We get quite a few requests from folks to explain how to get started with Amateur Radio Satellites. Requests for information on how to build a computer-controlled ground station for Linear Satellites are also pretty common. I recently got such a request from our CWA class so I decided to put together a session on this topic.
We covered a number of topics and demonstrations during the session including:
How to put together a simple station and work FM EasySats with HTs and a handheld antenna
A recorded demonstration of some contacts using FM EasySats
How-to build a computer-controlled station and work Linear Transponder Satellites
Fixed and Portable Satellite Station Antenna options
A recorded demonstration of some contacts using Linear Satellites
Winter Field Day 2020 is almost here! A few weekends ago, several of us got our QTH to complete the final station test for our planned 5O operation in Winter Field Day (WFD). Activities including setup and testing of a new, Portable Networking Pod and three of our five planned Winter Field Day stations. We are planning to use the N1MM+ Logger in a networked configuration this year…
This article covers equipment and networking aspects of the Nashua Area Radio Society’s planned 5O setup for Winter Field Day 2020. All of our stations will use the N1MM+ Logger to support SSB Voice, CW, and Digital modes.
We are continuing to make progress on our preparation for VHF+ Operations at Winter Field Day (WFD) 2020. We had a lot of fun on the VHF+ bands at WFD 2019 and we are planning to add some more bands for our operation this year. We’ve assembled a portable mast system to put us on 3 new bands…
We’ve been busy with preparation for Winter Field Day 2020. My part of this project is to increase our participation in operations on the VHF+ bands (6m and above). We are accomplishing this with a 30 ft push-up mast, some new antennas, and using Transverters for the 1.25m and 33cm bands. You can read more about our preparations and the equipment that we will be using on the VHF+ bands via the link above.
We continued to test our Portable Satellite Station 4.0 as part of AMSAT’s 50th Anniversary Celebration WAS Activations. You can read about the activations and our station’s performance via the link above. Overall, we were pleased with how the portable setup performed. The weakest link was the downlink performance of our antenna system. We are working on some ideas to improve this element of our setup – more to come on this project…
Portable Satellite and Grid Square Activation Station
We were up on Mt. Washington here in New Hampshire this past weekend and we decided to use the SOTA activation as a test for our updated Portable Satellite Station 4.0. It turned out that the station was also a great SOTA and Grid Square Activation station for terrestrial contacts.
A Solar-Battery Power system capable of operating the station continuously for a full day
A laptop computer for Satellite Tracking and Doppler correction
Portable Antenna System
Elk Antenna on Tripod
We decided to keep our antenna system simple and quick to deploy. We choose a portable 2m/70cm antenna from Elk and mounted it on a camera tripod. A carpenter’s slope gauge is used as an elevation indicator and our iPhone serves as a compass to point the antenna in the azimuth direction. A weighted bag, Bungie cord, and a tent stake anchor the tripod in the windy conditions on the mountain. A 15 ft length of LMR-240uF coax with N-connectors makes the connection between the antenna and the rest of the station.
Station Transceiver and Supporting Gear
Portable Station Transceiver and Preamps
We decided to mount the station Transceiver and supporting gear on a piece of plywood to make it easy to transport and setup. The components from lower-right moving counter-clockwise include:
The preamps are powered and sequenced by the IC-910H through its coax outputs. The 70cm side of the second diplexer is used as a filter to prevent transmissions on 2m uplinks from de-sensitizing 70cm downlink signals.
Portable Station Electronics
The use of the mounting board for all of the components allows the station to deployed quickly and helps to ensure reliable operation.
We used a MacBook Air Laptop running MacDoppler to control the transceiver’s VFOs (via a USB CI-V cable). MacDoppler also provided azimuth and elevation data used to point the antenna during satellite passes.
Portable Solar-Battery Power System
Powering a 100w radio in a way that allows continuous use for a day can be a challenge. It’s important to do this in a way that does not generate noise so we do not disturb others trying to enjoy the outdoors. We met all of these needs using a combination of solar power and batteries.
