EME Station 2.0 Part 10 – Antennas On The Tower

Completed 2m EME Antenna System

After a year’s worth of planning and 10 months of construction, we have our new 2m EME Antenna System installed on our EME Tower and working! This stage of our project took about a week and included a lot of help from Matt and Andrew at XX Towers.

Final Preparations

Antenna Ground Test

The first step was to arrange the four 2MXP28 Yagis that we built on saw horses near our EME Tower and check each antenna’s vertical and horizontal SWR. Performing SWR measurements with the antennas close to the ground like this does not produce very accurate measurements. Doing this does allow one to spot potential problems if some of the measured SWR fail to show a resonance or are wildly different than the other antennas in the group. All of our antennas checked out as expected.

50 Ft Boom Lift, H-Frame Cross Boom Assembly On The Ground

We also rented a 50-ft Boom Lift and set it up near our EME Tower. A tool like this is almost essential to safely assemble and adjust a large, complex antenna system involving an H-Frame. It also speeds up the assembly and adjustment process considerably.

Elevation Rotator and H-Frame

Elevation Rotator Installation on Mast

Elevation Rotator Installation on Mast

The first step was to install the MT-3000A Elevation Rotator on the mast. We pre-installed the control cable for the elevation rotator before installing it on the tower. This enabled us to get it temporarily hooked up to the Rotator Controller in our shack so that we could adjust the elevation of the H-Frame and Antennas as we installed them.

H-Frame Assembly on Tower

H-Frame Assembly on Tower

Next, Matt and Andrew installed the H-Frame Crossboom and Truss assembly on the Elevation Rotator. The assembled Vertical Risers went on next to complete the H-frame. The time spent pre-assembling these components and marking centers to enable accurate final assembly saved a great deal of time.

Antenna Installation

Upper Antenna Installation

Upper Antenna Installation

With the H-Frame in place, we installed the upper 2MXP28 Yagi Antennas next. The image above shows the rigging of the boom trusses which was done on the Tower.

Lower Antenna Installation and Adjustments

Lower Antenna Installation and Adjustments

Next came the lower 2MXP28 Yagis. We spent considerable time leveling and aligning all of the Antennas and H-Frame components at this stage.

Feedlines, Electronics, and Balancing

T-Braces and Feedlines

T-Braces and Feedlines

The T-Brace assemblies and Antenna Phasing Lines were installed next. Each Antenna requires two LMR-400 Phasing Lines and these coax cables add considerable weight to the backs of the Antennas. The T-Braces support these cables and help to align the Antennas on the H-Frame.

We replaced the Vertical H-Frame Boom Truss Pipe with a heavy section of Mast Pipe to act as a counter-weight and balance the final H-Frame and Antenna assembly. This step is critical to ensuring a long life for the Elevation Rotator’s drive system and chain.

Phasing Lines, Power Dividers, and Feedline Connections on Crossboom

Phasing Lines, Power Dividers, and Feedline Connections on Crossboom

The photo above shows the final installation of the Power Dividers, Antenna Phasing Lines (there are 8 in total), the MAP65 Preamp Housing, and the Feed and Control Cables that run down the Tower. We took the time to carefully make SWR measurements on each Antenna and check all of the connections to the MAP65 Housing at this stage.

Antenna Integration Details

Rotator Loop

Rotator Loop

The Rotator Loop contains the following cables and Coax Feedline connections from the H-Frame/Antenna assembly:

  • Vertical and Horizontal Rx Feedlines
  • Tx Feedline
  • Elevation Rotator Control Cable
  • MAP65 Housing Control Cable

All of these cables are bundled and securely fastened to the H-Frame Cross Boom and to the Tower. Andrew is a master at this sort of rigging!

Control Cable Connections at Tower Base

Control Cable Connections at Tower Base

I took some time to finalize the Control Cable connections at the base of our tower. Time was spent with a voltmeter doing checks to ensure that everything was connected correctly and working. This effort resulted in the discovery and correction of some wiring errors and a faulty relay in the MAP65 housing. Had I not done these steps, we would have surely destroyed the Preamps in the MAP65 Housing when we transmitted for the first time.

Testing Our New Antenna System

Vertical Polarity Tx SWR at Shack

Vertical Polarity Tx SWR at Shack

A series of SWR measurements were taken before sealing the coax cable connections on the tower. SWR measurements were checked and recorded for future reference at the following points in the feedline system:

  • At the ends of the phasing lines associated with each antenna
  • At the output of the two Power Dividers on the tower
  • At the shack entry ground block

Measurements were taken separately for both the Vertical and Horizontal elements of the final Antenna System. The image above shows a typical SWR measurement for our final Antenna System.

