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

M2 Antenna Systems LEO Pack On Display at Dayton 2016

M2 Antenna Systems LEO Pack on Display at Dayton 2016

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

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

Computer Controlled Satellite Station via MacDoppler Software

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

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

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

Glen Martin Roof Tower

Glen Martin 4.5′ Roof Tower

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

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

Yaesu G-5500 Elevation Rotator

Yaesu G-5500 Elevation Rotator

Separating the Yaesu AZ/EL rotator requires as short mast and a thrust bearing to be used. The mast was made from an 1-3/4″ O.D. piece of EMT tubing from our local hardware store. The thrust bearing is a Yaesu GS-065 unit. Both of these pieces fit nicely in the Glen Martin Tower. The thrust bearing provides support for the LEO Pack and G-500 elevation rotator and greatly reduces stress on the azimuth rotator. We also added a Yaesu GA-300 Shock Absorber Mount to the azimuth rotator. This part provides shock isolation for and reduces strain on the azimuth rotator during the frequent starts and stops which occur during satellite tracking.

LMR-400 Feed-lines And Antenna Connection Jumpers

LMR-400UF Feed-lines and Antenna Connection Jumpers

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

Portable Tower Cable Connections and Base Straps

Portable Tower Cable Connections and Base Straps

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

Low-Noise Preamplifiers From Advanced Receiver Research

Low-Noise Preamplifiers from Advanced Receiver Research

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

Levels And Compass For Tower Setup

Levels and Compass for Tower Setup

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

Weight Bags To Anchor Portable Tower

Weight Bags to Anchor Portable Tower

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

LEO Pack Antenna Parts

LEO Pack Antenna Parts

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

Assembled LEO Pack On Portable Tower

Assembled LEO Pack on Portable Tower

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

2m Circularly Polarized Yagi Feed Point

2m Circularly Polarized Yagi Feed Point

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

Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

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

Rotator Test Using MacDoppler

Rotator Test Using MacDoppler

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

Mixed OS/X and Windows Software Environment

Mixed OS/X and Windows Software Environment

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

Rotator Controller and Software Configuration

Rotator Controller and Software Configuration

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

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

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

Fred, AB1OC

Giving Back To Amateur Radio

Nashua Area Radio Club - 2016 Year In Review

Nashua Area Radio Club – 2016 Highlights

Anita, AB1QB and I have spent a good deal of time this past year helping the Nashua Area Radio Club here in Nashua, NH USA as a way to give back to the Amateur Radio Service. Our work with the Nashua ARC has produced some of the most enjoyable and memorable times of our Amateur Radio experience.

Teaching Nashua Area Radio Club Hosted License Classes

Teaching Nashua Area Radio Club Hosted License Classes

In particular, our contributions to the work that our club is doing around helping people to earn licenses and introducing young people to the Amateur Radio Service has been most rewarding.

Abby, KC1FFX Operating a GOTA Station During Nashua ARC Youth Day

Abby, KC1FFX Operating our GOTA Station during Nashua ARC Youth Day

We recently produced a 2016 Highlights video about our Club’s activities and the club’s contributions to the Amateur Radio hobby. We thought that some of our readers here might enjoy the video. You can view it on our club’s home page here.

73,

Fred, AB1OC

 

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

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Control Unit and Filters

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Control Unit and Filters

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

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Components

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Components

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

NCC-1 Receive System Antenna Pattern

NCC-1 Receive System Antenna Pattern

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

NCC-1 Filter Installation

NCC-1 Filter Installation

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

Installed Active Receive Antenna Element

Installed Active Receive Antenna Element

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

Received Antenna Element Closeup

Received Antenna Element Closeup

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

Receive RF Choke

Receive RF Choke

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

Underground Cable Conduit In Our Yard

Underground Cable Conduit In Our Yard

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

Receive Antenna Coax Ground System

Receive Antenna Coax Ground System

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

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

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

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

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

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

Antenna Switching Matrix

Antenna Switching Matrix

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

Multi-Radio Sequencer

Multi-Radio Sequencer

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

microHam Antenna System Diagram

Updated microHam Antenna System Diagram

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

NCC-1 Controls

NCC-1 Controls

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

Peaked And Null'ed CW Signal

Peaked And Null’ed CW Signal

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

NCC-1 Used For Noise Cancellation

NCC-1 Used For Noise Cancellation

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

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

Tower Control Cable Interconnects (Bottom Two Gray Boxes)

Tower Control Cable Interconnects (Bottom Two Gray Boxes)

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

Inside View Of Interconnect Enclosures

Inside View Of Interconnect Enclosures

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

Closer Look At One Of The Interconnect Enclosures

Closer Look At One Of The Interconnect Enclosures

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

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

73,

Fred, AB1OC

 

Summertime Station and Antenna Projects At AB1OC/AB1QB

Summer is the time of year that many of us work on our antennas and improve our stations. Anita AB1QB and I did both of these things at our QTH this summer.

