It seems that Hams struggle a bit to get their HTs programmed with the right set of repeaters and other memory settings. The Nashua Area Radio Society will be offering a custom HT Programming Clinicat HamXposition @ Boxboro 2019 to help hams get their HT’s programmed…
I’d like to invite our readers who are planning to attend the Northeastern HamXposition 2019 @ Boxboro on September 7th and 8th to bring their HT. We will be providing an HT Programming Clinic at the show and we’d be happy to create a custom program for your HT and location. Our custom programs can also include FM Satellites, Foxes, and more!
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:
We have created a program that we call Ham Bootcamp. Bootcamp to helps recently licensed and upgraded hams to get on the air. We are making this program available to up to 100 HamXpostion attendees on a first-come-first-served basis.
Our Bootcamp program will run from 9 am to noon on Saturday, September 7th in the Federal Room. Bootcamp will feature tracks for both Technician and General class license holders. It is also a great place for folks who are not yet licensed to learn more about Amateur Radio and how to get on the air.
Our Bootcamp program will include:
How to make a contact and join a repeater net
Putting together an HF station
Radio, antenna, and feed line choices
Getting started with FT8 and digital modes
Exchanging QSL cards
Learning Morse code
Tips on upgrading
Introduction to ham radio kit building
Handheld radio programming tutorials
Ham Bootcamp is free. Participants will receive discount certificates for a kit build at the show and for purchase of Ham Radio Gear from Ham Radio Outlet.
I wanted to share our plans for several hands-on activities at HamXposition @ Boxboro in September. We hope that Ham Bootcamp will be of particular interest to folks getting into Amateur Radio. You can learn more about Ham Bootcamp and all of our planned activities via the link above. We hope to see some of our readers at HamXpostion next month!
The Nashua Area Radio Society produces similar how-to training materials on almost a monthly basis and we make these materials available to our Members an Internet Subscribers (folks that live too far from our location to be regular members) for a small cost which supports our new Ham development programs and covers the production and storage costs associated with the video material. Here’s a list of the training topics that we’ve produced to date:
2019 Tech Nights
Fox Hunting: Radio Direction Finding for Beginners including a Tape Measure Yagi Build by Jamey Finchum, AC1DC
Surface Mount Technology by Hamilton Stewart, K1HMS
RF Design with Smith Charts, Building a First HF Station, and Begining with CW – Hamilton Stewart, K1HMS; Anthony Rizzolo, KC1DXL; and Jerry Doty, K1OKD
All About Field Day 2019 by our Field Day Planning Team
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.
Frequency accuracy and stability become more challenging for transceivers that operate at 400 Mhz and above. Our 4.0 Satellite Stations operate at frequencies approaching 1.3 GHz and we want to be sure that their operating frequencies are accurate and stable. Our Flex-6700 SDR includes a GPS Disciplined Oscillator (GPSDO) so the radio and all of the transverters associated with the radio use the radio’s GPS disciplined 10 MHz output for frequency synchronization.
We choose a GPSDO from Leo Bodnar. The unit is compact, USB powered, and comes in a nice case which includes a GPS antenna and a USB cable. The unit has two GPS disciplined frequency outputs which can be configured for a wide range of frequencies and levels via a Windows application.
GPSDO Connected to an IC-9700
The GPSDO is connected to the 10 MHz reference input on the back of the IC-9700 with a BNC to SMA cable and the GPSDO is powered via a USB connection to our iMac. We configured the GPSDO output frequency to 10 Mhz and for an output level of +7.7dBm (drive setting 8mA). We also added a 20 dB pad in line with the GPSDO output to better match the drive level requirements of the IC-9700’s 10 MHz input.
The GPSDO will lock in a very short period of time (less than 1 minute) once GPS antenna and power connections are made the unite t. The unit has a red LED on each of its outputs and the unit is GPS locked when the LEDs are on and not flashing.
Configured and 10 MHz Input Locked IC-9700
The last step in the setup process is to configure the IC-9700 to sync its reference frequency to the 10 MHz input. This is easily done in the IC-9700’s Set/Function Menu.
It was pretty easy to add GPSDO locking to the IC-9700 and the arrangement described here works well. While this upgrade is not essential for satellite operation, it’s nice to know that our satellite transceiver frequencies are accurate and stable.