I did many final checks and adjustments while the Boom Lift was still here. These steps included:

  • Checking the oil level in the elevation rotator
  • Re-lubing the elevation rotator chain
  • Adjusting the limit switch stops on the Elevation Rotator to allow enough over-travel for future adjustments and maintenance
  • Checking all hardware for tightness
  • Sealing all coax cable connectors with Coax Wrap and Electrical Tape
  • Making some final adjustments to align the four 2MXP28 Antennas with each other and the H-Frame

Next Steps

The next step in our project will be the integration of our new 2m EME Antenna System into our shack. This step will include the final setup, configuration, and testing of the Rotator Controller, Interim SDR Receiver, Transmitter, Amplifier, and the MAP65 and Moon Tracking Software.

You can read more about our EME station project via the links that follow:

If you’d like to learn more about How To Get Started in EME, check out the Nashua Area Radio Society Tech Night on this topic. You can find the EME Tech Night here.

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 9 – H-Frame Assembly

M2 Antennas 2X2 2MXP28-32 H-Frame

M2 Antennas 2X2 2MXP28-32 H-Frame

The final major component to be assembled is the 2MXP28-32-2X2-3K H-Frame which will support our four 2MXP28 Antennas. The H-Frame is one of the most mechanically complex components in our EME antenna system so we began by carefully studying M2’s manual for this component.

Parts Identification, Inventory, and Preparation

H-Frame Parts Inventory

H-Frame Parts Inventory

We also spent some time identifying and inventorying all of the parts. M2 supplied upgraded aluminum saddle clamps for our H-Frame. These parts improve the clamping action between the components and also reduce stresses on the fiberglass and other tube parts.

Truss Cable Parts Prep

Truss Cable Parts Prep

We spent some time preparing the parts for the Phillystran Truss cables for the Main Cross Boom and Vertical Risers. Prep included a drop of oil on each of the clamp threads and some NOALOX Antioxidant Compound on the turnbuckle threads. We also added stainless steel jam nuts to the turnbuckles to lock them in place after installation.

Initial Assembly of H-Frame Sections

Assembled H-Frame Sections

Assembled H-Frame Sections

We next mock-ed up the center section of the 3″ Main Cross Boom in the Elevation Rotator assembly to ensure proper fit and operation of the Elevation Rotator.

With this done, we assembled the Main Cross Boom, Vertical Risers, and T-Brace sections. This helped us to get all of the parts and hardware in the correct locations and to become familiar with how all of the parts fit together. We used a generous coat of NOALOX on all of the metal to metal tubing joints to facilitate the assembly and to prevent corrosion from forming at the joints of the metal tube sections. This sort of corrosion can cause increased noise levels after the array is installed outdoors for some time.

Main Crossboom Assembly

Cross Boom Truss Assembly

Cross Boom Truss Assembly

Next, the 3″ Main Cross Boom and its support Trusses were assembled. We carefully measured the assembly and marked the center as well as the locations of the Vertical Risers on the Main Cross Boom using a sharpie pen. these measurements will make the final assembly of the H-Frame on our Tower much easier.

Cross Boom Truss Details

Cross Boom Truss Details

The Phillystran Truss Cables and associated hardware were assembled and adjusted next.

Vertical Riser Assembly

Vertical Riser Mock-up

Vertical Riser Mock-up

We decided to Mock-up a section of the Vertical Riser center tubes and the associated Vertical Riser Truss supports on the Main Cross Boom. This allowed us to confirm that the final horizontal spacing of the Risers was correct and to get the clamps associated with this part of the H-Frame assembly properly oriented and squared.

Fiberglass Tubing Reinforcements

Reinforcement Bushing Design

Reinforcement Bushing Design

The Vertical Risers use fiberglass tubes at each end to provide a non-conductive mast for mounting the Antennas and their Truss Supports. The Antennas we are using are large and will need to be tightly clamped to ensure that they stay aligned and in place. The Antenna and associated Truss U-clamps put a great deal of stress on the fiberglass tubes and they can become distorted or damaged over time.

To prevent this, we decided to make a custom set of reinforcement bushings from polycarbonate plastic. Bushings were designed to reinforce all of the points on the fiberglass tubes of both Vertical Risers where U-Clamps will be used. You can see the full set of specifications for the bushings here.

W2SW Custom Reinforcement Bushings

W2SW Custom Reinforcement Bushings

Spencer, W2SW, owner, and founder of AntennaSys, Inc. made a beautiful set of custom bushings for us. Spencer has an amazing machine shop at his home and the parts turned out great and fitted precisely.

Reinforcement Bushing Installation

Reinforcement Bushing Installation

The reinforcement bushings were installed at the correct depth in each of the Fiberglass Tubes and are pinned in place using small stainless steel machine screws.

One consequence of installing the reinforcement bushings is that water can accumulate in the fiberglass tubes if they are in a horizontal position for a period of time. If such accumulated water freezes, it could cause damage to the tubes. This problem is easily solved by drilling a series of small 1/8-inch drain holes in the tubes on the bottom side when they are horizontal.

