Reducing RFI From Our QTH

Fiber Wall Outlet

Fiber Wall Outlet

Many Hams (including this one) have problems with RF Interference (RFI) at their stations. Many RFI sources typically come from inside our own homes. Symptoms include birdies at single frequencies, interference that moves around across the Amateur Radio Bands, and high noise floors. We have had all of these problems here.

We recently built an improved EME station for the 2m Band. We noticed a higher than ideal noise floor when operating 2m EME during initial testing of the new station. We decided to do some additional testing to see if we could isolate the source of the noise levels. One test we did was to shut down much of the ethernet network and associated devices here at our QTH. To our surprise, this lowered our noise floor on 2m some 6 dB, and eliminated many birdies in the EME section of the 2m Band!

Our network mostly uses wired Ethernet running throughout our home on Cat 5e and Cat 6 unshielded ethernet cable. Many of the devices in our home use Power Over Ethernet (PoE) connections to power them through the ethernet cables.

NAS Drives with 10 GbE Optical Interfaces

NAS Drives for Video Storage and Backups

We also do quite a bit of video editing work and often transfer large files from our computers to several large Network Attached Storage (NAS) drives for file storage and backup. We also use an extensive IP Camera System to monitor our towers and for general security purposes.

Core Network Rack Enclosure

Core Network Rack Enclosure

We decided to solve our noise problems via a pretty major upgrade to our home network. The upgrade included:

  • Installing OM4 multimode fiber optic cables to replace all of the non-PoE wired Ethernet connections to the rooms in our home. The fiber cables were chosen to support 1 GbE and 10 GbE connections now and to be upgradable to 100 GbE connections in the future.
  • Installing a shielded rack enclosure to house the switches and management devices for our upgraded Network
  • Installing new Cat 6A Shielded Ethernet cables to PoE devices that we wanted to remotely shut down when we are operating using weak-signal modes on 6m and above
  • Upgrading portions of our network to 10 Gbs Ethernet speeds to improve the efficiency of Video Editing and Backups

The project began with the installation of a Shielded Rack Enclosure in our basement. The Rack is wall-mounted and is fully shielded and grounded. It also includes cooling fans that move air vertically through the Rack to keep the gear inside cool.

Core Network in Rack

Core Network in Rack

Next, we mounted all of the gear for our upgraded core network in the Rack. The main components include (from bottom to top):

PDU Web Interface for Network Control and Management

PDU Web Interface for Network Control and Management

We are going to power down most of our IP Cameras and the WiFi AP devices around our home when we are operating on 6m and above. We implemented this capability using an IP-Controlled Power Distribution Unit (PDU) that allows us to remotely turn network devices in our network on and off via a web browser from anywhere in our home.

IP Camera PoE Switches

IP Camera PoE Switches

The PDU controls a pair of Netgear PoE Edge Switches that power most of the IP Cameras in our home via PoE connections. Shutting down these switches via the PDU removes power from the associated IP Cameras which eliminates a great deal of noise and other RFI.

WiFi AP Control via PoE Edge Switch

WiFi Acess Point Control via PoE Edge Switch

We also installed a VLAN-capable Netgear PoE Edge Switch and connected it to the PDU. This switch enables us to shut down other devices on our network such as WiFi Access Points which are also significant sources of RFI. This switch uses a pair of optical interfaces that connect it to our core network

OM4 Fiber Cable with LC Connectors Installed

OM4 Fiber Cable with LC Connectors Installed

A large part of the work associated with our network upgrade project involved running OM4 Multi-mode Fiber Optic cables to all of the rooms in our home. We ran 12-fiber cables to locations that would likely benefit from upgrades to 100 GbE in the future (ex. our shack, home offices, media equipped rooms, and servers/NAS devices) and 6-fiber cables were used elsewhere. All of our fiber cables use LC connectors with two fibers for each Ethernet connection (one for Tx and one for Rx). We used a mix of pre-terminated cable assemblies and unterminated cables to complete the room installations.

