A Portable Satellite Station Part 1 – A Simple Station for AO-85

Portable Satellite Station Contact

Portable Satellite Station Contact

Our club, the Nashua Area Radio Club, has quite a few members who are interested in space communications. We decided to build a simple portable satellite station last year for our 2016 Field Day operation to learn about satellite communications and to create something new for folks to work with during 2016 Field Day.

Simple Portable Satellite Station

Simple Portable Satellite Station

Our 1.0 Portable Satellite Station was a relatively simple setup built around an HT, an Elk 2m/70cm satellite antenna, and some gear to improve the receive performance and transmit power output of the HT. All of the gear was mounted on a board to make it easy to transport and it is powered from a LIPO rechargeable battery. The gear in our 1.0 station is made up of the following:

Improved Satellite Antenna Mount

Improved Satellite Antenna Support

Our first contacts with our 1.0 station were made using the Elk Antenna hand-held. Later, we created a “plumber’s special” setup with a camera tripod to make pointing the antenna easier. Note the angle meter from a local hardware store which measures the elevation angle of the antenna.

AO-85 (Fox-1A) U/V Mode FM Cube Sat

AO-85 (Fox-1A) U/V Mode FM Cube Satellite

This setup worked great for making FM contacts through AO-85 (Fox-1A), a  U/V mode FM EasySat. We used the 1.0 station on multiple occasions including Field Day 2016 and several of our club members used it to make their first satellite contacts. The Full-Duplex HT allowed us to hear our own signal coming back from the satellite which was an important tool to help with aiming the antenna properly. The ELK Dual-Band antenna is also a good choice because it uses a single feed point and a single polarization for both the 2m and 70cm bands.

1.0 Station Team Operating Approach

1.0 Station Team Operating Approach

We used the team operating approach outlined above. This worked especially well for new folks who had not made a satellite contact before as it enabled each of the three team members involved in making the contact to focus on a specific part of the contact. We used orange plastic tent stakes to make AOS, Time of Closest Approach, and EOS to mark headings for each satellite pass. Small flashlights used at the stakes made them glow for night-time passes.

We certainly had a lot of fun with our 1.0 Satellite Station and I expect that we’ll continue to use it. As we gained a little experience with AO-85, we decided that we wanted to build a more capable Portable Satellite Station which we could use to operate with linear transponder satellites and which included a tracking system and better antennas. I know from experience with our home satellite station that DX contacts are possible using higher altitude linear transponder satellites like FO-29.

We would also like to be able to use APRS and other digital modes through satellites as well as receive SSTV pictures from space.

These goals have become the basis for building our Portable Satellite Station 2.0. More on the new station in Part 2 of 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.

73,

Fred (AB1OC)

Fall Antenna Projects – A New Low-Band Receive Antenna System

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Control Unit and Filters

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Control Unit and Filters

Anita and I like to take advantage of the mild fall weather to do antenna projects at our QTH. We have completed two such projects this fall – the installation of a Two-Element Phased Receive System and a rebuild of the control cable interconnect system at the base of our tower.

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Components

NCC-1 Receive Antenna System Components

Our first project was the installation of a DXEngineering NCC-1 Receive Antenna System. This system uses two receive-only active vertical antennas to create a steerable receive antenna system. The combination can work on any band from 160m up to 10m. We set ours up for operation on the 80m and 160m bands.

NCC-1 Receive System Antenna Pattern

NCC-1 Receive System Antenna Pattern

The NCC-1 System can be used to peak or null a specific incoming signal. It can also be applied to a noise source to null it out. The direction that it peaks or nulls in is determined by changing the phase relationship between the two Active Antenna Elements via the NCC-1 Controller.

NCC-1 Filter Installation

NCC-1 Filter Installation

The first step in the project was to open the NCC-1 Control Unit to install a set of 80m and 160m bandpass filter boards. These filters prevent strong out-of-band signals (such as local AM radio stations) from overloading the NCC-1. The internal switches were also set to configure the NCC-1 to provide power from an external source to the receive antenna elements through the connecting coax cables.

