Operating FT8 Remote on the 6m Band

FT8 Digital Remote Setup

FT8 Digital Remote Setup

I have been operating using the FT8 digital mode on the 6m band using our remote operating gateway quite a bit this summer. The SDR-based remote operating gateway in our station allows us to operate our station from other rooms in our home as well as from outside our QTH via the Internet. When I’m at home, I have computers set up with outboard monitors to create an operating setup for FT8 digital contacts on the 6m and other bands. The photo above shows this setup. Having the extra screen space and multiple laptops enables control of our station, making and logging QSOs, and checking propagation via Reverse Beacon Networks as we operate.

Radio and Logging System

Radio and Logging System

The main system is a windows laptop. It runs the SmartSDR software which operates the Flex-6700 Radio in our shack (upper right window below).

Flex-6700 SmartSDR and WSJT-X Weak Signal Digital Software

Flex-6700 SmartSDR and WSJT-X Weak Signal Digital Software

This laptop runs the WSJT-X software (left windows above) which conducts QSOs in FT8 and other weak signal modes and the JTAlert Software (lower right windows above) which interfaces WSJT-X to the DXLab logging suite. JTAlert displays all callsigns decoded by WSJT-X and compares them to my log to determine which potential contacts are new DXCC’s, Grids, States, etc. JTAlert adds contacts to my logs in DXLab when a QSO is completed using WSJT-X.

DXLab Suite Logging and Rotator Control Software

DXLab Suite Logging and Rotator Control Software

The windows laptop also runs the DXLab logging suite. DXLab handles logging of QSOs, one-click pointing of our antennas based upon the callsign being worked, and uploading contacts to LoTW, eQSL, and ClubLog for confirming contacts.

Reverse Beacon Network and Station Monitoring Computer

Reverse Beacon Network and Station Monitoring Computer

I like to use the second computer to monitor propagation and strength of my FT8 signal while operating.

PSKReporter RBN Monitoring on 6m

PSKReporter RBN Monitoring on 6m

I use two tools to assess propagation conditions while I am operating. The first is PSKReporter which is a Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) tool that is enabled by WSJT-X and most other digital mode software programs. Each time WSJT-X decodes a stations transmission, it reports the decoded callsign along with location and signal strength information to the PSKReporter website. This website then uses this information to display all of the stations that hear my and other’s transmissions in real-time. The RBN information is used to determine where a given band is open and as a tool to determine how much transmit power is needed to provide acceptable signal strength at stations that I am trying to work.

DXMaps Propagation Report on 6m

DXMaps Propagation Report on 6m

The DXMaps website shows a real-time map view of contacts being made on the 10m and higher bands. This second tool provides a real-time view of band conditions and opening on bands like 6m which have somewhat unpredictable propagation characteristics.

Together, these tools help to determine where to point antennas and what stations we can work on the 6m band.

The second laptop also runs Teamviewer remote control software. This provides access to the antenna switching controls, SWR and power monitoring equipment, station electrical power, and amplifier controls in our shack. These tools are important elements in safely operating and controlling our station when we are not in the same room as the radios and other equipment we are using.

I’ve been using the remote operating setup described here on the 6m band quite a bit over the last few weeks. I hope this post provides some ideas that other can use.

73,

Fred, AB1OC

A 6m Es Season to Remember

AB1OC Worldwide 6m Grids

AB1OC Worldwide 6m Grids

2018 has been a summer 6m E-Skip (Es) season to remember. The Es openings have been strong this year and they are continuing into the second half of July. We are enjoying almost daily openings to Europe and the western USA from here in New England. For fun, I’ve plotted my 6m Grids worked and confirmed to date using WG7J’s GridMapper site.

We got started a little late with 6m Es operations this year but the conditions have really helped our Grids, DXCC’s, and States totals worked on 6m. My totals are currently standing at:

  • 6m DXCC’s – 55 worked
  • 6m US States – 48 of 50 (only AK and HI still needed)
  • 6m Grids – 357 worked

A great deal of this progress has been made in 2018. Here are my 6m worked totals since the beginning of the year:

  • 6m DXCC’s – 48 worked
  • 6m US States – 46 worked (All but AK and HI)
  • 6m Grids – 312 worked
AB1OC Europe 6m Grids

AB1OC Europe 6m Grids

The new FT8 and MSK144 modes has made more difficult 6m contacts much easier. This is especially true for DX contacts into Europe and Africa.

AB1OC Americas 6m Grids

AB1OC Americas 6m Grids

At this point, we have worked most of the grids in the eastern half of the US. There are still some “rare” ones that are needed and a contact with Delaware is still needed for my last state on 6m in the continental USA. Alaska and Hawaii will be a challenge on 6m and I may need to use JT65 and EME propagation to work these states on 6m.

