Satellite Station 4.0 Part 3 – Antenna Integration and Testing

Satellite Antennas Off The Tower

Satellite Antennas Off The Tower

Sometimes we learn from problems and mistakes. We all go through this from time to time. It is part of the learning aspect of Amateur Radio. My most recent experience came while integrating our new tower-based satellite antenna system. After the antennas were up, initial testing revealed the following problems:

After an initial attempt to correct these problems with the antennas on the tower, we decided to take them down again to resolve the problems. The removal was enabled, in part, via rental of a 50 ft boom lift.

The lift made it relatively easy to remove the Satellite Antenna Assembly from the tower. We placed it on the Glen Martin Roof Tower stand that was built for the Portable Satellite Station 3.0. Once down, the Satellite Antenna System was completely disassembled and a replacement Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator was installed.

Cross Boom Truss System

Cross Boom Truss System

The photo above shows the reassembled cross boom and associated truss supports. Note the tilt in the truss tube on the left side. This allows the antennas to be flipped over 180 degrees withoutthe truss contacting the mast.

Reinforcement Bushing

Reinforcement Bushing

As mentioned in the previous article, polycarbonate reinforcement bushings are installed in the fiberglass parts to prevent the clamps from crushing the tubes. The photo above shows one of the bushings installed at the end of one of the truss tubes.

Bushing Pin

Bushing Pin

The bushings are held in place with small machine screws. This ensures that they remain in the correct locations inside the fiberglass tubes.

Thorough Ground Test

Thorough Ground Test

With the Satellite Antenna Array back together and aligned, we took a few days to operate the system on the ground. This allowed me to adequately test everything to ensure that the system was working correctly.

Tower Integration Using Lift

Tower Integration Using A 50 ft Boom Lift

With the testing complete, the antennas went back up on the tower and the integration and testing work resumed. Having the boom lift available made the remaining integration work much easier.

Control Cable Interconnect Boxes

Control Cable Interconnect Boxes On The Tower

There are quite a few control cables associated with the equipment on our new tower including:

A combination of junction boxes near the top of the tower and at the base make connecting and testing of the control circuits easier and more reliable. Tower mounted junction boxes were used to terminate the control cables near the rotators and antennas.

Control Cable Junction Box at Base of Tower

Control Cable Junction Box at Base of Tower

A combination of heavy-duty and standard 8 conductor control cable from DX Engineering was used for the cable runs from the top of the tower to a second junction box at the tower base.

Control Cable Junction Box Internals

Control Cable Junction Box Internals

The junction box at the base creates a single interconnect and testing point for all of the control cables. We’ve used this approach on both of our towers and it makes things very easy when troubleshooting problems or making upgrades. Control cables for all of the tower systems were run to the temporary station set up in our house and terminated with connectors that are compatible with our Portable Satellite Station 3.0 system.

Satellite Preamp System

Satellite Preamp System

We built a tower mounted Preamplifier System for use with the egg beater satellite antennas on our 100 ft tower awhile back. The Preamp System is being reused on our new tower. A set of Advanced Receiver Research 2m and 70cm preamplifiers are mounted in a NEMA enclosure to protect them from the weather and to make connecting the associated control cables easier.

Tower Mounted Preamp System

Tower Mounted Preamp System

The Preamp System was mounted near the top of the new tower and the feedlines from the 2m and 70 cm Satellite Antennas were connected to it. LMR-400uF coax is run from the Preamp System as well as from the Directive Systems DSE2324LYRM 23 cm Satellite Yagi and the M2 6M7JHVHD 6 m Yagi on our new tower to the station in our house to complete the feedlines. These LMR-400uF feedlines will be replaced with 7/8″ hardline coax to our shack in the spring when warmer weather makes working with the hardlines easier.

Temporary Station Setup

Temporary Station Setup

With all of the tower integration work done, we set up the station in our house for testing. This is the same station that is our Portable Satellite Station 3.0 with two additions:

Both of these additions will become part of the final Satellite Station 4.0 when its moved to its permanent home in our shack.

Rotator Controls

Rotator Controls

The rotator setup on the new tower provides two separate azimuth rotators. The lower one above turns both the 6 m Yagi and the Satellite Antenna Array together. The upper box controls the Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator for the satellite antennas. Using two separate rotators and controllers will allow us to integrate the 6m Yagi into the microHam system in our station and will allow the MacDoopler Satellite Tracking Software running on the iMac to control the Satellite Antennas separately. When we are using the 6 m Yagi, the Satellite Antennas will be parked pointing up to minimize any coupling with the 6 m Yagi. When we are using the Satellite Antennas, the rotator that turns the mast will be set to 0 degrees to ensure accurate azimuth pointing of the Satellite Antennas by the Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator.

PSK Reporter View using New 6 m Yagi

PSK Reporter View using the M2 6M7JHVHD 6 m Yagi

So how does it all perform? With WSJT-X setup on our iMac, I was able to do some testing with the new 6 m Yagi using FT8. The IC-9100 Transceiver that we are using can produce 100W with WSJT-X. The 6 m band is usually not very open here in New England in January so I was quite pleased with the results. As you can see from the PSKReporter snapshot above, the new antenna got out quite well on 6 m using 100W. I made several contacts during this opening including one with W5LDA in Oklahoma – a 1,400 mi contact. The 6M7JHVHD is a much quieter antenna on the receive side which helps to make more difficult contacts on 6 m.

