Scouts in Australia Contact the ISS via Amateur Radio

Scout Making Contact with the ISS

Scouts in Victoria, Australia Making Contact with the ISS at VicJam

I once again had the pleasure to help a group of young people make contact with an Astronaut on the International Space Station this past week. The Scouts were participating in a Jamboree in Victoria, Australia. You can learn more about the event, called VicJam, here.

Astronaut Mark VandeHei, KG5GNP

Astronaut Mark VandeHei, KG5GNP

The Scouts made contact with Astronaut Mark VandeHei, KG5GNP this past Tuesday, January 4th, 2022. You can watch and listen to the contact on YouTube by clicking below. The actual contact begins at about 8:25 into the video.

The Scout’s contact lasted for approximately 10 minutes. The Scouts asked and Mark answered all of their questions and there was time at the end of the contact for “Thank You’s” and “Good Wishes”. Here are the questions that the Scouts asked:

  1. What 3 things do you miss from Earth? My Mum worked on a ship and missed; sleeping with the window open, the smell of cut grass, and the sound of rain on the roof.
  2. What do you have to do to become an astronaut?
  3. What would happen if someone were seriously ill on the ISS, and what would you do?
  4. How do you prepare and eat your meals while up in the space station?
  5. What is it like to float around in no gravity without friction?
  6. How does it feel going from zero gravity in space back to earth’s gravity? Does it hurt??
  7. What is the scariest thing to happen to you whilst you have been in space?
  8. How do you shower and go to the toilet in space?
  9. After being in the space station for so many months, how does it feel to experience planet Earth and nature again with all your senses, especially smell?
  10. How do the seasons affect the veggie production system on the ISS? How often do you get to eat fresh food?
  11. Did you always want to be an astronaut and how did you make it happen?
  12. Why do people go into space and how long is an average mission?
  13. How did you feel when you first learned of your selection to go to space and has this been a life-long ambition for you?
  14. Can you share some of the science that was worked on in space that we can now see on earth?
  15. Is there sound or much noise in space?
  16. Multiple nations have had space stations each bestowed with a specific name – Russia had Mir, NASA had Skylab, and China Tiangong-1. As a truly international effort and the largest man-made object in space, does the ISS have a Nickname, or is there a name that the astronauts use for the individual components?
  17. What energy supply do you use to power the station. If nuclear, what type of reactor do you use? If solar, how many solar panels do you use, and what is their power density?
ARISS Ground Station

ARISS Ground Station

This contact was made in a Telebridge format using my Ground Station here in New Hampshire, USA. The linkup with the Scouts in Australia was via a telephone connection using a phone patch in my shack. You can learn more about our ground station here.

AB1OC ARISS Ground Station Operations

AB1OC ARISS Ground Station Operations

Helping young people make contact with astronauts on the ISS using Amateur Radio is great fun. My work with ARISS is near the top of my list in terms of the most rewarding work that I do with Amateur Radio.

Best and 73,

Fred, AB1OC

Tech Night – VHF+ Weak Signal Stations Part 1 (Intro and 6 Meters)

Tech Night - VHF+ Weak Signal Stations Part 1 - Overview and 6 Meters

Tech Night – VHF+ Weak Signal Stations Part 1 – Overview and 6 Meters

We recently did a Tech Night on building and operating VHF+ stations as part of the Nashua Area Radio Society’s educational program. I wanted to share the presentation and video from this Tech Night so that our readers might learn a little more about how to get started and build their own VHF+ Weak Signal Station.

There is a lot to this topic so we’re going to cover it with two Tech Night presentations. The first one in the series is included here and it provides an Introduction to the VHF+ topic along with details on building and operating a station for the 6 Meter Band.

July 2020 Tech Night Video – VHF+ Weak Signal Stations Part 1 – Introduction and 6 Meters

You can view this Tech Night session via the video above. Here’s a link to the presentation that goes with the video. You can learn more about the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Tech Night program here.

We have built a number of stations and antennas for the VHF+ Bands (6 Meters and above). Here are some links to articles about those projects and our operations on the VHF+ Bands here on our Blog:

Fred, AB1OC

Tech Night July 14 – Building and Operating a VHF+ Station

Completed Antenna Stack On New Tower

6m Yagi and 2m/70cm/23cm Satellite Antennas On A Tower

We will be hosting a Tech Night about Building and Operating a VHF+ Weak-Signal Station tonight, July 14th at 7 pm Eastern Time. The live, interactive video of our tech Night will be shared via a Zoom conference and all of our readers are welcome to join. I plan to cover the following topics during our session this evening:

  • Why do weak-signal work on 6 meters and above?
  • What can you work and what modes are used on these bands
  • How does propagation work at 50 Mhz and above and how can you measure it?
  • How does one operate using SSB, CW, and digital modes on these bands?
  • What equipment is needed and what are some possible ways that you can put together a VHF+ station?
  • Some demonstration of actual contacts

In addition to an overview of how to get on all of the bands above 50 MHz, we will focus on the 6 Meter (Magic) band. The session will include demonstrations of FT8 and Meteor Scatter contacts on 6 m. I will also briefly describe the 6 m station here at AB1OC-AB1QB and show how we use it to make contacts. A second Tech Night will cover stations and weak-signal operating on 2 m and above.