Assembled Vertical Riser

Assembled Vertical Riser

The final step was to assemble all of the parts associated with both Vertical Risers. The risers were marked to indicate the location of each Antenna Boom and Truss Clamp and the clamps were installed. The Phillystran Truss Cables were installed in the Eye Bolts on the Vertical Risers.

As we did with the Antenna Truss Cables, we will wait to install the turnbuckles until the Vertical Risers are installed on the tower and balanced. This will likely change the length of the Phillystran Truss cables.

Next Steps

The next step in our project will be the installation of our Elevation Rotator, H-Frame, Antennas, Power Dividers, MAP65 Housing, and Phasing Lines on our EME Tower. You can read more about our EME station project via the links that follow:

If you’d like to learn more about How To Get Started in EME, check out the Nashua Area Radio Society Teach Night on this topic. You can find the EME Tech Night here.

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 8 – Elevation Rotator Assembly and Sub-System Test

Elevation Rotator and MAP65 EME Preamp System Test

The next major component in our new EME station is the assembly of the Elevation Rotator. This step also involves pre-assembly and testing of the MAP65 Pre-amp Housing, Antenna Power Dividers, Transmit/Receive Sequencer, and the Rotator Controller. Here are the components involved in this part of our project:

We choose the MT-3000A Elevation Rotator for its heavy-duty construction. This will be important to handle the weight of our EME antenna array as well as the winter conditions that we encounter here in New England.

Elevation Rotator Assembly

MT-3000A Elevation Rotator Parts

MT-3000A Elevation Rotator Parts

The first step was to inventory all of the parts for the MT-3000A Elevation Rotator and carefully read the MT-3000A manual from M2 Antennas.

Assembled MT-3000A Elevation Rotator

Assembled MT-3000A Elevation Rotator

Assembly of the MT-3000A is pretty straight forward. It uses a chain-drive system to produce a very strong, high-torque elevation rotator system. It’s important to fill the gear-box with the supplied gear oil and to lube the chain with the proper lubricant prior to testing and installing the rotator. Spray style chain lubricants for motorcycle chains work well in this application.

Rotator Controller Integration and Testing

Green Heron RT-21 Az-El Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 Az-El Rotator Controller

The next step was to make up a rotator and connect the MT-3000A to our Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller for a test. The RT-21 Az/El is a very flexible controller that is capable of controlling almost any popular antenna rotator. We’ve already tested this unit with the M2 Antennas OR2800G2 Azimuth Rotator that is installed on our EME tower.

RT-21 Configuration of the MT-3000A Elevation Rotator

RT-21 Configuration of the MT-3000A Elevation Rotator

The MT-3000A is a pulse-counter style rotator with 0.1-degree positioning resolution. It required a custom setup in the Green Heron RT-21 Az/El which was easily accomplished with Green Heron Engineering’s setup utility. One must determine the correct Divide Ratio setting by experimentation. When the correct value is found, a rotation of 90 degrees on the controller will result in exactly 90 degrees of actual movement by the MT-3000A. This calibration was much easier to do with the MT-3000A in our shop than it would have been once the unit was installed on our tower. We also set up the RT-21 Az/El Controller to allow for 5 degrees of rotation beyond the 0 and 90-degree points.

After some testing, I decided to use the 42Vdc tap setting in the RT-21 Elevation Controller with our MT-3000A. The specifications for the MT-3000A allow for up to 42 Vdc to be used to run its motor. To be safe, we set the Max Speed setting in the RT-21 Az/El to “8” which resulted in a maximum of 40 Vdc measured with a voltmeter at the output of the controller.

Assembly and Integration of MAP65 Housing and Cross Boom

Elevation Rotator and MAP65 Preamp Housing Assembly

Elevation Rotator and MAP65 Preamp Housing Assembly

The next step was to install the H-frame Main Boom center section and Truss Support Tubes in the MT-3000A. The MAP65 EME Preamp Housing is mounted on the horizontal Truss Support Tube as shown above.

MAP65 EME Preamp System Housing

MAP65 EME Preamp System Housing

A control cable for the MAP65 EME Preamp Housing was made up and connected to the terminal strip on the housing.

EME Sequencer Testing

S2 Sequencer

S2 Sequencer

The S2 EME Sequencer from M2 Antennas is designed to control the MAP65 Housing but its internal jumpers must be properly set to do this. We spent some time with the manual for the S2 Sequencer and for the MAP65 Housing carefully setting the S2 Sequencer’s jumpers and verifying proper voltages at both the output of the S2 Sequencer and the terminal strip in the MAP65 housing with a voltmeter. The manuals for the S2 EME Sequencer and the MAP65 EME Preamp Housing were clear on these steps.

Mounting Power Dividers

Power Divider Mounting Bracket

Power Divider Mounting Bracket

The next step in this part of our project was to mount the M2 Antennas 4-Port Power Dividers that are used to connect the MAP65 Pre-Amp housing to the four 2MXP28 Antennas. Two power dividers are required as each antenna has a separate feed point connection for their horizontal and vertical polarities. We made up some custom mounting brackets for the power dividers from 1-1/4″ aluminum angle material.