Portable Solar Power
The primary source of power comes from a pair of 90w foldable solar panels from PowerFilm. The panels are wired in series and connected to an MPPT Charger which charges a pair of batteries. This approach allows the system to provide usable power when it is cloudy and the voltage output of the solar panels drops.
We use a pair of A123 10 Ah LiPo battery packs to supply high-current capacity when transmitting. The solar-battery combination is capable of maintaining full battery voltage while supporting the continuous operation of our station for a full day.
The MacBook Air Laptop batteries are adequate to operate the station during the available satellite passes. We have a 12V DC to 120 VAC inverter which can power the computer from our solar battery setup if needed.
View from Mt. Washington Summit
Our portable station did very well during its initial test! I had to move the antennas and operate the station by myself on this activation which limited my ability to make a large number of contacts during the limited number of satellite passes that were available. Still, I was able to make 6 solid contacts through AO-91 and AO-85 while on Mt. Washington. I did not have a suitable linear satellite pass to make contacts but I was able to hear the EO-88 beacon with no problems and confirm that the doppler correction system was working well.
The station also put in a great performance visa-vie 2m terrestrial contacts. We made a total of 70 contacts using 2m FM and USB! We received many good signal reports with our longest contacts being some 275 mi from our location. We also worked stations on four other SOTAs this way.
Learnings and Next Steps
Our station exceeded my expectations during our initial test on Mt. Washington – especially in terms of the number of Terrestial Contacts that I was able to make with it. I did notice that the transmit side of the system was quite a bit stronger than the receive side. This is an indication that a better antenna would help.
We changed the antenna polarization to vertical for 2m FM contacts and to horizontal for 2m USB contacts. This helped the receive side performance quite a bit.
I found that a headset was essential for satellite and terrestrial weak-signal operation in USB mode. I was able to use the hand microphone and the radio’s speaker for most of the 2m FM contacts that I made. This gave interested onlookers a chance to experience Amateur Radio.
Satellite operation would have been much easier and more productive with a helper to handle pointing the antenna while we operated. This improvement will need to be coupled with a headset/speaker combination that allows the person that is pointing the antenna to hear the quality of the downlink while moving the antenna and finding the best polarization.
I am looking forward to doing some grid-square activations using our upgraded portable station. It was a pleasant surprise to find as much interest in Terrestial contacts on the 2m band as we did. The Nashua Area Radio Society does several SOTA activations each year and I am looking forward to using that station for these as well.
Here are links to some additional posts about our Satellite Station 4.0 Projects:
The Nashua Area Radio Society always brings something new to each Field Day that we do. In addition to our Computer Controlled Satellite Station, we will be adding a state of the art Weak Signal Antenna System and Station to our Field Day 2019 lineup. Our VHF Station will use a dedicated 40 ft Tower with Tower Mounted Preamps and low-loss feedlines. You can see what is going on at Field Day 2019 on 6m and above via the preceding link.
The Nashua Area Radio Society participated in Winter Field Day for the first time this past weekend. We put up a 40 ft tower and we were QRV on all allowed bands from 160m through 2m and 70cm. Our station was a four transmitter one and we produced a great score during the 24-hour operating period. Winter Field Day presents some unique challenges that we did not encounter during Summer Field Day.
We put together a station for 160m for the first time as well as some other new things. You can read all about our approach to a station and operating for Winter Field Day via the link above.
We are just awaiting notification of the final date and time for our contact and we’ll begin final setup and testing at HMS.
We’ve been sharing our progress as we’ve on the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Youth Forum as we have worked through our final preparations. I also would like to share a summary here along with some insights on what we’ve learned along the way.
An ISS Crew Contact is No Small Undertaking …
We have been working for almost a year now to get ready for our contact. We’ve built and tested two space ground stations and we’ve discovered and addressed several performance and reliability issues with these stations during trial deployments at Field Day, Ham Fests, License Classes, and during testing here at our QTH.
Dave, K1DLM who is a member of NARS had extensive professional sound experience and was able to help us with this part of our project.
Dave put together a professional-level A-V system design to support our contact and provided much of the gear to realize the design. His uses a pair of communications microphones, a pro-mixer, and audio interface gear to provide student and radio audio to the sound system in the auditorium at HMS as well as to an array of video cameras. The system makes extensive use of XLR cabling and pro-level devices to ensure clean audio.
