GPS Time Server

GPS NTP

GPS Controlled Time Server

There are many reasons to have an accurate time source in your station. Getting the best performance from WSJT-X modes like FT8 requires your computer clock to be synchronized to within a second for example. You can set your clocks accurately using NTP servers on the Internet. This is the most common way that most stations set their clocks.

What if you are portable and don’t have Internet access or what do you do if your Internet connection goes down? One way to solve these problems is to use a GPS controlled NTP time server in your station. We recently installed one from Leo Bodnar in our station.

GPS NTP

GPS Antenna

This device is simple to install. It just requires an Ethernet connection to your network and a GPS antenna. The antenna is included with the unit. The antenna will need to be outdoors with a reasonably clear view of the sky.

GPS NTP

GPS Satellite Lock Screen

After a minute or so after it is installed and powered up, the unit will synchronize to the visible GPS satellites in your location and report its coordinates. This indicates that you have a good GPS system lock and that the clock in the unit is accurate to within a microsecond.

GPS NTP

NTP Summary Screen

The unit gets its IP either from DHCP or via a fixed IP address that you can program. Once the unit is set, you use its IP address as the NTP server in your software to set your clocks. You would set you NTP server in a program like Dimension 4 to accurately set your computer’s clock for example. You will want to disable your computer’s normal Internet clock setting function to avoid conflicts with Dimension 4. Once this is set up, your computer clock will be synchronized to the GPS system and will be very accurate and you will get the best performance from WSJT-X.

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:

These 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.

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 units 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 individual and groups of 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:

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 6 – Tower Finishing Touches

New Shack Entry and Ground Block

We recently completed the finishing touches on our new VHF/Satellite Tower. The first step was to install a second set of entry conduits into our shack and a new ground block for our satellite antennas. This involved installing 4″ PVC conduits into our shack. The new entries are very close to the base of our tower and this will allow us to keep our feedlines as short as possible.

Hardline Coax Cables Up The Tower

We also replaced the section of our feedlines which run down the tower with 7/8″ hardline coax. We installed a total of four runs for 6m, 2m, 70cm, and 23cm. The use of hardline coax will help reduce our feedline losses – especially on 70cm and 23cm.

Hardlines at Base of Tower

The new hardlines are connected one of the two entries into our shack. The 6m hardline enters on the side closes to our antenna switching matrix and the 2m, 70cm, and 23 cm hardlines will enter the shack via the newly created entry which will be close to our satellite transceiver.

The next step in our project will be to upgrade our Flex-6700 SDR based Remote Gateway for operation on the satellite bands. You can find other articles about our Satellite Station 4.0 project here:

Fred, AB1OC

Upgrading our 2.0 Satellite Station for ARISS Contacts

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

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

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

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

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

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

Icom IC-910H Transceiver

Icom IC-910H Transceiver

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

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

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

GHTracker Running On A Raspberry Pi 3

GHTracker Running On A Raspberry Pi 3

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

M2 Antenna Systems PS2MCP8A Polarity Switch

M2 Antenna Systems PS-2MCP8A Polarity Switch

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

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

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

m RM ITALY LA-250V Amplifier

RM ITALY LA-250V Amplifier

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred, AB1OC

PTT Router for Satellite Station 3.0

ARR Satellite Preamp

Advanced Receiver Research Remote Preamp

Our Satellite Station 2.0 antenna system uses a pair of Advanced Receiver Research Remote preamplifiers at the antennas to boost weak signals. These preamps have RF sensing and switching to protect them during transit. While this system works well; we are always concerned about the impact of the RF power affecting the long-term reliability of these devices and the associated radio equipment.

M2 Antenna Systems S3 Sequencers

M2 Antenna Systems S3 Sequencers

Our Satellite Station 2.0 uses a pair of M2 Antenna Systems S3 Sequencers to control the preamps remotely. For U/V and V/U mode satellites, it’s a simple matter to turn off the uplink band preamp to protect it against RF during transmit. The problem with this approach comes when working satellites and the International Space Station in simplex (single band) modes. In these situations, we need a solution which keys the sequencers externally so that the sequencers can properly control the changeover of the preamps from receive to transmit mode before keying our radio (an Icom IC-9100). We also wanted a solution which could also allow the radio initiate the keying of the sequencers for CW break-in keying and digital modes.