Installed Active Receive Antenna Element

Installed Active Receive Antenna Element

The next step in the project was to select a suitable location for installing the Receive Antenna Elements. We choose a spot on a ridge which allowed the two Antenna Elements to be separated by 135 ft (for operation on 160m/80m) and which provided a favorable orientation toward both Europe and Japan. The antenna elements use active circuitry to provide uniform phase performance between each element’s 8 1/2 foot whip antenna and the rest of the system. The antenna elements should be separated by a 1/2 wavelength or more on the lowest band of operation from any towers or transmit antennas to enable the best possible noise rejection performance.

Received Antenna Element Closeup

Received Antenna Element Closeup

The two Antenna Elements were assembled and installed on 5 ft rods which were driven into the ground. To ensure a good ground for the elements and to improve their sensitivity, we opted to install 4 radials on each antenna (the black wires coming from the bottom of the unit in the picture above). The Antenna Elements are powered through 75-ohm flooded coax cables which connect them to the NCC-1 Control Unit in our shack. The coax cable connections in our setup are quite long –  the longer coax of the pair being approximately 500 ft. The use of flooded coax cable allows the cables to be run underground or buried. Should the outer jacket become nicked, the flooding glue inside the cable will seal the damage and keep water out of the cable.

Receive RF Choke

Receive RF Choke

It is also important to isolate the connecting coax cables from picking up strong signals from nearby AM Radio stations, etc. To help with this, we installed Receive RF Chokes in each of the two coax cables which connect the Antenna Elements to the NCC-1. These chokes need to be installed on ground rods near the Antenna Elements for best performance.

Underground Cable Conduit In Our Yard

Underground Cable Conduit In Our Yard

We ran the coax cables underground inside cable conduits for a good portion of the run between the antenna elements and our shack. The conduits were installed in our yard when we built our tower a few years back so getting the coax cables to our shack was relatively easy.

Receive Antenna Coax Ground System

Receive Antenna Coax Ground System

The last step in the outdoor part of this project was to install a pair of 75-ohm coax surge protectors near the entry to our shack. An additional ground rod was driven for this purpose and was bonded to the rest of our station’s ground system. We routed both of the 75-ohm coax cables from the two Antenna Elements through surge protectors and into our shack. Alpha-Delta makes the copper ground rod bracket shown in the picture for mounting the surge protectors on the ground rod.

Antenna Equipment Shelf In Our Shack (The NCC-1 Control Unit Is At The Bottom)

Antenna Equipment Shelf In Our Shack (The NCC-1 Control Unit Is At The Bottom)

The installation work in our shack began with the construction of a larger shelf to hold all of our antenna control equipment and to make space for the NCC-1. The two incoming coax cables from the Antenna Elements were connected to the NCC-1.

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

Antenna switching and control in our station is handled by a microHAM System. Each radio has a dedicated microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller which can be used to select separate transmit and receive antenna for the associated radio. The microHAM system allows our new Receive Antenna System to be shared between the 5 radios in our station.

Antenna Switching Matrix

Antenna Switching Matrix

The first step in integrating the Receive Antenna System was to connect the output of the NCC-1 to the Antenna Switching Matrix outside our shack. We added a low-noise pre-amp (shown in the upper left of the picture above) to increase the sensitivity of the Antenna System. The blue device in the picture is a 75-ohm to 50-ohm matching transformer which matches the NCC-1’s 75-ohm output to our 50-ohm radios. The other two pre-amps and transformers in the picture are part of our previously installed 8-Circle Receive Antenna System.

Multi-Radio Sequencer

Multi-Radio Sequencer

The Antenna Elements must be protected from overload and damage from strong nearly RF fields from our transmit antennas. In a single radio station, this can be handled via a simple sequencer unit associated with one’s radio. In a multi-op station such as ours, it is possible for a different radio than the one which is using the Receive Antenna System to be transmitting on a band which would damage the Receive Antenna System. To solve this problem, we built a multi-radio sequencer using one of the microHAM control boxes in our station. The 062 Relay Unit shown above has one relay associated with each of the five radios in our station. The power to the Receive Antenna System is routed through all 5 of these relays. When any radio transmits on a band that could damage the Antenna Elements, the associated relay is automatically opened 25 mS before the radio is allowed to key up which ensures that the system’s Antenna Elements are safely powered down and grounded.

microHam Antenna System Diagram

Updated microHam Antenna System Diagram

With all of the coax and control connections complete, I was able to update the microHam system design information for our station and add the new receive antenna system to our setup. You can find more about the programming of our microHam system here.

