February 2021 Tech Night – Understanding and Using Propagation to Work The World
Anita, AB1QB, recently did a Tech Night Program on Radio Propagation as part of the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Tech Night program. I wanted to share the presentation and video from this Tech Night so that our readers might learn a little more about propagation and how to use it to facilitate contacts.
Anita, AB1QB provides a comprehensive overview of HF and VHF/UHF propagation and how to use it to Work the World. Topics include the many online tools to help one determine and measure propagation conditions. VHF+ modes such as Meteor Scatter, Tropo, EME, and Satellite paths are also covered.
EME II Tech Night – Station Construction and Operation
We recently did a second Tech Night Program on EME as part of the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Tech Night program. I wanted to share the presentation and video from this Tech Night so that our readers might learn a little more about how to build and operate an EME station for the 2m band.
January 2021 Tech Night – EME II: Station Construction and Operation
Software is a big part of most current EME stations. The JT65 Protocol, which was created by Joe Taylor, K1JT, has revolutionized EME operations. It has made it possible for modest single and two yagi stations to have lots of fun with EME.
Phase 1 of our 2m EME station software and hardware uses manual switching/selection of receive polarity. This Phase is about integrating all of the station components together and sorting out operational issues. After some experimentation, we have settled on a dual-decoder architecture for the First Phase of our 2m EME Station.
You can learn more about the Phase 1 EME hardware setup at our station here.
EME Software Environment
EME Station Block Diagram – Phase 1
The diagram above shows the current configuration of our 2m EME station. As explained in a previous article in this series, we are using a FUNCube Pro+ Dongle with the MAP65 application as our primary JT65b decoder and we are using our IC-9700 Transceiver along with WSJT-X as a secondary, averaging decoder. Using multiple decoders has proven to be a significant advantage. It is quite common for one of the two applications to decode a weak signal that the other does not.
We use two custom applications (WSJTBridge and Flex-Bridge) to capture the Moon Azimuth and Elevation data generated by the MAP65 application and use it to control the rotators for our EME Antenna Array.
We have been experimenting with Linrad as a front-end to MAP65 and WSJT-X. At present, we are using the NB/NR functions in MAP65 and in our IC-9700 as an alternative to Linrad. We expect the add Linrad into our setup when we add Adaptive Polarity capabilities in Phase 2.
EME Software Operating Environment (click for a larger view)
We use the DXLab Suite for logging and QSL’ing our contacts along with several web apps to find potential EME contacts and to determine the level of EME Degradation on any given day.
The screenshot above shows most of these apps running during a 2m EME operating session.
MAP65 Application – Primary Decoder and Operating Application
We are using MAP65 as our primary decoder. It also controls our IC-9700 Transceiver when transmitting JT65b messages. MAP65 used the I/Q data from our FUNCube Pro+ Dongle to detect and decode all of the signals in the 2m EME sub-band. A waterfall window displays all of the signals on the band as well as a zoomed-in view of the spectrum around the current QSO frequency. MAP65 also generates heading data for our rotators as well as estimates for the doppler shift between stations. The MAP65 application also provides windows that list all of the stations on the band as well as the messages that they are sending.
EME QSOs via MAP65
The screenshot above shows the main MAP65 window during a QSO with HB9Q. Round trip delay (DT) and signal strength information (dB) is shown for each message that is decoded. The MAP65 application along with a manual that explains how to set up and use the program for 2m EME can be downloaded here.
Moon Tracking and Rotator Control
Custom Rotator Control Apps (WSJT-Bridge and FlexBridge)
We developed an application we call FlexBridge some time back as part of our ongoing project to remote our Satellite Ground Station using our Flex-6700 based SDR Remote Operating Gateway. This application includes functionality to operate Az/El rotator controllers based upon UDP messages which contain tracking data. We wrote a second application that we call WSJT-Bridge which reads the Moon heading data that either MAP65 or WSJT-X and generates and sends UDP messages that enable FlexBridge to track the moon. The combination enables MAP65 to control tracking the moon in our setup.
