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:

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:

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:

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 3 – Phase Tuned Receive Coax Cables

Measuring Coax Cable Electrical Length Using a VNA

Measuring Coax Cable Electrical Length Using a Vector Network Analyzer (VNA)

Our new 2M EME station will have Adaptive Polarity capability via MAP65. MAP65 requires that received signals from the Horizontal and Vertical planes of our antennas arrive at the receivers in our shack precisely in phase with each other.

We decided to use a pair of LMR-600 coax cables for the receive side of our feedlines. We made these cables from an unterminated length of LMR-600 coax measured to cover the distance from the top of our planned 26 ft EME tower to the ground block at the entry to our shack. The cables are approximately 82 ft long and they must be cut to be equal in length to with 1/16″!

The easiest way to measure the length of an unterminated coax cable is to determine the minimum frequency of resonance of the cable when the opposite end is an open circuit. One can then use the speed of light and the velocity factor of the cable to compute its exact length:

Length = (Speed of Light X Velocity Factor) / (Resonant Freq. X 4)

Doing these measurements with an open circuit at the far end of the cables enables trimming the length of the two cables to be matched in small increments until our two cables are exactly the same length.

VNA Measurement of Open Coax Cable Resonance

Vector Network Analyzer (VNA) Measurement of Open Coax Cable Resonance

We used an Array Solutions VNA 2180 connected to a Windows PC to precisely measure the minimum Resonant Frequency of our LMR-600 coax cables as we trimmed them. Once they were equal in length to within 1/16″, we installed an N-Female connector on the unterminated end and re-verified each cable’s length. A frequency accurate antenna analyzer can also be used to make these measurements.

We will need to repeat these steps of the receiver-end and antenna preamp box jumper cables which will make up the rest of the receive side feedlines for our EME antenna system once these components are installed. We also plan to make a final end-to-end measurement of the receive-side feedline assemblies to fine-tune the phasing of the completed feedline runs.

With this step complete, we are ready to put up our new tower and attach the feedlines.

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

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 2 – Excavation, Footings, and Conduits for New Tower

EME Tower

FInished Tower Base and Cable Conduits

The first part of our EME project is to put up a new tower to support our antennas. Our plans call for a 26′ tower built using three Rohn 55G tower sections. Four feet of the first section of the tower is cemented in a concrete footing to anchor the tower’s base. The tower is also going to be guyed to ensure that it is very stable.

EME Tower

Digging Footings for our New Tower

We are working with Matt Strelow, KC1XX, and Andrew Toth of XX Towers to put up our new tower. Matt brought out his tractor and dug the footings for our tower and for the associated conduits that will carry coax and control cables to our shack. The photo above shows the completed hole and form for the main tower base. Matt is working on the footings for one of the three guy anchors.

EME Tower

First Tower Section and Rebar Cage

Here’s a closer look at the tower base. The footing includes a rebar cage to reinforce the concrete footing. There is also 6″ of crushed stone in the bottom of the hole that the tower legs sit it. It is very important that the bottoms of the tower legs remain open and do not become plugged with cement so that water in the legs can drain. If the legs cannot drain properly, water will accumulate and freeze. This can split open the tower legs and ruin the tower.

EME Tower

Cable Conduits with Drains

We also installed two conduits (a 4″ and a 2″ run of schedule 80 conduits) from the base of our tower to our shack. These conduits will carry coax feed lines and control cables to our new tower. We used a pair of 22° elbows to create a smooth transition to bring the conduits out of the ground. This will ensure that our hardline and other coax cables can be placed in the conduits without creating excessive bends.

Conduits will fill with water even if they are sealed. This happens as a result of the condensation of water in the air. To prevent our conduits from filling with water, we created two drain pits at the bottom of the trench at the two lowest spots in the conduit runs and filled them with stone. We drilled a few holes in the bottom of the conduits above the drain pits to allow the water to drain so our cables will remain dry.

EME Tower

Cadweld’ed Ground Cable Bonded to a Ground Rod

We also created a bonding ground cable run from our new tower to the ground system at our shack entry. The bonding system was created by driving an 8′ ground rod every 10′ in the trench between our new tower and the perimeter ground around our house.

#2 stranded copper ground cable was Cadweld’ed to each ground rod to create a ground path to bond the tower to the perimeter grounding system around our house. Using a Cadweld system is simple and produces strong connections that will not deteriorate.

Here’s a video that shows our a Cadweld is made. We’ll cover completing the ground connections to the tower and the perimeter grounding system in a future article.