MAP65 EME Preamp Housing Connections

MAP65 EME Preamp Housing Connections

The MAP65 Preamp Housing connects to the outputs of the two Power Dividers that feed the H-polarity and V-polarity of the antenna array. The outputs from the MAP65 EME Housing connect to the H-polarity and V-polarity receive coax cables and the Transmit Hardline Coax Cable that runs from the tower to our shack.

Coax Interconnect Cables

Power Divider and Feedline Jumper Coax Cables

Power Divider and Feedline Jumper Coax Cables

The final step was to make up LMR-400 coax cables to connect the MAP65 Preamp Housing to the Power Dividers. We used right-angle male N connectors to make the connections to the 4-Port power drivers to avoid sharp bends in the cables.

We also made up three additional LMR-400uF coax cables to connect the MAP65 Preamp Housing to the coax Tx and Rx feedlines that are installed on our tower. It’s important to keep the H-Pol and V-Pol cables as close to identical in length as possible to minimize and phase differences between the associated receive feedline systems.

Next Steps

The next step in our project will be the final assembly and preparation of the H-frame which will be used to mount our four 2MXP28 Antennas. You can read more about our EME station project via the links that follow:

If you’d like to learn more about How To Get Started in EME, check out the Nashua Area Radio Society Teach Night on this topic. You can find the EME Tech Night here.

Fred – AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 7 – Building Antennas

M2 Antennas 2MXP28 X-Pol Yagi

M2 Antennas 2MXP28 X-Pol Yagi

The next step in our EME project is to assemble the four M2 Antenna Systems 2MXP28 Yagis. These antennas are large, cross-polarized yagis. They feature 28 elements each on 34 1/2 foot booms. The design operates as an independent horizontal and vertical Yagi on a shared boom and each plane have an independent feed point.

EME Antenna Array Assembly

EME Antenna Array Assembly on H-Frame

We are building four of these antennas to be mounted on an M2 Antennas 2X2 H-Frame. It is important that the four antennas be identical so they operate properly as an array. This includes things like symmetrical mounting and alignment of each antenna’s vertical and horizontal elements and the associated feed points. We will cover the assembly of the H-frame and Elevation Rotator systems in the next article.

Preparation

NOALOX Assembly Compound and Sharpie Pen

NOALOX Assembly Compound and Sharpie Pen

M2 Antenna Systems instruction manuals are very good and they specify the tools and procedures to properly assemble the associated antennas. A few additional items were helpful in our project. These included:

The assembly steps and procedures are similar for most M2 Antennas 2m and UHF Yagi antennas so I’m going to share some details and a few tricks that we’ve used successfully to build a number of their Yagis. You can see some of these other projects via the following links:

We successfully built all of these antennas using similar components and techniques.

M2XP28 Sorted Parts

M2XP28 Yagi Sorted Parts

The first step in assembling each antenna was to inventory and arrange all of the parts. I also took the time to wipe the boom elements with a solvent soaked cloth to remove dirt and aluminum dust that results from the manufacturing process. This makes assembling the antenna a much cleaner process.

2MXP28 Yagi Dimension Sheet

2MXP28 Yagi Dimension Sheet

M2 supplies detailed dimension sheets and boom layout diagrams with their antennas and we took the time to carefully identify each element and boom component according to the diagrams.

Element Measurement and Marking

Element Measurement and Marking

This step included careful measuring, sorting, and marking each element with its location and polarity (horizontal or vertical). This step makes the somewhat difficult step of getting all of the elements in the correct polarity and orders much easier. The marks allowed me to check and confirm the correct installation of all of the elements on the antenna boom before locking them in place.

Mast Clamp and Boom Truss Attachment Pre-assembly

Mast Clamp and Boom Truss Attachment Pre-assembly

We also pre-assembled things like the Mast Clamp and the Boom Truss Clamp during the parts inventory process.

Boom Assembly

Boom Assembly Details

Boom Assembly Details

The first step in assembling the antenna boom was to arrange all of the boom segments in the correct order and confirm their front/back orientation. This took some time to get right on the first of the four antennas. Each Boom segment was marked with the Sharpie to indicate its location and orientation in the final assembly.

We also installed the T-Brace Clamp to attach the rear of the antenna to the H-Frame’s T-Brace. It’s essential to do this step before assembling the Boom as the clamp cannot be attached once the antenna’s elements are in place. The correct location for the clamp was established via a careful measurement and the location was marked on the boom using the Sharpie.

Assembled Boom

Assembled Boom

The next step was to assemble the boom sections paying careful attention to the markings made earlier. We did not tighten any of the bolts that hold the boom sections together at this stage to allow us to re-clock each boom section for the best alignment of the elements later. A generous coat of NOALOX was used at the joint of the two largest diameter Boom sections to facilitate easier assembly and potential re-clocking later. NOALOX was also used on all bolts to provide anti-seize lubrication.