Both of these applications are at an alpha stage and we will probably separate the rotator control functionality from FlexBridge and make it into a dedicated application.
Antennas On The Moon
One of the first steps in the integration process was to carefully calibrate our rotators to point precisely at the moon. We got the azimuth calibration close using the K1FO Beacon in CT. With this done, we made final adjustments visually until our antennas were centered on the moon on a clear night.
EME Tower Camera at Night
We recently installed an additional IP camera which gives us a view of our EME tower. This is a useful capability as it enables us to confirm the operation of our rotator from our shack.
WSJT-X – Secondary Decoder
We also run WSJT-X as a second decoder using the receive audio stream from our IC-9700 Transceiver. WSJT-X has some more advanced decoding functions and can average several sequences of JT65b 50-second transmissions to improve decoding sensitivity. It only works on one specific frequency at a time so we use it to complement the broadband decoding capability that MAP65 provides.
We can also transmit using WSJT-X which enables us to use its Echo Test functionality to confirm that we can receive our own signals off the moon.
The WSJT-X application along with a manual that explains how to set up and use the program for EME can be downloaded here.
Finding Contacts and Logging
Finding Contacts and Logging
We use the DXLab Suite for logging and QSL’ing our contacts. DXLab’s Commander application provides the interface between WSJT-X and our IC-9700 Transceiver. This enables the DXLab Suite to determine the current QSO frequency and mode for logging purposes.
MAP65 Software and DXKeeper’s Capture Window
We keep DXKeeper’s Capture Window open on the screen where we run MAP65 so we can easily transfer QSO information to our log as we make contacts.
We also use several web apps to find potential EME contacts and to get an estimate of the level of EME Degradation on any given day:
We are planning some enhancements to our H-Frame to enable better alignment of our antennas along with improved reliability and stability when rotator our antennas. We will cover these enhancements in the next article in this series.
You can read more about our EME station project via the links that follow:
The image above shows the equipment that is dedicated to EME and Satellite operations in our station. We built some shelves to make room for all of the equipment as well as to create some space to move our Satellite Ground Station 4.0 to this same area. The components in our 2m EME station include (left to right):
Unfortunately, the LinkRF Receiver and Sound Card to enable a full MAP65 Adaptive Polarity installation are not currently available. As a result, we’ve created a Phase I Architecture that uses an SDR Dongle and manual selection of Receive Polarity via a switch. We also added a receive splitter and a Transmit/Receive relay in front of an Icom IC-9700 Transceiver which is dedicated to our EME setup to enable both the MAP65 and one of either the WSJT10 or WSJT-X Software Decoders to operate simultaneously.
This approach has some significant advantages when conditions are poor as one of either MAP65 or WSJT10/WSJT-X will often decode a marginal signal when the other will not. More on this in the next article in this series which will explain the software we are using more.
Transceiver, SDR Receiver, and Sequencing
IC-9700 Transceiver and Sequencer
A combination of an Icom IC-9700 Transceiver and M2 Antennas S2 Sequencer handle the Transmit side of our EME Station including the associated sequencing of the preamplifiers and Transmit/Receive Switching which is part of our Antenna System. The IC-9700’s receiver is also used with the WSJT10 Decoder in our setup.
Reference Injection Board Installed in IC-9700 (Leo Bodnar Website)
We used a FUNcube Dongle Pro+ as a second Software Defined Radio (SDR) Receiver in our setup and as an I/Q source to drive the MAP65 Software. Good information on configuring the MAP65 software to work with this dongle can be found here.
EME Station RF Paths and Sequencing
The diagram above shows the RF Paths and associated sequencing in our Version 1 EME Station. A Manual Antenna Switch is used to select either Horizontal or Vertical polarity when in receive mode. The S2 Sequencer handles polarity selection during transmit. A splitter divides the Rx signal between the FUNcube Pro+ Dongle for MAP65 and a Transmit/Receive Switching Circuit in front of our IC-9700 Transceiver. The relay enables the IC-9700 to provide Transmit signals for both the MAP65 and WSJT10/WSJT-X Software applications. The IC-9700 drives a 1.2 Kw Amplifier during Transmit and the final Tx output is metered using a WaveNode WN-2 Wattmeter.
