Image Taken From Our High-Altitude Balloon at over 90,000 ft
Members of the Nashua Area Radio Club launched a High-Altitude Balloon (HAB) to the edge of space and back this past weekend. Our HAB carried a 2m APRS Transmitter and sent position and atmospheric telemetry to the ground during its flight. Our HAB was tracked by many folks using aprsi.fi during its flight via the N1FD-11 call sign.
You can see an amazing video of the flight include footage taken during our launch and from the balloon while in flight above.
Our HAB launch was part of a STEM learning project that our club did in partnership with several High Schools here in New Hampshire. You can read more about the project and our STEM work on our club’s Blog here.
Anita, AB1QB and I have spent a good deal of time this past year helping the Nashua Area Radio Club here in Nashua, NH USA as a way to give back to the Amateur Radio Service. Our work with the Nashua ARC has produced some of the most enjoyable and memorable times of our Amateur Radio experience.
Teaching Nashua Area Radio Club Hosted License Classes
In particular, our contributions to the work that our club is doing around helping people to earn licenses and introducing young people to the Amateur Radio Service has been most rewarding.
Abby, KC1FFX Operating our GOTA Station during Nashua ARC Youth Day
We recently produced a 2016 Highlights video about our Club’s activities and the club’s contributions to the Amateur Radio hobby. We thought that some of our readers here might enjoy the video. You can view it on our club’s home page here.
The Mobile Amateur Radio Awards Club (MARAC) is a support group for county hunting and mobile activities with members all over the world. This is a great organization to join if you are interested in County Hunting. MARAC provides additional awards center around County Hunting and mobile operating.
You can also view WY7LL’s video on YouTube for a nice introduction to County Hunting, MARAC and the tools that the group provides to help County Hunters.
Anita did the planning for our County Tour to Dayton, OH and back. She began by looking at looking at the County Hunter’s Web most wanted page to determine which counties lie along potential routes between are home and Dayton, OH were most needed by County Hunters. Based upon this information, she created the route shown at the beginning of this post. As you can see, we are taking different routes going to Dayton, OH and back to allow us to activate as many U.S. Counties as we can. We are also taking a few side trips off our route to activate a few of the most needed Counties near our route.
Windham, Tolland, Hardford, Litchfield, New Haven, Fairfield
The table above shows the 86 U.S. Counties that we plan to activate on our trip along with a rough idea of our schedule.
County Finder App
We found a useful iPhone App (County Finder) that will tell us what County we are in at a given time. The County Finder App uses the GPS in our iPhones to provide our current location in real-time.
HamClock Grid Square App
We will also be tracking and logging the current grid square that we are operating from. We will be using the HamClock App on our iPhones to determine our grid square of operation in real-time.
Anita and I will be taking turns operating and logging. We are planning to use a laptop computer running the DXLab Suite and we will connect it directly to the IC-7000 Radio in our truck. This combination plus the County Finder and HamClock Apps above should allow us to accurately log all of our contacts. We will also be uploading contracts that we make to eQSL, LoTW and ClubLog in real-time as we operate.
We will also be running an APRS station so that folks can see where we are located in real-time and follow our progress. We are using the OpenAPRS iPhone App for this purpose. Our APRS callsign with be AB1QB-15 and you can see our position and progress on aprs.fi at any time by clicking here.
N1FD – Nashua Area Radio Club QSL
Anita and I are members of the Nashua Area Radio Club and we will be operating using the Club’s call sign, N1FD/M, during the trip. In addition to the electronic QSL’ing methods mentioned above, we will also be able to provide paper QSL’s using the Club’s QSL card shown above. All paper QSLs that we send will note the correct County and Grid Square from which the QSL’ed contact was made. See N1FD on QRZ.com for QSL information.
County Hunters Net Frequency (SSB)
14.336 & 14.271 MHz
County Hunters Net Frequencies
We plan to operate on or near the County Hunters Net Frequencies listed above. We will be QRV SSB on all of these bands and we may also do a limited amount of operating on 160m SSB as well.
Our Mobile HF Station
We hope that you will take some time to work us during our trip. If you do and you read our Blog, please let us know. If we do not have other stations calling, we’d like to take a little time to say “hello” and get to know some of our readers better. We will also be attending the County Hunter’s Forum on Friday, May 15th at this year’s Dayton Hamvention. If you are there, please introduce yourself and we’ll have an “eyeball QSO”.