Removing Lower SteppIR Yagi From Tower

Removing Lower SteppIR Yagi From Tower

Our SteppIR DB36 Yagis were due for some maintenance so we took them off our tower. A special thanks to all the members of the Nashua Area Radio Club who helped us remove, recondition and reinstall our antennas! Matt Strelow, KC1XX of XX Towers and Andrew Toth provided equipment and know how to safely remove our two large SteppIR DB36 Yagis with help from the rest of us.

Lowering Antenna With Electric Winch

Lowering Antenna With Electric Winch

The SteppIR DB36 Yagis weigh almost 200 lbs each and Matt made good use of his electric winch to lower them.

Antenna Coming Down The Tram Line

Antenna Coming Down The Tram Line

The picture above shows the lower antenna coming off the tower. We used a Tram Line system to lower both antennas to the ground so that we could rebuild them.

SteppIR DB36 Antenna On The Ground

SteppIR DB36 Antenna On The Ground

The SteppIR DB36 Yagis are quite large. They have 36 ft booms and the driven elements are almost 50 ft from tip to tip! They completely fill up our back yard when they are both off the tower.

Element Pole Sun Damage

Element Pole Sun Damage

The rebuild process began with a careful inspection of both antennas. They were both in good overall condition with some sun damage to the paint on the fiberglass element poles.

Disassembled SteppIR DB36

Disassembled SteppIR DB36

We removed all the element tubes and sweeps from both antennas for rebuilding. The picture above shows the disassembled upper antenna.

Reconditioned Stepper Motors Installed

Reconditioned Stepper Motors Installed

All four Stepper motors on both antenna were replaced. These motors move metal tapes inside hollow element tubes to adjust the length of each antenna’s 4 movable elements. These adjustments are done automatically by controllers in our shack which receive frequency information from the radios which are connected to each antenna.

Reconditioned Element Sweep Poles

Reconditioned Element Sweep Poles

All of the element housing poles were cleaned, prepped and painted with a UV resistant clear coat to protect them from further sun damage. The poles cleaned up like new.

New Element Sweeps Ready For Installation

New Element Sweeps Ready For Installation

The assembly of all the new element sweep tubes (shown above) was done next. Each antenna has six sweeps.

Element Pole Preparation

Element Pole Preparation

The end of each element pole must be prepped with a tape system which ensures that the poles are seated properly, sealed to and firmly attached to the sweeps. This process and the associated assembly and tightening of the element couplers was the most time-consuming step in the rebuild process as it had to be repeated a total of 24 times.

Rebuilt Element Assembly

Rebuilt Element Assembly

Here’s a picture of one of the rebuilt element tube assemblies. The ropes support the element tubes and keep them aligned when the antenna is up in the air. These elements are attached to the antenna motors with couplers and clamps.

SteppIR DB36 Yagi - Rebuild Complete

SteppIR DB36 Yagi – Rebuild Complete

The picture above shows the lower antenna with all the element tubes reattached. There is quite a bit of additional prep work associated with adjusting all the supports and taping all the exposed areas of the antennas which are susceptible to sun damage. Also, all the electrical wiring on the antenna must be checked to ensure good electrical connections and good overall condition of the wiring.

Ground Test Setup

Ground Test Setup

The final step in rebuilding the antennas is to test their operation on the ground. This ground test is done to ensure that all the motors are working correctly and that the element tapes move smoothly inside the rebuilt element tubes.

Ground Test Results

Ground Test Results

Another important part of the antenna Ground Test is to confirm that the antennas have a consistent resonant frequency and SWR on all bands. The resonant frequencies and SWR levels are far from those that would be measured when the antennas are on the tower at operating height. The idea here is to confirm that a resonance exists and that its frequency and SWR readings are repeatable as the antenna is adjusted to different bands.

With both antennas rebuilt, its was time for Matt and Andrew to return and, with help from folks from our club, reinstall the rebuilt antennas on our tower. The video above shows this process. It is quite something to see! The installation took about 3 1/2 hours.