Completed T/R Relay Assembly
To enable both the receivers in our IC-9700 and the FUNcube Dongle to function simultaneously, we built a circuit using a CX800N DPDT RF Relay and a Mini-Circuits 2-Way RF Splitter. We also built a simple driver circuit for the relay using a Darlington Power Transistor and some protection diodes. The circuit enabled our S2 Sequencer to control the relay along with the rest of the sequencing required when changing our EME Station from Receive to Transmit and back.
Finally, we configured a 30mS transmit delay in our IC-9700 to ensure that the S2 Sequencer had some time to do its job as the station transitions from Receive to Transmit. This delay coupled with the Transmit delays built into the MAP65 and WSJT10 software ensures that we will not hot switch the MAP65 Preamp System on our tower. One must be very careful to ensure that RF power is not applied before the sequencer can complete its transition to the Transmit state or damage to the Preamplifiers and/or relays at the tower will occur.
Amplifier and Rotator Controls
EME and Satellite Ground Station Hardware Components
The Elevation Rotator from our Antenna System was added to the Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller previously installed in our shack and both the Azimuth and Elevation Rotators were roughly calibrated. Our EME station requires quite a few USB connections to our Windows 10 Computer so we added a powered USB hub to our setup. Chokes were added to the USB cables which run to our IC-9700 Transceiver and our FUNcube Dongle to minimize digital noise from getting into our receivers.
Our 2M-1K2 Amplifier can produce about 1KW of power on 2m when operating in JT65 mode and this should be enough power for our planned EME wor. Our S2 Sequencer also controls the keying of our Amplifier as part of the T/R changeover sequence in our EME station.
WaveNode WN-2 Wattmeter
We added a 2m high power sensor to the output of our Amplifier and connected it to a free port on one of the WaveNode WN-2 Wattmeters in our station to provide output and SWR monitoring of the Transmit output of our EME station.
Supporting Station Infrastructure
VHF+ Antenna Switching Console
We had some work to do to configure the antenna, grounding, and DC power infrastructure in our station. We redid the manual switching in our VHF/UHF Antenna Switching consoles to accommodate our new EME Antenna System as well as to prepare for our Satellite Station to be moved into our shack in the near future. The console on the right provides Grounding of the Transmit and Receive sides of our EME Antenna System as well as the selection of the Antenna’s Horizontal or Vertical polarity for decoding.
We also expanded our station grounding system to provide a ground point directly behind all of our EME equipment. Our DC power system was also expanded to accommodate our EME equipment.
GPS NTP Server
Our station already has a GPS Controlled NTP Time Server installed and we’ll use it to ensure that the clock on the PC which will run the MAP65 and WSJT10 software will have very accurate clocks for JT65 decoding.
EME Tower CAM
We already have cameras that cover our Main and Satellite Towers. We’ve added a third camera to allow us to view our EME Tower’s operation from our shack. This ensures that we can visually confirm the operation of our antennas and detect any problems should they occur.
All of the new EME equipment has to be integrated and tested with the software components which provide digital operation, tracking of the moon, logging, and other functions in our station. The software setup as well as our initial experience with operating our new EME station will be covered in the next article in this series.
You can read more about our EME station project via the links that follow:
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
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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 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).
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
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!
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.
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 (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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Bandfor 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…
EME or Earth-Moon-Earth contacts involve bouncing signals off the moon to make contacts. EME provides a means to make DX contacts using the VHF and higher bands. There are also some EME Contests including the ARRL EME Contest that provides opportunities to make EME contacts.
Understanding EME Propagation is a project in of itself. The following is a brief overview of some of the (mostly negative) effects involved.
