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

PTT Switch for Remote Operation

FT8 Digital Remote Setup

Remote Operating Setup for AB1OC-AB1QB Station

Here’s an article by Nashua Area Radio Society member Mark, KC1IML that explains how to build a PTT switch for remote operation of our station via SmartSDR. Mark and others have been using our station remotely to work DX and operate in the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Student-Teacher Contest Series.

Source: PTT Switch for Remote Operation – Nashua Area Radio Society

And here is a link to a more current USB to serial adapter for use in this application. You can learn more about the Remote Operating Gateway setup at AB1OC-AB1QB here.

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 11 – Phone Patch/Telebridge Capability

Council Rock South Students Contact the ISS

Council Rock South Students Contact the ISS

I have joined the ARISS Program as a Mentor to help schools make contacts with astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). School contacts as part of the ARISS program can take two forms – Direct Contacts and Telebridge Contacts.

ARISS Direct Contacts

Direct contacts involve setting up a space communications ground station at the school making the contact.

ARISS Direct Contact Ground Station Antennas at Council Rock HS

ARISS Direct Contact Ground Station Antennas at Council Rock HS

Direct Contacts involve a great deal of preparation and a local Ham Club which has considerable VHF weak-signal experience and equipment to partner with on a school’s contact. There can also be considerable expense involved in assembling the necessary ground station for a Direct Contact. In addition, some locations are much better than others in terms of access to good, high-angle ISS passes and an environment that is relatively free of nearby obstructions like buildings, hills, etc.

Our radio club, The Nashua Area Radio Society, supported a Direct Contact at Hudson Memorial School in December 2018. It was a fantastic experience. You can read more about what was involved here.

ARISS Telebridge Contacts

students at Maani Ulujuk High School in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada

Students at Maani Ulujuk High School in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada

Telebridge contacts involve using an existing ground station in a different location with an audio link to the school making the contact via telephone. This type of contact provides a high-quality experience with an astronaut on the ISS without the need to construct a ground station at the school. It enables the teachers involved in the contact process to focus on the educational aspects of their contact with the ISS.

All of the ARISS Telebridge Ground stations are built and operated to very high standards.

Also, schools in difficult locations or those who don’t have the needed support of a local Ham Radio club with the necessary space ground station equipment can still enjoy making a contact with an astronaut on the ISS. In addition, a Telebridge contact also enables the supporting Amateur Radio Club to focus on providing great Amateur Radio activities and educational support to their partner school.

Adding Telebridge Capability to Our Station

Space Communications Ground Station at AB1OC-AB1QB

Space Communications Ground Station at AB1OC-AB1QB

We’ve used the station here to make many satellite contacts and to listen to ARISS contacts from the ISS. We’ve also used our station to receive images from the ISS during ISS SSTV events. We’ve decided to add a Phone Patch to our station here to enable it to be used as a testbed for schools preparing for Telebridge contacts.

Adding A Telephone Patch

Phone Patch To Enable Telebridges

Phone Patch To Enable Testing and Hosting Telebridge Contacts

A Telephone Patch enables a third party to communicate over an Amateur Radio link using a telephone. A Phone Patch provides a connection between a Transceiver and a telephone line. It also handles creating a proper balance at the 2-wire Hybrid Interface that connects to the telephone line to the radio. A typical Phone Patch device also provides for Transmit and Receive level adjustments.

Phone Patch units are not used all that much anymore. Fortunately, MFJ still makes the MFJ-624E Hybrid Phone Patch.

Setting up the MFJ Phone Patch was pretty straightforward. All that was required to work with our IC-9700 Transceiver was to set the internal jumpers in the MFJ Phone Patch to configure its microphone connection properly. The MFJ Phone Patch came with a cable to connect to the round microphone jack on the IC-9700 Transceiver. A connection between our audio amplifier to bring audio into the Phone Patch was made to complete the installation.