Updated SteppIR Controllers

Updated SteppIR Controllers

The last step in the SteppIR DB36 rebuild process was to install the latest firmware in the associated SDA100 Antenna Controllers. There are some integration issues between the updated SteppIR Firmware and our microHAM system but we are getting those worked out with help from the folks at both SteppIR and microHAM.

Icom IC-7851 With Display Monitor

Icom IC-7851 With Display Monitor

I recently had a major birthday milestone and Anita surprised me with a new radio – an Icom IC-7851. This radio is an upgrade/replacement for our Icom IC-7800. While the two radios are quite similar in their operation and interfaces, I did not want to install the IC-7851 until the SteppIR antennas were reinstalled and all of their upgrades were working properly with our current radios. With the antennas done, it was the finally time to install the new radio!

Icom C-7851 Transceiver

Icom C-7851 Transceiver

The Icom IC-7851 has several important performance upgrades. The most impactful one is a new low phase noise oscillator which significantly improves RMDR performance compared to the IC-7800. The IC-7851 is in the top-tier of Transceivers in Sherwood Engineering’s tests. The receivers in the IC-7851 are very quiet, have excellent Dynamic Range and perform great in when close-in interference is present.

Icom IC-7851 Display Monitor

Icom IC-7851 Display Monitor

The Icom IC-7851 has a higher resolution and faster display. It also supports higher resolution external monitors so we installed am upgraded display monitor along with the new radio. The IC-7851 has a number of new networking features and supports stand-alone remote operation over a LAN and the Internet. We are planning to use these capabilities to add a second remote operating gateway to our station. More on this in a future article.

The combination of the rebuilt antennas and the new IC-7851 Transceiver has our station performing better than ever. The antennas are working as well or better than when they were new and the IC-7851 has significantly better receive performance compared to its predecessor and is a pleasure to use.

We will be hosting the ARRL Rookie Roundup RTTY contest for our club members who have received their first license in the last 3 years next weekend and we’re going to use the new radio and rebuilt antennas for the contest.

This project was completed in a little over two weeks and was a lot of work. I could not have done the project without the help of the many folks in the Nashua Area Radio Club. Again, a big Thank You to all the folks in our club who helped me with this project! I hope that many of you will be able to find some time to operate from our upgraded station.

73,

Fred, AB1OC

2015 Nashua Area Radio Club Field Day Recap

We had the opportunity to be part of the Nashua Area Radio Club’s 2015 Field Day Operation. Ed, K2TE was our incident commander and he helped to club to put together a great Field Day Operation. We operated under our club callsign, N1FD as 8A. John, W1MBG put together the video above which is a really nice recap of our operation.

Field Day Tower and Beams

Field Day Tower and Beams

The club was very active in WRTC 2014 and, as a result, was able to purchase several of the tower and station kits from the WRTC operation. The heart of our Field Day antenna system was built around two of these towers. One was used for CW and 6m and the other was used for SSB. Both towers had tri-band beams and we used Triplexers and Filters to allow our stations on 20m, 15m and 10m to share the beams on each tower. The towers got us a long way towards our status as an 8A operation.

Wire Antenna Construction

Wire Antenna Construction

My role in the setup part of our Field Day operation was to build our wire antennas. We began with a class covering how to build and tune Delta Loop antennas and we used the newly gained information from our class to build 40m and 80m delta loops at our Field Day site. We also put up a 75m inverted-V antenna in one of the tall trees at our site.

Operating Tents

Operating Tents

We made good use of our WRTC station kits and other gear that our members brought to setup comfortable tents to operate from as well as a public information tent and a food tent.

Operators For The Nashua Area Radio Club

Some Of Our Operators For The Nashua Area Radio Club

Despite the rainy weather on Saturday evening and Sunday, we all stayed comfortable and dry. Shown above is Dave, N1RF, Mike, K1WVO and Mike, K1HIF in our 40m SSB tent.

Field Day 20m SSB Station

Field Day 20m SSB Station

John, W1MBG and I shared a tent which we used for both 10m and 20m SSB operations. The picture above shows our 20m station which was built around an Elecraft KX3 with a PX3 Panadapter and 100w outboard amplifier.