You can find other articles about our Satellite Station 4.0 project here:
Adding the additional bands for satellite operations involves adding a 2m Amplifier, a 70cm Transverter, and a 23cm Upconverter to our SDR-based Remote GW. We decided to repackage our Remote GW set up in a rack mount cabinet on casters. This allows all of the required gear to be placed under the desk in our station in a way that is neat and reliable.
We also added an Ethernet Switch, a pair of USB hubs, and upgraded power and remote controls to improve our ability to manage our station remotely and to simplify the interconnections between our Remote GW and the rest of our station. The final assembly mounts all of the components in the rack on 5 levels as follows:
The purpose of these components is explained in more detail below.
All of these devices are powered from 13.8 Vdc station power to avoid the potential for noise from wall wart transformers inside the rack. Also, attention was paid to the isolation of the digital and RF components on separate levels to minimize the chance that noise from digital signals would leak into the RF chains.
Remote Satellite SDR System Design
The diagram above shows how the added components for the satellite bands interconnect with the Flex-6700. The new components include:
The Flex-6700 can generate and receive signals on the 2m band but it does this at IF power levels. The 2m LPDA brings the IF power level up to a maximum of 75 watts. The DIPs device enables the Flex-6700 to operate in U/v, V/u, and L/v modes.
The 28 MHz splitter allows a total of 4 transverters/upconverters to be connected to the radio. This will enable us to add 5 GHz and 10 GHz bands to our satellite station in the future.
Our Flex-6700 includes a GPS Disciplined Oscillator (GPSDO) which provides an accurate and stable 10 MHz reference output to lock the 70cm and 23cm transverter frequencies. The 10 MHz Reference Distribution Amplifier expands the single 10 MHz on the Flex-6700 to drive up to 4 transverters or upconverters.
The two USB cables allow the Flex-6700 and SmartSDR to control the LPDA and PTT for the 70cm and 23 cm bands.
The rackmount arrangement uses shelves which provide ventilation for the components and enable us to use zip ties to tie down all of the components. The photo above shows the layout of the shelf which contains the 2m LPDA, the 70cm Transverter and many of the RF interconnections. Velcro tape is used to secure the smaller components to the shelf.
2m/70cm Shelf RF Interconnection Details
The photo above shows the RF interconnections. The 70cm Transverter is on the upper left and the 2m LPDA is on the upper right. The rectangular boxes coming from these devices are the sensors for the WaveNode WN-2 Power and SWR Meter that we are using. They are terminated in 50-ohm dummy loads for initial testing. The DIPS device is center bottom and the 4-port device above it is the 28 MHz splitter. All of the interconnections are handled using 50-ohm BNC cables and the unused ports on the 28 MHz splitter are terminated with 50-ohm BNC terminators.
Rear View of Remote Gateway Rack
The photo above shows the rear of the unit. The 10 MHz Reference Distribution Amplifier (bottom center) and the two Industrial 12V powered USB hubs are visible at the bottom of the unit. The DC power distribution components are at the upper left and a set of Internet-controlled relays are at the upper right.
USB Connections via Hubs
One of the USB hubs fans out a single USB connection from the host PC to the USB controlled devices in the Remote GW rack. The other USB hub expands the USB outputs of the Flex-6700 to accommodate the control cables for the devices in the rack and the CAT cable which provides frequency data to the microHam SMD Antenna Controller.
Power Control and Distribution Design
Remote control and distribution of DC power to all of the devices in our Remote GW is an important design consideration. In addition to proper fusing, one must be able to remotely turn devices on and off remotely. The diagram above shows the power distribution and control architecture that we are using.
13.8 Vdc Power Distribution
RigRunner power distribution blocks are used to fuse and distribute power to all of the accessory devices in the rack.
Remote Gateway Power Controls
The RigRunner 4005i provides remote power control via the Internet for all of the major units and accessories in the rack. In addition to controlling power on/off states and providing electronic fusing, the RigRunner 4005i monitors voltage and current to the equipment in the Remote GW. These controls are accessed via a web browser and a network connection. Login/password security is also provided.
Remote Control Relay Unit
A microBit Webswitch device provides Internet controlled relays to manage various station functions including:
After some configuration of the Transverters and PTT controls in SmartSDR, the satellite portion of our Remote GW is up and running. There is quite a bit of software installation and configuration left to do and we’ll cover that in a future post.