Testing On The Air

The MFJ Phone Patch was adjusted to achieve a good balance on the 2-wire Hybrid Interface to the telephone line and the Transmit and Receive levels were properly adjusted prior to on-the-air use. These procedures are clearly explained in the manual for the MFJ-624E and are easy to complete.

With these steps complete, we set up a telephone call and made several contacts using FM stateless on the air. We received good audio reports and could easily understand the downlink audio using a standard telephone receiver.

Becoming an ARISS Telebridge Ground Station

My initial purpose for adding Telebridge capability to our ground station was to enable it to be used to perform testing of the audio systems in schools that will be hosting Telebridge contacts. I am also going to apply to become one of the ARISS Telebridge Ground Stations in North America. We have an emergency backup power system here and our station’s location in our home makes it a good choice for situations where contacts need to be made at any time of the day or night. More to come on this in the future.

More About Our Ground Station

Here are links to some additional posts about our Satellite Ground Stations:

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 10 – Adding 23 cm To Our Satellite SDR

Satellite SDR

DEM L24TX Tx Converter

We’ve recently received our L24TX Transmit Converter from Down East Microwave. The unit is compact, simple, and produces up to 25W output in the satellite section of the 23 cm band (1260 MHz – 1270 MHz, actually 24 cm). The L24TX is a transmit-only device that is intended to enable L-band uplinks for Satellite use. This article is about our most recent project which involved integrating the L24TX into our Flex SDR Satellite System.

Satellite SDR

24 cm Tx Converter Rear Panel

Connecting the unit is straightforward. The unit requires an IF input, a 10 MHz reference oscillator, DC power, and a transmit keyline. The later two inputs are provided via a 7-pin connector and a DEM supplied cable. We ordered our unit with the following configuration options:

  • IF 28 Mhz = 1260 MHz output
  • Max IF Drive Level – +10 dBm
  • Fan and Case configured for mounting in the shack

Fortunately, our feedlines for the 23/24 cm band are hardline-based and relatively short. The unit is also available in a configuration that would enable it to be remotely mounted in an enclosure on a tower.

Satellite SDR

24 cm Tx Converter Installation in our Remote Gateway SDR Rack

The unit fits nicely into our Remote Gateway SDR Rack. The L24TX does not include a power output display so we used a 23/24 cm sensor and our WaveNode WN-2 Wattmeter to monitor output power from the unit. The unit does have leads that output a voltage that is proportional to output power. This could be used to build a power output bar display or meter. the front panel indicates display a power-on indication, lock to the 10 MHz clock input, and Tx when the unit is transmitting.

Satellite SDR

Overall Satellite SDR System Design

Integration into our Satellite SDR System was straightforward. Our system already included splitters for the 10 MHz GPSDO and the 28 MHz Transverter outputs from our Flex 6700 SDR. I had hoped to use one of the leads from the SmartSDR BITS cable we are using to key our 70 cm Transverter but the BITS cable did not have an adequate drive level to key the L24TX.

Satellite SDR

Remote SDR Gateway Tx Band Settings

Fortunately, the Flex 6700 has configurable TX1-TX3 outputs for keying devices like Transverters. The use of the TX2 output to key the L24TX was easily configured in the SmartSDR’s TX Band Settings.

Satellite SDR

23 cm Tx Converter Setup in SmartSDR

It is necessary to configure SmartSDR for the L24TX. The required settings are in the XVTR options tab. In addition to configuring the mapping between the Flex 6700’s XVTR IF frequency and the unit’s output Frequency, one needs to set the IF drive levels. We used the default drive level of 6.0 dBm and adjusted the IF Gain Control on the L24TX until the full output of 25W was reached while transmitting a tone. The correct adjustment is apparent when further gain increases do not provide a proportional increase in output power. The proper setting of the RF drive and gain will keep the L24TX’s output in its linear range of operation.

