would help him with the Amateur Radio elements.

We decided early on that we wanted a Direct contact (one which uses an on-site Amateur Radio Ground Station).

ARRIS Ground Station Recommendations

The first thing we did was to look at the ARISS Ground Station requirements document. We learned that we needed to build two Ground Stations – a Primary Station and a Backup Station. These requirements and our interest in Satellite Communications led to the construction of a series of Portable Space Ground Stations.

The Primary Station

The primary station requirements are as follows:

  • 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 switchable 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)

The ARISS approach is to used a series of “secret” uplink frequencies which are determined and provided only to the contact operators before each contact. Doppler correction is not required on the 2m band where the crew contacts take place.

Our Portable 2.0 Satellite Station already existed, and it met many of these requirements with a notable exception:

14 element yagi antenna with switchable circular polarity

Satellite Antenna Details
Satellite Station 2.0 Antenna Details

Our 2.0 Station has an 8 element yagi with fixed polarity. This requirement turned out to have a much more significant impact on the design of the Primary Ground Station than just changing the antenna and ultimately led to the construction of our Portable Satellite Station 3.0. More on this in a minute…

The Backup Station

The backup station requirements are as follows:

  • Transceiver with 50–100 W output, 1 kHz tuning steps, and 21 memories capable of storing split frequencies
  • Power amplifier with 100–200W output (optional)
  • Low-loss coax
  • Mast mounted receive pre-amplifier
  • Omnidirectional antenna, either vertical (preferred) or eggbeater style
  • Uninterruptible power source (UPS or battery)

Our Approach

After consulting with the ARISS folks and some thought, we decided to use the then current Satellite Station 2.0 as the Backup Station and build a new Satellite Station 3.0 for use as the Primary Station. This approach also involved installing a larger rotator to accommodate the larger antenna and a heavier fiberglass cross-boom. The 3.0 station would also receive a more capable antenna for the 70 cm band and add a 23 cm antenna for a third band.

The plan included upgrading the 2.0 Station Antennas to include switchable polarity and the addition of a 200W power amplifier for 2 m to compensate for the reduced gain of the smaller 8 element yagi in the 2.0 station.

Building The Primary Station

Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System
Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

The construction and testing of the 3.0 Station are well covered in articles on our Blog so I’ll just share a little information about the final result. The new antenna system used the same ground-based roof tower arrangement that worked so well for the 2.0 station. The larger 3.0 antennas are center mounted on a fiberglass cross boom to prevent the boom from affecting the antenna patterns. We’ve also added a 23 cm loop yagi for a third band. The 3.0 antenna system also uses a more powerful Azimuth-Elevation Rotator from Alfa-Spid.

2m Yagi Switchable Polarity Feedpoint
2m Yagi Switchable Polarity Feedpoint

The new 2 m and 70 cm antennas use relays at their feed point to enable remote switching of the antenna’s polarity between Left-Hand and Right-Hand circular polarity.

Satellite 3.0 Station Radio and Controls
Satellite 3.0 Station Radio and Controls

The upgraded 3.0 ground station adds a control console for switch the polarity of the antennas and a custom built PPT Router Device to manage PTT sequencing of the radio and the pre-amplifiers at the antennas.

Computer Control via MacDoppler
Computer Control via MacDoppler

We continue to use the excellent MacDoppler software to control tracking and Doppler correction in the 3.0 Station.

Building The Backup Station

Upgraded 2.0 Antennas
Upgraded 2.0 Antennas

The upgrades to the 2.0 Antenna System involved the installation of Polarity Switching relays in the feedpoints of the 2.0 antennas. This upgrade was a fairly straightford one.

Backup Station Radio and Controls Test
Backup Station Radio and Controls Test

The ground station side was more involved as we needed to build a complete, second station. I was able to purchase an Icom IC-910H radio used in good condition for this purpose. The rest of the station components were similar to the Primary Station.

Backup Station Test at the Fall Tech Class
Backup Station Test at the Fall Tech Class

We tested the Backup Station at our Fall Technician License Class and it worked great! several of our class students used the station to make their first satellite contacts.

I am currently working on adding the 2 m amplifier and improving the PTT sequencing system on the Backup Station and I plan to post more about these upgrades in here in the near future.

Audio System for Our Contact

Mixing Board at HMS
Mixing Board at HMS

Our contact will take place in the auditorium at HMS. The room has a high-quality sound system and mixing board for audio.

