Satellite Station 4.0 Part 5 – New IC-9700 Transceiver

Portable Satellite Station 4.0

Portable Satellite Station 4.0

The new Icom IC-9700 transceiver has begun shipping and we’ve recently added one to our Portable Station. The addition of the IC-9700 completes a key part of our Satellite Station 4.0 upgrade plans.

New IC-9700 In Satellite Mode

New IC-9700 In Satellite Mode

The IC-9700 is based upon Icom’s direct sampling SDR platform. It supports all modes of operation on the 2m, 70cm, and 23 cm bands. The radio also supports satellite modes and D-STAR.

MacDoppler Controlling the IC-9700

MacDoppler Controlling the IC-9700

The new IC-9700 replaced the IC-9100 in our Portable Satellite Station. An updated version of MacDoppler is available which supports the IC-9700 and we tested MacDoppler using both the USB and CI-V interfaces. In both cases, MacDoppler handled the new radio including band and mode selection, doppler correction, and access tone setting properly. Our setup uses an iMac running MacDoppler and MacLoggerDX for radio control, antenna control, and logging and a windows laptop running UISS and MMSSTV for APRS and SSTV. Our setup was easily accomplished by connecting the IC-9700’s CI-V interface to the iMac and the USB interface (for audio and PTT) to our windows laptop.

IC-9700 Display and Waterfall - Working FO-29

IC-9700 Display and Waterfall – Working FO-29

We’ve made about 50 contacts with the IC-9700 so far. The radio is a pleasure to use. The touch screen layout and functions are very similar to the IC-7300 and one does not need to spend much time with the manual to become comfortable using the radio. The Spectrum Scope and associated waterfall are really nice for operating with linear transponder satellites. The screenshot above shows the IC-9700 display while working contacts using FO-29. As you can see, it is very easy to see where stations are operating in the passband of a linear transponder. The Spectrum Scope also makes it very easy to locate your signal in the satellite’s downlink and then adjust the uplink/downlink offset for proper tone.

We’ve also done a bit of APRS operation through the ISS using the IC-9700 and the UISS software. The direct USB interface was used to a windows laptop for APRS. Setting up PTT and the proper audio levels were straightforward and the combination of MacDoppler controlling the VFO in the radio and the PC doing the APRS packet processing worked well.

The IC-9700 can power and sequence our external ARR preamplifiers and we plan to use this capability to eliminate the outboard sequencers that we are currently using with our preamps. We’ll need to climb our tower to change the preamps over to be powered through the coax before we can complete the preamp control changeover.

All in all, we are very happy with the new IC-9700 for Satellite operations. We’ve also noticed that quite a few satellite operators also have the new IC-9700 on the air.

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

Fred, AB1OC

First Winter Field Day For The Nashua Area Radio Society

AB1OC Operating at Winter Field Day

AB1OC Operating at Winter Field Day

Source: Our First Winter Field Day – The Nashua Area Radio Society

The Nashua Area Radio Society participated in Winter Field Day for the first time this past weekend. We put up a 40 ft tower and we were QRV on all allowed bands from 160m through 2m and 70cm. Our station was a four transmitter one and we produced a great score during the 24-hour operating period. Winter Field Day presents some unique challenges that we did not encounter during Summer Field Day.

We put together a station for 160m for the first time as well as some other new things. You can read all about our approach to a station and operating for Winter Field Day via the link above.

Fred, AB1OC

160m Portable Antenna System for Field Day

160m Field Day Station Diagram

160m Field Day Station Diagram

The Nashua Area Radio Society tries to do something new each time we engage in an Emcom or other major operation. We decided to try Winter Field Day for the first time this year and we made one of our new elements a capable portable station for 160m.

It’s almost impossible to field an effective 160m station with only a Transmit antenna. Transmit antennas typically are too noisy for effective operation on the low bands. We decided to try a Beverage On The Ground antenna for the receive side of our 160m station. This proved to be a great choice.

Icom IC-7300 Transceiver

Icom IC-7300 Transceiver

We’ve been using the Icom IC-7300 Transceiver almost exclusively for our Field Day stations for the last several years. Many of our members have this rig and its performance and excellent ergonomics make it a great choice. The problem was that we needed a receive antenna input to make the IC-7300 work with our 160m station plans.

INRAD Rx Input Mod for IC-7300

INRAD Rx Input Mod for IC-7300

Fortunately, INRAD came to the rescue with a simple mod for the IC-7300 to add a separate Rx antenna input to the rig.

INRAD Rx Antenna Mod Installation

INRAD Rx Antenna Mod Installation

This mod is simple and is super easy to install. It took me about 30 minutes to do the mod and it worked great. Removed the jumper and you have a separate Rx antenna input. Put the jumper back and the radio performs as stock.

KD9SV Variable Gain Preamp

KD9SV Variable Gain Preamp

Rx antennas typically benefit from the inclusion of a low-noise preamplifier to boost the relatively weak signals from the antennas. We also want a bandpass filter to protect our 160m radio from overload and potential damage which might eliminate from the other transmitters in our Winter Field Day setup. The KD9SV Variable Gain Pre-Amp filled the bill nicely.