PTT Router

PTT Router

Our solution was to design and build a simple Push-To-Talk (PTT) router. This device allows an external source such as a footswitch or a trigger switch to initiate the keying. The design also includes indicators which confirm that the keying sequence has completed.

PTT Router Schematic Diagram

PTT Router Schematic Diagram

Our first step was to create a simple design which allowed for either an external switch or the radio to initiate keying. The PTT source switch (S1) selects the keying source and uses the Hsend  (2m key) and Vsend (70cm/1.2 GH key) lines on the Icom IC-9100 accessory jack as either the means to key the radio or the means to detect that the radio has initiated a transmit keying sequence. A second switch (S2) selects which VFO is keyed when the keying source switch (S1) is in External mode. Finally,  indicators for power and keying complete were added.

Rear Panel Connectors

Rear Panel Connectors

A small enclosure was used to house the switches, indicators, and the connections to the rest of our Satellite Station. The image above shows the rear-panel connections to external PTT sources, the S3 Sequencers, the IC-9100 Radio, and a 12 Vdc station power source.

PTT Router Internal View

PTT Router Internal View

A pair of terminal strips were mounted inside the enclosure to make connecting all of the components easier. The wiring is pretty dense around the front and rear panels so connections were insulated with heat shrink tubing. A small PCB could easily be created to make replicating the prototype easier should we decide to build more copies of the design.

Satellite Station 3.0 Controls

Satellite Station 3.0 Controls

Our new PTT router was easy to integrate into our Satellite Station 3.0 setup. Integration required some custom cables to be made to connect our PTT router to the sequencers and to the accessory jack of the radio. With the integration completed, we are now able to properly sequence the control of the preamps and the radio in all modes of operation. Here are some more articles which include more about our portable satellite stations –

Fred (AB1OC)

An 80m Broadband Matching System

Our Tower with 75m Loop

Our Tower with 75m Loop

We installed a 75m loop for SSB operation on our tower when we built it. The loop is full size and is diamond shaped so that our lower SteppIR DB36 yagi can rotate inside of it. The loop is fed at the bottom corner about 20 ft up from the ground. It works great for SSB operation on 75m but we have often wished we could use it across the entire 80m band. This goal led to a project to create a matching system for the antenna. The idea was to use a set of loading coils in series at the feed point create a good match in all segments of the 80m band.

EZ-NEC Model for 75m Loop

EZ-NEC Model for 75m Loop

The first step in the design of our 80m matching system was to build a model of our current loop using EZ-NEC. The model was then used to determine the correct values of a set of series loading inductors to match different segments of the 80m band.

Matching System Design Analysis

Matching System Design Analysis

We also considered how likely different segments of the 80m band were to be used by profiling historical spotting data from DXSummit. All of this analysis led to the creation of a final design which is captured in the spreadsheet shown above. The final design requires our current 75m loop to be shortened a bit to work well at the very top of the 80m band.

Modeled Loading Coil Inductance Values

Modeled Loading Coil Inductance Values

A set of 5 different inductor pairs can be used in series with the loop’s feed point to create a good match across the entire 80m band. The modeled values for the series matching inductors is shown above.

Matching System Modeled SWR

Matching System Modeled SWR

Our microHAM control system can easily implement the switching of the various inductance values based upon the frequency that a radio using the antenna is tuned to. Result modeled SWR for the final 80m loop and match combination is shown above. The design should achieve an SWR < 1.5:1 across the entire 80m band except for the very top where the SWR remains < 2:1. Also, the design optimizes the system’s SWR in the important CW DX, SSB DX, and Digital windows on the 80m band.

Layout of Components in Enclosure

Layout of Components in Enclosure

With the design completed, we choose an enclosure and all of the components. Here are the details of what we used:

The first step in the construction was to layout all of the components in the enclosure. Attention was paid to keeping the two series inductors at right angles to avoid coupling and to keep RF connections as short as possible. The relays were arranged to keep the leads connecting to the coils of roughly equal length. Finally, the control circuitry was kept as far removed from the RF leads as possible.