EME Tower

Completed Footings – Ready to Pour Cement

Finally, we used some sections of rebar to firmly support the guy anchor rods prior to pouring the cement. If you look closely, you can see a portion of the rebar material in one of the guy anchor footings in the photo above.

EME Tower

Cement Mixer

The next step in this part of our project was to pour the cement. A large cement mixer brought the proper cement mix to our QTH and Matt used his tractor to transport the cement from the mixer to the forms. We did a bit of finishing work on the cement base for our tower and let the cement dry for a few days.

EME Tower

FInished Tower Base and Cable Conduits

The last step was to remove the forms and backfill the footings. A little work with a cement finishing block was done on the cement base to round off the rough edges left by the forms. The cable conduits emerge from the ground next to the tower base. You can also see one end of the copper bonding cable next to the conduits as well.

EME Tower

Completed Guy Anchor

Here’s one of the completed guy anchor rods after backfilling. We are going to let the cement harden for a couple of weeks and then we’ll complete the construction of our new tower.

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

Fred, AB1OC

New 70cm Yagi

M2 Antenna Systems 432-9WLA Specifications

M2 Antenna Systems 432-9WLA Specifications

We decided to replace our current 70cm yagi with a newer, higher performance one from M2 Antenna Systems. We choose the M2 432-9WLA. The new antenna has higher gain and a cleaner pattern than our current 70cm yagi. It also has a longer boom.

New Yagi Ready For Installation

New Yagi Ready For Installation

The first step in the project was to assemble the antenna and check its SWR on the ground. The elements on an antenna like this typically vary by small amounts and are usually not arranged from shortest to longest. It is important to carefully measure each element during installation to confirm that each element is installed at the correct location on the boom.

The folks at M2 Antenna Systems made up a custom boom support truss for us. This is important given the potential for ice and snow accumulation that we face here in New England. We also made up a section of LMR-600uF coax to connect the antenna to the feedline and preamp system on our tower.

Driven Element Details

Driven Element Details

The new antenna uses a Folded Dipole style feed point. This system is essentially a T-matching arrangement where the two sides of the driven element are fed 180 degrees out of phase. It is important to set the locations of the shorting blocks carefully to ensure proper operation of the driven element and a resulting low SWR.

Yagi Going Up The Tower

Yagi Going Up The Tower

Matt, KC1XX, and Andrew from XXTowers handled the installation of the new Yagi on our tower. The installation involved climbing our 100 ft tower and the 25 ft mast at the top to remove the old yagi and install the new one. Note the careful rigging of the new antenna and associated feedline. This allows the new antenna to be pulled up the tower without damaging it.

Climbing a mast is not for the faint at heart! An installation like this one is clearly a job for experienced professionals. Andrew makes this task look easy. Our tower camera captured some video (click on the image above to play) of Andrew’s handy work.

Completed Installation

Completed Installation

The new yagi (top antenna in the picture above) is installed on a 5 ft fiberglass mast extension. The extension is used to ensure that the antenna does not “see” a metal mast which would disrupt the antenna’s pattern. The final installed height of our new yagi is a little over 125 ft. Note Andrew’s good work in attaching the feedline to the mast.

432-9WLA Installed SDR - Shack End

432-9WLA Installed SDR – Shack End

With the new yagi installed and hooked up, we made a final check of the end-to-end SWR from the shack. The antenna’s SWR is very good and the 2:1 SWR bandwidth extends from the bottom of the 70cm band to almost 450 Mhz. The new antenna is optimized for weak signal work up through the ATV sub-band and its SWR is below 1.2:1 in this range.

Fred, AB1OC

Amatuer Radio Video How-To – Putting Up A Tower

July 2019 Tech Night – Putting Up A Tower

We recently did a how-to presentation on Putting Up A Tower at a Nashua Area Radio Society Tech Night. The video from this presentation can be viewed above.

Putting Up A Tower Video – Topics Covered

We covered a variety of information related to planning, building and integrating Guyed and House-Bracketed towers. You can view the accompanying presentation materials here.