KD9SV Front End Saver

KD9SV Front End Saver

We also added a KD9SV Front-End Saver to ground the input to the preamplifier/radio combination when the IC-7300 goes into transmit to further protect the electronics from overload or damage when transmitting on 160m.

KD9SV RBOG Antenna Diagram

KD9SV RBOG Antenna Diagram

We used KD9SV Reversible Beverage On The Ground (RBOG) Transformers to build our receive antenna. The length of the beverage wire is critical in an RBOG setup as an RBOG antenna is a resonant antenna. We used the recommended 180 ft of dual conductor RBOG Antenna Wire to create an antenna for 160m.

RBOG Antenna Kit

RBOG Antenna Kit

An RBOG Antenna such as our must be well grounded at each end. This was accomplished with a pair of 4 ft ground rods and three 50 ft long radials at each end in a crows-foot configuration. All of the need components for the antenna including interconnect and power cables, ground straps, and the electronics were package in a case to keep everything together.

RBOG Antenna Installed In The Field

RBOG Antenna Installed In The Field

The photo above shows one end of the RBOG antenna installed in the Field. You can see both the radials and the feed line transformer attached to one of the ground rods. Our antenna was fed with 300 ft of 75-ohm flooded coax terminated with F connectors. The direction of the antenna can be easily reversed by interchanging the feed line and the 75-ohm terminator at this end of the antenna.

Station Test at our Winter Field Day

Station Test at our Winter Field Day

We decided to set up and test the receive side of 160m station at our Winter Field Day site in advance to work out any installation issues and to gauge the system’s potential performance. Unfortunately, we ended up doing the test in the middle of the day when 160m was basically dead. We also tested the antenna on the AM broadcast band which is just below 160m and we heard 2-3 AM station on every AM frequency in the middle of the day! This was a very good sign of what was to come…

Balun Designs Low-Band Optimized Balun

Balun Designs Low-Band Optimized Balun

We built a 160m dipole for the transmit side of our 160m Portable Station. The heart of this antenna was a Balun Designs Balun optimized for operation on the low-bands. Tuning of the antenna for best operation on the 160m band would have to wait until we had adequate space to set it up at our Winter Field Day site.

160m Transmit Antenna at Winter Field Day

160m Transmit Antenna at Winter Field Day

Setting up our 160m Transmit Antenna was the first order business for the Wire Antenna Team at Winter Field Day. We put up a 50 ft guyed push-up mast used a pull-rope to hoist the 160m Tx Antenna’s Balun to about 48 ft. We used an air cannon to shoot ropes through two tall trees at the ends of the antenna and we were able to get it close to flat-topped.

160m Tx Dipole SWR

160m Tx Dipole SWR

After a little bit of careful tuning, we ended up very pleased with the end result. We had over 60 kHz of usable Tx bandwidth at the bottom of the 160m band. We used the antenna as high as 1.838 MHz during Winter Field Day and it performed great.

So how did the combination perform for us? Well, we made a total of 133 CW contacts on the 160m band during the 24-hour Winter Field Day period with the longest one being to Missoula, MT – a 2,100 mi contact from here in New Hampshire. This is not bad for 100W and portable antennas on Top Band!

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 3 – Antenna Integration and Testing

Satellite Antennas Off The Tower

Satellite Antennas Off The Tower

Sometimes we learn from problems and mistakes. We all go through this from time to time. It is part of the learning aspect of Amateur Radio. My most recent experience came while integrating our new tower-based satellite antenna system. After the antennas were up, initial testing revealed the following problems:

After an initial attempt to correct these problems with the antennas on the tower, we decided to take them down again to resolve the problems. The removal was enabled, in part, via rental of a 50 ft boom lift.

The lift made it relatively easy to remove the Satellite Antenna Assembly from the tower. We placed it on the Glen Martin Roof Tower stand that was built for the Portable Satellite Station 3.0. Once down, the Satellite Antenna System was completely disassembled and a replacement Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator was installed.

Cross Boom Truss System

Cross Boom Truss System

The photo above shows the reassembled cross boom and associated truss supports. Note the tilt in the truss tube on the left side. This allows the antennas to be flipped over 180 degrees without the truss contacting the mast.

Reinforcement Bushing

Reinforcement Bushing

As mentioned in the previous article, polycarbonate reinforcement bushings are installed in the fiberglass parts to prevent the clamps from crushing the tubes. The photo above shows one of the bushings installed at the end of one of the truss tubes.

Bushing Pin

Bushing Pin

The bushings are held in place with small machine screws. This ensures that they remain in the correct locations inside the fiberglass tubes.

Thorough Ground Test

Thorough Ground Test

With the Satellite Antenna Array back together and aligned, we took a few days to operate the system on the ground. This allowed me to adequately test everything to ensure that the system was working correctly.

Tower Integration Using Lift

Tower Integration Using A 50 ft Boom Lift

With the testing complete, the antennas went back up on the tower, and the integration and testing work resumed. Having the boom lift available made the remaining integration work much easier.

