6m VUCC In A Day – ARRL June VHF Contest

6M VUCC Operating Award

6M VUCC Operating Award

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

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

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

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

June VHF Operating Setup

6m VUCC

AB1OC Operating in 2020 June VHF

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

Completed Antenna Stack On New Tower

Completed Antenna Stack on our VHF Tower

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

Delta Loop On Tower

SteppIR DB36 Yagis on our Main Tower

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

6m VUCC

Operating Setup – N1MM+ and WSJT-X

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

6m Band Conditions

6m VUCC

6m PSK Reporter On Sunday Evening

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

What About the VUCC…

6m VUCC

100 Grids Worked on 6m

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

6m VUCC

Final 6m Grids Worked

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

6m VUCC

6m Grids Worked During 2020 June VHF

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

6m VUCC

Final Claimed Score

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

New Ones on 6m for AB1OC

6m VUCC

AB1OC Worldwide 6m Grid Map

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

Summing It All Up…

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

Fred, AB1OC

Perspectives on a 6m DX Opening

6m DX Opening to Europe - PSK Reporter

6m DX Opening to Europe – PSKReporter

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

DX Opening Begins - JTDX Software View

A 6m DX Band Opening Begins – JTDX Software View

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

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

6m DX Opening to Europe - Spotlight Area Propagation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contacts Made During the 6m DX Opening

Contacts Made During the 6m DX Opening

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

AB1OC 6m Grids Worked and Confirmed

AB1OC 6m Grids Worked and Confirmed

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

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

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

Monitoring the 6m Band at AB1OC

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

FlexRadio Maestro Console

FlexRadio Maestro Console

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

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

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

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 1 – Goals and Station Design

The Moon

The Moon

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.

We made some 2m EME contacts a while ago using the 2m antenna on our tower at about 112′. This experience created interest on my part in building a more capable EME station at some point in time. Well, the time has finally arrived.

EME Propagation

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
  • A new 26′ Rohn 55G tower to support the antennas
  • A computer-controlled Azimuth/Elevation rotator system to allow us to track the moon
  • A legal limit input power of 1500W
  • A MAP65 capable SDR-based receive system which can support adaptive polarity
  • Low-noise, high gain preamplifiers located at the antennas
  • A low-loss feedline system for both the transmit and receive sides of the system
  • Use of both the MAP65 and standard versions for WSJT-X for digital operations
  • Use of Linrad as a front-end to the receive side of our system
  • An Icom IC-9700 Transceiver and an OM Power OM2002+ 2m Power Amplifier for transmitting

Antennas

WA1NZP Antenna System (4 M2 XP32 X-Polarity Antenna Array)

WA1NPZ Antenna System (4 M2 Antennas XP32 X-Polarity Antenna Array)

It takes some fairly large antennas to create an 80th percentile EME station. We are planning a setup similar to Bob, WA1NPZ’s system shown above. We are going to put up a 26′ Rohn 55G tower for our EME antenna system. We will be using four M2 Antenna System XP28 Antennas mounted on an H-frame to create a 15′ x 15′ square array.

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.

Plans call for a combination of the M2 Orion 2800G2 and MT3000A rotators to be used along with a Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller to provide computer-controlled tracking of the moon. A 22′ section of 3″ Chrome Molly mast material will allow the azimuth rotator to be located near the base of the tower where it can be easily serviced.

Tower Mounted Preamps and Polarity Switching

MAP65 Switching and Preamp Housing

MAP65 Switching and Preamp Housing

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.

S2 Sequencer

S2 Sequencer

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.

Feedline plans call for a run of 7/8″ Hardline Coax for transmit and a pair of LMR-400uF Coax cables for the H and V receive polarities.

MAP65 Capable Receive Chain

LinRF IQ+ Block Diagram

LinRF IQ+ Block Diagram

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

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 A/D Converter

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 info@linkrf.ch for more information.

Software

JT65 Software Block Diagram

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.

Transmit System

OM power OM2002+ 2m Amplifier

OM power OM2002+ 2m Amplifier

A combination of an Icom IC-9700 Transceiver and an OM Power OM2002+ 2m Amplifier will be used for the Transmit side of our system. The OM2002+ can generate 1500W 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:

If you’d like to learn more about How To Get Started in EME, check out the Nashua Area Radio Society Teach Night on this topic. You can find the EME Tech Night here.

Fred, AB1OC

JTDX – Feature Rich Software for FT8 and Other JT Modes

JTDX Main Window

JTDX Main Window

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:

JTDX supports JT9, JT65, T10 and FT8 © digital modes for HF amateur radio communication, focused on DXing and being shaped by the community of DXers.

