6m Antenna Upgrade Part 3 – microHam Antenna Control System

6m Antennas choices on the Station Master Deluxe

6m Antenna choices on the Station Master Deluxe

The next step in our project is to configure our microHam station management system to support the new antennas and other components in our 6m antenna project. Each radio in our station (we have five that are 6m capable) has a microHam Station Master Deluxe antenna controller that is used to select and control all of our antennas. These units use the band selection and frequency data from their associated Transceivers to present a set of antenna choices and associated rotator, LNA, amplifier, and other controls to the user.

We are adding the following components to our 6m antenna farm that will need to be controlled by our microHam system:

Any of these antennas and their associated Preamp Housings can be used by any of the six Transceivers in our station. There are also two Elecraft KPA-1500 1500w amplifiers (one is shared) that operate on 6m and can be used by three of the five Transceivers in our setup. In this article, I will cover the configuration of our microHam system to support all of the new elements.

Remote Antenna Switching

microHam TEN SWITCH

microHam TEN SWITCH

I choose a microHam TEN SWITCH to handle switching between the new 7-Element LFA and the 6m Antenna Stacks that we will be installing. This switch is can be mounted outdoors on our tower and has good SWR, power handling, and loss performance at 50 MHz. I also choose the option to have N-connectors installed on our TEN SWITCH.

Control Interface Installation

microHam Control Boxes - Relay 10 (Remote Ant. Switch) & Relay 6 (Preamp Housings)

microHam Control Boxes – Relay 10 (Ant. Switch) & Relay 6 (Preamp Housings)

The first step in this part of our project was to install two new microHam Control Boxes to control the new remote antenna switch and the two 6m Preamp Housings. These control boxes are connected to a control bus which allows the Station Master Deluxe antenna controllers associated with our transceivers to control all of our equipment and antennas. The microHam TEN SWITCH that we are using requires ten 12 Vdc control lines to select one of its ten antenna inputs. Each of the two 6m Preamp Housings requires a combination of two 28 Vdc control lines to manage its relays and a 13.8 Vdc line to power its LNA. The microHam Relay 10 Control Box is a good choice for controlling the antenna switch and a single microHam Relay 6 Control Box can be configured to control the two Preamp Housings. I installed the two new control boxes as well as a DIN Rail Terminal Block for ground fan out on an existing section of DIN rail in our shack. Finally, I extended the microHam control bus to the new units and connected the control boxes to the 13.8 Vdc and 28 Vdc power systems in our shack, and set the addresses of the two new control boxes.

Relay 10 (Ant. Switch) and Relay 6 (Preamp Housing) Control Box Configuration

Relay 10 (Ant. Switch) and Relay 6 (Preamp Housing) Control Box Configuration

Next, we updated the firmware in the new Control Boxes and configured their relays into groups for interfacing to the remote microHam TEN SWITCH and the components in the 6m Preamp Housings.

New Antenna and Remote Switch Configuration

microHam Ten Switch on Tower

microHam Ten Switch on Tower

The next step was to define “RF Boxes” in the microHam program for the 7-Element LFA, three fixed-direction 3-Element LFA Antenna Stacks, and the two 6m Preamp Housings that we are going to be installing on our towers.

With this done, we created an additional RF box for the microHam TEN SWITCH which will be located on our main tower. The image above shows how the switch is configured in the microHAM system. We also needed to associate the Relay 10 control box with the switch to enable the microHam system to control it.

6m Preamp Housing Configuration

6m Shared Preamp Housing.jpg

6m Shared Preamp Housing.jpg

The next step was to configure our 6m Preamp Housings. The image above shows the configuration of the shared housing installed on our main tower behind the microHAM TEN SWITCH.

Antenna Switching Matrix

Station Antenna Switching Matrix

The shared Preamp housing will be connected to one of the inputs on our antenna switching matrix shown above.

This arrangement allows us to use the 6m LNA in the housing with any of the 3-Element LFA antenna stacks or the 7-Element LFA antenna we are installing on this tower. One of the features of the microHam system is that it can understand and correctly sequence shared devices like LNAs, amplifiers, and other active RF components.

