A Portable Satellite Station Part 5 – Plans for Our 3.0 Station

Satellite Grids Worked

Satellite Grids Worked

We’ve made about 250 contacts with our Portable Satellite Station 2.0 and we have worked 106 grids which should be enough to earn a Satellite VUCC. The picture above shows the grids that we’ve worked via Satellites. We’ve learned a lot about satellite operation and had a great deal of fun in the process!

Portable Satellite Station 2.0 Goals

Portable Satellite Station 2.0 Goals

We’ve met all of our original goals for our 2.0 Station and we’ve used it portable at License Classes, Field Day, and other Amateur Radio Demonstrations. We’ve also shared presentations about our 2.0 Station with Amateur Radio Groups here in the New England area. The question that we get most often about the 2.0 Station is “What are your plans for the Portable Satellite Station 3.0”?

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Goals

Portable Satellite Station 3.0 Goals

Well, here is the plan. We are working with a local group to secure and host an ISS Crew contact. The ARISS folks have published ground station requirements for these contacts. Here are the primary station requirements:

  • Transceiver with 50–100 W output, 1 kHz tuning steps, and 21 memories capable of storing split frequencies
  • Low-loss coax (such as 9913 or LMR-400)
  • Mast-mounted receive pre-amplifier
  • 14-element yagi antenna with switched circular polarity
  • Antenna rotators for azimuth (0–360°) and elevation (0–180°), with an interface for computer control
  • Computer running tracking software for antenna control (including flip mode operation)

Fortunately, our 2.0 Station meets or exceeds almost all of the primary station requirements with the exception of the antennas. The required antenna upgrades will shape the plans for our Portable Satellite Station 3.0.

M2 Antenna Systems 2MCP14

M2 Antenna Systems 2MCP14

ISS Crew Contacts are conducted using 2m Simplex radios on the ISS. We choose the 14-element circularly polarized 2MCP14 yagi from M2 Antenna Systems to meet the ARISS requirements for 2m. Here are the specifications for this antenna:

2MCP14 Antenna Specifications

2MCP14 Antenna Specifications

The 2MCP14 antenna offers a good balance between gain (12.34 dBi) and boom length (10′-6″) and is near the size limit that is practical for use in our Portable Station. This antenna provides an additional 3.14 dBi of gain compared to the M2 Antenna Systems 2MCP8A yagi which we are currently using in the 2.0 Station.

M2 Antenna Systems 436CP30

M2 Antenna Systems 436CP30

While not required for an ARISS Crew Contact, we are also going to upgrade the 70cm yagi to a 30-element circularly polarized M2 Antenna Systems 436CP30 yagi. Here are the specifications for this antenna:

436CP30 Antenna Specifications

436CP30 Antenna Specifications

This antenna is a good match for the upgraded 2m yagi. The 436CP30 has a boom length of 9′-9″ and a gain of 15.50 dBi. This antenna will provide an additional 2.2 dBi of gain compared to the M2 Antenna Systems 436CP16 yagi which we are currently using in the 2.0 Station.

Satellite Antennas Setup Portable

Satellite Antennas Setup Portable

The new antennas will require some modifications to our portable antenna system arrangement. They will need to be mounted on a cross-boom near their centers. As a result, a non-conductive fiberglass cross boom will be required to avoid problems with pattern distortion.

FGCB60 Non-Conductive Cross Boom

FGCB60 Non-Conductive Cross Boom

We will be using an M2 Antenna Systems FGCB60 Cross Boom which has removable, non-conductive end sections made from fiberglass material. The removable ends will make it easier to transport the antenna system. We will also need to make a new mast which is 24″ longer than our current one in the 2.0 Station to create the needed ground clearance for the longer antennas.

PS-2M and PS-70CM Polarity Switches

PS-2M and PS-70CM Polarity Switches

The last piece of the 3.0 Station Antenna upgrade is to add switchable left-hand and right-hand circular polarity. This will be accomplished via M2 Antenna Systems PS-2M and PS-70CM switchable polarity feed point upgrades for the 3.0 yagis.