Satellite SDR

Final Power Distribution Design

The L24TX is powered via the power distribution system in our Satellite SDR Rack. Control and current limiting for the 2m LPDA, 70 cm Transverter, and the L24TX are individually controlled via a RigRunner 4005i IP Power Controller.

Satellite SDR

SDR Satellite System Remote Power Control via a RigRunner 4005i

The RigRunner is remotely accessible over the Internet and our network via a password-protected web interface. This enables us to easily power down or power cycle individual components in the Satellite SDR System remotely.

MacDoppler Tracking AO-91

MacDoppler Tracking AO-91

With all of the hardware installation and calibration steps complete, we are turning our attention to the software side of the setup. We will be using MacDoppler for satellite tracking and VFO control of our Satellite SDR System. This creates a need to connect the MacDoppler program which runs on a Mac to SmartSDR and the Flex 6700 which is a Windows-based system. Fortunately, MacDoppler provides a UDP broadcast mode that transmits az/el antenna position information as well as data to control radio VFOs to adjust for Doppler shift.

Satellite SDR

FlexBridge Software Beta

We are working on a custom windows application called FlexBridge to enable MacDoppler to run our Flex SDR-based Satellite System. FlexBridge runs on a Windows PC. It receives and parses the UDP broadcast messages from MacDoppler and uses the FlexLib API to properly configure and control the Flex SDR’s VFOs.

Satellite SDR

SmartSDR Operating With AO-92 in L-V Mode

At present, FlexBridge can configure and control SmartSDR (or a Maestro Client) that is operating our SDR Satellite System. The screenshot above shows the MacDoppler, FlexBridge, SmartSDR combination operating with AO-92 in L/V mode. This software is still an in-progress development and we plan to add the ability for FlexBridge to connect to the radio via SmartLink as well as support for the Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller that we are using. We’ll be sharing more about FlexBridge here as the software development progresses.

The next step in our Satellite Station 4.0 Remote Gateway project will be to move our satellite antenna controls and feedlines into the shack and begin testing the complete setup using local control. Once this step is complete, we’ll focus on the final steps to enable remote operation of our satellite station via the Internet.

Here are links to some additional posts about our Satellite Station 4.0 Projects:

Fred, AB1OC

Learn About Ham Radio at HamXposition @ Boxboro

Remote HF GOTA Station at HamXpositon

The Nashua Area Radio Society will be hosting several activities and displays at HamXposition this year. Our planned activities include:

  • NEW! Ham Bootcamp Program – a hands-on activity to help folks get on the air and build their stations
  • Our Ham Expo Display featuring information and hands-on activities you can do with Amateur Radio
  • Kit Building Activity featuring a choice of two different kits
  • Multiple Get On The Air Stations including an HF Remote GOTA station and an on-site Satellite GOTA station
  • Special Event Station using the N1T Callsign
  • NEW! Radio Programming Station – Get your FM HT programmed with a custom repeater list for your location
  • Two Forum Presentations by Nashua Area Radio Society Members

The ARRL and the HamXposition team have been helping us to promote our activities. You can see what the ARRL is saying about our plans in their recent posting – Dayton Hamvention Radio Club of the Year to Hold Ham Bootcamp at New England Convention.

You can learn more about HamXposition and our activities there at the HamXpostion website.

Ham Bootcamp

A First HF Contact at Ham Bootcamp

We have created a program that we call Ham Bootcamp. Bootcamp to helps recently licensed and upgraded hams to get on the air. We are making this program available to up to 100 HamXpostion attendees on a first-come-first-served basis.

Our Bootcamp program will run from 9 am to noon on Saturday, September 7th in the Federal Room. Bootcamp will feature tracks for both Technician and General class license holders. It is also a great place for folks who are not yet licensed to learn more about Amateur Radio and how to get on the air.

