6m VUCC In A Day – ARRL June VHF Contest

6M VUCC Operating Award

6M VUCC Operating Award

The 6m Band is one of my favorite bands. The combination of its unpredictability and the amazing openings that it can produce certainly makes 6m The Magic Band for me!

Fred’s (AB1QB) First Place Finish in NH – 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest

Fred’s New Hampshire First Place Finish in the ARRL June VHF Contest

I haven’t had the chance to work the ARRL June VHF Contest from our home station for several years. A combination of Nashua Area Radio Society activities and preparations for ARRL Field Day have taken a higher priority. ARRL June VHF is a great contest and I was looking forward to working it this year. A few days before the contest Anita and I were talking about the contest and she suggested that I do a 6m Digital Entry. E-skip has been pretty good on 6m this year and we wanted to sort out how we’d do digital and 6m for our upcoming 2020 Field Day Operation from our home so I decided to take Anita’s advice and focus on 6m Digital for June VHF. I entered the contest in the Low-Power Category.

June VHF Operating Setup

6m VUCC

AB1OC Operating in 2020 June VHF

We built a Remote Operating Gateway that allows our station to be operated both over the Internet and from any room in our home via our Home Network. I decided to set up a 6m Digital Station upstairs in our dining room so I could be with Anita more during the contest. The setup consisted of a laptop PC with an outboard monitor and a Flex Maestro as the client for the Flex 6700 SDR in our shack.

Completed Antenna Stack On New Tower

Completed Antenna Stack on our VHF Tower

We have three antennas for 6m – one on our VHF Tower and two via the SteppIR DB36 yagis with 6m kits on our main tower.

Delta Loop On Tower

SteppIR DB36 Yagis on our Main Tower

The three antennas can be pointed in different directions and selected instantly via the computer. This provided to be an advantage during the contest. I kept one on Europe, one point due West, and the third pointed at the Tip of Florida and the Caribean during the contest.

6m VUCC

Operating Setup – N1MM+ and WSJT-X

Having two monitors (the Laptop and an outboard one) allow me to arrange all of the N1MM+ Logger and WSJT-X windows for efficient operating. The image above shows a snapshot of the screen layout during the contest. N1MM+ has some nice features that integrated with WSJT-X to make it easy to spot new grids (Multipliers) and stations that have not yet been worked. The windows on the very right side allowed me to control antenna switching and monitor power and SWR while operating. I use the PSTRotator application (lower-left center to turn my antennas.

6m Band Conditions

6m VUCC

6m PSK Reporter On Sunday Evening

Band conditions on 6m were amazing from here in New England almost the entire contest period! The band was open right at the start of the contest on Saturday and remained open to 11 pm local time on Saturday evening. I was up early on Sunday and was working folks in the Northeastern Region right from the start. After being open all day on Sunday, the band shut down around 5 pm local time and I was afraid that the fun on 6m might be over. I ate some dinner and took a 45-minute nap and got back to my station at around 6:30 pm. About 15 minutes after I resumed, 6m opened again to most of the United States and I was able to work DM and DN grid squares in the Western States! The band stayed open right until the end of the contest at 11 pm local time.

What About the VUCC…

6m VUCC

100 Grids Worked on 6m

Conditions on 6m were so good on Saturday that I almost worked a 6m VUCC by 11 pm on Saturday evening when the band closed. I had 93 grids worked on 6m in just 8 hours! The band opened again early on Sunday morning and I worked my 100th grid square before 10 am – working a 6m VUCC in less than 18 hours!

6m VUCC

Final 6m Grids Worked

By the end of the contest, I had worked a total of 162 Grids! They ranged from the West Coast of the US to Western Europe and from Southern Canada to Northern South America.

6m VUCC

6m Grids Worked During 2020 June VHF

The image above shows most of the 6m grids that I worked plotted on a world map (the EU grids are not shown).