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box

We have a DXEngineering EC-4 Control Box from a previous project and we can use it to control the relays in the Polarity Switches which will be part of the 3.0 Station antennas. The box will allow us to select any combination of left and right-hand circular polarization on the 3.0 Station uplink and downlink antennas.

We should have all of the parts here for the 3.0 upgrade by the end of the year. We’ll post more as the project proceeds. Other articles in the Portable Satellite Station series include:

You may also be interested in the satellite station at our home QTH. You can read more about that here.

Fred, AB1OC

Students Analyze HAB-2’s Flight Data – Nashua Area Radio Society

The HAB team members in NARS have created a five-session curriculum to teach physics, atmospheric science, and radio technology that we use as part of our HABlaunches. The last session is the most fun of all – analyzing the telemetry data from our HAB’s flight to see what the students can learn from it.

Source: Students Analyze HAB-2’s Flight Data – Nashua Area Radio Society

We got together with the students who did our HAB-2 launch this week to analyze the data from the flight and to preview some of the videos that HAB-2 captured during its flight. You can read more about what we learned from the flight data on the Nashua Area Radio Society website via the link above

Fred, AB1OC

HAB-2 Sets Altitude Record! – Nashua Area Radio Society

We flew our High-Altitude Balloon for the second time this past weekend. Our second High-Altitude Balloon Flight (HAB-2) was part of a STEM learning project that we did with STEM club students at Bishop-Guertin High School in Nashua, NH. The students did all of the flight prep and launched HAB-2 at approximately 11 am ET from a school in Winchester, NH. Parents, teachers and local students joined us for the launch as did several members of our HAB team.

Source: HAB-2 Sets Altitude Record! – Nashua Area Radio Society

Our students prepared, launched, and tracked HAB-2 this past weekend. Their HAB made it to almost 118,000 ft! You can read more about the launch and the flight on the Nashua Area Radio Society’s website via the link above.

Fred, AB1OC

Raspberry Pi Satellite Rotator Interface

MacDoppler and GHTracker

MacDoppler and GHTracker

We’ve been using our Portable Satellite Station 2.0 for some time now and it works great. One area that can be improved is the interface between the MacDoppler Satellite Tracking program we use and the GHTracker application which controls the Green Heron Engineering RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller in our setup. Our initial approach was to run the GHTracker app under Windows/VMWare on the same MacBook Air laptop that runs MacDoppler. While this approach works ok, it was more complex and less reliable than we had hoped.

Fortunately, the interface between MacDoppler and GHTracker uses a UDP-based interface which will run over an IP network.

GHTracker Running On A Raspberry Pi 3

GHTracker Running On A Raspberry Pi 3

Anita, AB1QB got great results using a Raspberry Pi 2 with a Touch Screen for her DX Alarm Clock Project so I decided to do something similar with GHTracker. The new Raspberry Pi 3 Model B boards feature a built-in WiFi networking interface and four USB ports which made the RPi 3 a perfect platform for this project. An email exchange with Jeff at Green Heron Engineering confirmed that GHTracker could be made to run under Linux on the Raspberry Pi (RPi).

We wanted a compact package that did not require anything but a power supply to run the final project. There are lots of great choices of parts to build a Raspberry Pi system. Here’s what we used:

Total cost for all of the parts was $120.

Assembly of the case and the hardware was straightforward. The folks at Adafruit provide a pre-built Jesse Linux image for the RPi which includes the necessary driver for the Touch Screen Display.

After a bit of configuration work and the creation of a few shell scripts to make it easy to boot the RPi to a HDMI display or to the Touch Display, we were ready to install the GHTracker App. we also enabled the VNC Server on the RPi so that we could use a VNC Client application on our MacBook Air in place of directly connecting a display, keyboard, and mouse to the RPi. Finally, we installed Samba on our RPi to allow files to be moved between our other computers and the RPi.