Enclosure Mounting Ears and Clamps

Enclosure Mounting Ears and Clamps

The matching system attaches to a tower leg via saddle clamps. We fabricated a set of mounting ears and spacer blocks to position the enclosure far enough away from the tower so that the antenna connections do not interact with the tower.

80m Matching System Construction

80m Matching System Construction

A summary of the completed matching system construction is shown above.The design uses a set of four double-pole double-throw relays to switch in different coil taps which selects the loading inductance provided by the matching system.

We did a set of calculations and found that our relays would be subjected to a worst case peak-peak voltage of about 2.1 KVp-p at the coil tap points.

The relays are arranged such that two sets of contacts have to be traversed to select any given coil tap. The relays we are using have a third pole which we are not using. We disassembled each relay and removed the internal contact wiring for the center pole which improves both the coil to contact voltage rating and the isolation values of the relays.

These steps combine to improve the voltage rating of the system. This is an important design element given that the match will operate at legal limit power.

Completed RF Deck

Completed RF Deck

The completed RF deck and control circuitry is shown above. The enclosure we choose came with a removable plastic plate that made mounting and wiring all of the components simple.

Loading Coil Mounting and Taps

Loading Coil Mounting and Taps

The loading inductors are mounted using nylon hardware with the ends connected to the two antenna terminals on the sides of the enclosure. The coils use movable tap clips to allow us to fine-tune the match once the system is installed with the antenna on our tower. The initial clip locations are set to create the inductance values modeled during the design phase.

Relay Control Circuit Connections

Relay Control Circuit Connections

The relay control leads use twisted pair wiring to minimize RF pickup. The control leads are routed away from the RF connections to minimize potential RF coupling.

Relay Control Circuit Details

Relay Control Circuit Details

The control circuits for each relay use a combination of a Diode, a Varistor (MOV) and a filter capacitor in parallel to avoid relay coil switching interference and to suppress control line noise.

1.5 to 1 Matching Balun

1.5 to 1 Matching Balun

The matching system is designed to operate at 75-ohms which is pretty close to the resonant impedance of our 75m loop. The current antenna uses a 1.5:1 Balun to match the loop to our 50-ohm coax feedline. We disassembled an identical matching balun (actually a 75-ohm balun plus a 1.5:1 unun) and used it without its enclosure to create a final 50-ohm match.

MicroHAM Setup to Control 80m Matching System

MicroHAM Setup to Control 80m Matching System

The final step in the construction of our matching system was to program our microHAM antenna switching system to properly configure the relays in our matching system. This was quite simple to do using microHAM’s frequency dependent antenna control capabilities. The microHAM system automatically operates the appropriate relays to create the best possible match as the radio which is using the matching system is tuned across the 80m band.

Unfortunately, we are in the middle of winter here in New England so I will have to wait for warmer weather to install our new matching system on the tower and make the final adjustments. I am planning another article here when the final integration steps are done to cover the performance of the completed project.

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 work 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 its 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 legal limit 1500w out on the HF bands and 6m.

Fred, AB1OC

Plans for 2017 Station Upgrades – Radio, Shared Amplifier, and Remote Op Enhancements

Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio Stack

Current Flex-6700 Remote Operating Gateway and Icom IC-7600 Transceiver

We have a number of station upgrades planned for this fall. Our planned upgrades include:

We always begin our station projects by updating our station design documents.

Remote Operating Architecture

Updated Remote Operating Gateway Architecture

Our Remote Operating enhancements will include:

The figure above shows an updated architecture for our Remote Operating Gateway which includes these enhancements. The planned Elecraft KPA1500 solid state amplifier will simplify the software associated with remotely controlling and monitoring the amplifier, tuner, and wattmeter components in our previous remote operating setup.

Icom IC-7610 SDR-Based Transceiver

Icom IC-7610 SDR-Based Transceiver

We have been quite impressed with the performance of our Icom IC-7300’s radio’s receiver. As a result, we have decided to upgrade the second radio in Anita’s operating position to an Icom IC-7610. We expect that the IC-7610’s receiver performance will be as good as or better than the IC-7300.

Icom IC-7610 External Display

Icom IC-7610 External Display

The Icom IC-7610 also provides a very nice external display capability which will allow us to take the best advantage of the radio’s pan adapter. We believe that the IC-7610 will integrate easily into our microHAM system. It should be a “drop-in” replacement for our current IC-7600. We hope to see the IC-7610 shipping before the end of this year.