6m VUCC

Final Claimed Score

I was able to make a total of 402 unique contacts on 6m by the end of the contest with a final Claimed Score that was a bit over 65K. All of my 6m contacts during the contest were made using a combination of FT8 and FT4 modes on 6m.

New Ones on 6m for AB1OC

6m VUCC

AB1OC Worldwide 6m Grid Map

I was hoping to work some all-time new Grids and June VHF did not disappoint. I worked a total of 11 new Grids and one new DXCC (Dominica) on 6m during the contest. The image above shows my worldwide grid coverage including the new ones worked during June VHF (my grids in Argentina and Uruguay are not shown above). I now have worked 432 grids on 6m and have confirmed 408 of them with 63 DXCC’s worked and 62 confirmed on the Magic Band.

Summing It All Up…

I must say that I had as much fun working 6m during June VHF this year as I have ever had in any contest! The band openings on 6m were really good and I was busy making new contacts for the entire time that I operated. The combination of the 6m Band and the contest certainly made some Magic for me!

Fred, AB1OC

AO-27 Is Back!

AO-27 Satellite

AO-27 Satellite

The AO-27 FM satellite is back on the air! AO-27 is an FM V/U Mode satellite that was launched back in 1993. The satellite’s Amateur Radio payload became inoperative about 7 years ago due to an internal communications failure. Thanks to some great work by Micheal, N3UC who was one of AO-27’s original designers, the satellite is back on the air on a limited-time basis (4 minutes, twice per orbit over the mid-latitudes).

I was able to make my first contact through AO-27 this morning. The contact was with AI9IN in Indiana, USA. I’m looking forward to making more contacts using this satellite in the near future. Here are the current frequencies for the uplink and downlink (no PL tone is required):

  • Uplink – 145.850 MHz FM
  • Downlink – 436.7975 MHz FM

It’s great to have yet another FM satellite that we can all use. I hope that other satellite operators will give AO-27 a try.

Fred, AB1OC

Getting Started With Amateur Satellites (and Progressing to Linear Birds)

Get Started with Amateur Satellites

Get Started with Amateur Satellites

We get quite a few requests from folks to explain how to get started with Amateur Radio Satellites. Requests for information on how to build a computer-controlled ground station for Linear Satellites are also pretty common. I recently got such a request from our CWA class so I decided to put together a session on this topic.

We covered a number of topics and demonstrations during the session including:

  • How to put together a simple station and work FM EasySats with HTs and a handheld antenna
  • A recorded demonstration of some contacts using FM EasySats
  • How-to build a computer-controlled station and work Linear Transponder Satellites
  • Fixed and Portable Satellite Station Antenna options
  • A recorded demonstration of some contacts using Linear Satellites
  • How-to work digital (APRS digipeater) contacts
  • How-to receive SSTV Transmissions from the ISS

About 30 folks attended this session and there was some good Q&A throughout.

Getting Started With Amateur Satellites

The presentation was recorded and can be viewed above. Here’s a link to the associated Powerpoint Presentation.

There are lots of articles about building and operating Amateur Satellite Stations here on our blog. The following are links to several articles and series on this topic:

I hope that you find this information useful for your Amateur Satellite projects!

Fred, AB1OC

Perspectives on a 6m DX Opening

6m DX Opening to Europe - PSK Reporter

6m DX Opening to Europe – PSKReporter

I’ve had a chance to operate on the 6m Band this past week. We are approaching the prime time for the summer Es (E-Skip) season here in the Northeastern United States. As a result, I wanted to see how propagation on the 6m band might be unfolding during this spring Es season. I was fortunate to catch a typical limited DX opening on the 6m band between our location here in New England and Europe. I thought that it might be helpful for those who are relatively new to the 6m band to see what this was like.