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 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

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.

PSKReporter on 20m Band, FT8 Mode

PSKReporter on the 20m Band, FT8 Mode

You may have experienced the crowded conditions in the FT8 sub-band on popular bands like 20m.

Typical Stations Decoded on 20m FT8 Sub-band (JTAlert Display)

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

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

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

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

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.

Fred, AB1OC

WSJT-X and FT8 – A Video Introduction

WSJT-X 2.0

WSJT-X 2.0

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

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.

I hope you enjoy the video!

Fred, AB1OC

A First Look at WSJT-X V2.0

WSJT-X 2.0-rc1

WSJT-X 2.0-rc1 Beta Software

It looks like the first Beta Release of WSJT-X 2.0 is available. WSJT-X Version 2.0  includes a number of features to support contesting and longer compound callsigns when FT8 and MSK144 (Meteor Scatter) modes are used. The new features include:

  • 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

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.

Fred, AB1OC

Operating FT8 Remote on the 6m Band

FT8 Digital Remote Setup

FT8 Digital Remote Setup

I have been operating using the FT8 digital mode on the 6m band using our remote operating gateway quite a bit this summer. The SDR-based remote operating gateway in our station allows us to operate our station from other rooms in our home as well as from outside our QTH via the Internet. When I’m at home, I have computers set up with outboard monitors to create an operating setup for FT8 digital contacts on the 6m and other bands. The photo above shows this setup. Having the extra screen space and multiple laptops enables control of our station, making and logging QSOs, and checking propagation via Reverse Beacon Networks as we operate.

Radio and Logging System

Radio and Logging System

The main system is a windows laptop. It runs the SmartSDR software which operates the Flex-6700 Radio in our shack (upper right window below).

Flex-6700 SmartSDR and WSJT-X Weak Signal Digital Software

Flex-6700 SmartSDR and WSJT-X Weak Signal Digital Software

This laptop runs the WSJT-X software (left windows above) which conducts QSOs in FT8 and other weak signal modes and the JTAlert Software (lower right windows above) which interfaces WSJT-X to the DXLab logging suite. JTAlert displays all callsigns decoded by WSJT-X and compares them to my log to determine which potential contacts are new DXCC’s, Grids, States, etc. JTAlert adds contacts to my logs in DXLab when a QSO is completed using WSJT-X.

DXLab Suite Logging and Rotator Control Software

DXLab Suite Logging and Rotator Control Software

The windows laptop also runs the DXLab logging suite. DXLab handles logging of QSOs, the one-click pointing of our antennas based upon the callsign being worked, and uploading contacts to LoTW, eQSL, and ClubLog for confirming contacts.

Reverse Beacon Network and Station Monitoring Computer

Reverse Beacon Network and Station Monitoring Computer

I like to use the second computer to monitor the propagation and strength of my FT8 signal while operating.

PSKReporter RBN Monitoring on 6m

PSKReporter RBN Monitoring on 6m

I use two tools to assess propagation conditions while I am operating. The first is PSKReporter which is a Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) tool that is enabled by WSJT-X and most other digital mode software programs. Each time WSJT-X decodes a station’s transmission, it reports the decoded callsign along with location and signal strength information to the PSKReporter website. This website then uses this information to display all of the stations that hear my and other’s transmissions in real-time. The RBN information is used to determine where a given band is open and as a tool to determine how much transmit power is needed to provide acceptable signal strength at stations that I am trying to work.

DXMaps Propagation Report on 6m

DXMaps Propagation Report on 6m

The DXMaps website shows a real-time map view of contacts being made on the 10m and higher bands. This second tool provides a real-time view of band conditions and opening on bands like 6m which have somewhat unpredictable propagation characteristics.

Together, these tools help to determine where to point antennas and what stations we can work on the 6m band.

The second laptop also runs Teamviewer remote control software. This provides access to the antenna switching controls, SWR and power monitoring equipment, station electrical power, and amplifier controls in our shack. These tools are important elements in safely operating and controlling our station when we are not in the same room as the radios and other equipment we are using.

You can learn more about the Remote Operating Gateway setup at AB1OC-AB1QB here.

I’ve been using the remote operating setup described here on the 6m band quite a bit over the last few weeks. I hope this post provides some ideas that others can use.