NCC-1 Controls

NCC-1 Controls

So how well does the system work? To test it, we adjusted the NCC-1 to peak and then null a weak CW signal on 80m. This is done by first adjusting the Balance and Attenuator controls on the NCC-1 so that the incoming signal is heard at the same level by both Antenna Elements. Next, the B Phase switch is set to Rev to cause the system to operate in a signal null’ing configuration and the Phase control is adjusted to maximize the nulling effect on the target signal. One can go back and forth a few times between the Balance and Phase controls to get the best possible null. Finally, the incoming signal is peaked by setting the B Phase switch to Norm.

Peaked And Null'ed CW Signal

Peaked And Null’ed CW Signal

The picture above shows the display of the target CW signal on the radio using the NCC-1 Antenna System. If you look closely at the lower display in the figure (null’ed signal) you can still see the faint CW trace on the pan adapter. The difference between the peak and the null is about 3 S-units or 18 dB.

NCC-1 Used For Noise Cancellation

NCC-1 Used For Noise Cancellation

The NCC-1 can also be used to reduce (null out) background noise. The picture above shows the result of doing this for an incoming SSB signal on 75m. The system display at the top shows an S5 SSB signal in the presence of S4 – S5 noise (the lower display in the picture). Note how clean the noise floor for the received SSB signal becomes when the unit is set to null the noise source which comes from a different direction than the received SSB signal.

We are very pleased with the performance of our new Receive Antenna System. It should make a great tool for DX’ing on the low-bands. It is a good complement to our 8-circle steerable receive system which we use for contesting on 160m and 80m.

Tower Control Cable Interconnects (Bottom Two Gray Boxes)

Tower Control Cable Interconnects (Bottom Two Gray Boxes)

Our other antenna project was a maintenance one. We have quite a number of control leads going to our tower. When we built our station, we placed surge protectors at the base of our tower and routed all of our control leads through exposed connections on these units. Over time, we found that surge protection was not necessary and we also became concerned about the effects that sunlight and weather were having on the exposed connections. To clean all of this up, we installed two DXEngineering Interconnect Enclosures on our tower and moved all the control cable connections inside them.

Inside View Of Interconnect Enclosures

Inside View Of Interconnect Enclosures

We began with a pair of enclosures from DXEngineering and we mounted screw terminal barrier strips on the aluminum mounting plates in each enclosure. The aluminum plates are grounded via copper strap material to our tower.

Closer Look At One Of The Interconnect Enclosures

Closer Look At One Of The Interconnect Enclosures

The picture above shows one of the interconnection boxes. This one is used to connect our two SteppIR DB36 Yagi Antennas and some of the supporting equipment. The barrier strips form a convenient set of test points for troubleshooting any problems with our equipment on the tower. There are almost 100 control leads passing through the two enclosures and this arrangement keeps everything organized and protected from the weather.

With all of our antenna projects complete, we are looking forward to a fun winter of contesting and low-band DX’ing.

73,

Fred, AB1OC

 

Summertime Station and Antenna Projects At AB1OC/AB1QB

Summer is the time of year that many of us work on our antennas and improve our stations. Anita AB1QB and I did both of these things at our QTH this summer.

Removing Lower SteppIR Yagi From Tower

Removing Lower SteppIR Yagi From Tower

Our SteppIR DB36 Yagis were due for some maintenance so we took them off our tower. A special thanks to all the members of the Nashua Area Radio Club who helped us remove, recondition and reinstall our antennas! Matt Strelow, KC1XX of XX Towers and Andrew Toth provided equipment and know how to safely remove our two large SteppIR DB36 Yagis with help from the rest of us.

Lowering Antenna With Electric Winch

Lowering Antenna With Electric Winch

The SteppIR DB36 Yagis weigh almost 200 lbs each and Matt made good use of his electric winch to lower them.

Antenna Coming Down The Tram Line

Antenna Coming Down The Tram Line

The picture above shows the lower antenna coming off the tower. We used a Tram Line system to lower both antennas to the ground so that we could rebuild them.