MacDoppler Tracking AO-91

MacDoppler Tracking AO-91

We’ve made a little over 100 satellite contacts using the new system so far. With the satellite antennas at 45 feet, it’s much easier to make low-angle contacts and we can often continue QSOs down to elevation angles of 5 degrees or less. I have not had much of a chance to test 23 cm operation with AO-92 but I have heard my signal solidly in AO-92’s downlink using the L-band uplink on the new tower. This is a good sign as our IC-9100 has only 10W out on 23 cm and we are using almost 100 ft of LMR-400uF coax to feed our 23 cm antenna.

Satellite Grids Worked and Confirmed

Satellite Grids Worked and Confirmed

I’ve managed to work 10 new grid squares via satellites using the new antenna system including DX contacts with satellite operators in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Northern Ireland using AO-07 and FO-29. These were all low-angle passes.

So what did we learn from all of this? Due to concern over possible snow here in New England, I did not take the time to fully ground test the satellite antennas and new rotator before it went up on the tower the first time. My thinking was that the setup was the same as that used on Portable Satellite Station 3.0 for over a year. The problem was the replacement parts and new control cables were not tested previously and both of these created problems that were not discovered until the antennas were at 45 feet. While it would have made increased the risk that the antennas would not have gotten up before the first winter snow storm here, it would have been much better to run the antennas on the ground for a few days as I did the second time. Had I done this, both problems would have appeared and have been easily corrected.

The next step in our project will be to add transverters to our FlexRadio-6700 SDR and integrate the new antennas into our shack. You can find other articles about our Satellite Station 4.0 project here:

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 2 – Antennas

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antennas

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antennas

Our current Satellite 3.0 Antennas have worked well in their portable configuration. We’ve had them to License Classes, Field Day, Ham Fests, and ultimately to Hudson Memorial School for the ISS Crew Contact there. As you can see from the photo above, the weight of the antennas causes the Fiberglass Cross Boom that we are using to sag and this is not a good situation for a permanent installation.

Cross Boom Truss Support Mock Up

Cross Boom Truss Support Mock-Up

I decided to work with Spencer Webb, W2SW who owns AntennaSys, Inc. and M2 Antenna Systems to create a stronger Cross Boom solution. M2 Antenna Systems came up with a set of brackets, fiberglass truss tubes, and a Phillystran Truss System to support the ends of their Fiberglass Cross Boom.

Spencer, W2SW Machining Parts

Spencer Webb, W2SW Machining Parts

The remaining problem to be solved was to reinforce the fiberglass tubes in the Cross Boom and Truss System to prevent the clamps which hold the antennas and other parts in place from crushing the fiberglass tubes. Spencer did an amazing job of making a new center section and polycarbonate reinforcing plugs to provide the needed reinforcements.

Cross Boom Reinforcement Parts

Fiberglass Tube Reinforcement Parts

Polycarbonate material was used to avoid adding metal inside the Cross Booms and Truss Tubes near the antennas. Using metal for these parts runs the risk of distorting the antenna’s patterns and causing SWR problems. It was also necessary to keep Truss System parts like eye bolts, turnbuckles, and clamps away from the tips of the antennas for the same reason. As you can see from the photo above, Spencer did an amazing job making the needed parts!

Checking Cross Boom Center Section Runout

Checking Cross Boom Center Section Run-out

The first step in rebuilding the Satellite Array was to install the new center section in our Alfa-Spid Az/El Rotator. I used a dial indicator to properly center the center section in the rotator. While this level of precision is probably not necessary, I had the tools available and it was easy to do.

Assembled Cross Boom Truss Support

Assembled Cross Boom Truss Support

The photo above shows one of the two completed Truss Supports. The trusses support the Cross Boom when it’s either pointing straight up or is flat at 0 degrees on the horizon. It’s important to adjust the horizon truss tube orientation to be slightly tilted to allow the antennas to operate in a “flipped over” configuration where the elevation points 180 instead of 0 degrees. This mode occurs in one of about every 5 to 10 satellite passes to avoid tracking problems with an otherwise south-facing dead spot in the azimuth rotator. Also, note the safety wire on the turnbuckles to keep them from turning after final adjustment.

Fiberglass Tube Reinforcing Bushings

Fiberglass Tube Reinforcing Bushings

You can see one of the polycarbonate reinforcing bushings at the end of the horizontal truss tube in the photo above. These are held in place with a small stainless steel set screw at the proper location in the fiberglass tubes. It’s also important to drill small drainage holes in all of the fiberglass pieces so that condensation and water seepage can drain out of the tubes. Without the drainage, water will accumulate, freeze, and break the tubes. I arranged these holes so that the tubes will drain when the antennas are parked in the vertical position.

Satellite Antenna Array Ready to Tram

Satellite Antenna Array Ready to Tram

With everything secured with a combination of tape and large cable ties, Matt of XX Towers rigged a suspension system and tram line to hoist the Satellite Array onto our tower. You can see how well-balanced the antenna system was prior to tramming.

Tramming The Satellite Antennas

Tramming The Satellite Antennas

The photo above shows the Satellite Array headed up the tram line. The tram line is anchored to a Gin Pole at the top of our tower and to a vehicle on the ground.

Satellite Antennas On The Mast

Satellite Antennas On The Mast

We removed the rotator and dropped the mast down into the tower to make it easier to get the satellite antennas in place on the top of the mast. Also, note the orientation of the Satellite Antennas – the elements are at 45 degrees to the Cross Boom. This arrangement helps to keep the metal in the ends of the Truss System from getting close to the antenna element tips.

Satellite Antennas Installed On Top Of Mast

Satellite Antennas Installed On Top Of Mast

Here’s a final photo of the Satellite Antennas with the mast pushed up and the lower rotator back in the tower. You can also see the rigging of the rotator loops for the Satellite Antennas and both the vertical and horizontal Cross Boom Truss supports in place.