Audio System for ISS Contact
Audio System for ISS Contact

Dave, K1DLM is part of our ISS Crew Contact Team, and he has quite a bit of pro-level audio experience. He has put together the following plan for our Audio System. His design allows us to smoothly transfer audio to and from either the Primary or the Back Stations. We are also planning to record video and Livestream video to the N1FD Facebook page during our contact, and his design supports these elements as well.

Data System for ISS Contact
Data System for ISS Contact

The final element in our plan is the Data System. The network at HMS is very tightly controlled from a security point of view and this makes it difficult to use for contact critical functions like access to up to date Keplerian Elements for our straightforward. Dave has an LTE-based Internet Access System that we have used in the past and we’ve elected to use this to support our stations. We are planning to use the HMS network to transport the Livestream video from our contact. We’ll be using a Mevo Internet Camera for this purpose.

A Million Details…

As you can probably imagine, there a many details that go into making a project like this possible. Here’s a rough timeline of some of the major remaining steps from a Ground Station point of view:

  • Assemble both stations at our QTH with the 2m amplifier and the final 215′ control cables and feed lines – In progress, should be complete in a few days.
  • Full Station Test – add the Audio and Data System components and test the full station at our QTH – Within a week.
  • Configure and Test Data Network Access – for Live Streaming Video and computers and HMS.
  • Setup Ground Station at HMS and perform Dry Run Test – Complete by December 1st.

Dan and the HMS faculty team are also very busy finalizing the student’s questions and handle press related activities.

We hope our readers will join us via the Livestream video for our contact. We’ll post more on this as we get closer to our contact!

Fred, AB1OC

WSJT-X and FT8 – A Video Introduction

WSJT-X 2.0

WSJT-X 2.0

The Nashua Area Radio Society recently held a Tech Night on WSJT-X: FT8, WSPR, MSK144, and More. This Tech Night was recorded and provides a good starting point for folks who want to understand what the WSJT-X software can do, how to use it, and how to integrate it into their station.

August 2018 Tech Night – WSJT-X: FT8, WSPR, MSK144, and More

The video from our Tech Night includes lots of information about how to get started as well as some recorded demonstrations of FT8 and Meteor Scatter contacts.

Topics Cover During WSJT-X Tech Night

Topics Cover During WSJT-X Tech Night

Our Tech Night also covered tools like PSKreporter and JTAlert that can be used with WSJT-X. Finally, we spent some time on using WSPR to evaluate your station’s performance and how you can use the software to do more “exotic” QSOs such as Meteor Scatter on 6m.

Nashua Area Radio Society members have access to our full library of over 30 Tech Night Video on a wide range of topics for both beginning and advanced Hams. You can see the list of what is available on the Nashua Area Radio Society Tech Night page.

I hope you enjoy the video!

Fred, AB1OC

HAB-4 Launch Preparations

We have established launch windows and begun final launch preparations for our High-Altitude Balloon 4 (HAB-4) launch. We’ve made some modifications to our HAB platform to improve its cold temperature performance and we’ve determined the Balloon and flight path parameters for the upcoming flight. HAB-4 will carry an APRS transmitter and can be tracked using aprs.fi. You can read more about HAB-4 flight preparations via the link that follows.

Source: HAB-4 Launch Preparations – Nashua Area Radio Society

A Portable Satellite Station Part 6 – Plans for a 4.0 Station

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

We have begun looking ahead to Satellite Station 4.0 and where we want to go next after our ARISS crew contact is complete. Our goals for the Satellite Station 4.0 include:

  • A permanently installed version of our 3.1 Station which can be operated remotely over the Internet
  • Upgraded Transceivers which add Pan Adapter/Waterfall display capabilities
  • Enhancements to our Transportable 2.1 Station for improved performance
  • A more portable version of our 1.1 Station for Grid Square Activations

New 4.0 Station at our Home QTH

The performance of the 3.1 Station’s antennas is very good but the antenna system is a handful to transport. We are planning to install these antennas on a new tower at our QTH and use our Flex-6700 SDR-based Remote Operating Gateway with some upgrades to create a remotely controlled satellite station which can be operated via the Internet. The main components of the 4.0 Station will include:

The new tower will also provide a new antenna system for the 6 m band.

Updated Remote Operating Setup

Flex-6700 SDR-Based Remote Operating Setup

The Flex-6700 SDR and the associated Maestro Remote Unit will enable the 4.0 Station to be remotely operated through the Internet via a Laptop running MacDoppler.