Fiber Prep using Fiber Cleaver

Fiber Prep using a Fiber Cleaver

Field terminating fiber optic cables is not difficult but it does require some special tools and careful attention to detail. The ends of each fiber must be prepared to precise specifications and be very clean before the LC connectors can be installed. The image above shows a Fiber Cleaver which is used to “cleave” the end of each fiber to form a square, low-reflection/low-loss connection to a field-installable LC connector. Proper use of a high-quality Fiber Cleaver is important if you are to achieve low-loss, low-dispersion field terminations.

Verifying an LC Connector Installation using Visual Fault Locator

Verifying an LC Connector Installation using a Visual Fault Locator

A Visual Fault Locator (VFL) with an LC Connector Adapter is used to confirm the proper installation of each LC connector. The tool shines a bright red laser light through the LC connector and fiber cable. The field installable LC connectors include a window that indicates laser dispersion at the fiber/connector junction. Too much light in the window due to dispersion indicates a poor connection. The VFL tool is also very useful for checking end-to-end optical transmission and continuity of the completed fiber cable installations.

Fiber Wall Outlet

Fiber Wall Outlet and Patch Cables

The fibers were terminated in wall outlets in the rooms of our home. The outlet plates accept standard keystone jacks. We used LC Keystone Couplers with our wall jack plates. This approach ensures that the ends of fragile fiber optic cables running to the rooms will not be damaged or broken when connecting the fibers to ethernet switches and other devices.

Fiber Interconnect Tray

Fiber LC Interconnect Enclosure

The other end of each fiber cable is terminated in a Fiber LC Patch Enclosure Trays in our Rack. The enclosures provide a test point and LC patch cable interconnect point for the fiber cables. The advantage of using enclosures such as these is that they protect the ends of the fiber cables running to the rooms from damage. A total of three trays terminate a total of 72 OM4 fiber pairs that we installed in our home.

Optical Fiber Connector Cleaner

Optical Fiber Connector Cleaner

It is very important to keep all of the fiber connections clean. Standard practice should be to ALWAYS clean the ends of each LC connector with an Optical Fiber Connector Cleaner each time before an LC connector is installed in a jack. It is also important to keep the supplied caps that come with LC connectors installed when they are not connected to a jack or optical SFP.

10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver

10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver

The fibers in the core rack and in the rooms are connected to switches, computers, and NAS devices via SFP or SFP+ Transceivers. An example of an SFP+ Transceiver is shown above. These devices convert the laser signals carried on the multimode OM4 fibers to a standard electrical format that can be handled by the core and edge switches in our network.

Core Network Components

Core Network Components

The connections between the Fiber Termination and Patch Enclosures and the SFPs and SFP+s in the Core Switches in our rack are made using OM4 LC Patch Cables (the aqua cables shown in the image above).

Fiber Wall Outlet

Fiber Wall Outlet and Patch Cables

Similar patch cables are run from the Wall Jacks to the Ethernet Edge switches in each room to complete the connections to the core network. Most of our Edge Switches in the rooms in our home use two pairs of fibers in a LAG configuration. This increases the bandwidth capacity of the connections and also increases reliability. Should one of the fiber pairs experience a failure, the other pair continues to carry the traffic until the problem can be repaired.

Reducting RFI - Shielded CAT6A Ethernet Terminations

Shielded CAT6A Ethernet Terminations

Some devices in our network such as the PoE IP Cameras on our Towers and a portion of our WiFi Access Points cannot be shut down without significantly compromising the operation and functionality of our Network. We controlled the noise and RFI contribution from these devices by installing new, Cat 6A Shield Ethernet cabling to connect them. The Cat 6A cables must be terminated using a grounded, fully shielded ethernet panel. This device is 10 Gbps Ethernet capable and properly terminates that the shielded Cat 6A cables in our Rack.

