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
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:
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.
What do you have to do to become an astronaut?
What would happen if someone were seriously ill on the ISS, and what would you do?
How do you prepare and eat your meals while up in the space station?
What is it like to float around in no gravity without friction?
How does it feel going from zero gravity in space back to earth’s gravity? Does it hurt??
What is the scariest thing to happen to you whilst you have been in space?
How do you shower and go to the toilet in space?
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?
How do the seasons affect the veggie production system on the ISS? How often do you get to eat fresh food?
Did you always want to be an astronaut and how did you make it happen?
Why do people go into space and how long is an average mission?
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?
Can you share some of the science that was worked on in space that we can now see on earth?
Is there sound or much noise in space?
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?
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
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
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.
Satellite Contact at Sussex County Charter School for Technology
It is vitally important that we make efforts to bring Amateur Radio to young people in schools and other venues. When we spend time bringing Amateur Radio to young people, we accomplish two important things. First, we have the potential to change a young person’s life for the better by involving them in Amateur Radio, a hobby and a service that inspires a lifetime of STEM learning and often leads to lifelong careers in Science or Engineering.
Secondly, our work in schools is one of the very best ways that we can make the general public aware of the positive benefits that Amateur Radio provides to their kids and to the general public…
In my role as an ARISS Program Mentor, I recently had the pleasure of spending a week with Sussex County Charter School for Technology students and teachers to help teachers there to deliver their summer Radio Camp.
The summer Radio Camp was a STEM education program that the school developed in support of their upcoming contact with an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS). Members of the local Sussex County Amateur Radio Club teamed with the teachers at the school to deliver a 5-day program grounded in STEM learning through Amateur Radio.
You can read more about the activities that we did at the week-long summer Radio Camp via the link above.
I’d like to invite our friends here on our Blog to visit us during Field Day on Saturday, June 26th, and Sunday, June 27th. We will be at Keyes Memorial Park in Milford, NH.
Testing Our Field Day Satellite Station
We will have a Tower up with a Triband Yagi and we’ll have our computer-controlled portable satellite station at Field Day.
6m LFA Antenna for Field Day
We’ll also have a new LFA Yagi for the 6m Band. We will be a 4A station with a total of 5 Transmitters on the air. Our stations will be equipped for SSB Phone, CW, and FT8/FT4 Digital modes.
We’ll also be doing training sessions on Satellite Operations, FT8 Digital on 6m, and Fox Hunting at 12:30 pm on Saturday, June 26th. If you have an HT, bring it and you can use it to hunt our foxes. We’ll also have HTs available for folks to use for Fox Hunting.
Every now and then we get a really good opening to Europe on the 6m Band from here in New England, USA. This past Friday, June 4 2021 presented us with just such an opening. This particular one may well be the best one that I have ever seen. The opening began early in the day on Friday and was still going strong late into the afternoon. As you can see from the PSKReporter snapshot above, the band was solidly open to most of Western Europe and evening into the Middle East.
WSJT-X Snapshot During 6m Opening
There were so many strong signals from DX stations in Europe, it was difficult to decide which station to call next! I was able to work the opening for most of the day on Friday and was rewarded with over 130 DX contacts into Europe. In addition, I was able to Work 3 new DXCCs and over 40 new Grids (over 30 of these Grids have confirmed on LoTW already)!
JTAlert Snapshot Helps To Work New Grids
We use the JTAlert application along with WSJT-X and DXLab Suite. JTAlert helped to identify stations in new Grids that we had not Worked before in the flood of activity on the 6m Band during this opening. At times, there were 4 or 5 different stations in new Grids being decode at once!
AB1OC 6m Grids as of June 2021
The 6m Es season has been very good so far this year with great propagation and lots of activity. Let hope that this continues well into the end of the summer here in New England. We are especially hoping for good 6m openings during Field Day later this month.
We had some time over the weekend so we ran some Satellite Pass Predictions for Field Day 2021 for our Grid Square which is FN42. As you can see, we are going to have a lot of fun working satellite during Field Day! Field Day rules limit us to a single FM EasySat contact using but we can work as many contacts via Linear Transponder Satellites as we wish
Field Day Satellite Station
We recently set up and tested our Portable Satellite Ground station here at our QTH and it’s working great! It has produced some good DX contacts into Europe from New Hampshire, USA during the past week.