Our Bootcamp program will include:

  • How to make a contact and join a repeater net
  • Putting together an HF station
  • Radio, antenna, and feed line choices
  • Getting started with FT8 and digital modes
  • Exchanging QSL cards
  • Learning Morse code
  • Tips on upgrading
  • Introduction to ham radio kit building
  • Handheld radio programming tutorials

Ham Bootcamp is free.  Participants will receive discount certificates for a kit build at the show and for purchase of Ham Radio Gear from Ham Radio Outlet.

You can learn more about Ham Bootcamp on the HamXposition website and on our website.

Source: Interest and Excitement Around HamXposition Is Building

I wanted to share our plans for several hands-on activities at HamXposition @ Boxboro in September. We hope that Ham Bootcamp will be of particular interest to folks getting into Amateur Radio. You can learn more about Ham Bootcamp and all of our planned activities via the link above. We hope to see some of our readers at HamXpostion next month!

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 7 – Flex SDR Satellite Transceiver

Flex-6700 SmartSDR in Satellite Mode

A major part of our plans for Satellite Station 4.0 includes the ability to operate our home satellite station remotely over the Internet. We’ve been using our Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio (SDR) as a Remote Operating Gateway (GW) on the HF Bands and 6m for some time now. Our latest project is to upgrade our Remote Operating GW to support satellite operations on the 2m, 70cm, and 23cm bands.

Remote Gateway Rack with Satellite Additions

Adding the additional bands for satellite operations involves adding a 2m Amplifier, a 70cm Transverter, and a 23cm Upconverter to our SDR-based Remote GW. We decided to repackage our Remote GW set up in a rack mount cabinet on casters. This allows all of the required gear to be placed under the desk in our station in a way that is neat and reliable.

We also added an Ethernet Switch, a pair of USB hubs, and upgraded power and remote controls to improve our ability to manage our station remotely and to simplify the interconnections between our Remote GW and the rest of our station. The final assembly mounts all of the components in the rack on 5 levels as follows:

The purpose of these components is explained in more detail below.

All of these devices are powered from 13.8 Vdc station power to avoid the potential for noise from wall wart transformers inside the rack. Also, attention was paid to the isolation of the digital and RF components on separate levels to minimize the chance that noise from digital signals would leak into the RF chains.

Satellite SDR

Remote Satellite SDR System Design

The diagram above shows how the added components for the satellite bands interconnect with the Flex-6700. The new components include:

The Flex-6700 can generate and receive signals on the 2m band but it does this at IF power levels. The 2m LPDA brings the IF power level up to a maximum of 75 watts. The DIPs device enables the Flex-6700 to operate in U/v, V/u, and L/v modes.

The 28 MHz splitter allows a total of 4 transverters/upconverters to be connected to the radio. This will enable us to add 5 GHz and 10 GHz bands to our satellite station in the future.

Our Flex-6700 includes a GPS Disciplined Oscillator (GPSDO) which provides an accurate and stable 10 MHz reference output to lock the 70cm and 23cm transverter frequencies. The 10 MHz Reference Distribution Amplifier expands the single 10 MHz on the Flex-6700 to drive up to 4 transverters or upconverters.

The two USB cables allow the Flex-6700 and SmartSDR to control the LPDA and PTT for the 70cm and 23 cm bands.

2m/70cm Shelf

The rackmount arrangement uses shelves which provide ventilation for the components and enable us to use zip ties to tie down all of the components. The photo above shows the layout of the shelf which contains the 2m LPDA, the 70cm Transverter and many of the RF interconnections. Velcro tape is used to secure the smaller components to the shelf.

2m/70cm Shelf RF Interconnection Details

The photo above shows the RF interconnections. The 70cm Transverter is on the upper left and the 2m LPDA is on the upper right. The rectangular boxes coming from these devices are the sensors for the WaveNode WN-2 Power and SWR Meter that we are using. They are terminated in 50-ohm dummy loads for initial testing. The DIPS device is center bottom and the 4-port device above it is the 28 MHz splitter. All of the interconnections are handled using 50-ohm BNC cables and the unused ports on the 28 MHz splitter are terminated with 50-ohm BNC terminators.