DX Opening Begins - JTDX Software View

A 6m DX Band Opening Begins – JTDX Software View

I spent some time on and off yesterday calling CQ and monitoring the 6m band using the JTDX software and FT8 mode. FT8 now dominates most of the activity on the 6m band. This is a result of a combination of FT8’s weak-signal performance and available reverse beacon tools such as PSKReporter. As you can see from the JTDX screenshot above, the 6m band was basically only open to the United States here until about 16:58z. At that point, I weakly decoded CT1ILT. This station faded almost immediately and I was unable to make a contact.

Approximately 4 minutes later, the 6m band opened solidly to Spain and France and quite a few stations in this area of Europe appeared with relatively strong signals.

6m DX Opening to Europe - Spotlight Area Propagation

6m DX Opening to Europe – Spotlight Area Propagation (PSKReporter)

As you can see from the PSKReporter screenshot above (taken near the end of the band opening), the probation on 6m was quite strong but limited to a very specific area and heading in Europe. This is typical of limited double-hop Es propagation. We most likely had two Es clouds aligning in such a way that a narrow path of propagation had been created on the 6m band.

A 6m DX Band Opening In Full Swing - JTDX Software View

A 6m DX Band Opening In Full Swing – JTDX Software View

The view above shows the 6m band opening in full-swing. I was hearing 5-6 strong stations from France, Spain, and Italy almost immediately. These stations are all on a relatively narrow range of headings center at about 65 degrees from my QTH. I am scrambling to work the stations that represented new grid squares for me. I am using JTAlert as a bridge to my logger (DXLab Suite) and it is telling me that 2-3 of the station in the mix are in grid square that I have not yet worked on the 6m band.

A 6m DX Band Opening Comes to an End - JTDX Software View

A 6m DX Band Opening Comes to an End – JTDX Software View

Like all good things, the 6m DX opening had to come to an end. As you can see above, the 6m band closed as rapidly as it opened, leaving me calling CQ with no takers to work in Europe.

Contacts Made During the 6m DX Opening

Contacts Made During the 6m DX Opening

The total duration of this opening was about 20 minutes. The contacts that I made during this period are shown above. During the brief opening, I was able to make a total of 11 contacts with a limited set of grid squares in Europe. Most of the signals were quite strong (see the Sent and Rcvd columns in my log above). During the opening, I worked 5 new grid squares that were centered around the border between France and Spain.

AB1OC 6m Grids Worked and Confirmed

AB1OC 6m Grids Worked and Confirmed

By this morning, three of the five new grids that I worked had already confirmed on LoTW. Just for fun, I plotted my 6m grid progress on the Gridmapper website. I keep a copy of the Gridmapper view of my log by my operating area as a reference that I use in conjunction with PSK Reporter to help me identify 6m band openings that might provide opportunities to work new grids.

I hope that this article gives you some idea of the nature of 6m DX openings. The opening described here is pretty typical in that:

  • The band open (and closed) suddenly without much warning
  • The propagation was very good with many strong signals being decoded and worked at once
  • The opening was of short duration lasting only about 20 minutes
  • The band closed as rapidly as it opened
Monitoring the 6m Band at AB1OC

Monitoring the 6m Band at AB1OC

In order to work 6m DX, this experience emphasizes the need to monitor the 6m band for DX openings on a regular basis. This is most easily done using PSKReporter. The pattern of DX openings on 6m to Europe from here in New England is such that EU DX openings typically begin south of us and progress northward. I use our Remote Operating Gateway, a Flex-6700 SDR based setup, to monitor the 6m band for DX openings while I work here in my office. You can see the 6m FT8 setup here in my office running in the monitor-mode above.

FlexRadio Maestro Console

FlexRadio Maestro Console

I use the Maestro here in my office as my SDR client.

I hope that this information has been useful to our readers. As you can see from this example, the 6m Band is called the Magic Band for good reason. It is very exciting to be able to catch and work a good DX opening on 6m. The FT8 mode has both increased the level of activity on the 6m band and made 6m available to many stations with simple antennas and 100W transceivers. You can learn more about how to get started with FT8 on 6m here.