Upgraded Transportable 2.2 Station

Upgrade plans for our Transportable station include the addition of remote switchable polarity relays and a new Icom IC-9700 Transceiver when it becomes available.

Polarity Switch Installed in LEO Pack Antennas

Polarity Switch Installed in LEO Pack Antennas

The polarity switches have been installed on the M2 Antennas 436CP16 and 2MCP8A antennas in our M2 Antennas LEO Pack. We are using a DX Engineering EC-4 console to control LHCP or RHCP polarity selection on the antennas. We have been doing some testing with the upgraded LEO pack which includes the polarity switching capabilities and we are seeing a significant improvement in performance.

Alfa Spid Az-El Rotator

AlfaSpid Az-El Rotator

We are also planning to move the upgraded LEO pack antennas to the current 3.1 Tower to take advantage of the AlfaSpid Rotator which is installed there.

Icom IC-7900 Transceiver

The other major upgrade planned for the 2.2 Station is the new Icom IC-9700 Transceiver when it becomes available. This radio will utilize Icom’s SDR platform and includes a Pan Adapter/Waterfall display which will be a very useful addition for operation with Linear Transponder Satellites.

Upgraded Portable 1.2 Station

We really enjoy mountain topping and activating grid squares so we are planning upgrades to our 1.2 Station for this purpose.

Our 1.2 Portable Satellite Station on Mt. Kearsarge

Our 1.2 Portable Satellite Station on Mt. Kearsarge

The 1.2 Station utilizes computer control to enable operation with linear transponder satellites and will use solar/battery power along with a 100w/70w Icom IC-910H Satellite Transceiver.

Solar Panels

Solar Panels

A pair of 90W foldable solar panels, an MPPT solar charger, and a pair of LiPo 4S4P A123 batteries provide plenty of power to run the IC-910H Transceiver and the associated computer. The portable station also includes a pair of ARR preamps.

Portable Satellite Antenna System

Portable Satellite Antenna System

The antenna system we’ll be using is an Elk Portable Log Periodic 2m/70cm yagi on a camera tripod. A combination of a compass and an angle finder gauge help us to correctly point the antenna.

As you can probably tell, all of these upgrades are in progress and are at various stages of completion. We will post updates here on our Blog as we continue to make progress.

Fred, AB1OC

Update on NARS Amateur Radio Expo for Young People

Source: Update on NARS Amateur Radio Expo for Young People

The Nashua Area Radio Society will again be hosting an Amateur Radio Exposition for Young People as part of NEAR-Fest in Deerfield, NH on October 12th and 13th.

You can see more about what we are planning via the link above. Activities will include multiple GOTA Stations, a Kit Build, a Fox Hunt, Morse Code, and other hands-on activities. We will also be operating a Special Event Station as N1T.

NEAR-Fest along with several NARS members are also sponsoring a matching fundraising project as part of this event. Check it out!

Fred, AB1OC

A First Look at WSJT-X V2.0

WSJT-X 2.0-rc1

WSJT-X 2.0-rc1 Beta Software

It looks like the first Beta Release of WSJT-X 2.0 is available. WSJT-X Version 2.0  includes a number of features to support contesting and longer compound callsigns when FT8 and MSK144 (Meteor Scatter) modes are used. The new features include:

  • Better support for North American VHF Contests with improved handling of grids and /R rover call sign designators
  • Six-character locators and call sign suffix support for portable operators focused on EU VHF contesting
  • Support for ARRL Field Day exchanges
  • Support for ARRL RTTY Roundup exchanges
  • Support for call signs up to 11 characters to support non-standard and compound call signs

The new version extends the length of the messages used for FT8 and MSK144 from 75/72 bits to 77 bits to enable the above features. As a result, there are compatibility issues between the v1.x releases of WSJT-X and v2.0 when FT8 and MSK144 modes are used. More detail about the new features and changes can be found here.

It is expected that the Meteor Scatter community (MSK144 mode users) will rapidly move to WSJT-X V2.0 so no backward compatibility features are provided for MSK144.

The transition for FT8 mode users is a much bigger problem. As a result, it is suggested that users test the new mode on alternative frequencies on the 20m band at 14.078 MHz and on the 40m band at 7.078 Mhz.