GHTracker Running on the Raspberry Pi

GHTracker Running on the Raspberry Pi

Jeff at Green Heron Engineering provided a copy of GHTracker V1.23 and the necessary serial interface library to enable its use on the RPi. Jeff is planning to make a tar file available with GHTracker and the library in the near future. We did some configuration work on LXDE (the GUI interface for Linux that runs on the RPi) automatically run GHTracker whenever the RPi is booted up. We also optimized the GUI for the sole purpose of running GHTracker on the Touch Screen Display. Finally, we configured the Ethernet and WiFi interfaces on the RPi to work with our home network and with our LTE Hotspot modem.

RPi GHTracker Test Setup

RPi GHTracker Test Setup

With all of the software work done, it was time to test the combination with our Satellite Rotator System. The setup worked on the first try using a WiFi network connection between the MacBook Air Laptop running MacDoppler and the RPi. The USB-based serial ports which control Azimuth and Elevation direction of the rotators worked as soon as they were plugged into the RPi. Also, the touchscreen interface works well with the GHTracker App making the combination easy to use.

MacDoppler and GHTracker via VNC

MacDoppler and GHTracker via VNC

The VNC Client/Server combination allows us to work with the software on the RPi right form our MacBook Air laptop. It also makes for a nice display for monitoring the GHTracker App’s operation from the Mac.

Other articles in the Portable Satellite Station series include:

You may also be interested in the satellite station at our home QTH. You can read more about that here.

Thanks to the help from Jeff at Green Heron Engineering, this project was very easy to do and worked out well. The Raspberry Pi 3 platform is very powerful and relatively easy to work with. It makes a great start for many Ham Radio projects. Also, there is a wealth of online documentation, how-to information, and open source software for the RPi. I hope that some of our readers will give the RPi a try!

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

High-Altitude Balloon Launch and Tracking

Our HAB at the Edge of Space (GoPro Capture)

Our HAB at the Edge of Space (GoPro Capture)

We made it to the edge of space! The image above was taken from our HAB at an altitude of over 90,000 ft!

After many months of work, raising funds to finance the project, teaching STEM sessions in local High Schools, and an open-house to test the Balloon Platform and to learn about Amateur Radio; our High-Altitude Balloon Project (HAB) Team finally got the chance to launch and track our Balloon. We launched our Balloon from the Elementary School in Winchester, NH.

Setting Up Our Gear

Setting Up Our Gear

Students, Teachers and Club Members came out to be part of the launch and to track our HAB. The first step was to move all of our gear to the center of the athletic fields at the school and organize all of our equipment.

Assembled Flight Platform

Assembled Flight Platform

Next, we attached the GoPro video cameras, satellite tracker and the battery pack for the Flight Computer and 2M APRS transmitter to the flight platform. We used an APRS capable HT to confirm that the flight computer and APRS transmitter were working.

Rigging the Flight Line

Rigging the Flight Line

We rigged the 40 ft. flight line which connected the HAB’s flight platform, recovery parachute and the balloon.

Balloon Inflation

Balloon Inflation

And then came the inflation of the balloon from the Helium tank. The winds were gusting to about 12 mph at this point which made inflating the balloon a little tricky. When filled, the balloon was about 6 ft. in diameter on the ground.

Launch!

Launch!

With both GoPro cameras running on the flight platform, we were ready to launch. A 10 second countdown and the balloon was up and away!

Tracking the HAB

Tracking the HAB

We watched the balloon from the ground as it soared off into the clouds. The 2M APRS tracking system worked perfectly and we spent the next several hours at the launch site, at lunch, and in our cars tracking the HAB on aprs.fi.

HAB’s Flight Path On APRS.fi

HAB’s Flight Path On APRS.fi

Our HAB’s flight path took it across Massachusetts where it reached a maximum altitude of 91,700 ft. above sea level (ASL).

Looking Upward at the Balloon (Near Burst)

Looking Upward at the Balloon (Near Burst)

The balloon reached a diameter of approximately 30 ft before it burst. After the balloon burst, the parachute deployed and the payload descended to a landing in the northeast corner of Rhode Island.

HAB at Recovery Site in Rhode Island

HAB at Recovery Site in Rhode Island

A combination of the APRS transmitter data and the on-board sounder allowed the landing location to be pinpointed and the flight platform recovered with help from a local resident.