Young Person Operating During field Day

Mikayla Operating With Her Dad During Field Day

Our club has been doing a great deal of work on bringing young people and other new HAMs into the hobby via license classes, outreach to schools and other activities. We carried this work into our Field Day operations with a GOTA station and lots of opportunities for new HAMs and young people to get on the air. Shown above is Wayne, AA9DY helping his daughter Mikayla to make some contacts on 20m SSB phone.

Field Day Feast

Field Day Feast

Anita, AB1QB made us great meals and snacks during our Field Day operation. The food provided all of us a great opportunity to take a break from operating and enjoy each other’s company. Anita and John, W1SMN organized our public information and outreach activities which were very successful. we had over 30 visitors from the general public during our operation this year.

We all had a great time during Field Day this year and we’re looking forward to doing it again next year.

– Fred (AB1OC)

 

 

 

2014 Amateur Radio Highlights

2014 Readers Around The World

2014 Readers Around The World

It is once again time for our annual 2014 Year in Review post. First, I’d like to thank our readers for their continued interest in our Blog. Our blog was viewed about 100,00 times in 2014 from 165 countries around  the world. You, our readers have made 2014 our busiest year yet and this provides Anita (AB1QB) and me with great encouragement to continue to provide content for our readers.

2014 was a very busy year in Amateur Radio for us. Our activities included a continued focus on station building, contesting, WRTC 2014, special events, providing presentations to help other in the hobby learn about new things, attending several HAM Events, progress on operating awards, and most importantly – time spent on the air operating.

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

We upgraded our fixed station to include a microHAM Station Automation system this year. This was a major project that added some nice SO2R capabilities to our Multi-one station as well as automated the sharing of our antennas between our two SO2R Operating positions. More of this project can be found here:

Eggbeater Antennas And Preamps SystemsOn Tower

Eggbeater LEO Satellite Antennas And Preamps Systems On Tower

We also added LEO Satellite capabilities to our station with the addition of some new antennas and electronics on our tower. This allowed us to make our first contacts through LEO birds with linear transponders. Our articles on this project include:

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Our Mobile HF Station – Screwdriver Antenna

Our final major station building project was the construction of a state of the art mobile HF station in our Ford F-150 pickup truck. We did this project in phases starting with a simple setup using a 100W radio and HAM Stick antennas through the installation of a Screwdriver Antenna System for the 160m – 10m HF bands and concluding with the installation of an amplifier to enable high power mobile HF operation. You can view the articles on this project here:

AB1OC Operating In CQ WPX SSB

AB1OC Operating In the 2014 CQ WPX SSB

Anita (AB1QB) and I continued to be active in several contests this year. We both continued to develop our skills as contesters and our scores and place in the rankings reflected this. You can read more about our contesting activities and what we learned in the following articles:

Hollis Site Support Team And Referee

WRTC 2014 Hollis Site Competitors, Support Team And Referee

We were also fortunate to host one of the WRTC 2014 competition sites. Along with our friend Scott Anderson, NE1RD, Anita and I acted as site managers for the only WRTC 2014 Competition Site in New Hampshire. You can read more about our WRTC 2014 experiences here.

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

Special event operations were a particularly fun part of our on air activities in 2014. We operated as K2K, New Hampshire in the 13 Colonies Special Event, W1AW/1 as part of the ARRL Centennial QSO Party, and as N1FD Celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Nashua Area Radio Club. It’s great fun to operate in these events and the experience running the pileups that result continued to help Anita and me to develop our operating and contesting skills.

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

We make it a priority to develop a significant amount of our Amateur Radio time to helping others in the hobby learn new things. In addition to writing this Blog, Anita and I try to create and deliver several presentations each year on a variety of topics of interest to the Amateur Radio Community. Our presentation this year included an update of our presentation on Amateur Radio Station Design and Construction and an Introductory Presentation on the DXLab Software Suite. We are always interested in working with Amateur Radio Clubs to deliver the presentation either in person where practice or over the web.

Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (TBD)

Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (K9EID)

We had the fortune to meet some of the legends in Amateur Radio this past year. Anita and I had the opportunity to get meet Bob Heil, K9EID and to appear on his Ham Nation podcast. Bob is an amazing gentlemen and we feel truly fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know him. We also had the opportunity to meet Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ, the President and Founder of QRZ.com. Fred visited our station and did an article about our station on QRZ.com. Anita and I both learned a great deal about HAM Radio and how it came to be what it is today as a result of the time these fine folks spent with us.