The Nashua Area Radio Society will be using our portable Satellite Station this year at Summer Field Day. A number of members got together recently to assemble and test our Computer-Controlled Portable Satellite Station for Field Day. Here are some pictures of our Field Day Satellite Station Test…
Several members of the Nashua Area Radio Society got together to set up and test our Portable Satellite Station for Field Day 2021. Our station is a computer-controlled one and enables us to work FM and Linear Satellites using phone mode and CW.
You can see how the portable station goes together in the article above. You can learn more about the design and construction of our Portable Sation from the series of articles that begins here. We hope to work some of our readers on the birds during Field Day this year!
Many Hams (including this one) have problems with RF Interference (RFI) at their stations. Many RFI sources typically come from inside our own homes. Symptoms include birdies at single frequencies, interference that moves around across the Amateur Radio Bands, and high noise floors. We have had all of these problems here.
We recently built an improved EME station for the 2m Band. We noticed a higher than ideal noise floor when operating 2m EME during initial testing of the new station. We decided to do some additional testing to see if we could isolate the source of the noise levels. One test we did was to shut down much of the ethernet network and associated devices here at our QTH. To our surprise, this lowered our noise floor on 2m some 6 dB, and eliminated many birdies in the EME section of the 2m Band!
Our network mostly uses wired Ethernet running throughout our home on Cat 5e and Cat 6 unshielded ethernet cable. Many of the devices in our home use Power Over Ethernet (PoE) connections to power them through the ethernet cables.
We decided to solve our noise problems via a pretty major upgrade to our home network. The upgrade included:
Installing OM4 multimode fiber optic cables to replace all of the non-PoE wired Ethernet connections to the rooms in our home. The fiber cables were chosen to support 1 GbE and 10 GbE connections now and to be upgradable to 100 GbE connections in the future.
Installing new Cat 6A Shielded Ethernet cables to PoE devices that we wanted to remotely shut down when we are operating using weak-signal modes on 6m and above
Upgrading portions of our network to 10 Gbs Ethernet speeds to improve the efficiency of Video Editing and Backups
The project began with the installation of a Shielded Rack Enclosure in our basement. The Rack is wall-mounted and is fully shielded and grounded. It also includes cooling fans that move air vertically through the Rack to keep the gear inside cool.
Core Network in Rack
Next, we mounted all of the gear for our upgraded core network in the Rack. The main components include (from bottom to top):
Two rackmount shelves that hold a NAS-based Media Server that stores all of the entertainment content for the media system in our home.
PDU Web Interface for Network Control and Management
We are going to power down most of our IP Cameras and the WiFi AP devices around our home when we are operating on 6m and above. We implemented this capability using an IP-Controlled Power Distribution Unit (PDU) that allows us to remotely turn network devices in our network on and off via a web browser from anywhere in our home.
IP Camera PoE Switches
The PDU controls a pair of Netgear PoE Edge Switches that power most of the IP Cameras in our home via PoE connections. Shutting down these switches via the PDU removes power from the associated IP Cameras which eliminates a great deal of noise and other RFI.
WiFi Acess Point Control via PoE Edge Switch
We also installed a VLAN-capable Netgear PoE Edge Switch and connected it to the PDU. This switch enables us to shut down other devices on our network such as WiFi Access Points which are also significant sources of RFI. This switch uses a pair of optical interfaces that connect it to our core network
OM4 Fiber Cable with LC Connectors Installed
A large part of the work associated with our network upgrade project involved running OM4 Multi-mode Fiber Optic cables to all of the rooms in our home. We ran 12-fiber cables to locations that would likely benefit from upgrades to 100 GbE in the future (ex. our shack, home offices, media equipped rooms, and servers/NAS devices) and 6-fiber cables were used elsewhere. All of our fiber cables use LC connectors with two fibers for each Ethernet connection (one for Tx and one for Rx). We used a mix of pre-terminated cable assemblies and unterminated cables to complete the room installations.
Fiber Prep using a Fiber Cleaver
Field terminating fiber optic cables is not difficult but it does require some special tools and careful attention to detail. The ends of each fiber must be prepared to precise specifications and be very clean before the LC connectors can be installed. The image above shows a Fiber Cleaver which is used to “cleave” the end of each fiber to form a square, low-reflection/low-loss connection to a field-installable LC connector. Proper use of a high-quality Fiber Cleaver is important if you are to achieve low-loss, low-dispersion field terminations.
Verifying an LC Connector Installation using a Visual Fault Locator
A Visual Fault Locator (VFL) with an LC Connector Adapter is used to confirm the proper installation of each LC connector. The tool shines a bright red laser light through the LC connector and fiber cable. The field installable LC connectors include a window that indicates laser dispersion at the fiber/connector junction. Too much light in the window due to dispersion indicates a poor connection. The VFL tool is also very useful for checking end-to-end optical transmission and continuity of the completed fiber cable installations.