Once the boom is assembled, a 40-foot tape measure is used to carefully confirm that all of the holes for the elements are in the correct location. The Dimension Sheet is used as a reference to check and confirm that all measurements are correct before installing the Elements. This is also a good time to measure and carefully mark the location of the center of the Mast Clamp on the Boom.

The eye bolts that attach the Boom truss cable are also installed at this time.

Element Installation

Element Installation Details

Element Installation Details

Next came the installation of the elements. We began with the Horizontal reflector and worked towards the front of the antenna. The elements are held in place with insulated buttons and stainless locks. The elements are first installed in the correct location and carefully centered using a steel ruler. Vise-grip pliers are then used to hold the element in its centered position while the M2 supplied tool is used to push the lock on the opposite side of the element. The center is next checked again and if all looks good, the second lock is installed. This process is continued until all of the elements are in place. We pay careful attention to the markings on each element as part of the installation procedure to ensure that all of the elements are in the correct location on the boom.

H-Element Installation Complete - Ready for V-Element Installation

H-Element Installation Complete – Ready for V-Element Installation

Once all of the elements are in place, the antenna is rotated 90 degrees to enable boom adjustments to align the elements. It is common for the boom sections to be misaligned a bit after the initial assembly. A combination of clocking each boom section either a bit one way or the other or sometimes removing the bolts holding two sections together and turning them 180 degrees relative to each other will create a perfect alignment of the elements. Once this is done, all of the bolts that hold the Boom sections together are fully tightened taking care not to distort or crush the Boom tubes.

The same installation process is repeated for all of the vertical elements.

Driven Element Assembly

Feedpoint Assemby

Feedpoint Assembly

The Driven Element feed point blocks are installed next. The mounting screw and the Allen screws in the Shorting Bars all receive a light coat of Blue Locktite thread locker prior to installation.

Next, we loosely install the blocks in their correct location on the Boom and then install the Shorting Bars loosely on the Feed Point Block and Driven Element. Once these parts are in place, the screen that holds the Block to the Boom can be tightened fully, guaranteeing a perfect alignment of all of the parts.

The next step was to accurately set the spacing between the Feed Point Block and each shorting bar. I used a dial caliper to do this accurately but it can also be done with the careful use of a metal machinist’s or similar ruler.

The final step for each feed point was to install the 1/2 wave Coax Balun to the Feed Point Block. Be careful not to overtighten the coax connectors. Just make them snug and you are set. The supplied cable ties are used to secure the Balun to the boom.

The same steps are repeated for the Vertical feed point. It’s a good idea to install connector dust caps on the feed point Block connectors to keep them clean and dry prior to installation.

H and V Feedpoint Orientation

Vertical and Horizontal Feedpoint Orientation

It is critical that the relative orientation between the Horizontal and Vertical Feedpoint Blocks be the same on all four of the antennas in the array. If this is not the case, the pattern of the array will be upset which will have a major negative effect on the array’s performance.

Mast Clamp and Boom Truss

Mast Clamp Installation

Mast Clamp Installation

The Mast Clamp assembly is installed next using the center mark placed on the Boom earlier. I also marked the backside of the Mast Clamp plate to show its center to make lining things up easy. The clamps should be oriented according to the H-frame mounting diagram (show at the front of this article).

Boom Truss Assembly

Boom Truss Assembly

The final step in the assembly process is the assembly of the Boom Truss. The 2MXP28 Yagi is supplied with a Phillystran cable. The height of the Boom Truss will be set later when the antennas are attached to the H-frame so we just installed both ends of the Phillystran cable to the Eye Hooks installed in the Boom. The connections are made using the supplied Strain Relief Loops and small cable clamps. A drop of oil on each nut helps things go together smoothly.  We had some Phillstran cable end caps so I installed them on the Phillystran cable ends to protect against water ingress. The turnbuckles, remaining clamps/strain reliefs, end caps, and truss clamp assembly were stored in a plastic Ziploc bag and cable-tied to the Boom to be installed later when the antennas are attached to the H-frame.

Final Details…

Completed 2MXP28 Antenna Ready for Installation

Completed 2MXP28 Antenna

It’s a good idea to give everything one last go-over now that the antenna is complete. All bolts and screws are checked for tightness, the Elements are all confirmed to be in the right locations, and the feed point assemblies are given a final check.

Four 2MXP28 Antennas Ready for Installation

Four 2MXP28 Antennas Ready for Installation

Our EME project involves the assembly of four of these antennas with a total of 112 elements! It took me about 3 days to assemble each antenna (working about 3-4 hours each day). We stored the antennas on our deck to make space in our shop as we went. The antennas are well supported using low saw horses and woodblocks so as not the bend the Booms or the Elements.

The next step in our project will be to assemble and test the Elevation Rotator system. You can read more about our EME station project via the links that follow:

If you’d like to learn more about How To Get Started in EME, check out the Nashua Area Radio Society Teach Night on this topic. You can find the EME Tech Night here.