The path loss for EME contacts varies by Band and is in excess of 250 dB on the 2m band. There are some significant “propagation” effects that further impair our ability to make EME contacts. These include:
Faraday Rotation – an effect which results in the polarity of signals being rotated by differing amounts as they pass through the ionosphere on their way to the moon and back
Libration Fading – fading caused by the adding of the multiple wave-fronts that are reflected by the uneven surface of the moon
Path loss variations as the earth to moon distance varies – the moon’s orbit around the earth is somewhat elliptical in shape resulting in a distance variation of approximately 50,000 km during the moon’s monthly orbital cycle. This equates to about a 2 dB variation in total path loss. An average figure for the path loss for 2m EME might be in the range of 252 dB.
Transit Delays – at the speed of light, it takes between 2.4 and 2.7 seconds for our signals to travel from earth to the moon and back.
Noise – the signals returning from the moon are extremely weak and must compete with natural (and man-made) noise sources. The sun and the noise from other stars in our galaxy are significant factors for EME communications on the 2m band.
Doppler shifts – as the earth rotates, the total length of the path to the moon and back is constantly changing and this results in some frequency shift due to doppler effects. Doppler shift changes fairly slowly compared to the time it takes to complete a 2m EME QSO so it is not a major factor for the 2m band.
Moon’s size vs. Antenna Aperture – the moon is a small target (about 0.5 degrees) compared to the radiation pattern of most 2m antenna systems. This means that most of our transmitted power passes by the moon and continues into space.
Taking the moon’s size, an average orbital distance, and an average Libration Fading level into account, one can expect only about 6.5 % of the power that is directed towards the moon to be reflected back towards earth.
EME “Good Guys”
One might look at the challenges associated with making EME contacts and say “why bother”? EME contacts present one of the most challenging and technical forms of Amateur Radio communications. It is this challenge the fascinates most EME’ers including this one. Fortunately, there are some “good-guy” effects that help to put EME communications within reach of most Amateur Radio stations. These include:
WSJT-X and the JT65 Digital Protocol – In the early days of EME communications, one had to rely on CW mode to make contacts. All of the impairments outlined above made these contacts very challenging and the antennas and power levels required put EME communications out of the reach of most Amateurs. Along came Joe Taylor’s digital JT65 protocol which changed all of this. It is now possible to make 2m EME contacts with a single (albeit large) 2m yagi and 200W or so of input power. As a result of these innovations, many more Amateurs have built EME stations and are active on the 2m (and other) bands. Many DXpeditions are now also including EME communications in their operations.
Ground Gain Effects – a horizontally polarized antenna system will experience approximately 6 dB of additional gain when the antenna(s) are pointed approximately parallel to the ground. Ground gain effects made it possible for us to use our single 2m antenna to make our first 2m EME contacts.
MAP65 Adaptive Polarization – Fading resulting from polarity changes due to Faraday Rotation can cause a received signal to fade to nothing over the period of time needed to complete a 2m EME contact. These polarity “lock-out” effects can make contacts take a significant amount of time to complete. Fortunately, a version of the software which implements the JT65 protocol called MAP65 has been created that will automatically detect and adapt to the actual polarity of signals returning from the moon. More on how this is achieved follows below. MAP65 is most useful for making “random” EME contacts during contests. In these situations, a variety of signals will be present in a given band with different polarities, and the MAP65 software can adapt to each one’s polarity and decode as many simultaneous signals as possible.
Commercially Available Amplifiers for the VHF+ Bands – Modern, solid-state amplifiers have become much for available for the 2m band (and other VHF and higher bands). This has made single-antenna EME on 2m and above much more practical for smaller stations with a single antenna or a small antenna array.
Our 2m EME Goals and Station Design
We began this project by making a list of goals for our 2m EME Station 2.0. Here is that list:
Operation using JT65 and QRA64 digital protocols and possibly CW on the 2m EME band
80th percentile or better station (i.e. we want to be able to work 80% of the JT65 capable 2m EME stations out there)
Operation in EME contests and EME DX’ing; earn a 2m EME DXCC
We have come up with the following station design parameters to meet these goals:
An array of four cross-polarized antennas with an aggregate gain of approximately 23 dBi
The combined gain of the system will be approximately 23 dBi with a 3 dB beamwidth of 12.5°. The XP28 antennas are designed for stacking and have good Gain/Temperature (G/T) characteristics. G/T is a measure of the gain and noise performance of an antenna system. See VE7BQH’s tables for some interesting data on G/T for many commercially available EME and VHF+ antennas.