Joe Taylor's WSJT Presentation

Joe Taylor’s WSJT Presentation At the ARRL Centennial Convention

Amateur Radio Conventions and HAM Fests were a major part of our Amateur Radio fun again this year. We were fortunate to attend and speak at the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford, CT USA this year – truly a once in a lifetime Amateur Radio experience. We also attended the Dayton Hamvention in 2014 where we had a chance to see all of the latest and greatest in Amateur Radio Equipment.

Our 2014 QSOs By Callsign

Our 2014 QSOs By Callsign

We were quite active on the air making almost 26,000 contacts between the two of us. As you can see from the graphic above, about 45% of our contacts were as part of Special Event Operations. We also made a little over 500 contacts from our mobile station, working over 100 DXCC entities in 2014 from the mobile.

Our 2014 QSOs By Band

Our 2014 QSOs By Band

 We were active on all of the HF bands this year. We made our first contacts on the 60m band and I was able to focus on the 6m band and earn a VUCC Operating Award (100 grid squares worked and confirmed) on that band. Anita and I also made our first DX contacts to Europe on 6m in 2014. Anita took quite an interest in the 160m band and she is working on a Worked All States Operating Award on this band. Our operating time using weak signal and satellite modes on the 2m and 70cm bands was limited to a few contacts this year. I did make my first contacts through LEO Satellites in 2014.

We

Our 2014 QSOs By Mode

Our 2014 QSOs By Mode

We mostly operated in the SSB phone mode in 2014. Anita and I both continue to work on our CW skills and we managed a little over 800 QSOs using CW in 2014. Anita was very active in the RTTY mode as part of her RTTY contesting efforts.

K2K New Hampshire QSL!

13 Colonies K2K New Hampshire QSL!

All of this operating resulted in quite a bit of QSL activity. We sent a total of almost 4,200 QSL cards in 2014!

We again made a video showing all of our contacts around the world in 2014. As you can see from the video, we were fortunate to work quite a bit of DX in 2014.

6M VUCC Operating Award

Fred’s 6M VUCC Operating Award

All of this operating helped Anita and me to make some progress on operating awards this year. In addition to earning a 6M VUCC, I also completed a Worked All States Award on all 9 HF bands 160m-10m. I was also able to complete several nice regional operating awards (Worked All Europe TOP Plaque, Worked All VK Call Areas and Worked All Africa) as well upgrading my DXCC Challenge Award to the 1,500 Band Country level. Anita completed her JARL JCC Award (she worked 100+ Cities in Japan) as well as her Worked All States Triple Play Award (all states on SSB, CW and Digital via LoTW).

Anita and I had a lot of fun with Amateur Radio in 2014. We are looking forward to another great year of HAM Radio fun in 2015. We hope to share some of what we learn and our experiences with our readers here on our Blog.

– Fred (AB1OC)

LEO Satellite System Part 3 – Final Installation And First Contacts

Eggbeater Antennas And Preamps SystemsOn Tower

Eggbeater Satellite Antennas And Preamp System On Tower

With some help from Matt Strelow, KC1XX  of XX Towers, we’ve gotten our LEO Satellite Antennas and Preamp System installed on our tower. We installed the antennas on a sidearm at about 80 ft and installed the preamp system (the upper left gray box) next to the antennas on the tower. The design and construction of our LEO Satellite System was covered in the Part 1 and Part 2 articles here on our blog.

Hardlines At The Tower

Hardlines At The Tower Base

I choose 7/8″ Heliax Hardline Coax (Andrews AVA5-50) for the feedlines between the antennas on the tower and the shack. I choose this type of cable to hold our losses to end-to-end to about 1.0 dB for the 432 MHz side of the system. Our Icom IC-9100 Transceiver which we will use for satellite work provide 75W of output on the 70cm band which results in a maximum of about 45W at the antenna – plenty of output power for LEO satellite uplink work. The end-to-end loss on the 144 MHz side is about 0.6 dB resulting in 85W out maximum from 100W in. The antennas were connected to the preamps and through to the hardline coax cables using short LMR-400UF coax jumpers and crimp-on N-type connectors were used throughout the system. The conduits that are buried under our lawn had plenty of capacity for the two additional hardline cables (the lower pair of large coax cables in the picture above). I also routed the control cables for the preamps through one of our smaller conduits.

Hardline Terminations At Shack

Hardline Terminations At Our Shack

The hard lines (cables with orange and purple tape) were terminated with N-connectors and the shack entry end through grounded PolyPhaser Lightening Protectors.