The on-board GoPro video cameras captured some awesome video during our HAB’s ascent! All of the media captured by everyone who participated in the launch as well as the APRS data allowed us to produce the video above. Turn up your speakers and give it a play in full-screen mode to enjoy the experience what we shared!

By the time we had launched, school was at an end so we will have to wait until the fall to work with the students and teachers who were part of our STEM project to analyze the data from the flight. All in all, our HAB project has been an amazing experience for all involved. We are planning another HAB STEM experience and launch with additional schools in the fall.

We want to especially thank all of our donors whose generous contributions made this project possible.

Fred, AB1OC

 

A Portable Satellite Station Part 3 – 2.0 Station Radio and Supporting Equipment

Satellite Station Transceiver and Related Equipment

Satellite Station Transceiver and Related Equipment

With the Antenna System for our 2.0 Portable Satellite Station complete, we turned our attention to assembling the Transceiver and supporting equipment. The equipment used for this part of the project includes:

The Icom IC-9100 provides 100W on 2M and 75W on 70 cm which is more than enough power for our application. It also has some nice satellite features such as support for synchronized VFO tracking between the 2M and 70 cm VFOs in the radio. This radio also uses a single USB connection to allow computer control of the radio and creation of a sound card interface on the host computer. A Heil Pro 7 Headset will be used for operator audio to avoid feedback due to our audio coming back from the satellite. The Icom SP-23 speaker is included to allow observers to hear satellite contacts while they are in progress.

Radio Management via MacDoppler

Radio Management via MacDoppler

The MacDoppler software provides automated control of the IC-9100 including mode selection and automatic correction of both VFOs for doppler shift. These features greatly simplify the operation of the radio, especially when satellites with SSB/CW transponders are used.

The video above shows MacDoppler’s management of the IC-9100 Transceiver during a pass of AO-73. The constant adjustments of the VFOs takes care of doppler shift correction and ensure that our signal stays at a fixed position in the transponder passband of linear transponder satellites.

Preamp Sequencers and Output Monitoring

Preamp Sequencers and Output Monitoring

M2 Antenna Systems S3 Sequencers are used to provide control of the Advanced Receiver Research low-noise preamps on our portable tower. One of the nice features of the Icom IC-9100 is that it can be configured to provide separate keying lines for the 2M and 70cm VFOs. This allows a preamp to remain enabled on the receive VFO while the other VFO is in transmit mode with its preamp shutdown by the sequencer. This arrangement is very useful during tuning when one needs to hear your own signal coming back from a satellite. A custom-made cable assembly was made to interconnect the S3 Sequencers with the ACC socket on the IC-9100, the Weatherpack connector on the tower preamp control cable, and DC power.

We used the excellent WaveNode WN-2 Wattmeter again in our portable satellite setup. This is a modular output monitoring system which has sensor for VHF/UHF use as well as voltage, signal quality and other monitoring functions.

DC power for the setup is provided via a Powerwerx SS-30DV Power Supply and a RigRunner 40007U distribution unit. We use this power supply in all of our portable setups. It is light weight, provides plenty of power for a 100W station and accessories, and is quiet from an RF perspective.

Equipment Packing and Protection

Equipment Packing and Protection

With the transceiver test of the station complete, we turned our attention to transporting the setup. Proper protection of the equipment during transport was provided via a large case from Pelican. We combined this with a roller bag and an inexpensive storage bin for documentation and accessories which are not very fragile. We also included our RigExpert antenna analyzer in the setup to make testing of the station during setup in a portable environment easier.

Station Packed and Ready for Transport

Station Packed and Ready for Transport

With all of the assembly and testing of the components of our 2.0 Portable Satellite Station complete, we packed up all the components. We used an inexpensive furniture dolly to allow us to roll the tower around to load and unload it.

We are ready to test our new station in a portable application. More on that in the final article in this series. Other articles in the series include:

You may also be interested in the satellite station at our home QTH. You can read more about that here.

Fred, AB1OC