Fred, AB1OC

6m VUCC In A Day – ARRL June VHF Contest

6M VUCC Operating Award

6M VUCC Operating Award

The 6m Band is one of my favorite bands. The combination of its unpredictability and the amazing openings that it can produce certainly makes 6m The Magic Band for me!

Fred’s (AB1QB) First Place Finish in NH – 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest

Fred’s New Hampshire First Place Finish in the ARRL June VHF Contest

I haven’t had the chance to work the ARRL June VHF Contest from our home station for several years. A combination of Nashua Area Radio Society activities and preparations for ARRL Field Day have taken a higher priority. ARRL June VHF is a great contest and I was looking forward to working it this year. A few days before the contest Anita and I were talking about the contest and she suggested that I do a 6m Digital Entry. E-skip has been pretty good on 6m this year and we wanted to sort out how we’d do digital and 6m for our upcoming 2020 Field Day Operation from our home so I decided to take Anita’s advice and focus on 6m Digital for June VHF. I entered the contest in the Low-Power Category.

June VHF Operating Setup

6m VUCC

AB1OC Operating in 2020 June VHF

We built a Remote Operating Gateway that allows our station to be operated both over the Internet and from any room in our home via our Home Network. I decided to set up a 6m Digital Station upstairs in our dining room so I could be with Anita more during the contest. The setup consisted of a laptop PC with an outboard monitor and a Flex Maestro as the client for the Flex 6700 SDR in our shack.

Completed Antenna Stack On New Tower

Completed Antenna Stack on our VHF Tower

We have three antennas for 6m – one on our VHF Tower and two via the SteppIR DB36 yagis with 6m kits on our main tower.

Delta Loop On Tower

SteppIR DB36 Yagis on our Main Tower

The three antennas can be pointed in different directions and selected instantly via the computer. This provided to be an advantage during the contest. I kept one on Europe, one point due West, and the third pointed at the Tip of Florida and the Caribean during the contest.

6m VUCC

Operating Setup – N1MM+ and WSJT-X

Having two monitors (the Laptop and an outboard one) allow me to arrange all of the N1MM+ Logger and WSJT-X windows for efficient operating. The image above shows a snapshot of the screen layout during the contest. N1MM+ has some nice features that integrated with WSJT-X to make it easy to spot new grids (Multipliers) and stations that have not yet been worked. The windows on the very right side allowed me to control antenna switching and monitor power and SWR while operating. I use the PSTRotator application (lower-left center to turn my antennas.

6m Band Conditions

6m VUCC

6m PSK Reporter On Sunday Evening

Band conditions on 6m were amazing from here in New England almost the entire contest period! The band was open right at the start of the contest on Saturday and remained open to 11 pm local time on Saturday evening. I was up early on Sunday and was working folks in the Northeastern Region right from the start. After being open all day on Sunday, the band shut down around 5 pm local time and I was afraid that the fun on 6m might be over. I ate some dinner and took a 45-minute nap and got back to my station at around 6:30 pm. About 15 minutes after I resumed, 6m opened again to most of the United States and I was able to work DM and DN grid squares in the Western States! The band stayed open right until the end of the contest at 11 pm local time.

What About the VUCC…

6m VUCC

100 Grids Worked on 6m

Conditions on 6m were so good on Saturday that I almost worked a 6m VUCC by 11 pm on Saturday evening when the band closed. I had 93 grids worked on 6m in just 8 hours! The band opened again early on Sunday morning and I worked my 100th grid square before 10 am – working a 6m VUCC in less than 18 hours!

6m VUCC

Final 6m Grids Worked

By the end of the contest, I had worked a total of 162 Grids! They ranged from the West Coast of the US to Western Europe and from Southern Canada to Northern South America.

6m VUCC

6m Grids Worked During 2020 June VHF

The image above shows most of the 6m grids that I worked plotted on a world map (the EU grids are not shown).

6m VUCC

Final Claimed Score

I was able to make a total of 402 unique contacts on 6m by the end of the contest with a final Claimed Score that was a bit over 65K. All of my 6m contacts during the contest were made using a combination of FT8 and FT4 modes on 6m.

New Ones on 6m for AB1OC

6m VUCC

AB1OC Worldwide 6m Grid Map

I was hoping to work some all-time new Grids and June VHF did not disappoint. I worked a total of 11 new Grids and one new DXCC (Dominica) on 6m during the contest. The image above shows my worldwide grid coverage including the new ones worked during June VHF (my grids in Argentina and Uruguay are not shown above). I now have worked 432 grids on 6m and have confirmed 408 of them with 63 DXCC’s worked and 62 confirmed on the Magic Band.

Summing It All Up…

I must say that I had as much fun working 6m during June VHF this year as I have ever had in any contest! The band openings on 6m were really good and I was busy making new contacts for the entire time that I operated. The combination of the 6m Band and the contest certainly made some Magic for me!