Elecraft KPA1500 Legal Limit Solid State Amplifier

Elecraft KPA1500 Legal Limit Solid State Amplifier

Our final upgrade will be to add an Elecraft KPA1500 Solid State Amplifier. This amplifier provides a full 1500 watts out on all bands 160m – 6m. The new amplifier will bring the Icom IC-7610 and our FlexRadio SDR-Based Remote Operating Gateway up to full legal limit power. This will be especially helpful on the 6m band where both the IC-7610’s and the FlexRadio 6700’s excellent receiver performance will help us to take the best advantage of the extra power for Meteor Scatter and other weak signal work on 6m.

microHam Shared Amplifier

microHAM KPA1500 Shared Amplifier Design

Our microHAM Station Automation System can accommodate shared amplifiers. We will take advantage of this capability when we integrated the Elecraft KPA1500 into our station. The shared amplifier setup will also allow us to eliminate one of our bandpass filters. The KPA1500 amplifier integrates autotuner and wattmeter functions into the amplifier and provides a direct Ethernet interface for remote control and management. These enhancements should eliminate the need for several of the remote control server software applications that we are currently running on a PC in our shack. Also, we can manage all of these functions from a single client application on a remote client PC. These simplifications will make our remote operating gateway setup more reliable and easier to use.

FlexRadio Maestro Control Console

FlexRadio Maestro Control Console

We plan to share more on these projects in future posts here on our Blog. The FlexRadio Maestro and all of the other components that we need for Remote Operating Gateway enhancements have arrived. We will complete this part of our project in the very near future and post more here.

Also, it appears that the local control interface to the new Elecraft KPA1500 amplifier is nearly identical to that used by our current Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier. This means that we can begin our shared amplifier upgrades using the KPA500. We do not have a firm date for the IC-7610 to ship and that portion of our upgrade plans is likely to be our last step in the project.

Special thanks to Dave, K1DLM who has helped us with ideas for several aspects of this project.

Fred, AB1OC

A Portable Satellite Station Part 2 – 2.0 Station Goals and Antenna System

M2 Antenna Systems LEO Pack On Display at Dayton 2016

M2 Antenna Systems LEO Pack on Display at Dayton 2016

We came upon the M2 Antenna Systems booth while walking around the exhibit halls at Dayton last year. M2 had one of their LEO Pack satellite antenna systems on display there. This got us thinking about building a new, more capable version of our portable satellite station. The LEO Pack is a relatively lightweight circularly polarized antenna system for working satellites using the 2 m and 70 cm bands. It turns out that AMSAT members can purchase the LEO Pack at a discount. Starting with the LEO Pack in mind, I began to lay out some goals for a new, 2.0 Portable Satellite Station:

  • Be capable of working all active Amateur LEO Satellites including those using linear transponders and digital modes
  • Be portable and manageable enough to be set up in an hour or less
  • Be simple enough to operate so that HAMs who are new to satellites can make all types of satellite contacts with a relatively short learning curve
  • Be manageable to transport and store
  • Utilize computer controlled antenna tracking to aim the antennas
  • Utilize computer control to manage radio VFOs to compensate for doppler shift
  • Be easy to transport and store
Computer Controlled Satellite Station Via MacDoppler

Computer Controlled Satellite Station via MacDoppler Software

We decided to take a computer controlled approach for both antenna aiming and Transceiver VFO management to meet our goal of making the station simple to operate for new satellite operators. After some research on the available options, we choose MacDoppler from Dog Park Software Ltd. for this purpose. MacDoppler runs under Mac OS/X and works well on our MacBook Air laptop computer which is very portable. This program also has broad support for many different rotator and transceiver platforms and is very easy to understand and use. Finally, the program features high-quality graphics which should make the station more interesting to folks with limited or no experience operating through Amateur Satellites.

With the satellite tracking software chosen, we made selections for the other major components in the 2.0 Portable Satellite Station as follows:

I will explain these choices in more detail as our article series proceeds.