LNA Controls

Preamp Housing LNA Control

Preamp Housing LNA Control

The image above shows the configuration for the LNA control button that will appear on our SMDs. The configuration above creates a button and display to turn the LNA on or off when an associated button on one SMDs is pressed. This control will appear on the SMDs for any radio using one of the associated 6m antennas.

LNA and PTT Sequencing

Preamp Housing Sequencer

Preamp Housing Sequencer

We also need to configure a sequencing element for each of our 6m Preamp Housings. This ensures that the Push To Talk (PTT) lines and transceiver inhibit lines are properly sequenced for the transceivers, amplifiers, and relays in the Preamp Housing that is part of a path to a selected antenna. The microHam system automatically applies the appropriate timing and sequencing rules to all of the RF elements in the path based on the sequencer settings shown above. Configuring the sequencer also involved associating the appropriate relay control units on the newly installed Relay 6 Control Box with the elements in the sequencer timing diagram above. One item to note here is the 20 – 30 ms tail on the sequencing of the Preamp Housing relays when going from Transmit to Receive. This is done to allow extra time for any stored RF energy in the feedlines during high-power Tx to dissipate before bringing the LNA back into the feedline system.

We also added our second 6m Preamp Housing to the RF path for our existing 7-Element M2 Antenna on our VHF Tower and configured it similarly.

Virtual Rotator for Fixed Antenna Stacks

6m Antenna Stacks - microHam Virtual Rotator

6m Antenna Stacks – microHam Virtual Rotator

The microHam system has a Virtual Rotator feature which is a great way to control selecting between fixed stacks of antennas of the type we are installing. The image above shows the Virtual Rotator we configured for our 3-Element LFA stacks. The Virtual Rotator becomes an additional antenna choice that accepts a direction in the same way that a conventional rotator does. The microHam system figures out which of the available stacks would best match any heading selected and automatically switches the antenna path to the stack that best matches the chosen heading. This capability will be a great tool in VHF contests when we are working multiplier grids on 6m.

microHam Control App - 7-Element LFA, shared LNA, and Rotator Controls

microHam Control App – 7-Element LFA, shared LNA, and Rotator Controls

Final Testing

With all the configuration work done, I downloaded the final microHam program to all of our Control Boxes and SMDs and did some more testing. I connected one of our 6m Preamp Housings to the newly installed Relay 6 Control Box and tested the operation with our Transceivers. Everything worked as expected.

I also used the microHam Control App (shown above) to test the various combinations of 6m antenna selections and configured options. The image above shows the selection of the new 7-Element LFA we are adding. Note the availability of controls for the LNA in the shared Preamp Housing and the controls for pointing the antenna via the associated rotator.

Virtual Rotator for 6m Stacks

Virtual Rotator for 6m Stacks

The image above shows the selections and controls for the 6m Antenna Stacks. The Virtual Rotator choice (STK-VR) is selected in this example. Each SMD has a control knob that can be turned to any heading. When the heading for the STK-VR antenna choice is changed, the system automatically chooses the stack that most closely matches the chosen direction. Choices are also available to choose any of the three stacks directly (ex. EU-STK for the LFA stack facing Europe).

microHam Control App - 6m Split Tx and Rx Antennas

microHam Control App – 6m Split Tx and Rx Antennas

Another nice feature of the microHam system is its ability to use different antennas for Transmit and Receive. The example above shows a setup that uses two different antennas for Tx and Tx.

As you can probably tell, the microHam Station Master Deluxe (SMD) system provides many features for controlling complex antenna arrangements and shared equipment. You can learn more about the microHam SMD system and what it can do here. You can learn more about the programming and operation of the SMD components via the SMD manual.

Next Steps

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 6m Antenna Upgrade Project:

Our new LFA antennas and supporting equipment have arrived. The next step in our project will be assembling them and creating an adjustable mounting system for the 3-Element LFA antennas in our stacks.

Fred, AB1OC

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