You can find other articles about our Satellite Station 4.0 project here:
We recently completed the finishing touches on our new VHF/Satellite Tower. The first step was to install a second set of entry conduits into our shack and a new ground block for our satellite antennas. This involved installing 4″ PVC conduits into our shack. The new entries are very close to the base of our tower and this will allow us to keep our feedlines as short as possible.
Hardline Coax Cables Up The Tower
We also replaced the section of our feedlines which run down the tower with 7/8″ hardline coax. We installed a total of four runs for 6m, 2m, 70cm, and 23cm. The use of hardline coax will help reduce our feedline losses – especially on 70cm and 23cm.
Hardlines at Base of Tower
The new hardlines are connected one of the two entries into our shack. The 6m hardline enters on the side closes to our antenna switching matrix and the 2m, 70cm, and 23 cm hardlines will enter the shack via the newly created entry which will be close to our satellite transceiver.
The next step in our project will be to upgrade our Flex-6700 SDR based Remote Gateway for operation on the satellite bands. You can find other articles about our Satellite Station 4.0 project here:
The IC-9700 is based upon Icom’s direct sampling SDR platform. It supports all modes of operation on the 2m, 70cm, and 23 cm bands. The radio also supports satellite modes and D-STAR.
MacDoppler Controlling the IC-9700
The new IC-9700 replaced the IC-9100 in our Portable Satellite Station. An updated version of MacDoppler is available which supports the IC-9700 and we tested MacDoppler using both the USB and CI-V interfaces. In both cases, MacDoppler handled the new radio including band and mode selection, doppler correction, and access-tone setting properly. Our setup uses an iMac running MacDoppler and MacLoggerDX for radio control, antenna control, and logging and a windows laptop running UISS and MMSSTV for APRS and SSTV. Our setup was easily accomplished by connecting the IC-9700’s CI-V interface to the iMac and the USB interface (for audio and PTT) to our windows laptop.
IC-9700 Display and Waterfall – Working FO-29
We’ve made about 50 contacts with the IC-9700 so far. The radio is a pleasure to use. The touch screen layout and functions are very similar to the IC-7300 and one does not need to spend much time with the manual to become comfortable using the radio. The Spectrum Scope and associated waterfall are really nice for operating with linear transponder satellites. The screenshot above shows the IC-9700 display while working contacts using FO-29. As you can see, it is very easy to see where stations are operating in the passband of a linear transponder. The Spectrum Scope also makes it very easy to locate your signal in the satellite’s downlink and then adjust the uplink/downlink offset for proper tone.
We’ve also done a bit of APRS operation through the ISS using the IC-9700 and the UISS software. The direct USB interface was used to a windows laptop for APRS. Setting up PTT and the proper audio levels were straightforward and the combination of MacDoppler controlling the VFO in the radio and the PC doing the APRS packet processing worked well.
The IC-9700 can power and sequence our external ARR preamplifiers and we plan to use this capability to eliminate the outboard sequencers that we are currently using with our preamps. We’ll need to climb our tower to change the preamps over to be powered through the coax before we can complete the preamp control changeover.
All in all, we are very happy with the new IC-9700 for Satellite operations. We’ve also noticed that quite a few satellite operators also have the new IC-9700 on the air.
You can find other articles about our Satellite Station 4.0 project here:
Sometimes we learn from problems and mistakes. We all go through this from time to time. It is part of the learning aspect of Amateur Radio. My most recent experience came while integrating our new tower-based satellite antenna system. After the antennas were up, initial testing revealed the following problems:
After an initial attempt to correct these problems with the antennas on the tower, we decided to take them down again to resolve the problems. The removal was enabled, in part, via rental of a 50 ft boom lift.
The lift made it relatively easy to remove the Satellite Antenna Assembly from the tower. We placed it on the Glen Martin Roof Tower stand that was built for the Portable Satellite Station 3.0. Once down, the Satellite Antenna System was completely disassembled and a replacement Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator was installed.
Cross Boom Truss System
The photo above shows the reassembled cross boom and associated truss supports. Note the tilt in the truss tube on the left side. This allows the antennas to be flipped over 180 degrees without the truss contacting the mast.
As mentioned in the previous article, polycarbonate reinforcement bushings are installed in the fiberglass parts to prevent the clamps from crushing the tubes. The photo above shows one of the bushings installed at the end of one of the truss tubes.