Glen Martin Roof Tower

Glen Martin 4.5′ Roof Tower

Our solution to making the antenna system portable is built around a Glen Martin 4.5′ Roof Tower. This short tower is a high-quality piece made of extruded aluminum parts. The tower is very sturdy when assembled and is light in weight. We added a pair of extended “feet” to the tower which are fabricated from 36″ x 2″ x 1 /4″ strap steel. This gives the tower a firm base to sit on and allows us to use sandbags to weight it down (more on this later).

Our chosen Yaesu G-500 AZ/EL Rotator is a relatively inexpensive Azimuth/Elevation rotator which is suitable for light-weight satellite antennas such as those in the LEO Pack. This rotator can be installed as a single unit on the top of a tower or separated using a mast. We choose the latter approach as it is mechanically more robust and helps to keep the center of gravity for our portable antenna system low for improved stability.

Yaesu G-5500 Elevation Rotator

Yaesu G-5500 Elevation Rotator

Separating the Yaesu AZ/EL rotator requires a short mast and a thrust bearing to be used. The mast was made from an 1-3/4″ O.D. piece of EMT tubing from our local hardware store. The thrust bearing is a Yaesu GS-065 unit. Both of these pieces fit nicely in the Glen Martin Tower. The thrust bearing provides support for the LEO Pack and G-500 elevation rotator and greatly reduces stress on the azimuth rotator. We also added a Yaesu GA-3000 Shock Absorber Mount to the azimuth rotator. This part provides shock isolation for and reduces strain on the azimuth rotator during the frequent starts and stops which occur during satellite tracking.

LMR-400 Feed-lines And Antenna Connection Jumpers

LMR-400UF Feed-lines and Antenna Connection Jumpers

We decided to use LMR-400 UltraFlex coax throughout our antenna system. LMR-400UF coax provides a good balance between size, flexibility, and loss for our application. To keep feed-line losses reasonable, we choose to limit the total length of the coax from the transceiver output to the antenna feed point to 50′. This results in a loss of about 1.3 dB on the 70 cm band. The result is that our planned IC-9100 Transceiver which has a maximum output of 75W on 70 cm will deliver a little more than 50W maximum at the feed point of the 70 cm yagi. This should be more than enough power to meet our station goals. Allowing a total of 15′ for antenna rotator loops and transceiver connections, we settled upon 35′ for the length of our coax feed-lines between the tower and the station control point.

Portable Tower Cable Connections and Base Straps

Portable Tower Cable Connections and Base Straps

We added some custom fabricated plates to the tower to act as a bulkhead for feed line and control cable connections and to mount our low-noise preamplifiers. The control connections for the rotators and preamps were made using 6-pin Weatherpack connectors and rotator control cable from DXEngineering. The control cables are also 35′ long to match the length of our coax feed lines. This length should allow the tower and the control point to be separated by a reasonable distance in portable setups.

Low-Noise Preamplifiers From Advanced Receiver Research

Low-Noise Preamplifiers from Advanced Receiver Research

We added tower-mounted Low-Noise Preamplifiers from Advanced Receiver Research to improve the receive sensitivity and noise figure for our satellite antenna system. Two preamps are used – one each for the 2 m and one for 70 cm antennas. While these units can be RF switched, we decided to include the preamp control lead in our control cable to allow for control of the preamp switching via sequencers. This was done to provide an extra measure of protection for the preamps.

Levels And Compass For Tower Setup

Levels and Compass for Tower Setup

We added a compass and pair of bubble levels to the tower assembly to make it easier to orient and level it during setup. This picture above also shows the Yaesu shock absorbing mount for the azimuth rotator.

Weight Bags To Anchor Portable Tower

Weight Bags to Anchor Portable Tower

Finally, we added a set of weight bags to securely anchor the tower when it is set up in a portable environment. These bags are filled with crushed stone and fasten to the legs of the Glen Martin tower with velcro straps.

LEO Pack Antenna Parts

LEO Pack Antenna Parts

With the tower and rotator elements complete, we turned our attention to the assembly of the M2 LEO Pack. The LEO pack consists of two circularly polarized yagis for the 2m and 70 cm bands. The 2m Yagi is an M2 Systems 2MCP8A which has 8 elements (4 horizontal and 4 vertical) and provides 9.2 dBic of forward gain. The 70 cm Yagi is an M2 Systems 436CP16 with 16 elements (8 horizontal and 8 vertical) and provides 13.3 dBic of forward gain. Both Yagi’s are meant to be rear mounted on an 8.5′ aluminum cross boom which is included in the LEO Pack. The picture above shows all of the parts for the two antennas before assembly. It took us about a 1/2 day to assemble and test the antennas and both produced the specified SWR performance when assembled and test in clear surroundings.