M2 6M7JHV HD 6 Meter Yagi

M2 6M7JHV HD 6 Meter Yagi

The last step in this part of our project was to place the assembled M2 6M7JHV HD 6 Meter Yagi onto the mast. The 6M7JHV features 7 elements on a 36′ – 8″ boom. The antenna has about 13 dBi of gain and is optimized with a clean pattern to suppress noise from unwanted directions. The antenna was trammed up the tower with a light rope.

Completed Antenna Stack On New Tower

Completed Antenna Stack

The picture above shows the completed antenna installation including a second rotator loop around the 6m antenna. The system has two azimuth rotators – one the turns just the Satellite Antennas at the top and a second that turns all of the antennas on the mast together. Our plan is to set the lower rotator to 0 degrees when operating with satellites and use the upper Alfa-Spid Rotator for Azimuth and Elevation positioning. The lower rotator will be used to turn the 6m yagi with the Satellite Antennas parked.

The next step of our project will be to install all of the control cables, satellite receive preamplifiers, and feed lines on the tower and test our new antenna system with the rest of our Satellite Station. You can read about other parts of our project via the links below.

Fred, AB1OC

 

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 1 – New Tower

New Satellite and 6m Tower

New Satellite and 6m Tower

Our plans for Satellite Station 4.0 are based, in part, on the idea that we can extend our current remote operating environment to include Satellite Operations. Now that our ISS Crew Contact is complete, the antennas from the current Satellite Station 3.0 can be permanently installed at our QTH.

Tower Footing

Tower Footing

The first step in the project is to put up a second, 35′ house bracketed tower. Our new tower will also feature a new 6m yagi along with a permanent installation of our Satellite 3.0 Antennas. The first step in the project was to secure a building permit and prepare the footing for our new tower. Using Rohn’s specifications for the 45G Tower that we are using calls for the first section of the tower to be placed 4′ below ground in a concrete form. It’s important to place a foot or so of stone at the base of the footing and to ensure that the legs of the tower remain open so water can train. Failure to do this part of the preparation properly will result in water freezing in the Tower Legs which will split them open and ruin the tower.

Also, note the rebar reinforcing material in the hole around the tower and the bracing to keep the first section of the tower level and plumb. The folks at Form King did an excellent job in preparing and pouring the footing for our new tower.

Tower Base

Tower Base

The picture above shows the completed tower base. We’ve also installed a lightning ground on each of the three legs of the tower and the ground are bonded to each other and to the rest of our station’s ground system.

Tower Section on Gin Pole

Tower Section on Gin Pole

With the base complete, Andrew and Matt from XX Towers helped me to put the tower up. Here Andrew is using a Gin Pole to hoist a section of the 45G Tower into place.

House Bracket

House Bracket

With a few sections of the tower in place, it was time to install the house bracket. The bracket needs to be reinforced with blocking material on both sides of the wall. The blocking and the bracket are held to together with 10″ galvanized bolts.

Rotator and Mast

Rotator and Mast

We chose a 2″ x 25′ Chrome Molly Mast for our tower. We wanted to have about 10′ of mast above the top of the tower. Rather than cut the mast, we choose to keep the mast full length by setting our M2 Orion Rotator down a section and a half from the top of the tower. This is a good thing to do for several reasons. First, it makes the rotator easier to access for service. Also, the mast can twist a bit to absorb the torque on the rotator when the antennas start and stop moving.

The combination of the 25′ tower and the 10′ of mast above top will place our Satellite Antennas at a height of about 45′. This will provide additional clearance above the trees in our backyard for low angle satellite contacts.

The next step in our project will be to rebuild and reinforce the Satellite 3.0 Antenna Cross Boom and rotator system, build our new 6m yagi, and install the antennas on our new tower. You can read about other parts of our project via the links below.

Fred, AB1OC

A Portable Satellite Station Part 6 – Plans for a 4.0 Station

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

We have begun looking ahead to Satellite Station 4.0 and where we want to go next after our ARISS crew contact is complete. Our goals for the Satellite Station 4.0 include:

  • A permanently installed version of our 3.1 Station which can be operated remotely over the Internet
  • Upgraded Transceivers which add Pan Adapter/Waterfall display capabilities
  • Enhancements to our Transportable 2.1 Station for improved performance
  • A more portable version of our 1.1 Station for Grid Square Activations

New 4.0 Station at our Home QTH

The performance of the 3.1 Station’s antennas is very good but the antenna system is a handful to transport. We are planning to install these antennas on a new tower at our QTH and use our Flex-6700 SDR-based Remote Operating Gateway with some upgrades to create a remotely controlled satellite station which can be operated via the Internet. The main components of the 4.0 Station will include:

The new tower will also provide a new antenna system for the 6 m band.

Updated Remote Operating Setup

Flex-6700 SDR-Based Remote Operating Setup

The Flex-6700 SDR and the associated Maestro Remote Unit will enable the 4.0 Station to be remotely operated through the Internet via a Laptop running MacDoppler.

Upgraded Transportable 2.2 Station

Upgrade plans for our Transportable station include the addition of remote switchable polarity relays and a new Icom IC-9700 Transceiver when it becomes available.

Polarity Switch Installed in LEO Pack Antennas

Polarity Switch Installed in LEO Pack Antennas

The polarity switches have been installed on the M2 Antennas 436CP16 and 2MCP8A antennas in our M2 Antennas LEO Pack. We are using a DX Engineering EC-4 console to control LHCP or RHCP polarity selection on the antennas. We have been doing some testing with the upgraded LEO pack which includes the polarity switching capabilities and we are seeing a significant improvement in performance.