The bushings are held in place with small machine screws. This ensures that they remain in the correct locations inside the fiberglass tubes.
Thorough Ground Test
With the Satellite Antenna Array back together and aligned, we took a few days to operate the system on the ground. This allowed me to adequately test everything to ensure that the system was working correctly.
Tower Integration Using A 50 ft Boom Lift
With the testing complete, the antennas went back up on the tower, and the integration and testing work resumed. Having the boom lift available made the remaining integration work much easier.
Control Cable Interconnect Boxes On The Tower
There are quite a few control cables associated with the equipment on our new tower including:
The M2 Orion Rotator which turns the mast that holds the 6 m Yagi and the Satellite Antenna Array
A combination of junction boxes near the top of the tower and at the base make connecting and testing of the control circuits easier and more reliable. Tower mounted junction boxes were used to terminate the control cables near the rotators and antennas.
The Preamp System was mounted near the top of the new tower and the feedlines from the 2m and 70 cm Satellite Antennas were connected to it. LMR-400uF coax is run from the Preamp System as well as from the Directive Systems DSE2324LYRM 23 cm Satellite Yagi and the M2 6M7JHVHD 6 m Yagi on our new tower to the station in our house to complete the feedlines. These LMR-400uF feedlines will be replaced with 7/8″ hardline coax to our shack in the spring when warmer weather makes working with the hardlines easier.
Temporary Station Setup
With all of the tower integration work done, we set up the station in our house for testing. This is the same station that is our Portable Satellite Station 3.0 with two additions:
An iMac Computer which replaces the MacBook laptop used in the portable configuration
Both of these additions will become part of the final Satellite Station 4.0 when it is moved to a permanent home in our shack.
The rotator set up on the new tower provides two separate azimuth rotators. The lower one above turns both the 6 m Yagi and the Satellite Antenna Array together. The upper box controls the Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator for the satellite antennas. Using two separate rotators and controllers will allow us to integrate the 6m Yagi into the microHam system in our station and will allow the MacDoopler Satellite Tracking Software running on the iMac to control the Satellite Antennas separately. When we are using the 6 m Yagi, the Satellite Antennas will be parked pointing up to minimize any coupling with the 6 m Yagi. When we are using the Satellite Antennas, the rotator that turns the mast will be set to 0 degrees to ensure accurate azimuth pointing of the Satellite Antennas by the Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator.
PSK Reporter View using the M2 6M7JHVHD 6 m Yagi
So how does it all perform? With WSJT-X setup on our iMac, I was able to do some testing with the new 6 m Yagi using FT8. The IC-9100 Transceiver that we are using can produce 100W with WSJT-X. The 6m band is usually not very open here in New England in January so I was quite pleased with the results. As you can see from the PSKReporter snapshot above, the new antenna got out quite well on 6 m using 100W. I made several contacts during this opening including one with W5LDA in Oklahoma – a 1,400 mi contact. The 6M7JHVHD is a much quieter antenna on the receive side which helps to make more difficult contacts on 6 m.
MacDoppler Tracking AO-91
We’ve made a little over 100 satellite contacts using the new system so far. With the satellite antennas at 45 feet, it’s much easier to make low-angle contacts and we can often continue QSOs down to elevation angles of 5 degrees or less. I have not had much of a chance to test 23 cm operation with AO-92 but I have heard my signal solidly in AO-92’s downlink using the L-band uplink on the new tower. This is a good sign as our IC-9100 has only 10W out on 23 cm and we are using almost 100 ft of LMR-400uF coax to feed our 23 cm antenna.
Satellite Grids Worked and Confirmed
I’ve managed to work 10 new grid squares via satellites using the new antenna system including DX contacts with satellite operators in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Northern Ireland using AO-07 and FO-29. These were all low-angle passes.
So what did we learn from all of this? Due to concern over possible snow here in New England, I did not take the time to fully ground test the satellite antennas and new rotator before it went up on the tower the first time. My thinking was that the setup was the same as that used on Portable Satellite Station 3.0 for over a year. The problem was the replacement parts and new control cables were not tested previously and both of these created problems that were not discovered until the antennas were at 45 feet. While it would have made increased the risk that the antennas would not have gotten up before the first winter snowstorm here, it would have been much better to run the antennas on the ground for a few days as I did the second time. Had I done this, both problems would have appeared and have been easily corrected.