Cat 6A Shielded Keystone Jack

Cat 6A Shielded Keystone Jack

Shielded Cat 6A Keystone Jacks and Shielded Ethernet Patch Cables are used in the rooms to connect to the edge devices.

10 GbE Connected Computer

10 Gbps Ethernet Connected Computer

So how did all of this work out? We are seeing 6 – 7 dB improvement in the noise floor on 2m. This is a huge improvement for our EME station! We are also seeing about 1 dB in noise floor improvement on 6m. We are also seeing a significant reduction in birdies on all the bands. Finally, many of our computers and most of our NAS drives have been upgraded to 10 Gbps Ethernet which enables us to move large files around our network much more quickly. We are also seeing some improvement in the actual measured throughput of our 1 Gbs/400 Mbps Fiber Internet connection.

I hope that our readers find our Fiber Optic and 10 Gbps Networking project interesting.

Fred, AB1OC

 

Tech Night – EME II: Station Construction and Operation

EME II - Station Construction and Operation

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

You can view the Tech Night presentation by clicking on the video above. Here’s a link to the presentation that goes with the video. You can learn more about the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Tech Night program here. There is a demonstration of an actual live EME contact on the 2m band at 57:57 in the video.

The first Tech Night in the EME Series was about Getting Started in EME Communications. You can view that Tech Night here.

We are in the process of upgrading our EME station to include adaptive polarity. you can read more about that project here.

Fred, AB1OC

EME Station 2.0 Part 5 – Control Cables and Rotator Controller

Control Cable Junction Box on EME Tower

Control Cable Junction Box on EME Tower

Snow is coming to New England this weekend so we wanted to get the control cables run to our new EME Tower before the ground is covered with snow. The project involved installing a Utility Enclosure on our tower and running three control cables to our shack for the following devices:

Az-El Rotor and Preamp Switching Control Connections

Az-El Rotator and Preamp Switching Control Connections

We began by install some barrier strips and a copper ground strap in the Utility Enclosure. The copper strap provides a good ground connection to the tower and associated grounding system. The enclosure is clamped to the tower using two stainless steel clamps.

We ran three new control cables through the conduits that we installed between the tower and our shack and terminated them in the utility enclosure. We only needed 6 leads for control of the planned MAP65 Switching and Preamp System which will go on our tower later so we doubled up some of the higher current connections using two wires in the 8-conductor cable.

Green Heron RT-21 Az-El Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 Az-El Rotator Controller

The final step was to hook up our rotator cables to a Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller in our shack.  We do not yet have our elevation rotator so we tested the M2 Orion 2800 Azimuth Rotator that is installed in our tower. The azimuth rotator is configured so that the rotator’s dead spot faces north. This is a good configuration of our planned EME operation.

With all of our control cabling in place, we are ready to begin preparing our Antennas, Elevation Rotator, H-Frame, and MAP65 components to go on our EME Tower. We’re hoping that the weather will cooperate and enable us to get these steps completed during this winter.

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

GPS Time Server

GPS NTP

GPS Controlled Time Server

There are many reasons to have an accurate time source in your station. Getting the best performance from WSJT-X modes like FT8 requires your computer clock to be synchronized to within a second for example. You can set your clocks accurately using NTP servers on the Internet. This is the most common way that most stations set their clocks.

What if you are portable and don’t have Internet access or what do you do if your Internet connection goes down? One way to solve these problems is to use a GPS controlled NTP time server in your station. We recently installed one from Leo Bodnar in our station.

GPS NTP

GPS Antenna

This device is simple to install. It just requires an Ethernet connection to your network and a GPS antenna. The antenna is included with the unit. The antenna will need to be outdoors with a reasonably clear view of the sky.

GPS NTP

GPS Satellite Lock Screen

After a minute or so after it is installed and powered up, the unit will synchronize to the visible GPS satellites in your location and report its coordinates. This indicates that you have a good GPS system lock and that the clock in the unit is accurate to within a microsecond.