Alfa Spid Az-El Rotator

AlfaSpid Az-El Rotator

We are also planning to move the upgraded LEO pack antennas to the current 3.1 Tower to take advantage of the AlfaSpid Rotator which is installed there.

Icom IC-7900 Transceiver

The other major upgrade planned for the 2.2 Station is the new Icom IC-9700 Transceiver when it becomes available. This radio will utilize Icom’s SDR platform and includes a Pan Adapter/Waterfall display which will be a very useful addition for operation with Linear Transponder Satellites.

Upgraded Portable 1.2 Station

We really enjoy mountain topping and activating grid squares so we are planning upgrades to our 1.2 Station for this purpose.

Our 1.2 Portable Satellite Station on Mt. Kearsarge

Our 1.2 Portable Satellite Station on Mt. Kearsarge

The 1.2 Station utilizes computer control to enable operation with linear transponder satellites and will use solar/battery power along with a 100w/70w Icom IC-910H Satellite Transceiver.

Solar Panels

Solar Panels

A pair of 90W foldable solar panels, an MPPT solar charger, and a pair of LiPo 4S4P A123 batteries provide plenty of power to run the IC-910H Transceiver and the associated computer. The portable station also includes a pair of ARR preamps.

Portable Satellite Antenna System

Portable Satellite Antenna System

The antenna system we’ll be using is an Elk Portable Log Periodic 2m/70cm yagi on a camera tripod. A combination of a compass and an angle finder gauge help us to correctly point the antenna.

As you can probably tell, all of these upgrades are in progress and are at various stages of completion. We will post updates here on our Blog as we continue to make progress. Here are links to some of these posts:

Fred, AB1OC

A 40m High Performance Antenna for Field Day

40m V-Beam Wire Antenna at Field Day

40m V-Beam Wire Antenna at Field Day

The Nashua Area Radio Society has been using a 3-element wire beam antenna for Field Day for the last several years. The antenna uses three guyed 50 ft. fiberglass masts from Max-Gain Systems. The antenna uses three inverted-V style elements separated by a little over 50 ft. Since we are in the northeastern United States, we can point the antenna on a fixed, 260° heading and it covers the entire U.S. well.

40m V-Beam - EZNEC Antenna View

40m V-Beam – EZNEC Antenna View

Our 40m V-Beam antenna was initially designed in EZNEC 5.0. It was manually optimized for decent gain and front to back performance and it worked quite well. Recently, we decided to try automatic optimization software on the antenna as part of a tune-up on the design for Field Day 2018. After looking around on the Internet a bit, we discovered a software package called AutoEZ which looked ideal for my project.

AutoEZ Antenna Modeling and Optimization Software - Wires Tab

AutoEZ Antenna Modeling and Optimization Software – Wires Tab

AutoEZ is a collection of Visual Basic code and Microsoft Excel macros that act as a front-end to EZNEC 5.0 and later. AutoEZ provides a number of very useful enhancements to EZNEC including:

  • Ability to use formulas and variables to construct and modify EZNEC wire models
  • A Test Case generator and execution environment to vary model parameters and graph the results calculations run by EZNEC
  • An automatic optimizer that can adjust the parameters of an antenna model in EZNEC to optimally meet a defined set of performance goals
  • Harnesses the full power of Microsoft Excel formulas for trigonometry, logical, and other mathematical capabilities for use in EZNEC modeling
AutoEZ Antenna Model Variables

AutoEZ Antenna Model Variables

The first step in the project was to rebuild the EZNEC model that I already had for our 40m V-Beam antenna in AutoEZ. I began by defining several AutoEZ Variables and Excel Formulas in the AutoEZ Variables Tab that enabled me to easily modify the design of the antenna and to optimize it. Some of the basic variables included the target design frequency for the antenna, the height and separation of the antenna elements, the distance to the element anchor points, and the length of the element wires.

AutoEZ Antenna Model Variables (Formulae View)

AutoEZ Antenna Model Variables (Formula View)

The image above shows the model variables in “Formula View”. You can see some of the math and trig functions that were used to compute values for some of the variables. AutoEZ can only optimize variables that do not contain formulas so I was careful to ensure that the base separation between the elements and the length of the element wires were constants as these are the parameters that I wanted to optimize later.

AutoEZ Antenna Modeling and Optimization Software - Wires Tab

AutoEZ Antenna Modeling and Optimization Software – Wires Tab

Excel Trig formulas and the Variables were used on the Wires Tab to determine the coordinates of the wires in the antennas. There are a total of 7 wires in the model. Six are the two ends of the three inverted-V elements. The Seventh wire is a short 4″ section in the middle of the Driven Element to allow a current source to be inserted to drive the antenna there. I was careful to create an accurate model of the wire gauge, insulation, and loss that we are using for our V-beam

Model Variables to be Optimized

Model Variables to be Optimized

With the model built, it was back to the Variables Tab to select the parameters to be optimized. Optimization is best done as a multi-pass process and I did this in two steps. The first set of runs included optimization of both the element spacings and their lengths. This led me to conclude that the mast spacing of 27 ft (Driven to Director) and 28 ft (Driven to Reflector) were the best choices. I then set these as fixed values in the variables tab and ran the optimizer a second time with some starting element lengths to optimize the element lengths by themselves.

