Snow is coming to New England this weekend so we wanted to get the control cables run to our new EME Tower before the ground is covered with snow. The project involved installing a Utility Enclosure on our tower and running three control cables to our shack for the following devices:
Az-El Rotator and Preamp Switching Control Connections
We began by install some barrier strips and a copper ground strap in the Utility Enclosure. The copper strap provides a good ground connection to the tower and associated grounding system. The enclosure is clamped to the tower using two stainless steel clamps.
The final step was to hook up our rotator cables to a Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller in our shack. We do not yet have our elevation rotator so we tested the M2 Orion 2800 Azimuth Rotator that is installed in our tower. The azimuth rotator is configured so that the rotator’s dead spot faces north. This is a good configuration of our planned EME operation.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Power supplies and power distribution for the Transceiver, Amplifier, and Accessories
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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 –
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
The installation of the latest version of WSJT-X software to add current JT9, JT65, FT8, MSK144, and WSPR digital modes to our Remote Operating setup
These steps are now complete and we have some good results to share.
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
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
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.
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:
Connect the laptop PC to the Internet
Bring up the TeamViewer VPN connection
Run SmartSDR on the laptop PC and login to SmartSDR Remote
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.)
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
Initiate a second TeamViewer Remote Control connection and use it to run the microHAM remote antenna controller in a single window
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
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.
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 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
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
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
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.
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 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 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
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-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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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: