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

HAB-4 Launch Preparations

We have established launch windows and begun final launch preparations for our High-Altitude Balloon 4 (HAB-4) launch. We’ve made some modifications to our HAB platform to improve its cold temperature performance and we’ve determined the Balloon and flight path parameters for the upcoming flight. HAB-4 will carry an APRS transmitter and can be tracked using aprs.fi. You can read more about HAB-4 flight preparations via the link that follows.

Source: HAB-4 Launch Preparations – Nashua Area Radio Society

Update on NARS Amateur Radio Expo for Young People

Source: Update on NARS Amateur Radio Expo for Young People

The Nashua Area Radio Society will again be hosting an Amateur Radio Exposition for Young People as part of NEAR-Fest in Deerfield, NH on October 12th and 13th.

You can see more about what we are planning via the link above. Activities will include multiple GOTA Stations, a Kit Build, a Fox Hunt, Morse Code, and other hands-on activities. We will also be operating a Special Event Station as N1T.

NEAR-Fest along with several NARS members are also sponsoring a matching fundraising project as part of this event. Check it out!

Fred, AB1OC

Nashua Area Radio Society Youth Expo at Boxboro

Karen KC1KBW a BGHS Teacher Building a Kit

Karen KC1KBW a BGHS Teacher Building a Kit

The Nashua Area Radio Society put together a successful Amateur Radio Youth Exposition at the New England Amateur Radio Convention at Boxboro this year. Our exposition features over ten displays with hands-on activities…

Source: NARS Youth Expo at Boxboro – Nashua Area Radio Society

Anita AB1QB and I are continuing to work along with the Nashua Area Radio Society to encourage young people to become licensed and join the Amateur Radio Service.

NARS Team at Boxboro

Nashua Area Radio Society Team at Boxboro

The Nashua Area Radio Society recently hosted an Amateur Radio Exposition for Young People at the New England Amateur Radio Convention in Boxboro, MA. Our event featured Remote HF and Satellite GOTA stations, a kit build, and many other hands-on activities which were part of the over ten displays at the event.

You can read more and see photos from our Youth Expo via the link above. We will be holding another Amateur Radio Youth Expo as part of NETT at NEAR-Fest in Deerfield, NH in October. We hope to see some of our local friends there.

Fred, AB1OC

Please Help Us Grow the Amateur Radio Service

Graduates from our Summer Youth Technician License Class

Source: Support the Nashua Area Radio Society on Amazon Smile and GoFundMe

Anita and I have been working to grow the Amateur Radio Service through our work at the Nashua Area Radio Society. The Nashua Area Radio Society is a 501c(3) public charity whose mission is to:

  • Encourage and help people to become licensed and active in the Amateur Radio Service
  • Spark Interest among Young People in STEM Education and Careers through Ham Radio
  • Provide training and mentoring to enable our members to improve their technical and operating skills and to be prepared to assist in times of emergency
  • Sponsor on-air operating activities so that our members may practice and fully develop their operating skills and have fun with Ham Radio!
Students and Teacher Ready To Launch Their High-Altitude Balloon

Students and Teachers Ready To Launch Their High-Altitude Balloon

The Nashua Area Radio Society has created many programs designed to provide STEM learning experiences and training through Amateur Radio. Some of these include:

To carry out our mission, we have formed close relationships with several schools. This helps us develop and deliver effective, high-quality programs that bring learning through Amateur Radio to young people. You can read more about what we’re doing via the link at the top of the page.

We provide many of these services either free of charge or at a very modest cost. We count on the generosity of our members, friends, and the Amateur Radio community to raise funds to support our work.

We hope that our readers will consider supporting our work at the Nashua Area Radio Society by using Amazon Smile and designating us as your favorite charity and/or by making a donation to our current fundraising campaign (click on the badge below).

GoFundMe Badge

Amazon Smile is free and it’s easy to set up and use (click here for setup information).

On behalf of the many young people and others that we help, thank you very much for your interest and support. We will continue to work hard to provide learning opportunities for young people through Amateur Radio and to continue to make the Amateur Radio Service the best it can be to benefit everyone.

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

 

HAB-3 To Launch On Sunday – How To Track Our High-Altitude Balloon

We are planning the third launch of our High-Altitude Balloon (HAB-3) this Sunday, June 3rd between 10 am and 11 am ET. We will be launching locally from the Hollis-Brookline HS here in Hollis, NH. Checkout the link below to learn more about our HAB projects and how to track our HAB from anywhere in the world while it is in flight. You can also see live stream video froun our launch and recovery via the N1FD Facebook Page.

Source: HAB-3 To Launch On Sunday – How To Track Our High-Altitude Balloon

ISS Crew Contact

We have been working with Hudson Memorial School to help them secure and prepare for an ISS Crew Contact. We are hoping to support their ISS Crew Contact using an upgraded version of our Portable Satellite Ground Station. A school in Raleigh, North Carolina had their ISS Crew Contact today and I decided to record the downlink from the ISS to test our backup Portable 2.0 ISS/Satellite Ground Station.

The video above is a capture of the school’s contact. It was very easy to receive the ISS downlink on our portable backup ground station. I heard the downlink a few seconds before the ISS came up on the horizon and the audio was solid for the duration of the contact. We can only hear the astronaut’s side of the contact as we cannot receive the school’s uplink from Raleigh, NC. The ISS pass began here in New Hampshire part way through the school’s session so we did not hear the first few questions.

Update on Portable ISS/Sat Station 3.0

Portable ISS/Sat Station 3.0 Antenna System

Portable ISS/Sat Station 3.0 Antenna System

Work on our upgraded primary Portable 3.0 Station which includes a larger antenna system using switchable circular polarity is progressing well. The portable tower, upgraded rotator system, and the new, larger 2m and 70cm circularly polarized antennas are complete.  We are just waiting for a few additional components to arrive here and the upgraded portable ground station should be ready for its first test at our Technician License Class later this month.

More on Today’s ISS Crew Contact

You can see a live stream of the ISS Contact from the school above. There is a great deal of planning which goes into an ISS Crew Contact such as this. We are working closely with Hudson Memorial School on their project and their school is also beginning a High-Altitude Balloon Project with us in a few weeks.

The ISS Crew Contact today was exciting to listen too and we are looking forward to being able to share this experience with Hudson Memorial School in the near future.

Fred, AB1OC

Students Analyze HAB-2’s Flight Data – Nashua Area Radio Society

The HAB team members in NARS have created a five-session curriculum to teach physics, atmospheric science, and radio technology that we use as part of our HABlaunches. The last session is the most fun of all – analyzing the telemetry data from our HAB’s flight to see what the students can learn from it.

Source: Students Analyze HAB-2’s Flight Data – Nashua Area Radio Society

We got together with the students who did our HAB-2 launch this week to analyze the data from the flight and to preview some of the videos that HAB-2 captured during its flight. You can read more about what we learned from the flight data on the Nashua Area Radio Society website via the link above

Fred, AB1OC

HAB-2 Sets Altitude Record! – Nashua Area Radio Society

We flew our High-Altitude Balloon for the second time this past weekend. Our second High-Altitude Balloon Flight (HAB-2) was part of a STEM learning project that we did with STEM club students at Bishop-Guertin High School in Nashua, NH. The students did all of the flight prep and launched HAB-2 at approximately 11 am ET from a school in Winchester, NH. Parents, teachers and local students joined us for the launch as did several members of our HAB team.

Source: HAB-2 Sets Altitude Record! – Nashua Area Radio Society

Our students prepared, launched, and tracked HAB-2 this past weekend. Their HAB made it to almost 118,000 ft! You can read more about the launch and the flight on the Nashua Area Radio Society’s website via the link above.

Fred, AB1OC