Optimizer Objectives

Optimizer Objectives

One must create a set of frequencies and objectives for the optimizer before running it. This is done in the AutoEZ Optimize Tab. The antenna is being used for SSB on 40m so I choose a range of frequencies that covered the SSB sub-band on 40m. Note that I weighted the center frequency heavier than the edges by including it more times in the optimizer’s list. The use of the Optimization Objectives and their associated weights and values are well covered in the AutoEZ documentation so I won’t cover them in detail here. The parameters above were chosen to create a reasonable balance between SWR values across the 40m SSB sub-band, good Front/Back and Front/Side performance from azimuth values ranging from 60º to 300º, and a reasonable amount of forward gain for a 3 element antenna of this type.

I expected that the final impedance of the antenna would be a typical value for a yagi in the 20 to 30 ohm range. Thus, I set the SWR calculations based upon a 25 ohm target impedance. More on the matching of the resulting design later…

Element Optimization Results

Element Optimization Results

It took several runs of the optimizer with different sets of Optimizer Objectives to get the final results I was looking for. The Optimizer tried 130 combinations of element lengths to arrive at the final lengths shown above. Note the improvements in SWR (1.6 -> 1.04), Forward Gain (+1 dB), Front/Back (+4.2 dB) and Front/Rear (actually Front/Side) performance that the Optimizer was able to achieve over my manual, trial and error optimization.

Post-Optimization Model Variables

Post-Optimization Model Variables

Next, I rounded the optimized element lengths and plugged them into the Variables Tab.

Post Optimization Azimuth Pattern

Post Optimization Azimuth Pattern

The image above shows the optimized Azimuth pattern for the antenna as generated by AutoEZ and EZNEC. A very clean result!

Post-Optimization Elevation Pattern

Post-Optimization Elevation Pattern

And here’s the optimized Elevation pattern near the center of the SSB sub-band. This antenna is a little low for 40m but the resulting maximum gain at a 35º angle should work well for US contacts during Field Day.

Calculated Performance for the Optimized Antenna

Calculated Performance for the Optimized Antenna

The final step in the optimization process was to calculate a full set of performance calculations for the antenna using the Calculate Tab. AutoEZ makes it very easy to generate a set of Test Cases for incremental frequencies in the SSB sub-band on 40m. Note the setting of the Elevation angle of 35º to match the maximum gain angle for the optimized antenna. Also, note the parameter settings for Ground Type and Characteristics. I set these to model the less than ideal soil conditions that we have here in New England.

Performance Plots for the Optimized Antenna

Performance Plots for the Optimized Antenna

AutoEZ provides several nice graphical capabilities via the Patterns, Triple, Smith, Custom and Currents Tabs.  I used some of them to plot the data from the performance calculations. These graphs help to visualize the results of the optimization to verify that the design objectives for the antenna have been met.

1:2 Matching Balun (25 ohm to 50 ohm)

1:2 Matching Balun (25 ohm to 50 ohm)

I am using a 1:2 matching Balun from Balun Designs at the feed point of the antenna to transform the antennas final 25 ohm feed point impedance to 50 ohm to match our coax feed line.

40m V-Beam Antenna

40m V-Beam Antenna

We are looking forward to using the optimized version of our 40m V-Beam at Field Day 2018. It took me a couple of days of time to read all of the AutoEZ documentation and learn to use the excellent tools it provides. I don’t think I will build another EZNEC antenna model without using AutoEZ. Even without the optimization features, AutoEZ makes the construction and modification of an antenna model in EZNEC far easier than it would be using EZNEC alone. I hope that you’ll give AutoEZ a try for your next antenna design project.

Fred, AB1OC

 

Upgrading our 2.0 Satellite Station for ARISS Contacts

We have been working with Hudson Memorial School near Nashua, NH to prepare for a possible ISS crew contact. The ARISS folks work with schools and their Ham Radio helpers to prepare for these contacts. ARISS provides recommendations for ground station equipment to help ensure a good experience for the students. The ground station recommendations provide a solid set of specifications to support communications with the ISS on the 2m band. The recommendations include things such as:

  • A requirement to build both a primary and a backup ground station
  • Radio and power specifications (a 200W amp is recommended)
  • Antenna specifications including recommendations to provide for switchable LHCP and RHCP
  • Computer controlled azimuth/elevation positioning of antennas to track the ISS
  • Use of a receive preamplifier at the antenna
Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

We have recently completed construction and testing of our Portable Satellite Station 3.0 which was built specifically to meet the primary station requirements for our ISS contact.

Our plan is to add some upgrades to our Portable Satellite Station 2.0 to create a Portable 2.1 Station which meets the backup station requirements. These upgrades will include:

All of the equipment needed to upgrade our 2.0 Portable Station to 2.1 is either here or will arrive shortly. Here’s some more information on the planned equipment.

Icom IC-910H Transceiver

Icom IC-910H Transceiver

The Icom IC-910H was Icom’s flagship Transceiver for Satellite work before the IC-9100 was released. It’s a very nice satellite radio! Dave, K1DLM graciously lent us his IC-910H for use in our backup station.

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

We already have a Green Heron Az/El Rotator controller setup for the Yaesu Rotator system on the 2.0 Antenna Tower and we will be reusing it for the 2.1 station.

GHTracker Running On A Raspberry Pi 3

GHTracker Running On A Raspberry Pi 3

We are also planning to build a second Raspberry Pi Rotator Interface for it.

M2 Antenna Systems PS2MCP8A Polarity Switch

M2 Antenna Systems PS-2MCP8A Polarity Switch

M2 Antenna Systems recently added a new 2M polarity switch, the PS-2MCP8A, designed for use with the 2M antenna in their LEO Pack which we are using in our 2.0 Antenna System. We will be installing this relay as well as a PS-70CM polarity switch relay for the LEO pack’s 70cm antenna as part of the 2.1 Antena System upgrade.