Fiber Wall Outlet and Patch Cables
The fibers were terminated in wall outlets in the rooms of our home. The outlet plates accept standard keystone jacks. We used LC Keystone Couplers with our wall jack plates. This approach ensures that the ends of fragile fiber optic cables running to the rooms will not be damaged or broken when connecting the fibers to ethernet switches and other devices.
Fiber LC Interconnect Enclosure
The other end of each fiber cable is terminated in a Fiber LC Patch Enclosure Trays in our Rack. The enclosures provide a test point and LC patch cable interconnect point for the fiber cables. The advantage of using enclosures such as these is that they protect the ends of the fiber cables running to the rooms from damage. A total of three trays terminate a total of 72 OM4 fiber pairs that we installed in our home.
Optical Fiber Connector Cleaner
It is very important to keep all of the fiber connections clean. Standard practice should be to ALWAYS clean the ends of each LC connector with an Optical Fiber Connector Cleaner each time before an LC connector is installed in a jack. It is also important to keep the supplied caps that come with LC connectors installed when they are not connected to a jack or optical SFP.
10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver
The fibers in the core rack and in the rooms are connected to switches, computers, and NAS devices via SFP or SFP+ Transceivers. An example of an SFP+ Transceiver is shown above. These devices convert the laser signals carried on the multimode OM4 fibers to a standard electrical format that can be handled by the core and edge switches in our network.
Core Network Components
The connections between the Fiber Termination and Patch Enclosures and the SFPs and SFP+s in the Core Switches in our rack are made using OM4 LC Patch Cables (the aqua cables shown in the image above).
Fiber Wall Outlet and Patch Cables
Similar patch cables are run from the Wall Jacks to the Ethernet Edge switches in each room to complete the connections to the core network. Most of our Edge Switches in the rooms in our home use two pairs of fibers in a LAG configuration. This increases the bandwidth capacity of the connections and also increases reliability. Should one of the fiber pairs experience a failure, the other pair continues to carry the traffic until the problem can be repaired.
Shielded CAT6A Ethernet Terminations
Some devices in our network such as the PoE IP Cameras on our Towers and a portion of our WiFi Access Points cannot be shut down without significantly compromising the operation and functionality of our Network. We controlled the noise and RFI contribution from these devices by installing new, Cat 6A Shield Ethernet cabling to connect them. The Cat 6A cables must be terminated using a grounded, fully shielded ethernet panel. This device is 10 Gbps Ethernet capable and properly terminates that the shielded Cat 6A cables in our Rack.
So how did all of this work out? We are seeing 6 – 7 dB improvement in the noise floor on 2m. This is a huge improvement for our EME station! We are also seeing about 1 dB in noise floor improvement on 6m. We are also seeing a significant reduction in birdies on all the bands. Finally, many of our computers and most of our NAS drives have been upgraded to 10 Gbps Ethernet which enables us to move large files around our network much more quickly. We are also seeing some improvement in the actual measured throughput of our 1 Gbs/400 Mbps Fiber Internet connection.
I hope that our readers find our Fiber Optic and 10 Gbps Networking project interesting.
We’ve been wanting to try a Loop Fed Array (LFA) Yagi on the 6m Band. The Nashua Area Radio Society’s 2021 Field Day operation presented us with a good opportunity to do this. We choose a lightweight 3-Element LFA Yagi from InnoVAntennas and used a fiberglass mast to get it up 25 ft (about 8 meters).
The LFA Yagi performed very well! You can read more about this antenna’s performance and our upgraded portable station via the link above.
February 2021 Tech Night – Understanding and Using Propagation to Work The World
Anita, AB1QB, recently did a Tech Night Program on Radio Propagation as part of the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Tech Night program. I wanted to share the presentation and video from this Tech Night so that our readers might learn a little more about propagation and how to use it to facilitate contacts.
Anita, AB1QB provides a comprehensive overview of HF and VHF/UHF propagation and how to use it to Work the World. Topics include the many online tools to help one determine and measure propagation conditions. VHF+ modes such as Meteor Scatter, Tropo, EME, and Satellite paths are also covered.
EME II Tech Night – Station Construction and Operation
We recently did a second Tech Night Program on EME as part of the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Tech Night 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 build and operate an EME station for the 2m band.
January 2021 Tech Night – EME II: Station Construction and Operation