Control Cable Interconnect Boxes

Control Cable Interconnect Boxes On The Tower

There are quite a few control cables associated with the equipment on our new tower including:

A combination of junction boxes near the top of the tower and at the base make connecting and testing of the control circuits easier and more reliable. Tower mounted junction boxes were used to terminate the control cables near the rotators and antennas.

Control Cable Junction Box at Base of Tower

Control Cable Junction Box at Base of Tower

A combination of heavy-duty and standard 8 conductor control cable from DX Engineering was used for the cable runs from the top of the tower to a second junction box at the tower base.

Control Cable Junction Box Internals

Control Cable Junction Box Internals

The junction box at the base creates a single interconnect and testing point for all of the control cables. We’ve used this approach on both of our towers, and it makes things very easy when troubleshooting problems or making upgrades. Control cables for all of the tower systems were run to the temporary station set up in our house and terminated with connectors that are compatible with our Portable Satellite Station 3.0 system.

Satellite Preamp System

Satellite Preamp System

We built a tower mounted Preamplifier System for use with the egg beater satellite antennas on our 100 ft tower a while back. The Preamp System is being reused on our new tower. A set of Advanced Receiver Research 2m and 70cm preamplifiers are mounted in a NEMA enclosure to protect them from the weather and to make connecting the associated control cables easier.

Tower Mounted Preamp System

Tower Mounted Preamp System

The Preamp System was mounted near the top of the new tower and the feedlines from the 2m and 70 cm Satellite Antennas were connected to it. LMR-400uF coax is run from the Preamp System as well as from the Directive Systems DSE2324LYRM 23 cm Satellite Yagi and the M2 6M7JHVHD 6 m Yagi on our new tower to the station in our house to complete the feedlines. These LMR-400uF feedlines will be replaced with 7/8″ hardline coax to our shack in the spring when warmer weather makes working with the hardlines easier.

Temporary Station Setup

Temporary Station Setup

With all of the tower integration work done, we set up the station in our house for testing. This is the same station that is our Portable Satellite Station 3.0 with two additions:

Both of these additions will become part of the final Satellite Station 4.0 when it is moved to a permanent home in our shack.

Rotator Controls

Rotator Controls

The rotator setup on the new tower provides two separate azimuth rotators. The lower one above turns both the 6 m Yagi and the Satellite Antenna Array together. The upper box controls the Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator for the satellite antennas. Using two separate rotators and controllers will allow us to integrate the 6m Yagi into the microHam system in our station and will allow the MacDoopler Satellite Tracking Software running on the iMac to control the Satellite Antennas separately. When we are using the 6 m Yagi, the Satellite Antennas will be parked pointing up to minimize any coupling with the 6 m Yagi. When we are using the Satellite Antennas, the rotator that turns the mast will be set to 0 degrees to ensure accurate azimuth pointing of the Satellite Antennas by the Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator.

PSK Reporter View using New 6 m Yagi

PSK Reporter View using the M2 6M7JHVHD 6 m Yagi

So how does it all perform? With WSJT-X setup on our iMac, I was able to do some testing with the new 6 m Yagi using FT8. The IC-9100 Transceiver that we are using can produce 100W with WSJT-X. The 6m band is usually not very open here in New England in January so I was quite pleased with the results. As you can see from the PSKReporter snapshot above, the new antenna got out quite well on 6 m using 100W. I made several contacts during this opening including one with W5LDA in Oklahoma – a 1,400 mi contact. The 6M7JHVHD is a much quieter antenna on the receive side which helps to make more difficult contacts on 6 m.

MacDoppler Tracking AO-91

MacDoppler Tracking AO-91

We’ve made a little over 100 satellite contacts using the new system so far. With the satellite antennas at 45 feet, it’s much easier to make low-angle contacts and we can often continue QSOs down to elevation angles of 5 degrees or less. I have not had much of a chance to test 23 cm operation with AO-92 but I have heard my signal solidly in AO-92’s downlink using the L-band uplink on the new tower. This is a good sign as our IC-9100 has only 10W out on 23 cm and we are using almost 100 ft of LMR-400uF coax to feed our 23 cm antenna.

Satellite Grids Worked and Confirmed

Satellite Grids Worked and Confirmed

I’ve managed to work 10 new grid squares via satellites using the new antenna system including DX contacts with satellite operators in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Northern Ireland using AO-07 and FO-29. These were all low-angle passes.

So what did we learn from all of this? Due to concern over possible snow here in New England, I did not take the time to fully ground test the satellite antennas and new rotator before it went up on the tower the first time. My thinking was that the setup was the same as that used on Portable Satellite Station 3.0 for over a year. The problem was the replacement parts and new control cables were not tested previously and both of these created problems that were not discovered until the antennas were at 45 feet. While it would have made increased the risk that the antennas would not have gotten up before the first winter snow storm here, it would have been much better to run the antennas on the ground for a few days as I did the second time. Had I done this, both problems would have appeared and have been easily corrected.