Rear View of Remote Gateway Rack

The photo above shows the rear of the unit. The 10 MHz Reference Distribution Amplifier (bottom center) and the two Industrial 12V powered USB hubs are visible at the bottom of the unit. The DC power distribution components are at the upper left and a set of Internet-controlled relays are at the upper right.

USB Connections via Hubs

One of the USB hubs fans out a single USB connection from the host PC to the USB controlled devices in the Remote GW rack. The other USB hub expands the USB outputs of the Flex-6700 to accommodate the control cables for the devices in the rack and the CAT cable which provides frequency data to the microHam SMD Antenna Controller.

Power Control and Distribution Design

Remote control and distribution of DC power to all of the devices in our Remote GW is an important design consideration. In addition to proper fusing, one must be able to remotely turn devices on and off remotely. The diagram above shows the power distribution and control architecture that we are using.

13.8 Vdc Power Distribution

RigRunner power distribution blocks are used to fuse and distribute power to all of the accessory devices in the rack.

Remote Gateway Power Controls

The RigRunner 4005i provides remote power control via the Internet for all of the major units and accessories in the rack. In addition to controlling power on/off states and providing electronic fusing, the RigRunner 4005i monitors voltage and current to the equipment in the Remote GW. These controls are accessed via a web browser and a network connection. Login/password security is also provided.

Remote Control Relay Unit

A microBit Webswitch device provides Internet controlled relays to manage various station functions including:

After some configuration of the Transverters and PTT controls in SmartSDR, the satellite portion of our Remote GW is up and running. There is quite a bit of software installation and configuration left to do and we’ll cover that in a future post.

You can find other articles about our Satellite Station 4.0 project here:

Can learn more about the SDR-based Remote Operating Gateway at our station here.

Fred, AB1OC

Nashua Area Radio Society Youth Expo at Boxboro

Karen KC1KBW a BGHS Teacher Building a Kit

Karen KC1KBW a BGHS Teacher Building a Kit

The Nashua Area Radio Society put together a successful Amateur Radio Youth Exposition at the New England Amateur Radio Convention at Boxboro this year. Our exposition features over ten displays with hands-on activities…

Source: NARS Youth Expo at Boxboro – Nashua Area Radio Society

Anita AB1QB and I are continuing to work along with the Nashua Area Radio Society to encourage young people to become licensed and join the Amateur Radio Service.

NARS Team at Boxboro

Nashua Area Radio Society Team at Boxboro

The Nashua Area Radio Society recently hosted an Amateur Radio Exposition for Young People at the New England Amateur Radio Convention in Boxboro, MA. Our event featured Remote HF and Satellite GOTA stations, a kit build, and many other hands-on activities which were part of the over ten displays at the event.

You can read more and see photos from our Youth Expo via the link above. We will be holding another Amateur Radio Youth Expo as part of NETT at NEAR-Fest in Deerfield, NH in October. We hope to see some of our local friends there.

Fred, AB1OC

Fall Youth Events at Boxboro and NEAR-Fest

Quite a few Nashua Area Radio Society members have been working on a display to get young people and potential new Hams interested in Amateur Radio. Our display will be part of the New England Amateur Radio Convention in Boxboro, MA on September 8th and 9th. We are also planning a similar display for NEAR-Fest at Deerfield Fairgrounds, NH later in the fall. You can see more about our planned display and the associated hands-on activities via the following link.

Source: Fall Youth Events at Boxboro and NEAR-Fest – Nashua Area Radio Society

I want to share some information about an Amateur Radio event that we will be doing at the Boxboro, MA Ham Radio Convention in September. Our display and hands-on activities provide an introduction to Amateur Radio for young people and include information and a chance to try Amateur Radio activities such as:

You can read more about our plans for the event via the link above.