SteppIR DB36 Antenna On The Ground

SteppIR DB36 Antenna On The Ground

The SteppIR DB36 Yagis are quite large. They have 36 ft booms and the driven elements are almost 50 ft from tip to tip! They completely fill up our back yard when they are both off the tower.

Element Pole Sun Damage

Element Pole Sun Damage

The rebuild process began with a careful inspection of both antennas. They were both in good overall condition with some sun damage to the paint on the fiberglass element poles.

Disassembled SteppIR DB36

Disassembled SteppIR DB36

We removed all the element tubes and sweeps from both antennas for rebuilding. The picture above shows the disassembled upper antenna.

Reconditioned Stepper Motors Installed

Reconditioned Stepper Motors Installed

All four Stepper motors on both antenna were replaced. These motors move metal tapes inside hollow element tubes to adjust the length of each antenna’s 4 movable elements. These adjustments are done automatically by controllers in our shack which receive frequency information from the radios which are connected to each antenna.

Reconditioned Element Sweep Poles

Reconditioned Element Sweep Poles

All of the element housing poles were cleaned, prepped and painted with a UV resistant clear coat to protect them from further sun damage. The poles cleaned up like new.

New Element Sweeps Ready For Installation

New Element Sweeps Ready For Installation

The assembly of all the new element sweep tubes (shown above) was done next. Each antenna has six sweeps.

Element Pole Preparation

Element Pole Preparation

The end of each element pole must be prepped with a tape system which ensures that the poles are seated properly, sealed to and firmly attached to the sweeps. This process and the associated assembly and tightening of the element couplers was the most time-consuming step in the rebuild process as it had to be repeated a total of 24 times.

Rebuilt Element Assembly

Rebuilt Element Assembly

Here’s a picture of one of the rebuilt element tube assemblies. The ropes support the element tubes and keep them aligned when the antenna is up in the air. These elements are attached to the antenna motors with couplers and clamps.

SteppIR DB36 Yagi - Rebuild Complete

SteppIR DB36 Yagi – Rebuild Complete

The picture above shows the lower antenna with all the element tubes reattached. There is quite a bit of additional prep work associated with adjusting all the supports and taping all the exposed areas of the antennas which are susceptible to sun damage. Also, all the electrical wiring on the antenna must be checked to ensure good electrical connections and good overall condition of the wiring.

Ground Test Setup

Ground Test Setup

The final step in rebuilding the antennas is to test their operation on the ground. This ground test is done to ensure that all the motors are working correctly and that the element tapes move smoothly inside the rebuilt element tubes.

Ground Test Results

Ground Test Results

Another important part of the antenna Ground Test is to confirm that the antennas have a consistent resonant frequency and SWR on all bands. The resonant frequencies and SWR levels are far from those that would be measured when the antennas are on the tower at operating height. The idea here is to confirm that a resonance exists and that its frequency and SWR readings are repeatable as the antenna is adjusted to different bands.

With both antennas rebuilt, its was time for Matt and Andrew to return and, with help from folks from our club, reinstall the rebuilt antennas on our tower. The video above shows this process. It is quite something to see! The installation took about 3 1/2 hours.

Updated SteppIR Controllers

Updated SteppIR Controllers

The last step in the SteppIR DB36 rebuild process was to install the latest firmware in the associated SDA100 Antenna Controllers. There are some integration issues between the updated SteppIR Firmware and our microHAM system but we are getting those worked out with help from the folks at both SteppIR and microHAM.

Icom IC-7851 With Display Monitor

Icom IC-7851 With Display Monitor

I recently had a major birthday milestone and Anita surprised me with a new radio – an Icom IC-7851. This radio is an upgrade/replacement for our Icom IC-7800. While the two radios are quite similar in their operation and interfaces, I did not want to install the IC-7851 until the SteppIR antennas were reinstalled and all of their upgrades were working properly with our current radios. With the antennas done, it was the finally time to install the new radio!

Icom C-7851 Transceiver

Icom C-7851 Transceiver

The Icom IC-7851 has several important performance upgrades. The most impactful one is a new low phase noise oscillator which significantly improves RMDR performance compared to the IC-7800. The IC-7851 is in the top-tier of Transceivers in Sherwood Engineering’s tests. The receivers in the IC-7851 are very quiet, have excellent Dynamic Range and perform great in when close-in interference is present.