73,

Fred, AB1OC

Receiving SSTV From The ISS

Portable Satellite Station Additions - Digital and Packet

Portable Satellite Station With Additions For Digital and Packet

We’ve recently upgraded our Portable Satellite Station 2.0 to add digital and packet capabilities. The upgrade was pretty simple – we added a SignaLink USB Soundcard and a Windows Laptop PC. Most of the software for packet and digital Amateur Radio communications is written for the Windows OS so using a separate laptop running Windows 10 was the simplest way to go. Another benefit of the second laptop was added screen space to use when doing packet communications via satellites and the International Space Station (ISS).

SSTV Image From The ISS

SSTV Image From The ISS

We recently learned that the ISS was going to be again transmitting SSTV images worldwide. This provided a perfect opportunity to work with the digital additions in our satellite setup. We downloaded and installed MMSSTV on our Windows laptop and set the audio levels on the Windows PC and our SignaLink Sound card to properly receive SSTV signals. The MMSSTV application can decode several different SSTV formats including the PD120 format used by the ISS. The ISS transmits SSTV on a 2m FM voice channel. We configured MacDoppler to track the ISS and perform doppler correction on the 2m ISS 2m downlink and began to listen.

The video above was made during the reception of an SSTV image from the ISS during a pass over the United States. The video gives a good idea of what its like to receive SSTV from the space station.

Another SSTV Image From The ISS

Another SSTV Image From The ISS

We were able to receive several different images from the ISS during the period that it was transmitting SSTV worldwide.

A Third SSTV Image From The ISS

A Third SSTV Image From The ISS

It was pretty easy to capture the SSTV transmissions from the ISS with our Portable Satellite Station 2.0 setup. The signals were strong and I would imagine that the SSTV transmission could have also been received with a simple portable satellite setup with a hand-held yagi antenna.

We hope that the ISS will send SSTV images again in the near future. It was fun receiving them.

Fred, AB1OC

Meteor Scatter Rocks! – Work’in the Orionids

AB1OC 6m USA Grids

AB1OC 6m USA Grids

I’ve been pretty active on the 6m band the past few years. As you can see from the image above, we’ve worked most of the grid squares in the eastern third of the United States on 6m. I use a mix of modes on 6m including SSB Phone, CW, JT65, FT8, and MSK144. The addition of the MSK144 mode for Meteor Scatter contacts has been a lot of fun and has added some new grid squares to my total.

Orionid Meteor Shower Forecast

Orionid Meteor Shower Forecast

One of the fall Meteor Showers, the Orionids, occurred not too long ago and I decided to focus on MSK144 during the Orionids to see how many grid squares I could work. The shower mast most active over a 3-day period (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

MSK144 QSO with WA3LBI Using WSJT-X

MSK144 QSO with WA3LBI Using WSJT-X

The latest WSJT-X software supports a relatively new digital mode for Meteor Scatter contacts – MSK144. A Meteor Scatter contact made using MSK144 is shown above.

Meteor Scatter Pings Detected via MSK144

Meteor Scatter Pings Detected via MSK144

Meteors create short propagation enhancements when they burn up in the atmosphere. These short propagation bursts enable very brief (approximately 1-5 second) propagation on the 6m band.

The video above shows an example of an MSK144 Meteor Scatter QSO using WSJT-X.

6m MSK144 QSOs During Orionids

6m MSK144 QSOs During Orionids

So I bet you may be wondering how many 6m QSOs and grid squares was I able to work during the Orionids? I made a total of 23 Meteor Scatter QSOs using MSK144 during the 2017 Orionids. The image above shows the 16 grids that were worked using MSK144 during the three-day period. A few of these grids were new for me on 6m.

I used our Flex-6700 SDR, our SteppIR Yagis, and about 200w of power to make these contacts. It was a lot of fun making contacts using MSK144 Meteor Scatter on 6m. I am looking forward to future Meteor Shower activity!

Fred, AB1OC

Orionid Meteor Shower: Friday Night Brings Excellent Conditions In Eastern US

Orionid Meteor Shower Forecast

Orionid Meteor Shower Forecast

One of the best meteor showers of the fall, the Orionid Meteor Shower, will peak on Friday night with over a dozen meteors streaking across the night sky every hour.

Source: Orionid meteor shower: Friday night to bring excellent viewing conditions in the Eastern US.

It looks like this weekend is going to be a good time to work Meteor Scatter contacts on 6m! The Orionid’s peak tonight (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday) night, October 20th and 21st. We’ll be operating using WSJT-X MSK144 mode on 6m. We are planning to use our Remote Operating setup to take advantage of our SDR’s receiver capabilities and the connected 500w amplifier.

Fred, AB1OC