Fred, AB1OC

Getting Started With Amateur Satellites (and Progressing to Linear Birds)

Get Started with Amateur Satellites

Get Started with Amateur Satellites

We get quite a few requests from folks to explain how to get started with Amateur Radio Satellites. Requests for information on how to build a computer-controlled ground station for Linear Satellites are also pretty common. I recently got such a request from our CWA class so I decided to put together a session on this topic.

We covered a number of topics and demonstrations during the session including:

  • How to put together a simple station and work FM EasySats with HTs and a handheld antenna
  • A recorded demonstration of some contacts using FM EasySats
  • How-to build a computer-controlled station and work Linear Transponder Satellites
  • Fixed and Portable Satellite Station Antenna options
  • A recorded demonstration of some contacts using Linear Satellites
  • How-to work digital (APRS digipeater) contacts
  • How-to receive SSTV Transmissions from the ISS

About 30 folks attended this session and there was some good Q&A throughout.

Getting Started With Amateur Satellites

The presentation was recorded and can be viewed above. Here’s a link to the associated Powerpoint Presentation.

There are lots of articles about building and operating Amateur Satellite Stations here on our blog. The following are links to several articles and series on this topic:

I hope that you find this information useful for your Amateur Satellite projects!

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 6 – Tower Grounding System

Tower Ground System

Tower Ground System

Now that spring is here, we’ve continued work on our EME station project. The most recent project was to build complete the ground system for our new EME tower. The proper way to ground a tower is shown above. Each leg of the tower is connected to an 8′ ground rod via a heavy-gauge ground cable. The cable is attached to the tower leg using stainless steel clamps meant for this purpose. The three ground rods associated with the tower legs are then bonded together using a heavy copper ground cable ring.

Ground Cable CAD Weld

Ground Cable CAD Weld

The ground cables are welded to the top of the ground rods using CAD weld on-shots. This creates a strong connection that will not corrode or fail. It is important that the ground rods be free of dirt, corrosion, oxidation, and burrs before performing the CAD welding. We used a combination of 3-wire and 4-wire one-shot CAD welds to build our ground system and connect it to the bonding system running from out tower to the entry to our shack.

Main Grounding System Bonding

Main Grounding System Bonding

The final step was to connect the bonding run from the tower to the perimeter grounding system around our house. This completed the tower grounding system and enabled us to complete our final permit inspection courtesy of our local building inspector.

Finished Tower Base

Finished Tower Base

With all of this work done and the inspection complete, we added a mulch bed around our new tower to make this area of our lawn easy to maintain.

The next step in our project is to begin building the antennas that will go on our EME tower. You can read more about our EME station project via the links that follow:

If you’d like to learn more about How To Get Started in EME, check out the Nashua Area Radio Society Teach Night on this topic. You can find the EME Tech Night here.

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 5 – Control Cables and Rotator Controller

Control Cable Junction Box on EME Tower

Control Cable Junction Box on EME Tower

Snow is coming to New England this weekend so we wanted to get the control cables run to our new EME Tower before the ground is covered with snow. The project involved installing a Utility Enclosure on our tower and running three control cables to our shack for the following devices:

Az-El Rotor and Preamp Switching Control Connections

Az-El Rotator and Preamp Switching Control Connections

We began by install some barrier strips and a copper ground strap in the Utility Enclosure. The copper strap provides a good ground connection to the tower and associated grounding system. The enclosure is clamped to the tower using two stainless steel clamps.

We ran three new control cables through the conduits that we installed between the tower and our shack and terminated them in the utility enclosure. We only needed 6 leads for control of the planned MAP65 Switching and Preamp System which will go on our tower later so we doubled up some of the higher current connections using two wires in the 8-conductor cable.

Green Heron RT-21 Az-El Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 Az-El Rotator Controller

The final step was to hook up our rotator cables to a Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller in our shack.  We do not yet have our elevation rotator so we tested the M2 Orion 2800 Azimuth Rotator that is installed in our tower. The azimuth rotator is configured so that the rotator’s dead spot faces north. This is a good configuration of our planned EME operation.

With all of our control cabling in place, we are ready to begin preparing our Antennas, Elevation Rotator, H-Frame, and MAP65 components to go on our EME Tower. We’re hoping that the weather will cooperate and enable us to get these steps completed during this winter.

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

If you’d like to learn more about How To Get Started in EME, check out the Nashua Area Radio Society Teach Night on this topic. You can find the EME Tech Night here.

Fred, AB1OC

Winter Field Day VHF+ Preparations

Jamey AC1DC with Completed WFD VHF+ Mast

Jamey AC1DC with Completed WFD VHF+ Mast

We are continuing to make progress on our preparation for VHF+ Operations at Winter Field Day (WFD) 2020. We had a lot of fun on the VHF+ bands at WFD 2019 and we are planning to add some more bands for our operation this year. We’ve assembled a portable mast system to put us on 3 new bands…

Source: Winter Field Day VHF+ Preparations – Nashua Area Radio Society

We’ve been busy with preparation for Winter Field Day 2020. My part of this project is to increase our participation in operations on the VHF+ bands (6m and above). We are accomplishing this with a 30 ft push-up mast, some new antennas, and using Transverters for the 1.25m and 33cm bands. You can read more about our preparations and the equipment that we will be using on the VHF+ bands via the link above.