Icom IC-7851 Display Monitor

Icom IC-7851 Display Monitor

The Icom IC-7851 has a higher resolution and faster display. It also supports higher resolution external monitors so we installed am upgraded display monitor along with the new radio. The IC-7851 has a number of new networking features and supports stand-alone remote operation over a LAN and the Internet. We are planning to use these capabilities to add a second remote operating gateway to our station. More on this in a future article.

The combination of the rebuilt antennas and the new IC-7851 Transceiver has our station performing better than ever. The antennas are working as well or better than when they were new and the IC-7851 has significantly better receive performance compared to its predecessor and is a pleasure to use.

We will be hosting the ARRL Rookie Roundup RTTY contest for our club members who have received their first license in the last 3 years next weekend and we’re going to use the new radio and rebuilt antennas for the contest.

This project was completed in a little over two weeks and was a lot of work. I could not have done the project without the help of the many folks in the Nashua Area Radio Club. Again, a big Thank You to all the folks in our club who helped me with this project! I hope that many of you will be able to find some time to operate from our upgraded station.

73,

Fred, AB1OC

Building Yagis – Part 2 (2M)

M2 Antenna Systems 2M18XXX Yagi

M2 2M18XXX Yagi (Courtesy M2 Antenna Systems, Inc.)

This post is about the assembly of the second of our four Yagi Antennas – an M2 Antenna Systems 2M18XXX. This antenna uses 18 elements on 2M to provide approximate 17 dBi gain in a very tight pattern. It is designed for weak signal and EME work on the 2M band. The specifications for the 2M18XXX are as follows (Courtesy M2 Antenna Systems, Inc.):

Model 2M18XXX
Feq. Range 144-146 MHz
Gain (single antenna) 17.14 dBi
Front/Back 26 dB Typical
Beam Width E=26° by H=28°
Feed Type “T” Match
Feed Imped. 50 Ohms Unbalanced
Max VSWR 1.2:1
Connector “N” Female
Boom Length 36.5′
Max Element Length 41″
Turning Radius 19′ 6″
Stacking Dist. 14′ H, 14.5′ W
Mast Size 2″ Nom.
Wind area / Survival 2.9 SqFt. / 100 MPH
Weight 14 Lbs.
# of Elements 18

I began by doing a careful inventory of all of the parts for the antenna and gathering the necessary tools for assembly. I also took some time to carefully read the excellent instructions provided by M2. Due to its size, I opted to assemble the 2M18XXX outdoors near the tower.

2M Yagi Parts

2M Yagi Parts

The first step was the assembly of the boom. I used the 2 foot high saw bucks that I made for the purposes of building our yagi antennas. A set of carpenter’s clamps were used to hold the boom in place on the bucks during assembly. The installation of the elements was next.

2M Yagi Boom and Elements

2M Yagi Boom and Elements

This step takes some time as each element has a different length and must be carefully centered on the boom. To make this easier, I marked the boom with a felt tip pen to indicate the location of each element for easy cross-reference with the dimension sheet from M2 Antenna Systems.

2M Yagi Layout

2M Yagi Element Layout (Courtesy M2 Antenna Systems, Inc.)

Next came the assembly of the driven element and associated balun. The location of the shorting bars on the Driven Element Assembly is important in order to get a proper match between the feedline and the antenna.

2M Yagi Driven Element

2M Yagi Driven Element

The 2M18XXX has a long boom (36 1/2 ft.) and requires a truss support. The picture below shows the boom truss support system after it is assembled. The standard mast plate and hardware supplied with this antenna by M2 Antenna Systems will accommodate up to a 2″ mast. We will be using a 3″ mast so M2 supplied a custom mast plate and a truss support that clamps directly to our 3″ mast. To make the antenna easier to test, I first assembled it with the 2″ hardware so that I could test it without attaching it to the mast.

2M Yagi Boom Support Truss

2M Yagi Boom Support Truss

Here is a picture of the completed 2M18XXX. It is an extremely well built antenna and it should perform well once it is installed at the 110 ft + level on our tower.

Completed 2M Yagi

Completed 2M Yagi

I am going to move onto the construction of the first of our SteppIR DB36 antennas next. I will provide a post covering this step of our project next.

– Fred (AB1OC)