Assembled LEO Pack On Portable Tower

Assembled LEO Pack on Portable Tower

The picture above shows the assembled LEO pack on the portable tower. We attached a short 28″ piece of mast material to the cross boom as a counterweight to provide better overall balance and to minimize strain on the elevation rotator. The antennas and the two outer sections of the mast can be easily removed to transport the antenna system.

2m Circularly Polarized Yagi Feed Point

2m Circularly Polarized Yagi Feed Point

The LEO Pack yagis achieve circular polarization via a matching network which drives the vertical and horizontal sections of the antennas with a 90-degree phase shift. The phase shift (and a final 50-ohm match) is achieved using 1/4 wave delay lines made of coax cables. We configured our antennas for right-hand circular polarization. The choice between right and left-hand circular polarization is not a critical one in our LEO satellite application as most LEO satellites are not circularly polarized. The advantage of circular polarization in our application is the minimization of spin fading effects.

Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

The final step in the construction of our antenna system was to add the rotator controller and test the computer aiming system. We have had very good results using Green Heron Engineering rotator controllers in our home station so we selected their RT-21 AZ/EL rotator controller for this application. The RT-21 AZ/EL rotator controller is really two rotator controllers in a single box. The rotator control parameters such as minimum and maximum rotator speed, ramp, offset, over travel and others can be independently set for each rotator.

Rotator Test Using MacDoppler

Rotator Test Using MacDoppler

The RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller connects to our computer via a pair of USB cables. We run Green Heron’s GH Tracker software on our MacBook Air laptop to manage the computer side of the rotator controller and to provide a UDP protocol interface to the MacDoppler tracking software. The picture above shows the test setup used to verify the computer controlled antenna pointing system.

Mixed OS/X and Windows Software Environment

Mixed OS/X and Windows Software Environment

One challenge associated with selecting a Mac OS/X platform for computer control is what to do about the inevitable need to run Windows software as part of the system. In addition to the GH Tracker software, the WaveNode WN-2 Wattmeter and digital modem software for satellite/ISS APRS and other applications require a Windows run-time environment. To solve this problem, we use a virtual machine environment implemented using VMware Fusion and Windows 10 64-bit on our MacBook Air Laptop along with Mac OS/X. Using the Unity feature of VMware Fusion allows us to run windows apps such as GH Tracker as if they were native Mac OS/X apps. The picture above shows an example of this.

Rotator Controller and Software Configuration

Rotator Controller and Software Configuration

With the antennas removed from the cross boom, we tested the operation of the computer controlled tracking system. The Yaesu G-5500 AZ/EL Rotator have some limits as to its pointing accuracy and backlash performance.  Experimentation with the combination of the RT-21 AZ/EL rotator controller, GH Tracker, and MacDoppler setups were required to achieve smooth overall operation. We finally settled on a strategy of “lead the duck” tracking. The idea here is to set up the rotators so that they over-travel by a degree or so when the computer adjusts them and couple this with a relatively wide 2-3 degree tracking resolution. This maximizes the overall accuracy of the pointing system and minimizes the tendency towards the constant start-stop operation of the rotators during satellite tracking. Our current configuration for all of the elements involved in the tracking system is shown above.

With the antenna system complete and tested, we can move onto the next step in our project – the construction of a computer controlled transceiver system. We will cover this element in the next part in this series. Other articles in the series include:

You may also be interested in the satellite station at our home QTH. You can read more about that here.

Fred, AB1OC

Fall Antenna Projects – A New Low-Band Receive Antenna System

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Control Unit and Filters

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Control Unit and Filters

Anita and I like to take advantage of the mild fall weather to do antenna projects at our QTH. We have completed two such projects this fall – the installation of a Two-Element Phased Receive System and a rebuild of the control cable interconnect system at the base of our tower.