The antenna system will have separate feeds for the antenna array’s Horizontal (H) and Vertical (V) planes. The Horizontal elements will be oriented parallel to the ground to maximize ground gain when the H plane is used for transmitting (and receive). A pair of 4-port power combiners will be used to combine the H and V polarities of the four antennas into a pair of H and V feedline connections.
M2 Antenna Systems will be supplying a MAP65 Switching and Preamp System that will mount on the tower near the antennas. The MAP65 Housing provides switching and separate receive preamplifiers and feedlines for the H and V polarities of the antennas. Separate H and V receive coax connections bring the Horizontal and Vertical elements of the antennas back to the shack. A third coax connection is provided for Transmit. The transmit feedline can be routed to either the H or the V antenna polarity to help minimize Faraday Rotation related fading at the other end of the contact.
An M2 Antennas S2 Sequencer will provide Tx/Rx sequencing and H/V transmit polarity selection via the MAP65 Switching and Preamp System on the tower. The sequencer is essential to provide safe changeovers between receive and transmit and to protect the preamplifiers and the power amplifier during high power operation.
The signals returning from the moon in an EME system are very, very weak. Because of this, Noise and Dynamic Range performance are critical factors in an EME receive system. In addition, we will need a pair of high-performance, phase-coherent receivers to enable Adaptive Polarization via MAP65.
LinkRF IQ+ Dual Polarity Receive System
We are planning to use a LinkRF IQ+ Dual Channel Receive Converter in our EME system. The Link RF IQ+ features excellent noise and dynamic range performance and its phase-coherent design will support adaptive polarity via MAP65. The IQ+ separately converts both the H and V polarities of the antennas into two separate pairs of I/Q streams.
UADC4 High-Performance 4-Channel A/D Converter
The four channels (two I/Q streams) from the LinkRF IQ+ must be digitized and fed to a Windows PC for decoding. The conventional way to do this is with a 4-channel, 24-bit soundcard. The available computer soundcards add a good bit of noise and therefore limit the overall dynamic range of an EME system. Alex, HB9DRI at LinkRF has come up with the UADC4 – a high-performance 4-channel ADC that is specially designed for software-defined radio. The UADC4 design is based on CERO- IF conversion and is optimized for EME use. The UADC4 should add about 10 – 15 dB of dynamic range improvement over a typical 24-bit PC Soundcard. Alex is currently taking pre-orders for the next run for UADC4 devices. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
JT65B Software Block Diagram
Our plans for JT65 software and related components for our EME station are shown above. We are planning on running a combination of Linrad and WSJT software on the same Windows PC to handle JT65B QSOs. There are two configurations that are applicable to our plans:
We are also planning to develop a simple windows application that will read the Moon Tracking data that is generated by WSJT MAP65 and WSJT-X and use it to control the rotator system associated with our EME antennas. More on this to come in a future article.
M2 2M-1KW 2m Amplifier
A combination of an Icom IC-9700 Transceiver and an M2 2M-1K2 2m Amplifier will be used for the Transmit side of our system. The M2 2M-1K2 Amplifier can generate 900 – 1000W when transmitting in JT65B mode.
Well, that about covers it as far as our 2m EME goals and station design go. The plan is to break ground for the new EME tower later this week. We’ll continue to post more articles in this series as our project proceeds.
Here are some links to other articles in our series about our EME Station 2.0 project:
We’ve recently begun experimenting with a WSJT-X derivative for FT8 and other JT Modes. Its called JTDX. The JTDX software is created by Igor Chernikov, UA3DJY, and Arvo Järve ES1JA. The stated purpose for JTDX from the JTDX website is:
The latest release candidate of JTDX supports some interesting additional features beyond WSJT-X including:
Additional FT8 and JT65 decoder options which can provide improved sensitivity
Advanced automatic sequencing and QSO selection features
Decoded messaging filtering features
We’ve been testing JTDX V2.0 release candidates here for about a month now. the JTDX feature additions definitely provide some useful enhancements. The JTDX software is derived from WSJT-X and we’ve been using it here for DX’ing and for weak signal work on 6 meters. It appears to have most of the features of the current version of WSJT-X with the notable exception of support for specific contest exchanges.