The next step in our project will be to add transverters to our FlexRadio-6700 SDR and integrate the new antennas into our shack. You can find other articles about our Satellite Station 4.0 project here:

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 2 – Antennas

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antennas

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antennas

Our current Satellite 3.0 Antennas have worked well in their portable configuration. We’ve had them to License Classes, Field Day, Ham Fests, and ultimately to Hudson Memorial School for the ISS Crew Contact there. As you can see from the photo above, the weight of the antennas causes the Fiberglass Cross Boom that we are using to sag and this is not a good situation for a permanent installation.

Cross Boom Truss Support Mock Up

Cross Boom Truss Support Mock-Up

I decided to work with Spencer Webb, W2SW who owns AntennaSys, Inc. and M2 Antenna Systems to create a stronger Cross Boom solution. M2 Antenna Systems came up with a set of brackets, fiberglass truss tubes, and a Phillystran Truss System to support the ends of their Fiberglass Cross Boom.

Spencer, W2SW Machining Parts

Spencer Webb, W2SW Machining Parts

The remaining problem to be solved was to reinforce the fiberglass tubes in the Cross Boom and Truss System to prevent the clamps which hold the antennas and other parts in place from crushing the fiberglass tubes. Spencer did an amazing job of making a new center section and polycarbonate reinforcing plugs to provide the needed reinforcements.

Cross Boom Reinforcement Parts

Fiberglass Tube Reinforcement Parts

Polycarbonate material was used to avoid adding metal inside the Cross Booms and Truss Tubes near the antennas. Using metal for these parts runs the risk of distorting the antenna’s patterns and causing SWR problems. It was also necessary to keep Truss System parts like eye bolts, turnbuckles, and clamps away from the tips of the antennas for the same reason. As you can see from the photo above, Spencer did an amazing job making the needed parts!

Checking Cross Boom Center Section Runout

Checking Cross Boom Center Section Run-out

The first step in rebuilding the Satellite Array was to install the new center section in our Alfa-Spid Az/El Rotator. I used a dial indicator to properly center the center section in the rotator. While this level of precision is probably not necessary, I had the tools available and it was easy to do.

Assembled Cross Boom Truss Support

Assembled Cross Boom Truss Support

The photo above shows one of the two completed Truss Supports. The trusses support the Cross Boom when it’s either pointing straight up or is flat at 0 degrees on the horizon. It’s important to adjust the horizon truss tube orientation to be slightly tilted to allow the antennas to operate in a “flipped over” configuration where the elevation points 180 instead of 0 degrees. This mode occurs in one of about every 5 to 10 satellite passes to avoid tracking problems with an otherwise south-facing dead spot in the azimuth rotator. Also, note the safety wire on the turnbuckles to keep them from turning after final adjustment.

Fiberglass Tube Reinforcing Bushings

Fiberglass Tube Reinforcing Bushings

You can see one of the polycarbonate reinforcing bushings at the end of the horizontal truss tube in the photo above. These are held in place with a small stainless steel set screw at the proper location in the fiberglass tubes. It’s also important to drill small drainage holes in all of the fiberglass pieces so that condensation and water seepage can drain out of the tubes. Without the drainage, water will accumulate, freeze, and break the tubes. I arranged these holes so that the tubes will drain when the antennas are parked in the vertical position.

Satellite Antenna Array Ready to Tram

Satellite Antenna Array Ready to Tram

With everything secured with a combination of tape and large cable ties, Matt of XX Towers rigged a suspension system and tram line to hoist the Satellite Array onto our tower. You can see how well-balanced the antenna system was prior to tramming.

Tramming The Satellite Antennas

Tramming The Satellite Antennas

The photo above shows the Satellite Array headed up the tram line. The tram line is anchored to a Gin Pole at the top of our tower and to a vehicle on the ground.

Satellite Antennas On The Mast

Satellite Antennas On The Mast

We removed the rotator and dropped the mast down into the tower to make it easier to get the satellite antennas in place on the top of the mast. Also, note the orientation of the Satellite Antennas – the elements are at 45 degrees to the Cross Boom. This arrangement helps to keep the metal in the ends of the Truss System from getting close to the antenna element tips.

Satellite Antennas Installed On Top Of Mast

Satellite Antennas Installed On Top Of Mast

Here’s a final photo of the Satellite Antennas with the mast pushed up and the lower rotator back in the tower. You can also see the rigging of the rotator loops for the Satellite Antennas and both the vertical and horizontal Cross Boom Truss supports in place.

M2 6M7JHV HD 6 Meter Yagi

M2 6M7JHV HD 6 Meter Yagi

The last step in this part of our project was to place the assembled M2 6M7JHV HD 6 Meter Yagi onto the mast. The 6M7JHV features 7 elements on a 36′ – 8″ boom. The antenna has about 13 dBi of gain and is optimized with a clean pattern to suppress noise from unwanted directions. The antenna was trammed up the tower with a light rope.