The Nashua Area Radio Society produces similar how-to training materials on almost a monthly basis and we make these materials available to our Members an Internet Subscribers (folks that live too far from our location to be regular members) for a small cost which supports our new Ham development programs and covers the production and storage costs associated with the video material. Here’s a list of the training topics that we’ve produced to date:

2019 Tech Nights

  • Fox Hunting: Radio Direction Finding for Beginners including a Tape Measure Yagi Build by Jamey Finchum, AC1DC
  • Surface Mount Technology by Hamilton Stewart, K1HMS
  • RF Design with Smith Charts, Building a First HF Station, and Begining with CW – Hamilton Stewart, K1HMS; Anthony Rizzolo, KC1DXL; and Jerry Doty, K1OKD
  • All About Field Day 2019 by our Field Day Planning Team
  • Putting up a Tower by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC

2018 Tech Nights

  • Operating Your Station Remotely by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC
  • Transceiver Frequency Measurement and Calibration by George Allison, K1IG.
  • DMR Radios and Programming by Bill Barber, NE1B
  • WSJT-X: FT8, WSPR, MSK144 and More by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC
  • Getting Started with Raspberry Pi Computers by Anita Kemmerer, AB1QB, Jamey Finchum, AC1DC,  Brian McCaffrey, W1BP, Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC, and Craig Bailey, N1SFT
  • All About Field Day 2018 by our Field Day Planning Team
  • Portable Operating Gear – demonstrations by Nashua Area Radio Society Members
  • K1EL Kits by Steve Elliott, K1EL
  • Antenna Modeling I by Scott Andersen, NE1RD.
  • Building and Operating a Mobile HF Station by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC

2017 Tech Nights

  • High-Altitude Balloons: Amateur Radio at the Edge of Space and was presented by our HAB Team.
  • Getting On The Air 2.0 by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC, and B. Scott Andersen, NE1RD
  • All About n1fd.org – Getting the most from our Website by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC.
  • Digital Modes: RTTY, PSK, and WSJT-X by Mike Struzik AB1YKAnita Kemmerer AB1QB, and Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC
  • Bonding and Grounding by Jeff Millar, WA1HCO and Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC.
  • All About Field Day 2017  by Dave Merchant, K1DLM, and our Field Day Planning Team.
  • Building and Operating a Satellite Ground Station by Burns Fisher, W2BFJ and Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC.
  • DXing and QSLing by Anita Kemmerer, AB1QB; Bill Barber, NE1B; Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC; and Dick Powell, WK1J.
  • Weak Signal VHF and UHF Stations by Jeff Millar, WA1HCO and Bill Barber, NE1B.
  • Getting the Most from your HF Transceiver and More by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC and Dave Michaels, N1RF.

2016 Tech Nights

  • Popular Loggers – Ham Radio Deluxe and DXLab Suite by Dave Merchant, K1DLM and Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC.
  • Low-Band Antennas by Dennis Marandos, K1LGQ; Hamilton Stewart, K1HMS; Brian McCaffrey, W1BP; and Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC.
  • RF Simulation and Matching by Jeff Millar, WA1HCO
  • Directional Antennas by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC; Dave Michaels, N1RF; Brian Smigielski, AB1ZO; and Greg Fuller, W1TEN
  • All About Field Day 2016  by our Field Day Planning Team.
  • Surface Mount Soldering and Desoldering, a Hands-On Presentation by Jeff Millar, WA1HCO
  • Building Your First Station and Getting On The Air by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC, and Dave Michaels N1RF
  • Software Defined Radios by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC and Skip Youngberg, K1NKR
  • Advanced Repeaters (DMR, EchoLink, DMR, and D-STAR) by Anita Kemmerer; AB1QB, Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC; and Bill Barber, NE1B
  • Antenna Modeling with EZNEC by Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC

You can gain on-going access to the full library of Amateur Radio Training and How-To materials by supporting our work to bring new people and young people into the Amateur Radio Service as a Nashua Area Radio Society Internet Subscriber. You can learn more about how to become an Internet Subscriber here.

Fred, AB1OC

Field Day Satellites, VHF+ and Fox Hunting

We will have lots of great activities for folks who are interested in operating on the VHF and above bands at Field Day 2019. Here are some of the activities that we’ll be doing:

  • Satellites Contacts using a Portable Computer Controlled Satellite Stations
  • Weak Signal SSB, CW, and FT8 Contacts on 6m, 2m, and 70cm
  • Fox Hunting using Radio Direction Finding (RDF) to find hidden 2m Radio Transmitters
  • Satellite Station, VHF+ Station, and Fox Hunting Training

Source: Field Day Satellites, VHF, and Fox Hunting – Field Day 2019

The Nashua Area Radio Society always brings something new to each Field Day that we do. In addition to our Computer Controlled Satellite Station, we will be adding a state of the art Weak Signal Antenna System and Station to our Field Day 2019 lineup. Our VHF Station will use a dedicated 40 ft Tower with Tower Mounted Preamps and low-loss feedlines. You can see what is going on at Field Day 2019 on 6m and above via the preceding link.

Fred, AB1OC