JTDX Decoder Options
JTDX adds a number of FT8 decoding options that are useful on crowded bands and in situations when signals are very weak. These features can be selectively enabled to match band and signal conditions as well as the user’s available CPU horsepower. With all features enabled, JTDX seems to decode more signals on a crowded band than WSJT-X.
QSO Partner Decoder Filtering
There is also a QSO partner decoding “filter” option which concentrates the FT8 decoder on a narrow bandwidth around a specific weak signal that you are trying to receive and decode. This feature seems to help to decode very weak signals in a crowded band when they are surrounded by other, stronger callers.
You may have experienced the crowded conditions in the FT8 sub-band on popular bands like 20m.
Typical Stations Decoded Simultaneously on 20m FT8 Sub-band (JTAlert Display)
If you call CQ with Auto Sequence and Call First turned on in WSJT-X, you may find that you don’t have much control over what stations are selected to answer your CQ. It’s also common for the Auto Sequencing in WSJT-X to “get stuck” on a caller that how fails to complete a QSO for whatever reason.
JTDX provides some useful features to prioritize the selection of callers in these situations.
JTDX Auto Sequencing Caller Selection Options
You can see these options on the menu above. Options include choosing a station to answer based upon distance or best Signal To Noise Ratio (SNR), including or excluding stations that you’ve worked before, or including or excluding other stations calling CQ. These features allow JTDX to do a better job selecting a QSO to Auto Respond to when you are calling CQ.
JTDX Auto Sequencing Configuration Options
What about the problem of “stuck” QSOs? JTDX has some useful features that limit the number of tries that the Auto Sequencing algorithm uses before returning to calling CQ or working the next available caller. These features prevent the Auto Sequence algorithm from getting stuck during a contact when your QSO partner fails to respond or decided to work someone else.
Directed CQ – CQ DX
JTDX also has the ability to enforce “directed CQ’ing”. Directed CQ’ing is when you call, for example, “CQ DX” and get responses from callers in your country. JTDX Auto Sequencing can be configured to ignore such callers and only work DX stations that answer your CQ. Directed CQ’s can also be applied to specific regions of the world (CQ AS for example) as well.
Decoded Message Filtering Options
Finally, you may have experienced a flood of decoded messages on a busy band. It is almost impossible to read and process all of the information a large number of decoded messages in the 15 seconds available. JTDX has some good filtering options to selectively hide decoded messages to enable the operator to focus on messages from stations that they are looking for. The image above shows a very simple application of this capability to limit the decoded message display to only CQ messages. More complex rules are possible via configuration in the Filters tab.
There is a learning curve with JTDX and it takes a little time to learn to use all of the new features. There is a basic getting started guide that helps to get JTDX setup and configured at your station and some useful FAQ documents to help you learn about some of the JTDX features. The best source of information on the more advanced features is the JTDX groups.io group.
I don’t think that JTDX is a replacement for WSJT-X. We run both here and they both work well. JTDX has some important advantages in crowded band situations and is my tool of choice for working DX with FT8. I also like the more sensitive decoder in JTDX for weak signal FT8 work on the 6m band. WSJT-X is a better tool for contests as it contains support for specific contest exchanges via FT8 – a feature which JTDX does not yet support. WSJT-X also supports important modes like MSK144 for Meteor Scatter QSOs.
If you are new to FT8, I’d suggest you begin with WSJT-X and use it to learn the basics of the FT8 protocol and how to operate using FT8. You can find a Video Introduction to WSJT-X and FT8 here on our blog to help you get started and get on the air with FT8 using WSJT-X.