Morse Trainer Kit

Morse Trainer Kit

We’ve been working with Steve Elliot, K1EL to develop an inexpensive kit building project to include as part of our displays. We will be including a new kit building activity in as part of our display. Builders can purchase the Morse Trainer Kit shown above for $20 and build it at the show. We will provide soldering equipment and kit building mentors to help builders complete their kit. The package includes batteries and a printed manual. We will have these kits available for walk-up purchase at the show on both Saturday and Sunday.

I am also planning to provide forum presentation on the following topics on Saturday at Boxboro:

  • Creating Successful Youth Outreach Projects
  • Portable Satellite Station Design, Operation, and Planning for an upcoming ISS Crew Contact
  • STEM Learning for Young People via High Altitude Balloons Carrying Amateur Radio

You can view the Boxboro Forum schedule here.

I hope to see folks who follow our Blog at the New England at the Boxboro Convention. If you can make it, stop by our display or visit us in the forums and say “hello”.

73,

Fred, AB1OC

 

Operating FT8 Remote on the 6m Band

FT8 Digital Remote Setup

FT8 Digital Remote Setup

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

Radio and Logging System

Radio and Logging System

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

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

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

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

DXLab Suite Logging and Rotator Control Software

DXLab Suite Logging and Rotator Control Software

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

Reverse Beacon Network and Station Monitoring Computer

Reverse Beacon Network and Station Monitoring Computer

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

PSKReporter RBN Monitoring on 6m

PSKReporter RBN Monitoring on 6m

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

DXMaps Propagation Report on 6m

DXMaps Propagation Report on 6m

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

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

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

You can learn more about the Remote Operating Gateway setup at AB1OC-AB1QB here.

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

73,

Fred, AB1OC

Remote Operating Enhancements

Updated Remote Operating Setup

Updated Remote Operating Setup

As explained in a previous article, we have been working on enhancing our FlexRadio 6700 based Remote Operating Setup to include additional remote control client options, better remote networking via the Internet, and better integration with our microHAM system.

Remote Operating Architecture

Remote Operating Gateway Architecture

This project involved the addition of the following capabilities to our base Remote Operating Setup:

These steps are now complete and we have some good results to share.

SmartSDR V2 Remote Connection

SmartSDR V2 Remote Connection

The first part of the upgrade was to update to SmartSDR V2. This upgrade enables much improved SmartSDR operation over the Internet. Our previous approach, which used a tunneled VPN connection combined with the previous versions of SmartSDR did not always perform well when used with low-bandwidth or high latency Internet connections. SmartSDR does much better in this area.

SmartSDR CAT Remote

SmartSDR CAT Remote

DAX Operating Remote

DAX Remote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both the SmartSDR CAT and the SmartSDR DAX application have been updated to allow software on a PC being used to operate the FlexRadio SDRs over the Internet to gain access to CAT and sound interfaces associated with the radio.

FlexRadio Maestro Console

FlexRadio Maestro Console

We also added a Maestro Console to enhance the usability of the SDR radio portion of our Remote Operating Gateway. The Maestro is very easy to use and extends the available controls and display space which was limited when using just a laptop PC. The Maestro supports direct microphone connections for phone operation and also works with connected CW paddles for operation in CW mode. I have been using a single level paddle along with our Maestro as speeds of 22 WPM with full QSK. Sending CW at these speeds with the Maestro works well.

The Maestro has built-in WiFi and Ethernet connections and full support for SmartSDR V2’s connections over the Internet. The Maestro can operate from AC power or from an internal battery pack. I have a couple of spare rechargeable batteries for our Maestro to support longer operating sessions on battery.

TeamViewer VPN

TeamViewer VPN

We have been using a combination of TeamViewer Remote Control software and a router-based VPN solution to enable control of our antenna controllers and station power/amplifiers. This arrangement works well but most of our readers probably do not have a router which can support VPN connections or the networking knowledge to set up a secure VPN system.