Anita, AB1QB has worked 13 all-time new DXCC’s and I’ve worked 5 all time new DXCC’s since the beginning of 2015. Anita has broken the 250 DXCC barrier and I’m just 2 away from breaking 300. There have also been quite a few new IOTA’s for us. Anita has added 11 IOTA’s this year and I’ve added 14. We also added more than 85 DXCC Band-Points each towards our DXCC Challenge Award totals. I have set a goal to work at least one new DXCC Challenge Band-Point each day in 2015 in hopes of getting to the 2,000 DXCC Band-Point level before the end of the year (I am currently at 1,785 worked).
Shack Board – Upcoming Operations and Contests
We use a number of different sources to find out about these operations. Our favorite ones are The Weekly DX, the DX-World.net (the source of the graphic above) and DX Publishing’s QRZ DX. These are all excellent sources for finding out about upcoming DXpeditions, small DX operations and IOTA activations. Working DX contests such as CQ WW DX, the ARRL DX Contests and CQ WW WPX are also excellent ways to work new DXCC’s and new Band-Points. We have a whiteboard in our shack where we record upcoming operations that we need as well as contests that we want to participate in. This helps us keep track of what is coming up that we need.
We also use the SpotCollector component of the DXLab Suite to help us identify new DXCC’s, Band-Points, IOTA’s and WAZ Band-Zones that we need in real-time when they come on. We have also used SpotCollector to alert us when stations that we need for the Yearly CQ DX Marathon are on the air.
Spot Sources Configuration In SpotCollector
We have configured SpotCollector (the spotting component of DXLab) to aggregate spots from a variety of sources. Our logs are kept in DXLab and we program the SpotCollector to filter all of the incoming cluster spots and CW/RTTY Skimmer data to tell us about high-priority stations that we want to work when they are on the air. The key to this approach is careful filtering of incoming cluster and skimmer spots to only display and forward the most important opportunities.
We then use the powerful SQL script capability of SpotCollector to only tell us about stations that we are willing to “head for the shack to work”. SpotCollector is configured to send the appropriate spots as text messages via email to our mobile phones so that we know immediately when something that we need comes on. The filter above selects all-time new DXCCs, new DXCC Band-Points, new IOTA’s and new WAZ Band-Zones which are spotted in the Eastern or Central United States. The filter also picks up new Band-States for the ARRL Worked All States Award.
We hope our readers who are interested in working DX and IOTA’s will be able to find some time to work so of the operations that are on the air right now. This time period is certainly one that has a lot of potential to put “new ones” in the log. If you use the DXLab Suite, you might try some to use some of the more advanced features of SpotCollector to help you to better find stations that you want to work when they are on.
It is once again time for our annual 2014 Year in Review post. First, I’d like to thank our readers for their continued interest in our Blog. Our blog was viewed about 100,00 times in 2014 from 165 countries around the world. You, our readers have made 2014 our busiest year yet and this provides Anita (AB1QB) and me with great encouragement to continue to provide content for our readers.
2014 was a very busy year in Amateur Radio for us. Our activities included a continued focus on station building, contesting, WRTC 2014, special events, providing presentations to help other in the hobby learn about new things, attending several HAM Events, progress on operating awards, and most importantly – time spent on the air operating.
microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller
We upgraded our fixed station to include a microHAM Station Automation system this year. This was a major project that added some nice SO2R capabilities to our Multi-one station as well as automated the sharing of our antennas between our two SO2R Operating positions. More of this project can be found here:
Eggbeater LEO Satellite Antennas And Preamps Systems On Tower
We also added LEO Satellite capabilities to our station with the addition of some new antennas and electronics on our tower. This allowed us to make our first contacts through LEO birds with linear transponders. Our articles on this project include:
Our final major station building project was the construction of a state of the art mobile HF station in our Ford F-150 pickup truck. We did this project in phases starting with a simple setup using a 100W radio and HAM Stick antennas through the installation of a Screwdriver Antenna System for the 160m – 10m HF bands and concluding with the installation of an amplifier to enable high power mobile HF operation. You can view the articles on this project here:
Anita (AB1QB) and I continued to be active in several contests this year. We both continued to develop our skills as contesters and our scores and place in the rankings reflected this. You can read more about our contesting activities and what we learned in the following articles:
We make it a priority to develop a significant amount of our Amateur Radio time to helping others in the hobby learn new things. In addition to writing this Blog, Anita and I try to create and deliver several presentations each year on a variety of topics of interest to the Amateur Radio Community. Our presentation this year included an update of our presentation on Amateur Radio Station Design and Construction and an Introductory Presentation on the DXLab Software Suite. We are always interested in working with Amateur Radio Clubs to deliver the presentation either in person where practice or over the web.
Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (K9EID)
We had the fortune to meet some of the legends in Amateur Radio this past year. Anita and I had the opportunity to get meet Bob Heil, K9EID and to appear on his Ham Nation podcast. Bob is an amazing gentlemen and we feel truly fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know him. We also had the opportunity to meet Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ, the President and Founder of QRZ.com. Fred visited our station and did an article about our station on QRZ.com. Anita and I both learned a great deal about HAM Radio and how it came to be what it is today as a result of the time these fine folks spent with us.
Joe Taylor’s WSJT Presentation At the ARRL Centennial Convention
Amateur Radio Conventions and HAM Fests were a major part of our Amateur Radio fun again this year. We were fortunate to attend and speak at the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford, CT USA this year – truly a once in a lifetime Amateur Radio experience. We also attended the Dayton Hamvention in 2014 where we had a chance to see all of the latest and greatest in Amateur Radio Equipment.
Our 2014 QSOs By Callsign
We were quite active on the air making almost 26,000 contacts between the two of us. As you can see from the graphic above, about 45% of our contacts were as part of Special Event Operations. We also made a little over 500 contacts from our mobile station, working over 100 DXCC entities in 2014 from the mobile.
We mostly operated in the SSB phone mode in 2014. Anita and I both continue to work on our CW skills and we managed a little over 800 QSOs using CW in 2014. Anita was very active in the RTTY mode as part of her RTTY contesting efforts.
13 Colonies K2K New Hampshire QSL!
All of this operating resulted in quite a bit of QSL activity. We sent a total of almost 4,200 QSL cards in 2014!
We again made a video showing all of our contacts around the world in 2014. As you can see from the video, we were fortunate to work quite a bit of DX in 2014.
Anita and I had a lot of fun with Amateur Radio in 2014. We are looking forward to another great year of HAM Radio fun in 2015. We hope to share some of what we learn and our experiences with our readers here on our Blog.
I came across a great video this morning – an excellent introduction to DX’ing. For me, this video really communicates well what DX’ing is all about. Chasing DX is a part of our hobby that provides the chance to meet many new friends around the world, learn about culture and geography and make some amazing contacts. Take some time to watch the video – I think our readers will enjoy it!
Thanks to support from all of our readers, our blog passed the 100,000 views mark this past week. The material here has seen good interest from HAMs around the world. The map above shows the countries that have viewed the articles and content here.
Top 25 Countries
The table above shows the top 25 Countries that have viewed the information here the most. North America and Europe are the sources of the most interest in our Blog but we are also seeing good interest from several countries in Asia and South America as well. This list probably pretty closely reflects the concentration of Amateur Radio Operators in countries around the world.
We’d like to take thank all of you who read our Blog for you interest. We will continue to publish new content here as our experiences with HAM radio continue and we learn new things about our wonderful hobby.
Anita’s second radio is an Icom IC-7600 and it’s integration into the system went very smoothly. We also integrated the control of our Power Amplifiers (a combination of Icom PW-1s and an Elecraft KPA500) into the microHAM system. As you can see from the diagram above, the amplifiers are dedicated to specific radios and can be controlled directly by each radio’s Station Master Deluxe (SMD). We used microHAM supplied amplifier control cables for the PW-1s and I built a custom control cable for the Elecraft KPA500 (this was not difficult – both microHAM and Elecraft provide good documentation for the interfaces involved).
With the cabling done, I next configured the SMDs to correctly set the control leads to switch the Amplifier and Bandpass filter bands based on the Transmit (Tx) frequency of the associated transceiver. The picture above shows the configuration for the bandpass filters. The configuration for the amplifiers is similar.
Control Box Configuration
The next step in the process was to add some additional microHAM Control Boxes to the uLink bus and configure their addresses. The picture above shows the control interfaces in our system including the four SMDs. The addressing convention that we use in our station has 40-series control boxes which control our 4×10 antenna switching matrix, 50-series control boxes which control our Tx antennas and 60-series control boxes which control our Receive (Rx) antennas and associated equipment. The picture above also illustrates some of the Units that we’ve defined on our Control Boxes to create interfaces to amplifiers, filters, antenna switching and other controls.
Palstar Dummy Load
The first step in the cut over of our antennas was to connect the antennas and devices which did not require complex control. This included our OCF Dipole and our Palstar High-Power Dummy Load. As each antenna was connected, the associated path was configured in the system and tested to ensure that everything worked as expected.
