Satellite Station 4.0 Part 11 – Phone Patch/Telebridge Capability

Council Rock South Students Contact the ISS

Council Rock South Students Contact the ISS

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

ARISS Direct Contacts

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

ARISS Direct Contact Ground Station Antennas at Council Rock HS

ARISS Direct Contact Ground Station Antennas at Council Rock HS

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

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

ARISS Telebridge Contacts

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

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

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

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

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

Adding Telebridge Capability to Our Station

Space Communications Ground Station at AB1OC-AB1QB

Space Communications Ground Station at AB1OC-AB1QB

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

Adding A Telephone Patch

Phone Patch To Enable Telebridges

Phone Patch To Enable Testing and Hosting Telebridge Contacts

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

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

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

Testing On The Air

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

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

Becoming an ARISS Telebridge Ground Station

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

More About Our Ground Station

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

Fred, AB1OC

RSU 21 Students to Communicate to Outer Space – Portland Press Herald

Ann Stockbridge, Educator at Kennebunk’s Sea Road School

Ann Stockbridge, Educator at Kennebunk’s Sea Road School

Regional School Unit 21 has been selected for an out-of-this-world opportunity. An international association of space agencies and Amateur Radio organizations has chosen RSU 21, represented by Sea Road School, to advance in a process climaxing in a conversation between students and astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

RSU 21 was one of 10 schools selected nationally to continue through the multi-month acceptance process. The contact event with the ISS could occur between July and December of this year.

The opportunity is provided by ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station), an association that includes NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the American Radio Relay League, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, and space agencies in Canada, Japan, Europe, and Russia. They collaborate to enable students to communicate with ISS astronauts and help inspire interest in space, communications and STEM coursework.

Source: RSU 21 students to communicate to outer space – Portland Press Herald

As our readers may know, I have joined the ARISS program as a Mentor to help schools prepare for and make successful contacts with Astronauts on the International Space Station. I am working with Regional School Unit 21 Sea Road School teachers and local Ham Radio folks in Maine, USA to help them make contact with the ISS during 2H2020. The link above shares more about the STEM learning program that is being created around this contact.

Fred, AB1OC

December 2019 ISS SSTV Event

Source: December 2019 ISS SSTV Event – Nashua Area Radio Society

Slow-Scan TV from the International Space Station (ISS) was on the air again late in December 2019.  The ISS SSTV event was in memory of cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. We had our satellite station running to track the ISS and capture the SSTV images during the event. It’s pretty easy to receive these images – it can be done with an HT, hand-held antenna, and a laptop…

This article includes a gallery of the images that we received during the December 2019 ISS SSTV event and some how-to information that you can use to receive SSTV images from the ISS with just an HT and a handheld antenna.

Anita, AB1QB and Fred, AB1OC

An Amazing Experience – Council Rock HS South ISS Contact

Council Rock South Students Contact the ISS

Council Rock South Students Contact the ISS

Its been about a year since we helped students at Hudson Memorial School make contact with the ISS. That contact was enabled by ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station). ARISS is an organization that coordinates and sponsors Amateur Radio Activities aboard the ISS.

After our contact, I decided to become an ARISS Mentor so I could help other schools make contacts with astronauts aboard the ISS. I spent the last year working with Dave Jordan, AA4KN to learn how the ARISS program works and how to help schools make successful ISS contacts. Dave did a great job coaching me as I worked with Council Rock H.S. South in Holland, PA to prepare for their ISS Contact…

Source: An Amazing Experience – Council Rock HS South ISS Contact

I recently had the privilege of helping Council Rock H.S. South in Holland, PA to make contact with astronaut Drew Morgan on the ISS. The link above shares the story of this amazing experience and my journey to become an ARISS Mentor. The article also contains videos and photos that capture and share the experience. I hope that you enjoy it!

Fred, AB1OC
ARISS Mentor

Listen In On The Council Rock ARISS Contact on Thursday!

International Space Station (ISS)

International Space Station (ISS)

Students at Council Rock High School South in Southampton, PA will be talking with Astronaut Drew Morgan, KI5AAA aboard the ISS on Thursday. The ISS will be over our area here in the Northeastern Unit States beginning at about 12:55 pm eastern time on Thursday, December 5th. Council Rock’s ARISS Contact is made possible by the ARISS Program

Source: Listen In On The Council Rock ARISS Contact on Thursday!

You should be able to hear Drew on the ISS voice downlink at 145.800 MHz FM. The ISS pass will be a high one over our area. As a result, we should be able to hear the downlink using a good vertical antenna and perhaps even using an HT.

You can join the Council Rock Facebook Group for updates and watch a live stream of the contact on Thursday between 12:30 – 1:30 pm.

I am serving as the ARRIS Mentor for Council Rock H.S. South’s ISS Contact. I am looking forward to the opportunity to be at their school on Thursday to be part of what I am sure will be a very memorable event.

You can learn more about the ARISS Program and how to secure an ISS contact for your school here.

Fred, AB1OC

AMSAT 50th Aniversary Celebration – W3ZM/1 Activations in CT and RI

Source: AMSAT 50th Aniversary Celebration – W3ZM/1 Activations in CT and RI

We continued to test our Portable Satellite Station 4.0 as part of AMSAT’s 50th Anniversary Celebration WAS Activations. You can read about the activations and our station’s performance via the link above. Overall, we were pleased with how the portable setup performed. The weakest link was the downlink performance of our antenna system. We are working on some ideas to improve this element of our setup – more to come on this project…

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 9 – Upgraded Simple Portable Station

Portable Satellite Station

Portable Satellite and Grid Square Activation Station

We were up on Mt. Washington here in New Hampshire this past weekend and we decided to use the SOTA activation as a test for our updated Portable Satellite Station 4.0. It turned out that the station was also a great SOTA and Grid Square Activation station for terrestrial contacts.