WSJT-X 2.0 FT8 Compatibility and Contest Options

WSJT-X 2.0 FT8 Compatibility and Contest Options

The Advanced Tab in the WSJT-X v2.0 settings provides some options to help with compatibility between v1.x and V2.0. One must choose whether to transmit using the shorter v1.x or the v2.0 messages. If you are operating in the above mention “2.0” frequency areas on 20m or 40m, it’s a good idea to transmit using the 2.0 message format (check always generate 77-bit messages).

The new version of WSJT-X can decode both the shorter v1.x and the longer v2.0 messages simultaneously. The decoding will be faster on slower computers if you check the Decode only 77-bit messages option when operating in the v2.0 frequency ranges.

If you want to try the new v2.0 FT8 mode in one of the supported contests, you’ll want to check the appropriate Special operating activity option. If you are not operating in one of these contests, you’ll want to select None.

All you need to do to try the new version is to download and install it and configure the FT8 options. I’ve been running WSJT-X v2.0 rc1 in the 20m band in the 14.078  MHz sub-band this morning and have made about 20 contacts using the new format. The v2.0 software is working well.

There are some additional enhancements which will be included in WSJT-X v2.0. Here’s some information on these features from the WSJT-X v2.0 Quick Start Guide

WSJT-X 2.0 has several other new features and capabilities. The WSPR decoder has better sensitivity by about 1 dB. Color highlighting of decoded messages provides worked-before status for callsigns, grid locators, and DXCC entities on a “by band” basis. Color highlighting can also identify stations that have (or have not) uploaded their logs to Logbook of the World (LoTW) within the past year. The necessary information from LoTW can be easily downloaded from the ARRL website.

Currently, several additional release candidates are planned for WSJT-X v2.0 as follows:

  • September 17, 2018:   -rc1        Expires October 31, 2018
  • October 15, 2018:        -rc2       Expires November 30, 2018
  • November 12, 2018:    -rc3       Expires December 31, 2018
  • December 10, 2018:     GA         Full release of WSJT-X 2.0

Note that the release candidates will expire about 2 weeks after each new version becomes available. Also, its required that anyone who runs the Beta (release candidate) software agrees to report any bugs that they find.

We are looking forward to trying the new FT8 in the next digital contest which allows it.

Fred, AB1OC

Nashua Area Radio Society Youth Expo at Boxboro

Karen KC1KBW a BGHS Teacher Building a Kit

Karen KC1KBW a BGHS Teacher Building a Kit

The Nashua Area Radio Society put together a successful Amateur Radio Youth Exposition at the New England Amateur Radio Convention at Boxboro this year. Our exposition features over ten displays with hands-on activities…

Source: NARS Youth Expo at Boxboro – Nashua Area Radio Society

Anita AB1QB and I are continuing to work along with the Nashua Area Radio Society to encourage young people to become licensed and join the Amateur Radio Service.

NARS Team at Boxboro

Nashua Area Radio Society Team at Boxboro

The Nashua Area Radio Society recently hosted an Amateur Radio Exposition for Young People at the New England Amateur Radio Convention in Boxboro, MA. Our event featured Remote HF and Satellite GOTA stations, a kit build, and many other hands-on activities which were part of the over ten displays at the event.

You can read more and see photos from our Youth Expo via the link above. We will be holding another Amateur Radio Youth Expo as part of NETT at NEAR-Fest in Deerfield, NH in October. We hope to see some of our local friends there.

Fred, AB1OC

Working IC-9700 Shown In Tokyo

Working IC-9700 On Display In Tokyo

Working IC-9700 On Display In Tokyo

Icom displayed three working demonstration units of the forthcoming IC-9700 VHF/UHF/1.2GHz transceiver, Icom Inc. at the Tokyo Hamfair, which took place in Ariake, Tokyo on August 25th – 26th.

Source: New Icom Amateur Products Shown at Tokyo Hamfair 2018

The IC-9700 is a new VHF/UHF radio that is based upon the Software Defined Radio (SDR) platform that Icom uses in the IC-7300 and IC-7610.

It looks like this is going to be an excellent radio for Satellite, EME, and other weak-signal work on the 2 m, 70 cm, and 23 cm bands. The IC-9700 features a pan adapter display which will be very useful for working contacts through linear satellites.

Based upon previous new Transceivers release by Icom, I would guess we are at least 8 months to a year away from the time when this radio will be offered for sale in the USA.

Here’s some video of the forthcoming  IC-9700 as well as other gear from Icom. The video also features other new products and updated Firmware capabilities from Icom. Enjoy!

Fred, AB1OC