EME Station 2.0 Part 1 – Goals and Station Design

The Moon

The Moon

EME or Earth-Moon-Earth contacts involve bouncing signals off the moon to make contacts. EME provides a means to make DX contacts using the VHF and higher bands. There are also some EME Contests including the ARRL EME Contest that provides opportunities to make EME contacts.

We made some 2m EME contacts a while ago using the 2m antenna on our tower at about 112′. This experience created interest on my part in building a more capable EME station at some point in time. Well, the time has finally arrived.

EME Propagation

Understanding EME Propagation is a project in of itself. The following is a brief overview of some of the (mostly negative) effects involved.

The path loss for EME contacts varies by Band and is in excess of 250 dB on the 2m band. There are some significant “propagation” effects that further impair our ability to make EME contacts. These include:

  • Faraday Rotation – an effect which results in the polarity of signals being rotated by differing amounts as they pass through the ionosphere on their way to the moon and back
  • Libration Fading – fading caused by the adding of the multiple wave-fronts that are reflected by the uneven surface of the moon
  • Path loss variations as the earth to moon distance varies – the moon’s orbit around the earth is somewhat elliptical in shape resulting in a distance variation of approximately 50,000 km during the moon’s monthly orbital cycle. This equates to about a 2 dB variation in total path loss. An average figure for the path loss for 2m EME might be in the range of 252 dB.
  • Transit Delays – at the speed of light, it takes between 2.4 and 2.7 seconds for our signals to travel from earth to the moon and back.
  • Noise – the signals returning from the moon are extremely weak and must compete with natural (and man-made) noise sources. The sun and the noise from other stars in our galaxy are significant factors for EME communications on the 2m band.
  • Doppler shifts – as the earth rotates, the total length of the path to the moon and back is constantly changing and this results in some frequency shift due to doppler effects. Doppler shift changes fairly slowly compared to the time it takes to complete a 2m EME QSO so it is not a major factor for the 2m band.
  • Moon’s size vs. Antenna Aperture – the moon is a small target (about 0.5 degrees) compared to the radiation pattern of most 2m antenna systems. This means that most of our transmitted power passes by the moon and continues into space.

Taking the moon’s size, an average orbital distance, and an average Libration Fading level into account, one can expect only about 6.5 % of the power that is directed towards the moon to be reflected back towards earth.

EME “Good Guys”

One might look at the challenges associated with making EME contacts and say “why bother”? EME contacts present one of the most challenging and technical forms of Amateur Radio communications. It is this challenge the fascinates most EME’ers including this one. Fortunately, there are some “good-guy” effects that help to put EME communications within reach of most Amateur Radio stations. These include:

  • WSJT-X and the JT65 Digital Protocol – In the early days of EME communications, one had to rely on CW mode to make contacts. All of the impairments outlined above made these contacts very challenging and the antennas and power levels required put EME communications out of the reach of most Amateurs. Along came Joe Taylor’s digital JT65 protocol which changed all of this. It is now possible to make 2m EME contacts with a single (albeit large) 2m yagi and 200W or so of input power. As a result of these innovations, many more Amateurs have built EME stations and are active on the 2m (and other) bands. Many DXpeditions are now also including EME communications in their operations.
  • Ground Gain Effects – a horizontally polarized antenna system will experience approximately 6 dB of additional gain when the antenna(s) are pointed approximately parallel to the ground. Ground gain effects made it possible for us to use our single 2m antenna to make our first 2m EME contacts.
  • MAP65 Adaptive Polarization – Fading resulting from polarity changes due to Faraday Rotator can cause a received signal to fade to nothing over the period of time needed to complete a 2m EME contact. These polarity “lock-out” effects can make contacts take significant time to complete. Fortunately, a version of the software which implements the JT65 protocol called MAP65 has been created that will automatically detect and adapt to the actual polarity of signals returning from the moon. More on how this is achieved follows below. MAP65 is most useful for making “random” EME contacts during contests. In these situations, a variety of signals will be present in a given band with different polarities and the MAP65 software can adapt to each one’s polarity and decode as many simultaneous signals as possible.
  • Commercially Available Amplifiers for VHF+ Bands – Modern, solid-state amplifiers have become much for available for the 2m (and other VHF and higher bands). This has made single-antenna EME on 2m and above much more practical for smaller stations with a single antenna.

Our 2m EME Goals and Station Design

We began this project by making a list of goals for our 2m EME Station 2.0. Here is that list:

  • Operation using JT65 and QRA64 digital protocols and possibly CW on the 2m EME band
  • 80th percentile or better station (i.e. we want to be able to work 80% of the JT65 capable 2m EME stations out there)
  • Operation in EME contests and EME DX’ing; earn a 2m EME DXCC

We have come up with the following station design parameters to meet these goals:

  • An array of four X-polarized antennas with an aggregate gain of approximately 23 dBi
  • A new 26′ Rohn 55G tower to support the antennas
  • A computer-controlled Azimuth/Elevation rotator system to allow us to track the moon
  • Input power in the range of 900W
  • A MAP65 capable SDR-based receive system which can support adaptive polarity
  • Low-noise, high gain preamplifiers located at the antennas
  • A low-loss feedline system for both the transmit and receive sides of the system
  • Use of both the MAP65 and standard versions for WSJT-X for digital operations
  • Use of Linrad as a front-end to the receive side of our system
  • Our existing Icom IC-9100 Transceiver and M2 1K2 2m Power Amplifier for transmitting

Antennas

WA1NZP Antenna System (4 M2 XP32 X-Polarity Antenna Array)

WA1NZP Antenna System (4 M2 Antennas XP32 X-Polarity Antenna Array)

It takes some fairly large antennas to create an 80th percentile EME station. We are planning a setup similar to Bob, WA1NZP’s system shown above. We are going to put up a 26′ Rohn 55G tower for our EME antenna system. We will be using four M2 Antenna System XP28 Antennas mounted on an H-frame to create a 15′ x 15′ square array.