Completed Antenna Stack On New Tower

Completed Antenna Stack

The picture above shows the completed antenna installation including a second rotator loop around the 6m antenna. The system has two azimuth rotators – one the turns just the Satellite Antennas at the top and a second that turns all of the antennas on the mast together. Our plan is to set the lower rotator to 0 degrees when operating with satellites and use the upper Alfa-Spid Rotator for Azimuth and Elevation positioning. The lower rotator will be used to turn the 6m yagi with the Satellite Antennas parked.

The next step of our project will be to install all of the control cables, satellite receive preamplifiers, and feed lines on the tower and test our new antenna system with the rest of our Satellite Station. You can read about other parts of our project via the links below.

Fred, AB1OC

 

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 1 – New Tower

New Satellite and 6m Tower

New Satellite and 6m Tower

Our plans for Satellite Station 4.0 are based, in part, on the idea that we can extend our current remote operating environment to include Satellite Operations. Now that our ISS Crew Contact is complete, the antennas from the current Satellite Station 3.0 can be permanently installed at our QTH.

Tower Footing

Tower Footing

The first step in the project is to put up a second, 35′ house bracketed tower. Our new tower will also feature a new 6m yagi along with a permanent installation of our Satellite 3.0 Antennas. The first step in the project was to secure a building permit and prepare the footing for our new tower. Using Rohn’s specifications for the 45G Tower that we are using calls for the first section of the tower to be placed 4′ below ground in a concrete form. It’s important to place a foot or so of stone at the base of the footing and to ensure that the legs of the tower remain open so water can train. Failure to do this part of the preparation properly will result in water freezing in the Tower Legs which will split them open and ruin the tower.

Also, note the rebar reinforcing material in the hole around the tower and the bracing to keep the first section of the tower level and plumb. The folks at Form King did an excellent job in preparing and pouring the footing for our new tower.

Tower Base

Tower Base

The picture above shows the completed tower base. We’ve also installed a lightning ground on each of the three legs of the tower and the ground are bonded to each other and to the rest of our station’s ground system.

Tower Section on Gin Pole

Tower Section on Gin Pole

With the base complete, Andrew and Matt from XX Towers helped me to put the tower up. Here Andrew is using a Gin Pole to hoist a section of the 45G Tower into place.

House Bracket

House Bracket

With a few sections of the tower in place, it was time to install the house bracket. The bracket needs to be reinforced with blocking material on both sides of the wall. The blocking and the bracket are held to together with 10″ galvanized bolts.

Rotator and Mast

Rotator and Mast

We chose a 2″ x 25′ Chrome Molly Mast for our tower. We wanted to have about 10′ of mast above the top of the tower. Rather than cut the mast, we choose to keep the mast full length by setting our M2 Orion Rotator down a section and a half from the top of the tower. This is a good thing to do for several reasons. First, it makes the rotator easier to access for service. Also, the mast can twist a bit to absorb the torque on the rotator when the antennas start and stop moving.

The combination of the 25′ tower and the 10′ of mast above top will place our Satellite Antennas at a height of about 45′. This will provide additional clearance above the trees in our backyard for low angle satellite contacts.

The next step in our project will be to rebuild and reinforce the Satellite 3.0 Antenna Cross Boom and rotator system, build our new 6m yagi, and install the antennas on our new tower. You can read about other parts of our project via the links below.

Fred, AB1OC

Journey To An ISS Crew Contact

Like many memorable events in our lives, our journey towards the Hudson Memorial School ISS Crew Contact began in a modest fashion with a telephone call from Dan Pooler at Hudson Memorial School in Hudson, NH. Dan had been to Space Camp where he heard about an ARISS Crew Contact from … Continue reading Journey to an ISS Crew Contact →

Source: Journey to an ISS Crew Contact – Nashua Area Radio Society

Our project to help the students at Hudson Memorial School in Hudson, NH make a contact with an astronaut on the International Space Station via Amateur Radio is a memory now. The link above is to an article about the more than year-long journey that led to this once in a lifetime experience. I hope that you enjoy it and don’t miss the video of our contact towards the end of the story.

Fred, AB1OC

ISS Crew Contact Part 3 – Summary of Our Preparations

Nashua Area Radio Society preparations for our upcoming ISS Crew Contact at Hudson Memorial School (HMS) are almost complete. All of our gear is tested and packed, our press release is written, we’ve alterted local news media folks, the students have put together their questions, and have practiced for their contact.

Prioritized ISS Passes for our Crew Contact
Prioritized ISS Passes for our Crew Contact

We are just awaiting notification of the final date and time for our contact and we’ll begin final setup and testing at HMS.

We’ve been sharing our progress as we’ve on the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Youth Forum as we have worked through our final preparations. I also would like to share a summary here along with some insights on what we’ve learned along the way.

An ISS Crew Contact is No Small Undertaking …

Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System
Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System Test

We have been working for almost a year now to get ready for our contact. We’ve built and tested two space ground stations and we’ve discovered and addressed several performance and reliability issues with these stations during trial deployments at Field Day, Ham Fests, License Classes, and during testing here at our QTH.