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Components

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Components

Our first project was the installation of a DXEngineering NCC-1 Receive Antenna System. This system uses two receive-only active vertical antennas to create a steerable receive antenna system. The combination can work on any band from 160m up to 10m. We set ours up for operation on the 80m and 160m bands.

NCC-1 Receive System Antenna Pattern

NCC-1 Receive System Antenna Pattern

The NCC-1 System can be used to peak or null a specific incoming signal. It can also be applied to a noise source to null it out. The direction that it peaks or nulls in is determined by changing the phase relationship between the two Active Antenna Elements via the NCC-1 Controller.

NCC-1 Filter Installation

NCC-1 Filter Installation

The first step in the project was to open the NCC-1 Control Unit to install a set of 80m and 160m bandpass filter boards. These filters prevent strong out-of-band signals (such as local AM radio stations) from overloading the NCC-1. The internal switches were also set to configure the NCC-1 to provide power from an external source to the receive antenna elements through the connecting coax cables.

Installed Active Receive Antenna Element

Installed Active Receive Antenna Element

The next step in the project was to select a suitable location for installing the Receive Antenna Elements. We choose a spot on a ridge which allowed the two Antenna Elements to be separated by 135 ft (for operation on 160m/80m) and which provided a favorable orientation toward both Europe and Japan. The antenna elements use active circuitry to provide uniform phase performance between each element’s 8 1/2 foot whip antenna and the rest of the system. The antenna elements should be separated by a 1/2 wavelength or more on the lowest band of operation from any towers or transmit antennas to enable the best possible noise rejection performance.

Received Antenna Element Closeup

Received Antenna Element Closeup

The two Antenna Elements were assembled and installed on 5 ft rods which were driven into the ground. To ensure a good ground for the elements and to improve their sensitivity, we opted to install 4 radials on each antenna (the black wires coming from the bottom of the unit in the picture above). The Antenna Elements are powered through 75-ohm flooded coax cables which connect them to the NCC-1 Control Unit in our shack. The coax cable connections in our setup are quite long –  the longer coax of the pair being approximately 500 ft. The use of flooded coax cable allows the cables to be run underground or buried. Should the outer jacket become nicked, the flooding glue inside the cable will seal the damage and keep water out of the cable.

Receive RF Choke

Receive RF Choke

It is also important to isolate the connecting coax cables from picking up strong signals from nearby AM Radio stations, etc. To help with this, we installed Receive RF Chokes in each of the two coax cables which connect the Antenna Elements to the NCC-1. These chokes need to be installed on ground rods near the Antenna Elements for best performance.

Underground Cable Conduit In Our Yard

Underground Cable Conduit In Our Yard

We ran the coax cables underground inside cable conduits for a good portion of the run between the antenna elements and our shack. The conduits were installed in our yard when we built our tower a few years back so getting the coax cables to our shack was relatively easy.

Receive Antenna Coax Ground System

Receive Antenna Coax Ground System

The last step in the outdoor part of this project was to install a pair of 75-ohm coax surge protectors near the entry to our shack. An additional ground rod was driven for this purpose and was bonded to the rest of our station’s ground system. We routed both of the 75-ohm coax cables from the two Antenna Elements through surge protectors and into our shack. Alpha-Delta makes the copper ground rod bracket shown in the picture for mounting the surge protectors on the ground rod.

Antenna Equipment Shelf In Our Shack (The NCC-1 Control Unit Is At The Bottom)

Antenna Equipment Shelf In Our Shack (The NCC-1 Control Unit Is At The Bottom)

The installation work in our shack began with the construction of a larger shelf to hold all of our antenna control equipment and to make space for the NCC-1. The two incoming coax cables from the Antenna Elements were connected to the NCC-1.

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

Antenna switching and control in our station is handled by a microHAM System. Each radio has a dedicated microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller which can be used to select separate transmit and receive antenna for the associated radio. The microHAM system allows our new Receive Antenna System to be shared between the 5 radios in our station.

Antenna Switching Matrix

Antenna Switching Matrix

The first step in integrating the Receive Antenna System was to connect the output of the NCC-1 to the Antenna Switching Matrix outside our shack. We added a low-noise pre-amp (shown in the upper left of the picture above) to increase the sensitivity of the Antenna System. The blue device in the picture is a 75-ohm to 50-ohm matching transformer which matches the NCC-1’s 75-ohm output to our 50-ohm radios. The other two pre-amps and transformers in the picture are part of our previously installed 8-Circle Receive Antenna System.