As I sit here writing this, the 6m band just opened to Austria and Hungry! Have to go work some DX on the 6m band…

Fred, AB1OC

PTT Switch for Remote Operation

FT8 Digital Remote Setup

Remote Operating Setup for AB1OC-AB1QB Station

Here’s an article by Nashua Area Radio Society member Mark, KC1IML that explains how to build a PTT switch for remote operation of our station via SmartSDR. Mark and others have been using our station remotely to work DX and operate in the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Student-Teacher Contest Series.

Source: PTT Switch for Remote Operation – Nashua Area Radio Society

And here is a link to a more current USB to serial adapter for use in this application. You can learn more about the Remote Operating Gateway setup at AB1OC-AB1QB here.

Fred, AB1OC

Tech Night – Getting Started In EME Communications

Tech Night – Getting Started in EME (Click to View The Presentation)

We recently did a Tech Night Program 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 in EME or Moonbounce Communications.

April 2020 Tech Night Video – Getting Started in EME Communications

You can see the presentation 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 are in the process of building a new 2m EME station that will have adaptive polarity. you can read more about that project here.

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

Listen to the ISS Contact Scheduled for April 30th, 2020

International Space Station (ISS)

International Space Station (ISS)

We have successfully tested the Telebridge capabilities here at our station. ARISS has scheduled a Multipoint Telebridge an ISS school contact using our Ground Station for Thursday, April 30th beginning at 13:35 UTC (9:35 am Eastern Time). The Multipoint Telebridge format enables the students to contact the ISS from their homes via telephone connections.

Space Communications Ground Station at AB1OC-AB1QB

Space Communications Ground Station at AB1OC-AB1QB

Our station will provide the ground to the ISS link for the contact between Chris Cassidy KF5KDR, an astronaut on-board the ISS, and the Northern Virginia Schools Group, Woodbridge VA.

IP Camera View of New Tower

IP Camera View of VHF/UHF Tower at AB1OC

ARISS will Livestream video and audio during the contact including a view of the antennas here as they track the ISS. The Livestream of the pre-contact program will begin at around 30 minutes before the ISS comes up. You can click on the YouTube stream below just before the contact to see the pre-contact program and to listen to our contact with the ISS.

Stations in the Northeastern USA should be able to receive the downlink signal from ISS during the contact on 145.800 MHz FM, Rx only. We hope that you’ll join us for the upcoming contact with the ISS!

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 11 – Phone Patch/Telebridge Capability

Council Rock South Students Contact the ISS

Council Rock South Students Contact the ISS

I have joined the ARISS Program as a Mentor to help schools make contacts with astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). School contacts as part of the ARISS program can take two forms – Direct Contacts and Telebridge Contacts.

ARISS Direct Contacts

Direct contacts involve setting up a space communications ground station at the school making the contact.

ARISS Direct Contact Ground Station Antennas at Council Rock HS

ARISS Direct Contact Ground Station Antennas at Council Rock HS

Direct Contacts involve a great deal of preparation and a local Ham Club which has considerable VHF weak-signal experience and equipment to partner with on a school’s contact. There can also be considerable expense involved in assembling the necessary ground station for a Direct Contact. In addition, some locations are much better than others in terms of access to good, high-angle ISS passes and an environment that is relatively free of nearby obstructions like buildings, hills, etc.

Our radio club, The Nashua Area Radio Society, supported a Direct Contact at Hudson Memorial School in December 2018. It was a fantastic experience. You can read more about what was involved here.

ARISS Telebridge Contacts

students at Maani Ulujuk High School in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada

Students at Maani Ulujuk High School in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada

Telebridge contacts involve using an existing ground station in a different location with an audio link to the school making the contact via telephone. This type of contact provides a high-quality experience with an astronaut on the ISS without the need to construct a ground station at the school. It enables the teachers involved in the contact process to focus on the educational aspects of their contact with the ISS.

All of the ARISS Telebridge Ground stations are built and operated to very high standards.