GPS NTP

NTP Summary Screen

The unit gets its IP either from DHCP or via a fixed IP address that you can program. Once the unit is set, you use its IP address as the NTP server in your software to set your clocks. You would set you NTP server in a program like Dimension 4 to accurately set your computer’s clock for example. You will want to disable your computer’s normal Internet clock setting function to avoid conflicts with Dimension 4. Once this is set up, your computer clock will be synchronized to the GPS system and will be very accurate and you will get the best performance from WSJT-X.

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 7 – Flex SDR Satellite Transceiver

Flex-6700 SmartSDR in Satellite Mode

A major part of our plans for Satellite Station 4.0 includes the ability to operate our home satellite station remotely over the Internet. We’ve been using our Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio (SDR) as a Remote Operating Gateway (GW) on the HF Bands and 6m for some time now. Our latest project is to upgrade our Remote Operating GW to support satellite operations on the 2m, 70cm, and 23cm bands.

Remote Gateway Rack with Satellite Additions

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.

Satellite SDR

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.

2m/70cm Shelf

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:

Can learn more about the SDR-based Remote Operating Gateway at our station here.

Fred, AB1OC

Satellite Station 4.0 Part 6 – Tower Finishing Touches

New Shack Entry and Ground Block

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:

Fred, AB1OC

Upgrading our 2.0 Satellite Station for ARISS Contacts

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

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

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Antenna System

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

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

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

Icom IC-910H Transceiver

Icom IC-910H Transceiver

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

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

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

GHTracker Running On A Raspberry Pi 3

GHTracker Running On A Raspberry Pi 3

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

M2 Antenna Systems PS2MCP8A Polarity Switch

M2 Antenna Systems PS-2MCP8A Polarity Switch

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

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

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

m RM ITALY LA-250V Amplifier

RM ITALY LA-250V Amplifier

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred, AB1OC

PTT Router for Satellite Station 3.0

ARR Satellite Preamp

Advanced Receiver Research Remote Preamp

Our Satellite Station 2.0 antenna system uses a pair of Advanced Receiver Research Remote preamplifiers at the antennas to boost weak signals. These preamps have RF sensing and switching to protect them during transit. While this system works well; we are always concerned about the impact of the RF power affecting the long-term reliability of these devices and the associated radio equipment.

M2 Antenna Systems S3 Sequencers

M2 Antenna Systems S3 Sequencers

Our Satellite Station 2.0 uses a pair of M2 Antenna Systems S3 Sequencers to control the preamps remotely. For U/V and V/U mode satellites, it’s a simple matter to turn off the uplink band preamp to protect it against RF during transmit. The problem with this approach comes when working satellites and the International Space Station in simplex (single band) modes. In these situations, we need a solution which keys the sequencers externally so that the sequencers can properly control the changeover of the preamps from receive to transmit mode before keying our radio (an Icom IC-9100). We also wanted a solution which could also allow the radio initiate the keying of the sequencers for CW break-in keying and digital modes.

PTT Router

PTT Router

Our solution was to design and build a simple Push-To-Talk (PTT) router. This device allows an external source such as a footswitch or a trigger switch to initiate the keying. The design also includes indicators which confirm that the keying sequence has completed.

PTT Router Schematic Diagram

PTT Router Schematic Diagram

Our first step was to create a simple design which allowed for either an external switch or the radio to initiate keying. The PTT source switch (S1) selects the keying source and uses the Hsend  (2m key) and Vsend (70cm/1.2 GH key) lines on the Icom IC-9100 accessory jack as either the means to key the radio or the means to detect that the radio has initiated a transmit keying sequence. A second switch (S2) selects which VFO is keyed when the keying source switch (S1) is in External mode. Finally,  indicators for power and keying complete were added.

Rear Panel Connectors

Rear Panel Connectors

A small enclosure was used to house the switches, indicators, and the connections to the rest of our Satellite Station. The image above shows the rear-panel connections to external PTT sources, the S3 Sequencers, the IC-9100 Radio, and a 12 Vdc station power source.

PTT Router Internal View

PTT Router Internal View

A pair of terminal strips were mounted inside the enclosure to make connecting all of the components easier. The wiring is pretty dense around the front and rear panels so connections were insulated with heat shrink tubing. A small PCB could easily be created to make replicating the prototype easier should we decide to build more copies of the design.

Satellite Station 3.0 Controls

Satellite Station 3.0 Controls

Our new PTT router was easy to integrate into our Satellite Station 3.0 setup. Integration required some custom cables to be made to connect our PTT router to the sequencers and to the accessory jack of the radio. With the integration completed, we are now able to properly sequence the control of the preamps and the radio in all modes of operation. Here are some more articles which include more about our portable satellite stations –

Fred (AB1OC)

An 80m Broadband Matching System

Our Tower with 75m Loop

Our Tower with 75m Loop

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

EZ-NEC Model for 75m Loop

EZ-NEC Model for 75m Loop

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

Matching System Design Analysis

Matching System Design Analysis

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

Modeled Loading Coil Inductance Values

Modeled Loading Coil Inductance Values

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

Matching System Modeled SWR

Matching System Modeled SWR

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

Layout of Components in Enclosure

Layout of Components in Enclosure

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

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

Enclosure Mounting Ears and Clamps

Enclosure Mounting Ears and Clamps

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

80m Matching System Construction

80m Matching System Construction

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

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

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

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

Completed RF Deck

Completed RF Deck

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

Loading Coil Mounting and Taps

Loading Coil Mounting and Taps

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

Relay Control Circuit Connections

Relay Control Circuit Connections

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

Relay Control Circuit Details

Relay Control Circuit Details

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

1.5 to 1 Matching Balun

1.5 to 1 Matching Balun

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

MicroHAM Setup to Control 80m Matching System

MicroHAM Setup to Control 80m Matching System

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

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

Fred, AB1OC

Remote Operating Enhancements

Updated Remote Operating Setup

Updated Remote Operating Setup

As explained in a previous article, we have been working on enhancing our FlexRadio 6700 based Remote Operating Setup to include additional remote control client options, better remote networking via the Internet, and better integration with our microHAM system.

Remote Operating Architecture

Remote Operating Gateway Architecture

This project involved the addition of the following capabilities to our base Remote Operating Setup:

These steps are now complete and we have some good results to share.

SmartSDR V2 Remote Connection

SmartSDR V2 Remote Connection

The first part of the upgrade was to update to SmartSDR V2. This upgrade enables much improved SmartSDR operation over the Internet. Our previous approach, which used a tunneled VPN connection combined with the previous versions of SmartSDR did not always perform well when used with low-bandwidth or high latency Internet connections. SmartSDR does much better in this area.

SmartSDR CAT Remote

SmartSDR CAT Remote

DAX Operating Remote

DAX Remote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both the SmartSDR CAT and the SmartSDR DAX application have been updated to allow software on a PC being used to operate the FlexRadio SDRs over the Internet to gain access to CAT and sound interfaces associated with the radio.

FlexRadio Maestro Console

FlexRadio Maestro Console

We also added a Maestro Console to enhance the usability of the SDR radio portion of our Remote Operating Gateway. The Maestro is very easy to use and extends the available controls and display space which was limited when using just a laptop PC. The Maestro supports direct microphone connections for phone operation and also works with connected CW paddles for operation in CW mode. I have been using a single level paddle along with our Maestro as speeds of 22 WPM with full QSK. Sending CW at these speeds with the Maestro works well.

The Maestro has built-in WiFi and Ethernet connections and full support for SmartSDR V2’s connections over the Internet. The Maestro can operate from AC power or from an internal battery pack. I have a couple of spare rechargeable batteries for our Maestro to support longer operating sessions on battery.