With some work on QSL’ing, the recent 6m activity will add significant progress to several of my operating awards. The new 6m DXCC’s worked recently should enable breaking the 2,000 band point level on my DXCC Challenge Award.

If you are interested in trying 6m operations or perhaps you are a new Technician Licensee or are looking for something new to try, don’t forget about the Magic Band (6m). The availability of FT8 mode has really enhanced the activity on 6m. Give it a try!

Fred, AB1OC

The Thirteen Colonies Special Event Begins Sunday

The Thirteen Colonies Special Event begin this Sunday, July 1 at 9 am EDT. The event runs for 6 days and is the largest Amateur Radio Special Event in the world. Each state that grew from one of the original Thirteen Colonies will be using a K2x call and will have a nice QSL card … Continue reading about the Thirteen Colonies Special Event →

Source: NARS Prepares for the Thirteen Colonies Special Event

HAB-3 To Launch On Sunday – How To Track Our High-Altitude Balloon

We are planning the third launch of our High-Altitude Balloon (HAB-3) this Sunday, June 3rd between 10 am and 11 am ET. We will be launching locally from the Hollis-Brookline HS here in Hollis, NH. Checkout the link below to learn more about our HAB projects and how to track our HAB from anywhere in the world while it is in flight. You can also see live stream video froun our launch and recovery via the N1FD Facebook Page.

Source: HAB-3 To Launch On Sunday – How To Track Our High-Altitude Balloon

2018 Dayton Hamvention Report

Here is our report from the Dayton Hamvention, held May 18th – 20th at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia, OH. We visited many vendor booths to see the newest items from each, bought a few new toys, and gained knowledge at the forums. You can read more about what we saw at Dayton this year via the link below.

Source: 2018 Dayton Hamvention at Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia, OH

A 40m High Performance Antenna for Field Day

40m V-Beam Wire Antenna at Field Day

40m V-Beam Wire Antenna at Field Day

The Nashua Area Radio Society has been using a 3-element wire beam antenna for Field Day for the last several years. The antenna uses three guyed 50 ft. fiberglass masts from Max-Gain Systems. The antenna uses three inverted-V style elements separated by a little over 50 ft. Since we are in the northeastern United States, we can point the antenna on a fixed, 260° heading and it covers the entire U.S. well.

40m V-Beam - EZNEC Antenna View

40m V-Beam – EZNEC Antenna View

Our 40m V-Beam antenna was initially designed in EZNEC 5.0. It was manually optimized for decent gain and front to back performance and it worked quite well. Recently, we decided to try automatic optimization software on the antenna as part of a tune-up on the design for Field Day 2018. After looking around on the Internet a bit, we discovered a software package called AutoEZ which looked ideal for my project.

AutoEZ Antenna Modeling and Optimization Software - Wires Tab

AutoEZ Antenna Modeling and Optimization Software – Wires Tab

AutoEZ is a collection of Visual Basic code and Microsoft Excel macros that act as a front-end to EZNEC 5.0 and later. AutoEZ provides a number of very useful enhancements to EZNEC including:

  • Ability to use formulas and variables to construct and modify EZNEC wire models
  • A Test Case generator and execution environment to vary model parameters and graph the results calculations run by EZNEC
  • An automatic optimizer that can adjust the parameters of an antenna model in EZNEC to optimally meet a defined set of performance goals
  • Harnesses the full power of Microsoft Excel formulas for trigonometry, logical, and other mathematical capabilities for use in EZNEC modeling
AutoEZ Antenna Model Variables

AutoEZ Antenna Model Variables

The first step in the project was to rebuild the EZNEC model that I already had for our 40m V-Beam antenna in AutoEZ. I began by defining several AutoEZ Variables and Excel Formulas in the AutoEZ Variables Tab that enabled me to easily modify the design of the antenna and to optimize it. Some of the basic variables included the target design frequency for the antenna, the height and separation of the antenna elements, the distance to the element anchor points, and the length of the element wires.

AutoEZ Antenna Model Variables (Formulae View)

AutoEZ Antenna Model Variables (Formula View)

The image above shows the model variables in “Formula View”. You can see some of the math and trig functions that were used to compute values for some of the variables. AutoEZ can only optimize variables that do not contain formulas so I was careful to ensure that the base separation between the elements and the length of the element wires were constants as these are the parameters that I wanted to optimize later.

AutoEZ Antenna Modeling and Optimization Software - Wires Tab

AutoEZ Antenna Modeling and Optimization Software – Wires Tab

Excel Trig formulas and the Variables were used on the Wires Tab to determine the coordinates of the wires in the antennas. There are a total of 7 wires in the model. Six are the two ends of the three inverted-V elements. The Seventh wire is a short 4″ section in the middle of the Driven Element to allow a current source to be inserted to drive the antenna there. I was careful to create an accurate model of the wire gauge, insulation, and loss that we are using for our V-beam

Model Variables to be Optimized

Model Variables to be Optimized

With the model built, it was back to the Variables Tab to select the parameters to be optimized. Optimization is best done as a multi-pass process and I did this in two steps. The first set of runs included optimization of both the element spacings and their lengths. This led me to conclude that the mast spacing of 27 ft (Driven to Director) and 28 ft (Driven to Reflector) were the best choices. I then set these as fixed values in the variables tab and ran the optimizer a second time with some starting element lengths to optimize the element lengths by themselves.

Optimizer Objectives

Optimizer Objectives

One must create a set of frequencies and objectives for the optimizer before running it. This is done in the AutoEZ Optimize Tab. The antenna is being used for SSB on 40m so I choose a range of frequencies that covered the SSB sub-band on 40m. Note that I weighted the center frequency heavier than the edges by including it more times in the optimizer’s list. The use of the Optimization Objectives and their associated weights and values are well covered in the AutoEZ documentation so I won’t cover them in detail here. The parameters above were chosen to create a reasonable balance between SWR values across the 40m SSB sub-band, good Front/Back and Front/Side performance from azimuth values ranging from 60º to 300º, and a reasonable amount of forward gain for a 3 element antenna of this type.

I expected that the final impedance of the antenna would be a typical value for a yagi in the 20 to 30 ohm range. Thus, I set the SWR calculations based upon a 25 ohm target impedance. More on the matching of the resulting design later…

Element Optimization Results

Element Optimization Results

It took several runs of the optimizer with different sets of Optimizer Objectives to get the final results I was looking for. The Optimizer tried 130 combinations of element lengths to arrive at the final lengths shown above. Note the improvements in SWR (1.6 -> 1.04), Forward Gain (+1 dB), Front/Back (+4.2 dB) and Front/Rear (actually Front/Side) performance that the Optimizer was able to achieve over my manual, trial and error optimization.

Post-Optimization Model Variables

Post-Optimization Model Variables

Next, I rounded the optimized element lengths and plugged them into the Variables Tab.

Post Optimization Azimuth Pattern

Post Optimization Azimuth Pattern

The image above shows the optimized Azimuth pattern for the antenna as generated by AutoEZ and EZNEC. A very clean result!

Post-Optimization Elevation Pattern

Post-Optimization Elevation Pattern

And here’s the optimized Elevation pattern near the center of the SSB sub-band. This antenna is a little low for 40m but the resulting maximum gain at a 35º angle should work well for US contacts during Field Day.

Calculated Performance for the Optimized Antenna

Calculated Performance for the Optimized Antenna

The final step in the optimization process was to calculate a full set of performance calculations for the antenna using the Calculate Tab. AutoEZ makes it very easy to generate a set of Test Cases for incremental frequencies in the SSB sub-band on 40m. Note the setting of the Elevation angle of 35º to match the maximum gain angle for the optimized antenna. Also, note the parameter settings for Ground Type and Characteristics. I set these to model the less than ideal soil conditions that we have here in New England.

Performance Plots for the Optimized Antenna

Performance Plots for the Optimized Antenna

AutoEZ provides several nice graphical capabilities via the Patterns, Triple, Smith, Custom and Currents Tabs.  I used some of them to plot the data from the performance calculations. These graphs help to visualize the results of the optimization to verify that the design objectives for the antenna have been met.

1:2 Matching Balun (25 ohm to 50 ohm)

1:2 Matching Balun (25 ohm to 50 ohm)

I am using a 1:2 matching Balun from Balun Designs at the feed point of the antenna to transform the antennas final 25 ohm feed point impedance to 50 ohm to match our coax feed line.

40m V-Beam Antenna

40m V-Beam Antenna

We are looking forward to using the optimized version of our 40m V-Beam at Field Day 2018. It took me a couple of days of time to read all of the AutoEZ documentation and learn to use the excellent tools it provides. I don’t think I will build another EZNEC antenna model without using AutoEZ. Even without the optimization features, AutoEZ makes the construction and modification of an antenna model in EZNEC far easier than it would be using EZNEC alone. I hope that you’ll give AutoEZ a try for your next antenna design project.