Space Field Trip at HMS
Space Field Trip at HMS

Dan, AC1EN and the faculty team at HMS have expended a great deal of effort with the students at their school to prepare for our contact. Their activities have included:

  • Leading the ARISS Crew Contact Application Process for our contact
  • Integration of Radio Space Science concepts into their student curriculum
  • A Skype contact with a NASA Engineer
  • Visiting the Boston Museum of Science special exhibit on Space and the International Space Station
  • A High Altitude Balloon Project with the Nashua Area Radio Society to learn about Atmospheric Science and Space Communications
  • Space-related student projects including building rovers, participating in an egg drop, and having their pre-engineering program students work on solutions for the ISS
  • Holding a Field Astronomy and STEM night for students and building Amateur Radio into the school’s annual STEM Nights

Audio-Visual Elements are Important and as Challenging as the Ground Station Equipment…

Sound System Mixer
Sound System Mixer

We planned from the very start to provide a shared, multimedia experience as part of our contact. Our plans included:

  • Providing a professional-quality audio and video experience for the students, parents, and faculty members at HMS during our contact
  • Creating a high-quality Video Capture of our Contact
  • Live Streaming our Contact to Facebook so that more Students, Parents, and the Amateur Radio Community could participate in our contact in real-time

Dave, K1DLM who is a member of NARS had extensive professional sound experience and was able to help us with this part of our project.

Audio System for ISS Contactr
Audio System for ISS Contact

Dave put together a professional-level A-V system design to support our contact and provided much of the gear to realize the design. His uses a pair of communications microphones, a pro-mixer, and audio interface gear to provide student and radio audio to the sound system in the auditorium at HMS as well as to an array of video cameras. The system makes extensive use of XLR cabling and pro-level devices to ensure clean audio.

Video Presence on the Internet is an Important Element to Draw Interest in a Project Such as Ours…

We Live Streamed some of our Station Testing activities to Facebook and we were amazed at the interest and response that we received. Many folks worldwide followed our progress on Facebook in real-time as we set up and completed our full station test.

ISS Antenna Camera Test
ISS Antenna Camera Test

We are planning to have two IP Video Cameras Live Streaming to Facebook during our contact. One in the room to provide video of the students as they talk with the astronaut on the ISS and a second on our antennas as they track the ISS.

Its Critically Important to Test the Complete Station Ahead Of Time – New Challenges Emerged when we Mixed Audio and Radio Gear…

Full Station Setup and Test
Full Station Setup and Test

We set up the full station (Primary and Backup) along with all of the Audio and Video Gear about 3 weeks prior to our contact for a complete system test. We learned a great deal in doing this and we encountered several problems which we have since corrected.

On-Air Station Test
On-Air Station Test

The most important issues did not show themselves until we made some contacts with all of the A-V gear in place. We had problems with RF aggravated ground loops in the radio microphone circuits during the initial test. These problems did not show themselves until we added the audio mixer and sound system into the station.

Audio Isolation Transformer
Audio Isolation Transformer

These problems were easily corrected by adding Audio Isolation Transformers into the radio microphone circuits.

XLR Line to Microphone Level Attenuator
XLR Line to Microphone Level Attenuator

We also solved some potential issues related to level differences between line and microphone audio circuits using Audio Attenuators.

These problems were not difficult to solve but they would have seriously degraded our contact if we had not discovered them early while there was still plenty of time to secure parts and retest.

Data Networks in Schools and Public Places Require Configuration Adjustments to Support Contact Elements…

Data Network Test at HMS
Data Network Test at HMS

Schools and other public places typically do a good job of protecting their data networks and users from threats from both the Internet and within the venue. Tracking Programs, IP Cameras for Live Streaming, and other contact support gear are not typical devices that would be in operation on such networks. Also, many public venues rely almost exclusively on WiFi for access to the Internet and typically prohibit or severely limit client devices from communicating with each other.

WiFi can often suffer from RF interference issues when many devices like Smart Phones are located together in a small area. This situation is common in large gatherings.

Data System for ISS Contact

Data System for ISS Contact

We had quite a bit of experience with these problems as part of other school projects we’ve done. We worked closely with the IT staff at HMS to plan for and create a network design to support our contact. We opted to use a wired network approach with a local Ethernet switch to implement the IP communications between the elements in our stations and the associated IP Cameras.

The IT team at HMS configured their network to ensure that the IP addresses of our devices were fixed in DHCP and that devices that needed access to the Internet had the access that they required. The IP cameras where the most challenging elements here.

Packed and Ready to Go…

Equipment Packing and Protection
Equipment Packing and Protection

Well, all of our gear is packed and ready to go for setup on-site at HMS. The next article in this series will cover the on-site set up for our contact.

Fred, AB1OC

ISS Crew Contact Part 1 – Ground Station Design and Construction

Satellite 3.0 Station Control Details
Ground Station for Satellites and the ISS

Our planned ISS Crew Contact is almost here! It will take place sometime during the first week of December (December 3rd – 8th) at the Hudson Memorial School (HMS) here in Hudson, NH. I am planning a series of articles here on our blog to explain the process for preparing our ground station(s) and making our contact.