Dummy Load Modification
I made a simple modification to the Dummy Load to allow its lamp to be switched on when one of the radios in the shack selects it. This involved adding a couple of binding posts to the device and running the lamp bulb circuit though the binding posts. The posts are connected to a RELAY6 control box and the microHAM system is configured to close the associated relay whenever a radio selects the Dummy Load. This makes it easy to see that the Dummy Load is selected and extends the life of the bulb.
Transmit Antenna Controls
The next step in the cut over process was to move all of our transmit antennas and rotators to the system one at a time and test them. This required the construction and testing of some RS-232 serial cables to connect our three SteppIR Antennas and our Green Heron RT-21D Rotator Controllers to their associated DATA Control Boxes (top row in the picture above).
SteppIR DB36 Control
The picture above shows the configuration for one of our SteppIR Antennas – The Upper DB36 Yagi. This particular configuration step involved assigning the antenna to a DATA Control Box as well as telling the system the type of control protocol to use to control the antenna. The microHAM system “knows” about a wide array of serial and other controllable devices and implements the necessary protocols.
Receive Array Control And Sequencer
The integration of our 8-Circle Low-Band Receive Array involved some special steps at both the Hardware and Configuration levels. The connections on the RELAY10 control box shown above are used to “steer” the Rx array and to enable or disable the associated shared Low-Noise pre-Amplifiers (LNAs). To protect this antenna from damage from nearby transmit antennas, power to the array must be removed a few milliseconds before transmit begins. This is normally done by a sequencer in a single radio station. Our station can have up to four different radios transmitting on any one of several different antennas on the low bands. To solve this problem, I used a RELAY6 control box to create a multi-radio sequencer. Each antenna that can transmit on the 160m – 60m bands has one of the relays on the RELAY6 shown above associated with it.
80m Delta Loop Sequencer
These relays are controlled via an optional SEQ control unit that is configured for each of associated antennas. All of these relays are wired in series with the power lead for the 8-Circle Receive Array. Whenever any radio transmits on any band from 160m – 60m on one of the low-band Tx antennas, the associated relay is first opened (with appropriate delay) before Tx is enabled. This approach implements a multi-radio low-band sequencer across the four radios in our station. The control logic also powers down the array when it is not in use by any radio.
Virtual Rotator For 8-Circle Receive Array
The other “special” step involved in the integration of our 8-Circle Receive Array was the implementation of a “virtual rotator” for it. This involves creating a table in the system configuration which maps all possible headings to one of the eight available direction settings for this antenna. Once this is configured, the antenna behaves as if it had a conventional rotator associated with it. When its selected, loggers like the DXLab Suite and N1MM can automatically steer the antenna to the best possible direction selection to work a given station. The front panel rotator controls on the SMDs can also be used to turn the antenna just as if it had a “real” rotator.
Available Antenna Paths
With all of the antennas and other RF devices properly configured and interconnected in the configuration, the microHAM router software generates a list of available antennas paths as shown above. The software automatically determines the path and associated control resource needed to connect a given antenna to a given radio. Note that some of our antennas have multiple paths by which they can be reached. The software detects this and allows the alternative paths to be selected or, if configured as is the case with our 8-Circle Receive Array, be used by multiple radios at the same time. This table represents all of the antenna selections that are possible in our system.
Antenna Selection Configuration
The final step in the configuration process is to determine which antennas may be used by which radios on a each of the available bands. The microHAM router software initially populates this table with all of the possible choices based upon the “available antennas”. I edited the automatically generated configuration to remove a few choices which were not needed and to reorder the lists for each band so that the displays on the SMD would be the most logical for us to use. With these steps done, our configuration was complete.
Yagi Stack Control
The system is quite easy to use and provides easy to read and useful displays. The picture above shows the selection of our Stack of two SteppIR DB36 yagis on one of radios. That radio (an Icom IC-7800) is currently on the 20m band tuned to 14.267 MHz for both transmit and receive. The two white squares show that both yagis are currently included in the stack. Options exist to use either antenna independently and to use them either in or out of phase in the stack. Both SteppIR DB36 antennas are pointed to 45 degrees (we can turn them independently) as can be determined from the numbers next to the white blocks and the direction of the arrow next to them. The row of buttons numbers 1 – 7 show the available antenna selections for this radio on the 20m band.
80m Split Tx/Rx Antenna Selection
The picture above shows the SMD display for the same radio when tuned to 3.658 MHz on the 80m band. Note that the available antenna selections have changed to those available in our station for the 80m band. In this example, I am using different antennas for Tx (our 80m Delta Loop) and Rx (our 8-Circle Receive Array). The virtual rotator for the 8-Circle array is active and you can see that this antenna is pointed toward 245 degrees (the virtual rotator input was actually 255 degrees and the SMD picked the closed direction selection on the Rx antenna). Our 80m Delta Loop is vertically polarized and omnidirectional which is indicated by the symbol next to it on the display.