An upgraded Portable Satellite Station has been part of our 4.0 Satellite Evolution plan from the start. The goals for the station included:

  • Support for FM and Linear Satellite Contacts
  • Computer Control to handle Doppler Shift
  • A simple, easy to deploy portable antenna system for 2m and 70cm
  • Full-Featured 100w/75w Transceiver with External Preamps for good weak-signal performance
  • Quite, Green Power using Solar Energy and Batteries

Station Components

Our upgraded portable station uses the following components:

Portable Antenna System

Elk Antenna on Tripod

We decided to keep our antenna system simple and quick to deploy. We choose a portable 2m/70cm antenna from Elk and mounted it on a camera tripod. A carpenter’s slope gauge is used as an elevation indicator and our iPhone serves as a compass to point the antenna in the azimuth direction. A weighted bag, Bungie cord, and a tent stake anchor the tripod in the windy conditions on the mountain. A 15 ft length of LMR-240uF coax with N-connectors makes the connection between the antenna and the rest of the station.

Station Transceiver and Supporting Gear

Portable Station Transceiver and Preamps

We decided to mount the station Transceiver and supporting gear on a piece of plywood to make it easy to transport and setup. The components from lower-right moving counter-clockwise include:

The preamps are powered and sequenced by the IC-910H through its coax outputs. The 70cm side of the second diplexer is used as a filter to prevent transmissions on 2m uplinks from de-sensitizing 70cm downlink signals.

Portable Station Electronics

The use of the mounting board for all of the components allows the station to deployed quickly and helps to ensure reliable operation.

We used a MacBook Air Laptop running MacDoppler to control the transceiver’s VFOs (via a USB CI-V cable). MacDoppler also provided azimuth and elevation data used to point the antenna during satellite passes.

Portable Power

Portable Solar-Battery Power System

Powering a 100w radio in a way that allows continuous use for a day can be a challenge. It’s important to do this in a way that does not generate noise so we do not disturb others trying to enjoy the outdoors. We met all of these needs using a combination of solar power and batteries.

Portable Solar Power

The primary source of power comes from a pair of 90w foldable solar panels from PowerFilm. The panels are wired in series and connected to an MPPT Charger which charges a pair of batteries. This approach allows the system to provide usable power when it is cloudy and the voltage output of the solar panels drops.

We use a pair of A123 10 Ah LiPo battery packs to supply high-current capacity when transmitting. The solar-battery combination is capable of maintaining full battery voltage while supporting the continuous operation of our station for a full day.

The MacBook Air Laptop batteries are adequate to operate the station during the available satellite passes. We have a 12V DC to 120 VAC inverter which can power the computer from our solar battery setup if needed.

Station Performance

View from Mt. Washington Summit

Our portable station did very well during its initial test! I had to move the antennas and operate the station by myself on this activation which limited my ability to make a large number of contacts during the limited number of satellite passes that were available. Still, I was able to make 6 solid contacts through AO-91 and AO-85 while on Mt. Washington. I did not have a suitable linear satellite pass to make contacts but I was able to hear the EO-88 beacon with no problems and confirm that the doppler correction system was working well.

The station also put in a great performance visa-vie 2m terrestrial contacts. We made a total of 70 contacts using 2m FM and USB! We received many good signal reports with our longest contacts being some 275 mi from our location. We also worked stations on four other SOTAs this way.

Learnings and Next Steps

Our station exceeded my expectations during our initial test on Mt. Washington – especially in terms of the number of Terrestial Contacts that I was able to make with it. I did notice that the transmit side of the system was quite a bit stronger than the receive side. This is an indication that a better antenna would help.

We changed the antenna polarization to vertical for 2m FM contacts and to horizontal for 2m USB contacts. This helped the receive side performance quite a bit.

I found that a headset was essential for satellite and terrestrial weak-signal operation in USB mode. I was able to use the hand microphone and the radio’s speaker for most of the 2m FM contacts that I made. This gave interested onlookers a chance to experience Amateur Radio.

Satellite operation would have been much easier and more productive with a helper to handle pointing the antenna while we operated. This improvement will need to be coupled with a headset/speaker combination that allows the person that is pointing the antenna to hear the quality of the downlink while moving the antenna and finding the best polarization.

I am looking forward to doing some grid-square activations using our upgraded portable station. It was a pleasant surprise to find as much interest in Terrestial contacts on the 2m band as we did. The Nashua Area Radio Society does several SOTA activations each year and I am looking forward to using that station for these as well.

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

Fred, AB1OC

Learn About Ham Radio at HamXposition @ Boxboro

Remote HF GOTA Station at HamXpositon

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

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

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

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

Ham Bootcamp

A First HF Contact at Ham Bootcamp

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

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

Our Bootcamp program will include:

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

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

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

Source: Interest and Excitement Around HamXposition Is Building

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

Fred, AB1OC

Field Day Satellites, VHF+ and Fox Hunting

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

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

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

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

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 7 – Flex SDR Satellite Transceiver

Flex-6700 SmartSDR in Satellite Mode

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

Remote Gateway Rack with Satellite Additions

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

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

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

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

Satellite SDR

Remote Satellite SDR System Design

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

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

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

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

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

2m/70cm Shelf

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

2m/70cm Shelf RF Interconnection Details

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

Rear View of Remote Gateway Rack

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

USB Connections via Hubs

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

Power Control and Distribution Design

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

13.8 Vdc Power Distribution

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

Remote Gateway Power Controls

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

Remote Control Relay Unit

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

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

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

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

Fred, AB1OC