The Zoom information for our Tech Night Session follows. We suggest that you join early so that you have a chance to make sure that your computer, speakers, microphone, and camera are working.

July 14th, 7 pm Eastern – Nashua Area Radio Society Tech Night. Fred, AB1OC Setting up a VHF+ Station. Here’s an opportunity to learn how to add 6 m and above weak-signal modes to your station. Join Our Zoom Meeting

We hope to see many of our readers this evening!

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 6 – Tower Grounding System

Tower Ground System

Tower Ground System

Now that spring is here, we’ve continued work on our EME station project. The most recent project was to build complete the ground system for our new EME tower. The proper way to ground a tower is shown above. Each leg of the tower is connected to an 8′ ground rod via a heavy-gauge ground cable. The cable is attached to the tower leg using stainless steel clamps meant for this purpose. The three ground rods associated with the tower legs are then bonded together using a heavy copper ground cable ring.

Ground Cable CAD Weld

Ground Cable CAD Weld

The ground cables are welded to the top of the ground rods using CAD weld on-shots. This creates a strong connection that will not corrode or fail. It is important that the ground rods be free of dirt, corrosion, oxidation, and burrs before performing the CAD welding. We used a combination of 3-wire and 4-wire one-shot CAD welds to build our ground system and connect it to the bonding system running from out tower to the entry to our shack.

Main Grounding System Bonding

Main Grounding System Bonding

The final step was to connect the bonding run from the tower to the perimeter grounding system around our house. This completed the tower grounding system and enabled us to complete our final permit inspection courtesy of our local building inspector.

Finished Tower Base

Finished Tower Base

With all of this work done and the inspection complete, we added a mulch bed around our new tower to make this area of our lawn easy to maintain.

The next step in our project is to begin building the antennas that will go on our EME tower. You can read more about our EME station project via the links that follow:

If you’d like to learn more about How To Get Started in EME, check out the Nashua Area Radio Society Teach Night on this topic. You can find the EME Tech Night here.

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 5 – Control Cables and Rotator Controller

Control Cable Junction Box on EME Tower

Control Cable Junction Box on EME Tower

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 Rotor and Preamp Switching Control Connections

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.

We ran three new control cables through the conduits that we installed between the tower and our shack and terminated them in the utility enclosure. We only needed 6 leads for control of the planned MAP65 Switching and Preamp System which will go on our tower later so we doubled up some of the higher current connections using two wires in the 8-conductor cable.

Green Heron RT-21 Az-El Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 Az-El Rotator Controller

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.

With all of our control cabling in place, we are ready to begin preparing our Antennas, Elevation Rotator, H-Frame, and MAP65 components to go on our EME Tower. We’re hoping that the weather will cooperate and enable us to get these steps completed during this winter.

Here are some links to other articles in our series about our EME Station 2.0 project:

If you’d like to learn more about How To Get Started in EME, check out the Nashua Area Radio Society Teach Night on this topic. You can find the EME Tech Night 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

GPS Time Server

GPS NTP

GPS Controlled Time Server

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

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

GPS NTP

GPS Antenna

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

GPS NTP

GPS Satellite Lock Screen

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

GPS NTP

NTP Summary Screen

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

Fred, AB1OC

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 that 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 helps 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

Fall Youth Events at Boxboro and NEAR-Fest

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

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

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

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

Morse Trainer Kit

Morse Trainer Kit

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

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

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

You can view the Boxboro Forum schedule here.

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

73,

Fred, AB1OC

 

SSTV Images from the ISS – Cosmonautics Day Event

The Amatuer Radio gear on the International Space Station (ISS) supports digital and SSTV modes as well as FM voice communications. The astronauts onboard periodically fire up the SSTV system and transmit images to commemorate milestones in space travel. We recently received a set of 12 images from such an event which commemorated Cosmonautics Day. You can read more about how this is done and view the images via the link below.

Source: SSTV Images from the ISS – Cosmonautics Day Event – Nashua Area Radio Society