Multi-Radio Sequencer

Multi-Radio Sequencer

The Antenna Elements must be protected from overload and damage from strong nearly RF fields from our transmit antennas. In a single radio station, this can be handled via a simple sequencer unit associated with one’s radio. In a multi-op station such as ours, it is possible for a different radio than the one which is using the Receive Antenna System to be transmitting on a band which would damage the Receive Antenna System. To solve this problem, we built a multi-radio sequencer using one of the microHAM control boxes in our station. The 062 Relay Unit shown above has one relay associated with each of the five radios in our station. The power to the Receive Antenna System is routed through all 5 of these relays. When any radio transmits on a band that could damage the Antenna Elements, the associated relay is automatically opened 25 mS before the radio is allowed to key up which ensures that the system’s Antenna Elements are safely powered down and grounded.

microHam Antenna System Diagram

Updated microHam Antenna System Diagram

With all of the coax and control connections complete, I was able to update the microHam system design information for our station and add the new receive antenna system to our setup. You can find more about the programming of our microHam system here.

NCC-1 Controls

NCC-1 Controls

So how well does the system work? To test it, we adjusted the NCC-1 to peak and then null a weak CW signal on 80m. This is done by first adjusting the Balance and Attenuator controls on the NCC-1 so that the incoming signal is heard at the same level by both Antenna Elements. Next, the B Phase switch is set to Rev to cause the system to operate in a signal null’ing configuration and the Phase control is adjusted to maximize the nulling effect on the target signal. One can go back and forth a few times between the Balance and Phase controls to get the best possible null. Finally, the incoming signal is peaked by setting the B Phase switch to Norm.

Peaked And Null'ed CW Signal

Peaked And Null’ed CW Signal

The picture above shows the display of the target CW signal on the radio using the NCC-1 Antenna System. If you look closely at the lower display in the figure (null’ed signal) you can still see the faint CW trace on the pan adapter. The difference between the peak and the null is about 3 S-units or 18 dB.

NCC-1 Used For Noise Cancellation

NCC-1 Used For Noise Cancellation

The NCC-1 can also be used to reduce (null out) background noise. The picture above shows the result of doing this for an incoming SSB signal on 75m. The system display at the top shows an S5 SSB signal in the presence of S4 – S5 noise (the lower display in the picture). Note how clean the noise floor for the received SSB signal becomes when the unit is set to null the noise source which comes from a different direction than the received SSB signal.

We are very pleased with the performance of our new Receive Antenna System. It should make a great tool for DX’ing on the low-bands. It is a good complement to our 8-circle steerable receive system which we use for contesting on 160m and 80m.

Tower Control Cable Interconnects (Bottom Two Gray Boxes)

Tower Control Cable Interconnects (Bottom Two Gray Boxes)

Our other antenna project was a maintenance one. We have quite a number of control leads going to our tower. When we built our station, we placed surge protectors at the base of our tower and routed all of our control leads through exposed connections on these units. Over time, we found that surge protection was not necessary and we also became concerned about the effects that sunlight and weather were having on the exposed connections. To clean all of this up, we installed two DXEngineering Interconnect Enclosures on our tower and moved all the control cable connections inside them.

Inside View Of Interconnect Enclosures

Inside View Of Interconnect Enclosures

We began with a pair of enclosures from DXEngineering and we mounted screw terminal barrier strips on the aluminum mounting plates in each enclosure. The aluminum plates are grounded via copper strap material to our tower.

Closer Look At One Of The Interconnect Enclosures

Closer Look At One Of The Interconnect Enclosures

The picture above shows one of the interconnection boxes. This one is used to connect our two SteppIR DB36 Yagi Antennas and some of the supporting equipment. The barrier strips form a convenient set of test points for troubleshooting any problems with our equipment on the tower. There are almost 100 control leads passing through the two enclosures and this arrangement keeps everything organized and protected from the weather.

With all of our antenna projects complete, we are looking forward to a fun winter of contesting and low-band DX’ing.

73,

Fred, AB1OC