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

We will add another DXEngineering EC-4 BCD Control Console to control the polarity switching relays on the upgraded antennas.

m RM ITALY LA-250V Amplifier

RM ITALY LA-250V Amplifier

The final new component in our 2.0 to 2.1 upgrade is the addition of a 200W RM ITALY LA 250 power amplifier. We have opted for the version of this amplifier with the cooling fans. The unit is very well made and we are anxious to see how it performs on the air.

Some of our readers might be wondering what we are planning to do with all of Portable Satellite Ground Station equipment in the long run? We plan on keeping the 1.0 Portable Station for grid square activations and demonstrations. Its simple, battery-powered approach and small antenna make it ideal for this sort of work.

The upgraded 2.0 Portable Station with its enhanced polarity switching will become our transportable station for License Class and Field Day use. It will be converted at the end of 2018 to use our Icom IC-9100 Transceiver that is currently part of the 3.0 station.

We plan to use the Portable 3.0 Station through the year (2018) to support the planned ARISS contact, Field Day, and some demonstrations at local Ham Fests and schools. Once these are complete, we plan to permanently install it here at our QTH and it will become our main satellite ground station at our home QTH.

You can view all of the articles about our Portable Satellite Stations via the links below.

We will begin construction of the 2.1 upgraded station once a few remaining components arrive here. We plan to share some more about the construction and initial testing of our 2.1 Portable Station here.

Fred, AB1OC

A Portable Satellite Station Part 6 – 3.0 Station Initial Contacts

Tech Class First 3.0 Portable Station Test

Tech Class First 3.0 Portable Station Test

With the construction of our Portable Satellite Station 3.0 complete, we’ve been looking forward to an opportunity to test the new setup. We chose the Nashua Area Radio Society’s recent Technician License Class as a good time to both test the new stations and to acquaint our Tech Class grads with one of the many things that they can do with their new licenses – amateur satellite operations.

Tech Class 3.0 Portable Satellite Antenna Test

Tech Class 3.0 Portable Satellite Antenna Test

The first transport of the new 3.0 station antenna system turned out to be simple. The booms and counterweights of the new antenna system are easily separated via the removal of a few bolts located at the cross-boom. This allowed the antennas feed-points, rotator loops and polarity switching connections to be removed and transported as complete assemblies. The separation of the longer-boom antennas into two sections also made transporting the antennas easier and made the antenna elements less prone to bending in transport. Setup and cabling of the new 3.0 antenna system as the class site was quick and simple.

The opportunities to make contacts during our Tech Class were limited but the new system performed well with one exception. We saw a higher than expected SWR readings on the 70cm yagi during transmit. We immediately suspected problems with one of the N connectors that were installed during the construction of the new system (component testing during assembly showed the SWR readings on the 70cm side of the system to be in spec.).

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

After the class, we set up the 3.0 system again at our QTH. Transport and re-assembly of the new system are somewhat easier and faster than our 2.0 portable station antenna setup is.

Satellite Antenna System 3.0 Connections

Satellite Antenna System 3.0 Connections

The 3.0 antenna system uses a similar connector bulkhead approach that we used previously. The rotator controls are handled via a single, 8-conductor cable and we have a new connection for the polarity switching controls on the 3.0 system yagis.

Rotator Loop Coax Retention System

Rotator Loop Coax Retention System

We have had some problems with the connections between the preamplifiers mounted at the antennas and the rotator loops which connect the antennas to them. This problem caused several failures in the associated N-connectors on the 2.0 portable antenna system so we fabricated a simple arrangement to prevent the rotation of the antennas from turning the coax inside the N-connectors and causing these failures.

70cm Yagi SWR in the Satellite Sub-Band

70cm Antenna and Feedline SWR in the Satellite Sub-Band

Some isolation tests were performed on each cabling element of the 70cm side of the 3.0 antenna system and this resulted in the location of an improperly installed N-connector. The faulty connector was easily replaced and this corrected the SWR readings on the 70cm side of the antenna system. The image above shows the SWR readings for the 70cm antenna after the faulty connector was replaced. We checked the SWR performance with the 70cm yagi set for both Left-Hand and Right-Hand Circular Polarization and we saw good results in both configurations.

2m Yagi SWR in the Satellite Sub-Band

2m Antenna and Feedline SWR in the Satellite Sub-Band

We also re-checked the SWR performance of the 2m side of the antenna system with the 2m yagi in both polarity settings and it looked good as well.

Portable Satellite Antenna 3.0 Az-El Rotator

Portable Satellite Antenna 3.0 Az-El Rotator

The 3.0 antenna system uses an Alfa-Spid rotator. The Alfa-Spid can handle the additional weight of the larger yagis and has a more precise pointing ability (1° accuracy) which is helpful given the tighter patterns of the larger, 3.0 yagis.

70cm Yagi Switchable Polarity Feedpoint

70cm Yagi Switchable Polarity Feedpoint

The new yagis in the 3.0 antenna system have feed point arrangements which allow the polarity of the yagis to be switched between Left-Hand Circular Polarity (LHCP) and Right-Hand Circular Polarity (RHCP). These antennas used a relay arrangement at the feed-points that flip the polarity of one plane of the yagis by 180° which in turn changes the polarity of the antennas between LHCP and RHCP.