The combined gain of the system will be approximately 23 dBi with a 3 dB beamwidth of 12.5°. The XP28 antennas are designed for stacking and have good Gain/Temperature (G/T) characteristics. G/T is a measure of the gain and noise performance of an antenna system. See VE7BQH’s tables for some interesting data on G/T for many commercially available EME and VHF+ antennas.

The antenna system will have separate feeds for the antenna array’s Horizontal (H) and Vertical (V) planes. The Horizontal elements will be oriented parallel to the ground to maximize ground gain when the H plane is used for transmitting (and receive). A pair of 4-port power combiners will be used to combine the H and V polarities of the four antennas into a pair of H and V feedline connections.

Plans call for a combination of the M2 Orion 2800G2 and MT3000A rotators to be used along with a Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller to provide computer-controlled tracking of the moon. A 22′ section of 3″ Chrome Molly mast material will allow the azimuth rotator to be located near the base of the tower where it can be easily serviced.

Tower Mounted Preamps and Polarity Switching

MAP65 Switching and Preamp Housing

MAP65 Switching and Preamp Housing

M2 Antenna Systems will be supplying a MAP65 Switching and Preamp System that will mount on the tower near the antennas. The MAP65 Housing provides switching and separate receive preamplifiers and feedlines for the H and V polarities of the antennas. Separate H and V receive coax connections bring the Horizontal and Vertical elements of the antennas back to the shack. A third coax connection is provided for Transmit. The transmit feedline can be routed to either the H or the V antenna polarity to help minimize Faraday Rotation related fading at the other end of the contact.

S2 Sequencer

S2 Sequencer

An M2 Antennas S2 Sequencer will provide Tx/Rx sequencing and H/V transmit polarity selection via the MAP65 Switching and Preamp System on the tower. The sequencer is essential to provide safe changeovers between receive and transmit and to protect the preamplifiers and the power amplifier during high power operation.

Feedline plans call for a run of 7/8″ Hardline Coax for transmit and a pair of LMR-400uF Coax cables for the H and V receive polarities.

MAP65 Capable Receive Chain

LinRF IQ+ Block Diagram

LinRF IQ+ Block Diagram

The signals returning from the moon in an EME system are very, very weak. Because of this, Noise and Dynamic Range performance are critical factors in an EME receive system. In addition, we will need a pair of high-performance, phase-coherent receivers to enable Adaptive Polarization via MAP65.

LinkRF IQ+ Dual Polarity Receive System

LinkRF IQ+ Dual Polarity Receive System

We are planning to use a LinkRF IQ+ Dual Channel Receive Converter in our EME system. The Link RF IQ+ features excellent noise and dynamic range performance and its phase-coherent design will support adaptive polarity via MAP65. The IQ+ separately converts both the H and V polarities of the antennas into two separate pairs of I/Q streams.

UADC4 High-Performance A/D Converter

UADC4 High-Performance 4-Channel A/D Converter

The four channels (two I/Q streams) from the LinkRF IQ+ must be digitized and fed to a Windows PC for decoding. The conventional way to do this is with a 4-channel, 24-bit soundcard. The available computer soundcards add a good bit of noise and therefore limit the overall dynamic range of an EME system. Alex, HB9DRI at LinkRF has come up with the UADC4 – a high-performance 4-channel ADC that is specially designed for software-defined radio. The UADC4 design is based on CERO- IF conversion and is optimized for EME use. The UADC4 should add about 10 – 15 dB of dynamic range improvement over a typical 24-bit PC Soundcard. Alex is currently taking pre-orders for the next run for UADC4 devices. You can contact him at info@linkrf.ch for more information.

Software

JT65 Software Block Diagram

JT65B Software Block Diagram

Our plans for JT65 software and related components for our EME station are shown above. We are planning on running a combination of Linrad and WSJT software on the same Windows PC to handle JT65B QSOs. There are two configurations that are applicable to our plans:

We are also planning to develop a simple windows application that will read the Moon Tracking data that is generated by WSJT MAP65 and WSJT-X and use it to control the rotator system associated with our EME antennas. More on this to come in a future article.

Transmit System

2m Amplifier And Sequencers

2m Amplifier and Sequencers

A combination of our existing Icom IC-9100 Transceiver and our 2M-1K2 Amplifier will be used for the Transmit side of our system. The 2M-1K2 can generate about 900W when transmitting in JT65B mode.

Well, that about covers it as far as our 2m EME goals and station design go. The plan is to break ground for the new EME tower later this week. We’ll continue to post more articles in this series as our project proceeds.

Here are some links to other articles in our series about our EME Station 2.0 project:

Fred, AB1OC

Leave a Reply