A much simpler VPN solution can be realized by utilizing TeamViewer’s built-in VPN capability. You simply install TeamViewer on a PC in you shack which can access you station accessories and on your remote operating laptop or PC. You then enable TeamViewer’s VPN option and the configuration is complete.

TeamViewer VPN Connection

TeamViewer VPN Connection

We now use TeamViewer to set up both a VPN connection and a remote desktop control connection to a computer in our shack which can control amplifiers, power, and other station accessories associated with our Remote Operating Gateway We use TeamViewer in this way to control our microHAM Station Master Deluxe antenna controllers, RigRunner remote power controller, a microBit Webswitch device and an Elecraft KPA500 amplifier which are all part of our station’s Remote Operating Gateway.

DXLab Operating Remote

DXLab Operating Remote

With the addition of the SmartSDR and the updated TeamViewer/VPN setup, we can operate our station remotely over the Internet. We have tested our setup using a Wireless Hotspot modem and Verizon’s LTE service. The combination of our PC running the DXLab Logging Suite and the Maestro work great in this configuration.

We have found the need to initialize the networking configuration in a specific order to get everything running correctly. The steps that we use are as follows:

  1. Connect the laptop PC to the Internet
  2. Bring up the TeamViewer VPN connection
  3. Run SmartSDR on the laptop PC and login to SmartSDR Remote
  4. Bring up the DXLab’s Suite including Commander (currently, DXLab’s Commander has some issues connecting when the FlexRadio protocol is used. We have found that the KENWOOD protocol works fine.)
  5. Bring up the remote control application for the Elecraft amplifier and access our RigRunner power controller and microBit Webswitch units to turn on accessories as needed
  6. Initiate a second TeamViewer Remote Control connection and use it to run the microHAM remote antenna controller in a single window
  7. Shutdown SmartSDR on the laptop PC and bring up the connection to the radio via the Maestro.

There is obviously still some room for simplification in this initialization procedure. I expect that some simplification will come as all of the software involved becomes more mature and is further adapted for remote operation.

Once initialized properly, its simple to use the PC and Maestro combination to work SSB Phone or CW contacts. The DXLab Logging Suite will follow the radio, track modes, handle split operation, and allow control of our antenna rotators via DXView. We can click on spots in DXLab’s SpotCollector to automatically set the FlexRadio SDR’s mode, frequency, and split configuration. The Maestro and DXLab will stay in sync during tuning, mode changes, and other radio operations.

Remote Digital Operation using WSJT-X and FT8

Remote Digital Operation using WSJT-X and FT8

The final part of this project was to add the latest Version of the WSJT-X software to our Remote Operating client laptop PC to enable FT8 operation on the HF bands and MSK144 for Meteor Scatter work on 6m.

SmartSDR and JTAlert Supporting Remote FT8 Mode

SmartSDR and JTAlert Supporting Remote FT8 Mode

We do not use the Maestro for digital operation. We leave SmartSDR running on our remote laptop PC instead. We also use the JTAlert application to create an automated bridge between WXJT-X and the DXLab Logging Suite.

The combination of SmartSDR V2 and WSJT-X works great remotely. We have used this combination to make quite a few FT8 contacts on the HF bands as well as several Meteor Scatter contacts on 6m using MSK144 mode.

These enhancements to our Remote Operating Gateway have helped both Anita and me to operate more. I have our Maestro either in my home office or on a table in our kitchen where we can listen to the bands and work DX when the opportunities come up. Remote Operating, even it’s just from another room at your QTH, is great fun!

We should be able to begin the next step in our station upgrade plans – the addition of an Elecraft KPA1500 shared amplifier, in the near future. The new amplifier will enable our Remote Operating Gateway to operate at 1500w out on the HF bands and 6m.

This project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

Fred, AB1OC