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Radio and Controls

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Radio and Controls

With the SWR problem corrected, we set up the 3.0 station radio and controls. The 3.0 station adds our homebuilt PTT Router and the control box from DXengineering which controls polarity switching. Also, the Green Heron rotator control box has been configured to control the new Alfa-Spid rotator.

POrtable Satellite Station 3.0 Computer Control via MacDoppler

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Computer Control via MacDoppler

We are continuing to use the excellent MacDoppler software to control the 3.0 station. MacDoppler provides tracking controls for the antennas and doppler correction for the Icom-9100 transceivers uplink and downlink VFOs.

Satellite 3.0 Station Control Details

Satellite 3.0 Station Control Details

The image above shows a closer view of the 3.0 station controls. The box in the middle-left with four LEDs and the knob is used to select one of four polarity configurations for the 2m and 70cm yagis – RHCP/RHCP, LHCP/RHCP, RHCP/LHCP, or LHCP/LHCP. Just to the right in the middle stack is our homebrewed PTT Router which expands and improves the PTT sequencing performance of the station.

So how does the new 3.0 station perform? The new antennas have a tighter pattern requiring careful pointing calibration of the rotators during setup. This is easy to do with the Alfa-Spid rotator. The new antennas have noticeable more gain as compared to the LEO pack used on the 2.0 station. We are also surprised to see how much difference the polarity switching capability makes in certain situations – sometimes as much as two S units (12 dB) in certain situations. The combination of the new antennas and selection of the best polarity combination allows solid operation on many satellites passes with as little as 2 watts of uplink power. We have made a little over 50 QSOs on the new 3.0 station so far and it works great! For more information on the Portable 3.0 Station as well as the 2.0 and 1.0 stations that we’ve built – see the links below:

Fred, AB1OC

 

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

An 80m Broadband Matching System

Our Tower with 75m Loop

Our Tower with 75m Loop

We installed a 75m loop for SSB operation on our tower when we built it. The loop is full size and is diamond shaped so that our lower SteppIR DB36 yagi can rotate inside of it. The loop is fed at the bottom corner about 20 ft up from the ground. It works great for SSB operation on 75m but we have often wished we could use it across the entire 80m band. This goal led to a project to create a matching system for the antenna. The idea was to use a set of loading coils in series at the feed point create a good match in all segments of the 80m band.

EZ-NEC Model for 75m Loop

EZ-NEC Model for 75m Loop

The first step in the design of our 80m matching system was to build a model of our current loop using EZ-NEC. The model was then used to determine the correct values of a set of series loading inductors to match different segments of the 80m band.

Matching System Design Analysis

Matching System Design Analysis

We also considered how likely different segments of the 80m band were to be used by profiling historical spotting data from DXSummit. All of this analysis led to the creation of a final design which is captured in the spreadsheet shown above. The final design requires our current 75m loop to be shortened a bit to work well at the very top of the 80m band.

Modeled Loading Coil Inductance Values

Modeled Loading Coil Inductance Values

A set of 5 different inductor pairs can be used in series with the loop’s feed point to create a good match across the entire 80m band. The modeled values for the series matching inductors is shown above.

Matching System Modeled SWR

Matching System Modeled SWR

Our microHAM control system can easily implement the switching of the various inductance values based upon the frequency that a radio using the antenna is tuned to. Result modeled SWR for the final 80m loop and match combination is shown above. The design should achieve an SWR < 1.5:1 across the entire 80m band except for the very top where the SWR remains < 2:1. Also, the design optimizes the system’s SWR in the important CW DX, SSB DX, and Digital windows on the 80m band.

Layout of Components in Enclosure

Layout of Components in Enclosure

With the design completed, we choose an enclosure and all of the components. Here are the details of what we used:

The first step in the construction was to layout all of the components in the enclosure. Attention was paid to keeping the two series inductors at right angles to avoid coupling and to keep RF connections as short as possible. The relays were arranged to keep the leads connecting to the coils of roughly equal length. Finally, the control circuitry was kept as far removed from the RF leads as possible.

Enclosure Mounting Ears and Clamps

Enclosure Mounting Ears and Clamps

The matching system attaches to a tower leg via saddle clamps. We fabricated a set of mounting ears and spacer blocks to position the enclosure far enough away from the tower so that the antenna connections do not interact with the tower.

80m Matching System Construction

80m Matching System Construction

A summary of the completed matching system construction is shown above.The design uses a set of four double-pole double-throw relays to switch in different coil taps which selects the loading inductance provided by the matching system.

We did a set of calculations and found that our relays would be subjected to a worst case peak-peak voltage of about 2.1 KVp-p at the coil tap points.

The relays are arranged such that two sets of contacts have to be traversed to select any given coil tap. The relays we are using have a third pole which we are not using. We disassembled each relay and removed the internal contact wiring for the center pole which improves both the coil to contact voltage rating and the isolation values of the relays.

These steps combine to improve the voltage rating of the system. This is an important design element given that the match will operate at legal limit power.

Completed RF Deck

Completed RF Deck

The completed RF deck and control circuitry is shown above. The enclosure we choose came with a removable plastic plate that made mounting and wiring all of the components simple.

Loading Coil Mounting and Taps

Loading Coil Mounting and Taps

The loading inductors are mounted using nylon hardware with the ends connected to the two antenna terminals on the sides of the enclosure. The coils use movable tap clips to allow us to fine-tune the match once the system is installed with the antenna on our tower. The initial clip locations are set to create the inductance values modeled during the design phase.

Relay Control Circuit Connections

Relay Control Circuit Connections

The relay control leads use twisted pair wiring to minimize RF pickup. The control leads are routed away from the RF connections to minimize potential RF coupling.