Video Presence on the Internet is an Important Element to Draw Interest in a Project Such as Ours…
We Live Streamed some of our Station Testing activities to Facebook and we were amazed at the interest and response that we received. Many folks worldwide followed our progress on Facebook in real-time as we set up and completed our full station test.
We are planning to have two IP Video Cameras Live Streaming to Facebook during our contact. One in the room to provide video of the students as they talk with the astronaut on the ISS and a second on our antennas as they track the ISS.
Its Critically Important to Test the Complete Station Ahead Of Time – New Challenges Emerged when we Mixed Audio and Radio Gear…
We set up the full station (Primary and Backup) along with all of the Audio and Video Gear about 3 weeks prior to our contact for a complete system test. We learned a great deal in doing this and we encountered several problems which we have since corrected.
The most important issues did not show themselves until we made some contacts with all of the A-V gear in place. We had problems with RF aggravated ground loops in the radio microphone circuits during the initial test. These problems did not show themselves until we added the audio mixer and sound system into the station.
These problems were easily corrected by adding Audio Isolation Transformers into the radio microphone circuits.
We also solved some potential issues related to level differences between line and microphone audio circuits using Audio Attenuators.
These problems were not difficult to solve but they would have seriously degraded our contact if we had not discovered them early while there was still plenty of time to secure parts and retest.
Data Networks in Schools and Public Places Require Configuration Adjustments to Support Contact Elements…
Schools and other public places typically do a good job of protecting their data networks and users from threats from both the Internet and within the venue. Tracking Programs, IP Cameras for Live Streaming, and other contact support gear are not typical devices that would be in operation on such networks. Also, many public venues rely almost exclusively on WiFi for access to the Internet and typically prohibit or severely limit client devices from communicating with each other.
WiFi can often suffer from RF interference issues when many devices like Smart Phones are located together in a small area. This situation is common in large gatherings.
Data System for ISS Contact
We had quite a bit of experience with these problems as part of other school projects we’ve done. We worked closely with the IT staff at HMS to plan for and create a network design to support our contact. We opted to use a wired network approach with a local Ethernet switch to implement the IP communications between the elements in our stations and the associated IP Cameras.
The IT team at HMS configured their network to ensure that the IP addresses of our devices were fixed in DHCP and that devices that needed access to the Internet had the access that they required. The IP cameras where the most challenging elements here.
Packed and Ready to Go…
Well, all of our gear is packed and ready to go for setup on-site at HMS. The next article in this series will cover the on-site set up for our contact.
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 that can be operated via the Internet. The main components of the 4.0 Station will include:
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
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.
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
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.
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
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 helps 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:
Quite a few Nashua Area Radio Society members have been working on a display to get young people and potential new Hams interested in Amateur Radio. Our display will be part of the New England Amateur Radio Convention in Boxboro, MA on September 8th and 9th. We are also planning a similar display for NEAR-Fest at Deerfield Fairgrounds, NH later in the fall. You can see more about our planned display and the associated hands-on activities via the following link.
I want to share some information about an Amateur Radio event that we will be doing at the Boxboro, MA Ham Radio Convention in September. Our display and hands-on activities provide an introduction to Amateur Radio for young people and include information and a chance to try Amateur Radio activities such as:
You can read more about our plans for the event via the link above.
Morse Trainer Kit
We’ve been working with Steve Elliot, K1EL to develop an inexpensive kit building project to include as part of our displays. We will be including a new kit building activity in as part of our display. Builders can purchase the Morse Trainer Kit shown above for $20 and build it at the show. We will provide soldering equipment and kit building mentors to help builders complete their kit. The package includes batteries and a printed manual. We will have these kits available for walk-up purchase at the show on both Saturday and Sunday.
I am also planning to provide forum presentation on the following topics on Saturday at Boxboro:
Creating Successful Youth Outreach Projects
Portable Satellite Station Design, Operation, and Planning for an upcoming ISS Crew Contact
STEM Learning for Young People via High Altitude Balloons Carrying Amateur Radio