Also, schools in difficult locations or those who don’t have the needed support of a local Ham Radio club with the necessary space ground station equipment can still enjoy making a contact with an astronaut on the ISS. In addition, a Telebridge contact also enables the supporting Amateur Radio Club to focus on providing great Amateur Radio activities and educational support to their partner school.

Adding Telebridge Capability to Our Station

Space Communications Ground Station at AB1OC-AB1QB

Space Communications Ground Station at AB1OC-AB1QB

We’ve used the station here to make many satellite contacts and to listen to ARISS contacts from the ISS. We’ve also used our station to receive images from the ISS during ISS SSTV events. We’ve decided to add a Phone Patch to our station here to enable it to be used as a testbed for schools preparing for Telebridge contacts.

Adding A Telephone Patch

Phone Patch To Enable Telebridges

Phone Patch To Enable Testing and Hosting Telebridge Contacts

A Telephone Patch enables a third party to communicate over an Amateur Radio link using a telephone. A Phone Patch provides a connection between a Transceiver and a telephone line. It also handles creating a proper balance at the 2-wire Hybrid Interface that connects to the telephone line to the radio. A typical Phone Patch device also provides for Transmit and Receive level adjustments.

Phone Patch units are not used all that much anymore. Fortunately, MFJ still makes the MFJ-624E Hybrid Phone Patch.

Setting up the MFJ Phone Patch was pretty straightforward. All that was required to work with our IC-9700 Transceiver was to set the internal jumpers in the MFJ Phone Patch to configure its microphone connection properly. The MFJ Phone Patch came with a cable to connect to the round microphone jack on the IC-9700 Transceiver. A connection between our audio amplifier to bring audio into the Phone Patch was made to complete the installation.

Testing On The Air

The MFJ Phone Patch was adjusted to achieve a good balance on the 2-wire Hybrid Interface to the telephone line and the Transmit and Receive levels were properly adjusted prior to on-the-air use. These procedures are clearly explained in the manual for the MFJ-624E and are easy to complete.

With these steps complete, we set up a telephone call and made several contacts using FM stateless on the air. We received good audio reports and could easily understand the downlink audio using a standard telephone receiver.

Becoming an ARISS Telebridge Ground Station

My initial purpose for adding Telebridge capability to our ground station was to enable it to be used to perform testing of the audio systems in schools that will be hosting Telebridge contacts. I am also going to apply to become one of the ARISS Telebridge Ground Stations in North America. We have an emergency backup power system here and our station’s location in our home makes it a good choice for situations where contacts need to be made at any time of the day or night. More to come on this in the future.

More About Our Ground Station

Here are links to some additional posts about our Satellite Ground Stations:

Fred, AB1OC

RSU 21 Students to Communicate to Outer Space – Portland Press Herald

Ann Stockbridge, Educator at Kennebunk’s Sea Road School

Ann Stockbridge, Educator at Kennebunk’s Sea Road School

Regional School Unit 21 has been selected for an out-of-this-world opportunity. An international association of space agencies and Amateur Radio organizations has chosen RSU 21, represented by Sea Road School, to advance in a process climaxing in a conversation between students and astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

RSU 21 was one of 10 schools selected nationally to continue through the multi-month acceptance process. The contact event with the ISS could occur between July and December of this year.

The opportunity is provided by ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station), an association that includes NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the American Radio Relay League, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, and space agencies in Canada, Japan, Europe, and Russia. They collaborate to enable students to communicate with ISS astronauts and help inspire interest in space, communications and STEM coursework.

Source: RSU 21 students to communicate to outer space – Portland Press Herald

As our readers may know, I have joined the ARISS program as a Mentor to help schools prepare for and make successful contacts with Astronauts on the International Space Station. I am working with Regional School Unit 21 Sea Road School teachers and local Ham Radio folks in Maine, USA to help them make contact with the ISS during 2H2020. The link above shares more about the STEM learning program that is being created around this contact.

Fred, AB1OC