Fred, AB1OC

 

Sights from the New England Tech Trek (NETT) at NEAR-Fest

We have been working on project to scale our open house activities to provide an opportunity to learn about Amatuer Radio and to showcase some of the modern, “hi-tech” aspects of the Amatuer Radio Service. This project was debuted at the NETT event at NEAR-Fest. We used our Portable Satellite Station, Remote Operating Gateway, and our Mobile HF Stations as part of this activity. There might be some ideas here that you can use to create an exciting operating activity at you local club or Ham Fest.

Source: Sights from the New England Tech Trek (NETT) at NEAR-Fest

SSTV Images from the ISS – Cosmonautics Day Event

The Amatuer Radio gear on the International Space Station (ISS) supports digital and SSTV modes as well as FM voice communications. The astronauts onboard periodically fire up the SSTV system and transmit images to commemorate milestones in space travel. We recently received a set of 12 images from such an event which commemorated Cosmonautics Day. You can read more about how this is done and view the images via the link below.

Source: SSTV Images from the ISS – Cosmonautics Day Event – Nashua Area Radio Society

Upgrading our 2.0 Satellite Station for ARISS Contacts

We have been working with Hudson Memorial School near Nashua, NH to prepare for a possible ISS crew contact. The ARISS folks work with schools and their Ham Radio helpers to prepare for these contacts. ARISS provides recommendations for ground station equipment to help ensure a good experience for the students. The ground station recommendations provide a solid set of specifications to support communications with the ISS on the 2m band. The recommendations include things such as:

  • A requirement to build both a primary and a backup ground station
  • Radio and power specifications (a 200W amp is recommended)
  • Antenna specifications including recommendations to provide for switchable LHCP and RHCP
  • Computer controlled azimuth/elevation positioning of antennas to track the ISS
  • Use of a receive preamplifier at the antenna
Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

We have recently completed construction and testing of our Portable Satellite Station 3.0 which was built specifically to meet the primary station requirements for our ISS contact.

Our plan is to add some upgrades to our Portable Satellite Station 2.0 to create a Portable 2.1 Station which meets the backup station requirements. These upgrades will include:

All of the equipment needed to upgrade our 2.0 Portable Station to 2.1 is either here or will arrive shortly. Here’s some more information on the planned equipment.

Icom IC-910H Transceiver

Icom IC-910H Transceiver

The Icom IC-910H was Icom’s flagship Transceiver for Satellite work before the IC-9100 was released. It’s a very nice satellite radio! Dave, K1DLM graciously lent us his IC-910H for use in our backup station.

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

We already have a Green Heron Az/El Rotator controller setup for the Yaesu Rotator system on the 2.0 Antenna Tower and we will be reusing it for the 2.1 station.

GHTracker Running On A Raspberry Pi 3

GHTracker Running On A Raspberry Pi 3

We are also planning to build a second Raspberry Pi Rotator Interface for it.

M2 Antenna Systems PS2MCP8A Polarity Switch

M2 Antenna Systems PS-2MCP8A Polarity Switch

M2 Antenna Systems recently added a new 2M polarity switch, the PS-2MCP8A, designed for use with the 2M antenna in their LEO Pack which we are using in our 2.0 Antenna System. We will be installing this relay as well as a PS-70CM polarity switch relay for the LEO pack’s 70cm antenna as part of the 2.1 Antena System upgrade.

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

We will add another DXEngineering EC-4 BCD Control Console to control the polarity switching relays on the upgraded antennas.

m RM ITALY LA-250V Amplifier

RM ITALY LA-250V Amplifier

The final new component in our 2.0 to 2.1 upgrade is the addition of a 200W RM ITALY LA 250 power amplifier. We have opted for the version of this amplifier with the cooling fans. The unit is very well made and we are anxious to see how it performs on the air.

Some of our readers might be wondering what we are planning to do with all of Portable Satellite Ground Station equipment in the long run? We plan on keeping the 1.0 Portable Station for grid square activations and demonstrations. Its simple, battery-powered approach and small antenna make it ideal for this sort of work.

The upgraded 2.0 Portable Station with its enhanced polarity switching will become our transportable station for License Class and Field Day use. It will be converted at the end of 2018 to use our Icom IC-9100 Transceiver that is currently part of the 3.0 station.

We plan to use the Portable 3.0 Station through the year (2018) to support the planned ARISS contact, Field Day, and some demonstrations at local Ham Fests and schools. Once these are complete, we plan to permanently install it here at our QTH and it will become our main satellite ground station at our home QTH.

You can view all of the articles about our Portable Satellite Stations via the links below.

We will begin construction of the 2.1 upgraded station once a few remaining components arrive here. We plan to share some more about the construction and initial testing of our 2.1 Portable Station here.

Fred, AB1OC