The Nashua Area Radio Society recently held a Tech Night on WSJT-X: FT8, WSPR, MSK144, and More. This Tech Night was recorded and provides a good starting point for folks who want to understand what the WSJT-X software can do, how to use it, and how to integrate it into their station.
August 2018 Tech Night – WSJT-X: FT8, WSPR, MSK144, and More
The video from our Tech Night includes lots of information about how to get started as well as some recorded demonstrations of FT8 and Meteor Scatter contacts.
Topics Cover During WSJT-X Tech Night
Our Tech Night also covered tools like PSKreporter and JTAlert that can be used with WSJT-X. Finally, we spent some time on using WSPR to evaluate your station’s performance and how you can use the software to do more “exotic” QSOs such as Meteor Scatter on 6m.
Nashua Area Radio Society members have access to our full library of over 30 Tech Night Video on a wide range of topics for both beginning and advanced Hams. You can see the list of what is available on the Nashua Area Radio Society Tech Night page.
Better support for North American VHF Contests with improved handling of grids and /R rover call sign designators
Six-character locators and call sign suffix support for portable operators focused on EU VHF contesting
Support for ARRL Field Day exchanges
Support for ARRL RTTY Roundup exchanges
Support for call signs up to 11 characters to support non-standard and compound call signs
The new version extends the length of the messages used for FT8 and MSK144 from 75/72 bits to 77 bits to enable the above features. As a result, there are compatibility issues between the v1.x releases of WSJT-X and v2.0 when FT8 and MSK144 modes are used. More detail about the new features and changes can be found here.
It is expected that the Meteor Scatter community (MSK144 mode users) will rapidly move to WSJT-X V2.0 so no backward compatibility features are provided for MSK144.
The transition for FT8 mode users is a much bigger problem. As a result, it is suggested that users test the new mode on alternative frequencies on the 20m band at 14.078 MHz and on the 40m band at 7.078 Mhz.
WSJT-X 2.0 FT8 Compatibility and Contest Options
The Advanced Tab in the WSJT-X v2.0 settings provides some options to help with compatibility between v1.x and V2.0. One must choose whether to transmit using the shorter v1.x or the v2.0 messages. If you are operating in the above mention “2.0” frequency areas on 20m or 40m, it’s a good idea to transmit using the 2.0 message format (check always generate 77-bit messages).
The new version of WSJT-X can decode both the shorter v1.x and the longer v2.0 messages simultaneously. The decoding will be faster on slower computers if you check the Decode only 77-bit messages option when operating in the v2.0 frequency ranges.
If you want to try the new v2.0 FT8 mode in one of the supported contests, you’ll want to check the appropriate Special operating activity option. If you are not operating in one of these contests, you’ll want to select None.
All you need to do to try the new version is to download and install it and configure the FT8 options. I’ve been running WSJT-X v2.0 rc1 in the 20m band in the 14.078 MHz sub-band this morning and have made about 20 contacts using the new format. The v2.0 software is working well.
There are some additional enhancements which will be included in WSJT-X v2.0. Here’s some information on these features from the WSJT-X v2.0 Quick Start Guide –
WSJT-X 2.0 has several other new features and capabilities. The WSPR decoder has better sensitivity by about 1 dB. Color highlighting of decoded messages provides worked-before status for callsigns, grid locators, and DXCC entities on a “by band” basis. Color highlighting can also identify stations that have (or have not) uploaded their logs to Logbook of the World (LoTW) within the past year. The necessary information from LoTW can be easily downloaded from the ARRL website.
Currently, several additional release candidates are planned for WSJT-X v2.0 as follows:
September 17, 2018: -rc1 Expires October 31, 2018
October 15, 2018: -rc2 Expires November 30, 2018
November 12, 2018: -rc3 Expires December 31, 2018
December 10, 2018: GA Full release of WSJT-X 2.0
Note that the release candidates will expire about 2 weeks after each new version becomes available. Also, its required that anyone who runs the Beta (release candidate) software agrees to report any bugs that they find.
We are looking forward to trying the new FT8 in the next digital contest which allows it.