The Beginning

Dan Pooler, AC1EN who is a teacher at HMS began this process almost a year ago by reaching out to the Nashua Area Radio Society. Dan wanted to do an ISS Crew Contact at his school and asked if we would help him with the Amateur Radio elements.

We decided early on that we wanted a Direct contact (one which uses an on-site Amateur Radio Ground Station).

ARRIS Ground Station Recommendations

The first thing we did was to look at the ARISS Ground Station requirements document. We learned that we needed to build two Ground Stations – a Primary Station and a Backup Station. These requirements and our interest in Satellite Communications led to the construction of a series of Portable Space Ground Stations.

The Primary Station

The primary station requirements are as follows:

  • Transceiver with 50–100 W output, 1 kHz tuning steps, and 21 memories capable of storing split frequencies
  • Low-loss coax (such as 9913 or LMR-400)
  • Mast mounted receive pre-amplifier
  • 14 element yagi antenna with switchable circular polarity
  • Antenna rotators for azimuth (0–360°) and elevation (0–180°), with an interface for computer control
  • Computer running tracking software for antenna control (including flip mode operation)

The ARISS approach is to used a series of “secret” uplink frequencies which are determined and provided only to the contact operators before each contact. Doppler correction is not required on the 2m band where the crew contacts take place.

Our Portable 2.0 Satellite Station already existed, and it met many of these requirements with a notable exception:

14 element yagi antenna with switchable circular polarity

Satellite Antenna Details
Satellite Station 2.0 Antenna Details

Our 2.0 Station has an 8 element yagi with fixed polarity. This requirement turned out to have a much more significant impact on the design of the Primary Ground Station than just changing the antenna and ultimately led to the construction of our Portable Satellite Station 3.0. More on this in a minute…

The Backup Station

The backup station requirements are as follows:

  • Transceiver with 50–100 W output, 1 kHz tuning steps, and 21 memories capable of storing split frequencies
  • Power amplifier with 100–200W output (optional)
  • Low-loss coax
  • Mast mounted receive pre-amplifier
  • Omnidirectional antenna, either vertical (preferred) or eggbeater style
  • Uninterruptible power source (UPS or battery)

Our Approach

After consulting with the ARISS folks and some thought, we decided to use the then current Satellite Station 2.0 as the Backup Station and build a new Satellite Station 3.0 for use as the Primary Station. This approach also involved installing a larger rotator to accommodate the larger antenna and a heavier fiberglass cross-boom. The 3.0 station would also receive a more capable antenna for the 70 cm band and add a 23 cm antenna for a third band.

The plan included upgrading the 2.0 Station Antennas to include switchable polarity and the addition of a 200W power amplifier for 2 m to compensate for the reduced gain of the smaller 8 element yagi in the 2.0 station.

Building The Primary Station

Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System
Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

The construction and testing of the 3.0 Station are well covered in articles on our Blog so I’ll just share a little information about the final result. The new antenna system used the same ground-based roof tower arrangement that worked so well for the 2.0 station. The larger 3.0 antennas are center mounted on a fiberglass cross boom to prevent the boom from affecting the antenna patterns. We’ve also added a 23 cm loop yagi for a third band. The 3.0 antenna system also uses a more powerful Azimuth-Elevation Rotator from Alfa-Spid.

2m Yagi Switchable Polarity Feedpoint
2m Yagi Switchable Polarity Feedpoint

The new 2 m and 70 cm antennas use relays at their feed point to enable remote switching of the antenna’s polarity between Left-Hand and Right-Hand circular polarity.

Satellite 3.0 Station Radio and Controls
Satellite 3.0 Station Radio and Controls

The upgraded 3.0 ground station adds a control console for switch the polarity of the antennas and a custom built PPT Router Device to manage PTT sequencing of the radio and the pre-amplifiers at the antennas.

Computer Control via MacDoppler
Computer Control via MacDoppler

We continue to use the excellent MacDoppler software to control tracking and Doppler correction in the 3.0 Station.

Building The Backup Station

Upgraded 2.0 Antennas
Upgraded 2.0 Antennas

The upgrades to the 2.0 Antenna System involved the installation of Polarity Switching relays in the feedpoints of the 2.0 antennas. This upgrade was a fairly straightford one.

Backup Station Radio and Controls Test
Backup Station Radio and Controls Test

The ground station side was more involved as we needed to build a complete, second station. I was able to purchase an Icom IC-910H radio used in good condition for this purpose. The rest of the station components were similar to the Primary Station.

Backup Station Test at the Fall Tech Class
Backup Station Test at the Fall Tech Class

We tested the Backup Station at our Fall Technician License Class and it worked great! several of our class students used the station to make their first satellite contacts.

I am currently working on adding the 2 m amplifier and improving the PTT sequencing system on the Backup Station and I plan to post more about these upgrades in here in the near future.

Audio System for Our Contact

Mixing Board at HMS
Mixing Board at HMS

Our contact will take place in the auditorium at HMS. The room has a high-quality sound system and mixing board for audio.