VHF - UHF Antenna Switching Console

VHF – UHF Antenna Switching Console

The two sides of the LEO Satellite Antenna and Preamp system were terminated on our VHF – UHF switching console in our shack. The console uses Hofi-Technik Rotary UHF Antenna Switches to allow selection of the LEO Satellite Antennas as well as our M2 Antenna Systems 144 MHz and 432 MHz Yagis and a Diamond X-300NA 2m/70cm ground plane vertical which we use for repeater work.

Preamp Control Cable Terminatons On Tower

Preamp Control Cable Terminations On Tower

We also terminated the control cable from our Preamp System on Control Line Static Suppressors at the base of our tower.

Preamp Sequencers

Preamp Sequencers

The Preamp Control Cable was routed to a pair of M2 Antenna Systems S3 Sequencers (top units in the picture above) to enable proper Tx/Rx sequencing to protect the tower mounted Preamps from damage during transmit. These units allow the 144 MHz and 432 MHz Preamps to be turned on/off separately as well as enabling the noise test function on the 144 MHz preamp. With all of the installation work done, I confirmed that the SWR reading on both antennas was in specification at the input to the IC-9100 Transceiver and that the both Preamps work working (via an observed increase in noise level) when they were turned on.

Nova For Windows (FO-29 Satellite Pass)

Nova For Windows (FO-29 Satellite Pass)

The final step was to install the Nova For Windows program and download the latest Keplerian Elements for the HAM satellites that are currently operational. Nova For Windows allows me to determine when a given satellite is making a pass that covers both my QTH and the area where I want to try to make contacts. The program can also predict future passes which makes planning satellite operating times easier. The picture above shows the footprint of the FO-29 and the ISS during a pass over my location.

Fuji Oscar FO-29 Satellite

Fuji Oscar FO-29 Satellite

On the day and time that I tried to make my first contacts, only satellites with Linear Transponders were making useful passes overhead. I choose to try my first contact through FO-29 (Fuji Oscar 29) which is a V/U Mode (145 MHz uplink/435 MHz downlink) satellite.

First Satelllite Contact - EA1QS In Spain

First Satellite Contact QSL – Pablo, EA1QS In Spain

With my IC-9100 setup in Satellite/SSB Phone mode to transmit and receive on the proper frequencies and side-bands and with the Tx and Rx sides set to track each other (this is one of the useful satellite Features provided by the IC-9100), I began by locating a clear frequency on FO-29’s transponder and transmitting on the uplink while adjusting my Rx offset until I could hear my own transmissions coming back from the bird. Once I found my receive frequency, I began looking for a station to work. As good luck would have it, I found Pablo, EA1QS in Spain and made my first contact! It took some care to stay on frequency during the brief contact as the doppler shift associated with the path through FO-29 was changing fairly rapidly.

I also made two contacts with W1AW/9, the ARRL Centennial QSO Party Operation in the state of Illinois, USA. I made these two contacts through two different satellites. The first contact was made through VUSat VO-52, a U/V Mode (435 MHz Uplink/145 MHz Downlink) satellite and the second one was made using FO-29 again. I was quite fortunate to make the contact through VO-52 as its batteries failed and the bird went out of service just 12 days after my contact was made.

M2 Antenna Systems 70cm and 2m Yagis On Top Of Our Tower

M2 Antenna Systems 70cm and 2m Yagis On Top Of Our Tower

My early experiences with our new LEO Satellite System have been good. The M2 Antenna Systems Eggbeater Antennas and tower mounted Preamp System work quite well when the Satellites being worked are 30 degrees or more above the horizon. I can use our weak signal 2m and 70cm yagis (top two antennas shown above) and the associated tower mounted Preamp Systems (two grey boxes just below the top of the tower) for Satellite passes that are below 30 degrees. This mode of operation will require computer tracking which I can do via Nova For Windows or the Ham Radio Deluxe Satellite Software both of which I already have. I plan to try this combination in the future and will provide additional setup and operational results for this configuration sometime in the future.

Its been a very busy summer and I have not as much time to operate using LEO Satellites as I would like. With WRTC 2014, the ARRL Centennial Convention over, and the 13 Colonies Special Event and W1AW/1 New Hampshiree portable operations completed, I hope to have more time to devote to Satellite Operation. It’s a lot of fun to make contacts through satellites and this mode of operation will give us the chance to learn some new skills.

Other articles in the series include:

You might also be interested in the series on our Portable Satellite Station. You can read about that here.

– Fred (AB1OC)