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 4 – New EME Tower Is Up!

Three Tower Antenna Farm

New EME Tower in Our Antenna Farm

Our goal for this phase of our EME Station Project is to get our new tower up, install the Azimuth Rotator and Mast, and run the hardline and coax cables for our antennas from the shack to our new tower. Our EME tower is constructed using Rohn 55G tower sections. It will be 26 ft tall and will have approximately 18″ of our 3″ mast protruding above the tower. The tower is a free-standing/guyed hybrid design with the first section being cemented into the ground.

EME Tower

FInished Tower Base

The base section and the three guy anchor blocks were completed a little while back. The holes were backfilled and we’ve given the cement a couple of weeks to cure.

First Tower Section Installed Using a Gin Pole

First Tower Section Installed Using a Gin Pole

Matt, KC1XX, and Andrew of XX Towers began by installing a winch and a gin pole on the base section of the tower. They used the Gin Pole to hoist the second tower section into place and secure it. They also attached the top plate to the third tower section in preparation for installing it along with our mast.

Mast and Top Tower Section Going Up

Mast and Top Tower Section Going Up

It is always a challenge to install a mast inside a new tower. The mast we are using is a heavy, 22 ft 4130 chrome molly steel mast that weighs over 250 lbs. Getting the mast inside the tower was quite a feat! Matt and Andrew rigged the top tower section and the mast together and pulled both up together on the Gin Pole. Next, one leg of the top tower section was attached and a second pully was used to pull the mast up through the top tower section until it could be placed inside the tower. The last step was to raise the top tower section a second time using the Gin Pole to seat it on top of the rest of the tower. Finally, the mast was lowered inside the tower to the base and the top tower section was bolted on to complete the tower.

Upper Guy Anchor Bracket on Tower

Upper Guy Anchor Bracket on Tower

The next step involved attaching the upper guy anchor bracket to the top section of the tower and rigging the guy anchor cables. We decided to use Phillystran Guy Cable to avoid interactions with our antennas.

Guy Anchor Cable

Guy Anchor Cable

The completed cables are tensioned using turnbuckles. We adjusted the cables to plumb the tower and then safety-wired the turnbuckles so they will not come loose.

Azimuth Rototor in Tower

Azimuth Rotator in Tower

The next step was to install an M2 Antenna Systems Orion 2800G2 Azimuth Rotator in our tower. The use of the 22 ft mast allowed us to place the rotator about 5 ft above the ground where we can easily service it in the future. The long mast also acts as a torque shock absorber when the rotator starts or stops moving suddenly. With the rotator in place, we attached the mast and clamped it at the rotator and thrust bearing at the top of the tower.

Tower Base, Coax Feedlines, and Guy Anchors

Tower Base, Coax Feedlines, and Guy Anchors

The last step in our project was to install our coax cables and hardlines on the tower and run them through a 4″ underground conduit to our shack. We pre-made the two LMR-600 coax cables for the receive side of our EME Antenna System previously. We cut a section of LDF5-50A 7/8″ Hardline to approximately the same length as the LMR-600 coax cables.

Pushing Coax Cables and Hardline Through the Condui

Pushing Coax Cables and Hardline Through the Conduit

We used a cutoff plastic bottle to protect the ends of the coax cables and hardline as we pushed them through approximately 50 ft of buried 4″ conduit. The conduits were constructed to create a gradual turn into and out of the ground and the cables went into the conduit smoothly.

Coax Cables Exiting the Conduit Near Our Shack

Coax Cables Exiting the Conduit Near Our Shack

With the cables in place, we installed N-female connectors on each end of the 7/8″ hardline. We used rubber reducers to make it easier to deter water from entering the conduits where the cables exit.

Coax Cable Ground Block Connections

Coax Cable Ground Block Connections

We expanded out main shack entry ground block using an 18 position tinned cover ground bar from Storm Copper to make room for additional static arrestors for our EME Antenna System. The LMR-600 receive-side coax cables and the 7/8″ hardline connection for the transmit-side of our EME antennas terminate on N-connector Static Arrestors from Alpha Delta.

Completed EME Tower

Completed EME Tower

Our new EME tower is up and ready to accept the Elevation Rotator, H-Frame, and Antennas from M2 Antenna Systems when they arrive. We plan to complete the grounding system and get the Azimuth Rotator hooked up and tested with our Green Heron Engineering RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller in the near future.

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

If you’d like to learn more about How To Get Started in EME, check out the Nashua Area Radio Society Teach Night on this topic. You can find the EME Tech Night here.

Fred, AB1OC