Station Master Deluxe Keypad
In addition to the buttons and rotary controller on each of our SMDs, antennas can also be selected and steered via a keypad that is associated with each SMD. The keypads enable many functions including direct entry of rotator headings, antenna selection and setup for split Tx/Rx antenna operation.
MK2R+ Virtual COM Port Configuration
The microHAM platform (MK2R+ and SMDs) create an interface to all of our logging and control software on our PCs via a series of Virtual COM Ports. The ports for radio CAT interfaces, PTT and FSK (RTTY) keying, and control of the CW and Voice Keyers in the MK2R+ are created by the microHAM Router as shown above. Each of the two radios at a given operating position have a unique set of ports for CAT and keying.
Station Master Deluxe Virtual COM Ports
In addition, the SMD associated with each radio creates addition virtual COM ports to allow software programs to control the rotator associated with the currently selected antenna(s) on that SMD. The control also includes any “virtual rotators” associated with antenna(s) that may be selected on a given SMD.
DXLab Radio Control
We use both the DXLab Suite and the N1MM Logger at our station and both work well with the microHAM system. Shown above is DXLab including its Commander component (lower-right) which provides the radio interface to the suite. If you look closely, you can see the Commander radio buttons which select either of the two radios at this position. DXLab (and N1MM) know the microHAM control protocol and will automatically switch the associated MK2R+ to use the appropriate radio. This includes setting which radio is active to Tx as well as what audio is heard in the headphones/speakers and what audio goes to the sound card for the associated MK2R+ and its radios. The appropriate routing of the shared microphone and CW paddles is also automatically configured.
DXLab and HRD Rotator Control
The picture above shows our rotator control software. We are using two programs here. In the upper left is DXLab’s DXView program which will steer our antennas in the direction associated with the callsign which is currently entered into the logger. The other rotator controller is HRD Rotator (lower right) which displays a map of the world and a path. We can click on any location on HRD’s Rotator’s map and the software will turn the currently selected antennas in that direction. The use of independent rotator control programs is made possible by the microHAM Router which implements two separate Virtual COM Ports for the rotator(s) associated with each SMD’s selected antenna(s) for its associated radio.
As you can probably tell from the articles in this series, the microHAM system is very powerful and can handle most any station’s setup including those which are much more complicated than ours. While the construction and configuration work described here may seem a little complex, it’s really not that difficult if you create a good plan for your system at the outset (see the first post in this series). The documentation for the microHAM system is very good and Jozef (OM7ZZ) and Joe (W4TV) at microHAM were very good about answering my questions and steering me in the right direction as I built and configured my system. There is also a good Yahoo! group for the microHAM system. You may want to look at the other articles in this series for more information as well:
We are considering the addition of legal limit solid state amplifiers and high-power bandpass filters to our station and these will be integrated into the microHAM system when installed. I am also experimenting with the addition of a software defined radio to the setup. I plan to provide additional articles here as those projects proceed.
Anita and I were recently contacted by Bob Heil, K9EID about an interview on the HAM Nation webcast series on our station. We have been fortunate to be able to spend some time with Bob and get to know him.
Bob Heil, K9EID
Bob has a very interesting background in Amateur Radio and Musical Performance. Bob is probably best known by the Amateur Radio community for his excellent line of microphones, headsets and other audio equipment. We used Bob’s HAM Radio Handbook as a resource in the design and construction of our station. Less known is Bob’s association with top name Rock and Roll performers like Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton and others. Bob is also an accomplished musician. Bob is a super guy and he spent a great deal of time with Anita and I getting to know us and helping us to prepare for our interview on HAM Nation.
Our interview is scheduled to be broadcast live on twit.tv this Wednesday evening March 12th at 9 pm Eastern, 8 pm Central, 6 pm Pacific time(this is 01:00 UTC on Thursday, March 13th). You can view the webcast live via the this link. The show will also be available for download here and on iTunes in the near future.
We really appreciate the opportunity to get to know Bob Heil and to be part of HAM Nation. We hope that our readers will check out the excellent HAM Nation podcast series.
I recently had a look at our QTH on Google Maps and noticed that the latest satellite pass had picked up our tower. It is amazing to see the resolution of these satellite photos – our two SteppIR DB36 Yagi Antennas are visible in the photograph.