TeamViewer VPN

TeamViewer VPN

We have been using a combination of TeamViewer Remote Control software and a router-based VPN solution to enable control of our antenna controllers and station power/amplifiers. This arrangement works well but most of our readers probably do not have a router which can support VPN connections or the networking knowledge to set up a secure VPN system.

A much simpler VPN solution can be realized by utilizing TeamViewer’s built-in VPN capability. You simply install TeamViewer on a PC in you shack which can access you station accessories and on your remote operating laptop or PC. You then enable TeamViewer’s VPN option and the configuration is complete.

TeamViewer VPN Connection

TeamViewer VPN Connection

We now use TeamViewer to set up both a VPN connection and a remote desktop control connection to a computer in our shack which can control amplifiers, power, and other station accessories associated with our Remote Operating Gateway We use TeamViewer in this way to control our microHAM Station Master Deluxe antenna controllers, RigRunner remote power controller, a microBit Webswitch device and an Elecraft KPA500 amplifier which are all part of our station’s Remote Operating Gateway.

DXLab Operating Remote

DXLab Operating Remote

With the addition of the SmartSDR and the updated TeamViewer/VPN setup, we can operate our station remotely over the Internet. We have tested our setup using a Wireless Hotspot modem and Verizon’s LTE service. The combination of our PC running the DXLab Logging Suite and the Maestro work great in this configuration.

We have found the need to initialize the networking configuration in a specific order to get everything running correctly. The steps that we use are as follows:

  1. Connect the laptop PC to the Internet
  2. Bring up the TeamViewer VPN connection
  3. Run SmartSDR on the laptop PC and login to SmartSDR Remote
  4. Bring up the DXLab’s Suite including Commander (currently, DXLab’s Commander has some issues connecting when the FlexRadio protocol is used. We have found that the KENWOOD protocol works fine.)
  5. Bring up the remote control application for the Elecraft amplifier and access our RigRunner power controller and microBit Webswitch units to turn on accessories as needed
  6. Initiate a second TeamViewer Remote Control connection and use it to run the microHAM remote antenna controller in a single window
  7. Shutdown SmartSDR on the laptop PC and bring up the connection to the radio via the Maestro.

There is obviously still some room for simplification in this initialization procedure. I expect that some simplification will come as all of the software involved becomes more mature and is further adapted for remote operation.

Once initialized properly, its simple to use the PC and Maestro combination to work SSB Phone or CW contacts. The DXLab Logging Suite will follow the radio, track modes, handle split operation, and allow control of our antenna rotators via DXView. We can click on spots in DXLab’s SpotCollector to automatically set the FlexRadio SDR’s mode, frequency, and split configuration. The Maestro and DXLab will stay in sync during tuning, mode changes, and other radio operations.

Remote Digital Operation using WSJT-X and FT8

Remote Digital Operation using WSJT-X and FT8

The final part of this project was to add the latest Version of the WSJT-X software to our Remote Operating client laptop PC to enable FT8 operation on the HF bands and MSK144 for Meteor Scatter work on 6m.

SmartSDR and JTAlert Supporting Remote FT8 Mode

SmartSDR and JTAlert Supporting Remote FT8 Mode

We do not use the Maestro for digital operation. We leave SmartSDR running on our remote laptop PC instead. We also use the JTAlert application to create an automated bridge between WXJT-X and the DXLab Logging Suite.

The combination of SmartSDR V2 and WSJT-X works great remotely. We have used this combination to make quite a few FT8 contacts on the HF bands as well as several Meteor Scatter contacts on 6m using MSK144 mode.

These enhancements to our Remote Operating Gateway have helped both Anita and me to operate more. I have our Maestro either in my home office or on a table in our kitchen where we can listen to the bands and work DX when the opportunities come up. Remote Operating, even it’s just from another room at your QTH, is great fun!

We should be able to begin the next step in our station upgrade plans – the addition of an Elecraft KPA1500 shared amplifier, in the near future. The new amplifier will enable our Remote Operating Gateway to operate at 1500w out on the HF bands and 6m.

This project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

Fred, AB1OC