Audio System for ISS Contact

Audio System for ISS Contact

Dave, K1DLM is part of our ISS Crew Contact Team, and he has quite a bit of pro-level audio experience. He has put together the following plan for our Audio System. His design allows us to smoothly transfer audio to and from either the Primary or the Back Stations. We are also planning to record video and Livestream video to the N1FD Facebook page during our contact, and his design supports these elements as well.

Data System for ISS Contact
Data System for ISS Contact

The final element in our plan is the Data System. The network at HMS is very tightly controlled from a security point of view and this makes it difficult to use for contact critical functions like access to up to date Keplerian Elements for our straightforward. Dave has an LTE-based Internet Access System that we have used in the past and we’ve elected to use this to support our stations. We are planning to use the HMS network to transport the Livestream video from our contact. We’ll be using a Mevo Internet Camera for this purpose.

A Million Details…

As you can probably imagine, there a many details that go into making a project like this possible. Here’s a rough timeline of some of the major remaining steps from a Ground Station point of view:

  • Assemble both stations at our QTH with the 2m amplifier and the final 215′ control cables and feed lines – In progress, should be complete in a few days.
  • Full Station Test – add the Audio and Data System components and test the full station at our QTH – Within a week.
  • Configure and Test Data Network Access – for Live Streaming Video and computers and HMS.
  • Setup Ground Station at HMS and perform Dry Run Test – Complete by December 1st.

Dan and the HMS faculty team are also very busy finalizing the student’s questions and handle press related activities.

We hope our readers will join us via the Livestream video for our contact. We’ll post more on this as we get closer to our contact!

Fred, AB1OC

A Portable Satellite Station Part 7 – Plans for a 4.0 Station

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

We have begun looking ahead to Satellite Station 4.0 and where we want to go next after our ARISS crew contact is complete. Our goals for the Satellite Station 4.0 include:

  • A permanently installed version of our 3.1 Station which can be operated remotely over the Internet
  • Upgraded Transceivers which add Pan Adapter/Waterfall display capabilities
  • Enhancements to our Transportable 2.1 Station for improved performance
  • A more portable version of our 1.1 Station for Grid Square Activations

New 4.0 Station at our Home QTH

The performance of the 3.1 Station’s antennas is very good but the antenna system is a handful to transport. We are planning to install these antennas on a new tower at our QTH and use our Flex-6700 SDR-based Remote Operating Gateway with some upgrades to create a remotely controlled satellite station which can be operated via the Internet. The main components of the 4.0 Station will include:

The new tower will also provide a new antenna system for the 6m band.

Updated Remote Operating Setup

Flex-6700 SDR-Based Remote Operating Setup

The Flex-6700 SDR and the associated Maestro Remote Unit will enable the 4.0 Station to be remotely operated through the Internet via a Laptop running MacDoppler.

Upgraded Transportable 2.2 Station

Upgrade plans for our Transportable station include the addition of remote switchable polarity relays and a new Icom IC-9700 Transceiver when it becomes available.

Polarity Switch Installed in LEO Pack Antennas

Polarity Switch Installed in LEO Pack Antennas

The polarity switches have been installed on the M2 Antennas 436CP16 and 2MCP8A antennas in our M2 Antennas LEO Pack. We are using a DX Engineering EC-4 console to control LHCP or RHCP polarity selection on the antennas. We have been doing some testing with the upgraded LEO pack which includes the polarity switching capabilities and we are seeing a significant improvement in performance.

Alfa Spid Az-El Rotator

AlfaSpid Az-El Rotator

We are also planning to move the upgraded LEO pack antennas to the current 3.1 Tower to take advantage of the AlfaSpid Rotator which is installed there.

Icom IC-7900 Transceiver

The other major upgrade planned for the 2.2 Station is the new Icom IC-9700 Transceiver when it becomes available. This radio will utilize Icom’s SDR platform and includes a Pan Adapter/Waterfall display which will be a very useful addition for operation with Linear Transponder Satellites.

Upgraded Portable 1.2 Station

We really enjoy mountain topping and activating grid squares so we are planning upgrades to our 1.2 Station for this purpose.

Our 1.2 Portable Satellite Station on Mt. Kearsarge

Our 1.2 Portable Satellite Station on Mt. Kearsarge

The 1.2 Station utilizes computer control to enable operation with linear transponder satellites and will use solar/battery power along with a 100w/70w Icom IC-910H Satellite Transceiver.

Solar Panels

Solar Panels

A pair of 90W foldable solar panels, an MPPT solar charger, and a pair of LiPo 4S4P A123 batteries provide plenty of power to run the IC-910H Transceiver and the associated computer. The portable station also includes a pair of ARR preamps.

Portable Satellite Antenna System

Portable Satellite Antenna System

The antenna system we’ll be using is an Elk Portable Log Periodic 2m/70cm yagi on a camera tripod. A combination of a compass and an angle finder gauge help us to correctly point the antenna.

As you can probably tell, all of these upgrades are in progress and are at various stages of completion. We will post updates here on our Blog as we continue to make progress. Here are links to some of these posts:

Fred, AB1OC