Relay Control Circuit Details

Relay Control Circuit Details

The control circuits for each relay use a combination of a Diode, a Varistor (MOV) and a filter capacitor in parallel to avoid relay coil switching interference and to suppress control line noise.

1.5 to 1 Matching Balun

1.5 to 1 Matching Balun

The matching system is designed to operate at 75-ohms which is pretty close to the resonant impedance of our 75m loop. The current antenna uses a 1.5:1 Balun to match the loop to our 50-ohm coax feedline. We disassembled an identical matching balun (actually a 75-ohm balun plus a 1.5:1 unun) and used it without its enclosure to create a final 50-ohm match.

MicroHAM Setup to Control 80m Matching System

MicroHAM Setup to Control 80m Matching System

The final step in the construction of our matching system was to program our microHAM antenna switching system to properly configure the relays in our matching system. This was quite simple to do using microHAM’s frequency dependent antenna control capabilities. The microHAM system automatically operates the appropriate relays to create the best possible match as the radio which is using the matching system is tuned across the 80m band.

Unfortunately, we are in the middle of winter here in New England so I will have to wait for warmer weather to install our new matching system on the tower and make the final adjustments. I am planning another article here when the final integration steps are done to cover the performance of the completed project.

Fred, AB1OC

A Portable Satellite Station Part 5 – Plans for Our 3.0 Station

Satellite Grids Worked

Satellite Grids Worked

We’ve made about 250 contacts with our Portable Satellite Station 2.0 and we have worked 106 grids which should be enough to earn a Satellite VUCC. The picture above shows the grids that we’ve worked via Satellites. We’ve learned a lot about satellite operation and had a great deal of fun in the process!

Portable Satellite Station 2.0 Goals

Portable Satellite Station 2.0 Goals

We’ve met all of our original goals for our 2.0 Station and we’ve used it portable at License Classes, Field Day, and other Amateur Radio Demonstrations. We’ve also shared presentations about our 2.0 Station with Amateur Radio Groups here in the New England area. The question that we get most often about the 2.0 Station is “What are your plans for the Portable Satellite Station 3.0”?

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Goals

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Goals

Well, here is the plan. We are working with a local group to secure and host an ISS Crew contact. The ARISS folks have published ground station requirements for these contacts. Here are the primary station requirements:

  • 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 switched 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)

Fortunately, our 2.0 Station meets or exceeds almost all of the primary station requirements with the exception of the antennas. The required antenna upgrades will shape the plans for our Portable Satellite Station 3.0.

M2 Antenna Systems 2MCP14

M2 Antenna Systems 2MCP14

ISS Crew Contacts are conducted using 2m Simplex radios on the ISS. We choose the 14-element circularly polarized 2MCP14 yagi from M2 Antenna Systems to meet the ARISS requirements for 2m. Here are the specifications for this antenna:

2MCP14 Antenna Specifications

2MCP14 Antenna Specifications

The 2MCP14 antenna offers a good balance between gain (12.34 dBi) and boom length (10′-6″) and is near the size limit that is practical for use in our Portable Station. This antenna provides an additional 3.14 dBi of gain compared to the M2 Antenna Systems 2MCP8A yagi which we are currently using in the 2.0 Station.

M2 Antenna Systems 436CP30

M2 Antenna Systems 436CP30

While not required for an ARISS Crew Contact, we are also going to upgrade the 70cm yagi to a 30-element circularly polarized M2 Antenna Systems 436CP30 yagi. Here are the specifications for this antenna:

436CP30 Antenna Specifications

436CP30 Antenna Specifications

This antenna is a good match for the upgraded 2m yagi. The 436CP30 has a boom length of 9′-9″ and a gain of 15.50 dBi. This antenna will provide an additional 2.2 dBi of gain compared to the M2 Antenna Systems 436CP16 yagi which we are currently using in the 2.0 Station.

Satellite Antennas Setup Portable

Satellite Antennas Setup Portable

The new antennas will require some modifications to our portable antenna system arrangement. They will need to be mounted on a cross-boom near their centers. As a result, a non-conductive fiberglass cross boom will be required to avoid problems with pattern distortion.

FGCB60 Non-Conductive Cross Boom

FGCB60 Non-Conductive Cross Boom

We will be using an M2 Antenna Systems FGCB60 Cross Boom which has removable, non-conductive end sections made from fiberglass material. The removable ends will make it easier to transport the antenna system. We will also need to make a new mast which is 24″ longer than our current one in the 2.0 Station to create the needed ground clearance for the longer antennas.

Alfa Spid Az-El Rotator

Alfa Spid Az-El Rotator

We are also planning to use a larger Alfa Spid Az-El Rotator. This unit will handle the extra weight of the longer yagi antennas and cross boom assembly and is more precise than the Yaesu unit used on the 2.0 station.

PS-2M and PS-70CM Polarity Switches

PS-2M and PS-70CM Polarity Switches

The last piece of the 3.0 Station Antenna upgrade is to add switchable left-hand and right-hand circular polarity. This will be accomplished via M2 Antenna Systems PS-2M and PS-70CM switchable polarity feed point upgrades for the 3.0 yagis.

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

We have a DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box from a previous project and we can use it to control the relays in the Polarity Switches which will be part of the 3.0 Station antennas. The box will allow us to select any combination of left and right-hand circular polarization on the 3.0 Station uplink and downlink antennas.

We should have all of the parts here for the 3.0 upgrade by the end of the year. We’ll post more as the project proceeds. Other articles in the Portable Satellite Station series include:

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

Fred, AB1OC