Monday, December 20, 2010

New Satellite Antennas!

Now that the weather has started to turn wet here in Northern California, operating with the portable satellite rig in my backyard is getting more difficult. Not to mention, the Twin FT-817's don't like being in the rain any more than I do!

I've just finished putting together my outdoor satellite antenna installation. Since the radios are indoors (to keep them and me dry), and the antennas are outdoors, they need to be steered via an azimuth / elevation control rotator. Here is a detailed description of the installation:

UHF Ant: Diamond 15-Element UHF Yagi (model A430S15, 85", 14.8dBi)
VHF Ant: Arrow II 2m 4-Element VHF Yagi (model 146-4 with MB/II bracket)(48", 8.7dBi)

Yaesu G5500 Az/El Rotator (450 deg Az / 180 deg El)

5-foot steel mast on 3' tripod base.

Cables from Antenna to Premap box:
VHF: 6-foot RG-58/C patch cable with BNC connections from Palomar
UHF: 10-foot RG-8/U with silver/teflon PL-259 connections

Preamp Box:
B&W Systems weatherproof plastic box, #10.

Advanced Receiver Research 70cm GAsFET 25W RF-sensing preamp (SP432VDG)
Advanced Receiver Research 2m GAsFET 25W RF-sensing preamp (SP144VDG)

Cables from Preamp Box to Shack:
Rotator Control: 2 x Wireman #302 40' 2-16/6-18 rotor cable
(12VDC power carried on the 2x16 spare lines in rotor cable to preamps)
VHF Feedline: 25' RG-8/U with standard nickel PL-259 connections
UHF Feedline: 25' RG-8/U with silver/teflon PL-259 connections

Rotor Controller:
Yaesu G5500 Az/El dual Rotator Controller

Rotor Controller Controller:
LVB Tracker (from AMSAT, on order)

VHF: Yaesu FT-817ND
UHF: Yaesu FT-817ND

CAT Interface:
2 x Yaesu CT-62 CAT cables (either USB<->CAT or USB<->Serial Convertor<->CAT)

Controlling Software:

Samsung Netbook N150S

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Death Valley 4WD Trip Report

This is a trip report from a mini satellite "DX-pedition" to the remote valleys in northern Death Valley National Park. The entire route of the trip was recorded by a Spot Satellite Messenger and is shown in this trip map on Google Maps. The trip combined two of my favorite things -- remote backroads four-wheel driving and ham radio! The area around Death Valley doesn't have too many hams, so the latitude/longitude grid squres are pretty uncommon on the air. My main radio time was spent working the orbiting ham radio satellites. All in all, I had around 60 QSOs from the two rare grids (DM17 and DM16) with 21 separate satellite passes over the three days of operation.

For radio equipment, I brought along the twin FT-817 setup described in my earlier post. The station all packs into a small laptop computer bag, and I can set it up in about 10 minutes. The vehicle was a 2005 Toyota Tacoma 4WD, and worked well in the remote and rough back roads in this part of the country.

Monday (11/22/2010)
Monday we drove from Fairfield, over the Sierra Nevada at Lake Tahoe, and down highway 395 to Big Pine. From Big Pine it was another hour and a half along Death Valley Road and South Eureka Road to the Eureka Sand Dunes. We camped overnight at Eureka Dunes and I was able to make a number of contacts from that location.

Satellite Contacts From Eureka Dunes (DM17dc)
AO-07 (11/23/2010 0215z): Nothing heard, sat was in Mode A.
FO-29 (11/23/2010 0257z): Called CQ for approx 10 min during pass, good downlink return signals but no one else on bird.
VO-52 (11/23/2010 0355z): Worked WA6ARA and N8RO. Noticed doppler shift was way off due to not resetting the observer grid in SatPC32.

Tuesday (11/23/2010)
Tuesday we planned to drive from Eureka Dunes to Upper Warm Springs in the Saline Valley. This route goes through remote Dedeckera Canyon, up over Steele Pass, past the Marble Bath, and down into northeast Saline Valley. Before packing up the site I was able to make a few more contacts from the rare grid DM17:

Satellite Contacts From Eureka Dunes (DM17dc)
VO-52 (11/13/2010 1543z): WC7V, N7RP, N8RO, WA6ARA.
HO-68 (11/23/2010 1553z): Nothing heard, likely sat was in "off" on this pass.
VO-52 (11/23/2010 1718z): W7JPI, called CQ, no other stations on except for a long QSO.
HO-68 (11/23/2010 1740z): WC7V, N7RP, KO4MA, WA4NVM.
AO-27 (11/23/2010 2003z): AJ5C, K8YSE, K4MDA, N8RO, K7TEJ, KB1RVT, AA5CK, N3SCR, WA4NVM.
SO-50 (11/23/2010 2022z): W7JPI, K7MDH, AJ5C, NS7Q.

After packing up the camp, we then drove around the sand dunes, south through Dedeckera Canyon, and then stopped near Steele Pass to see some petroglyphs. From that location, I was able to work a few more sats:

Satellite Contacts from near Marble Bath (DM16ex)
AO-51 (11/23/2010 2303z): KB5MBJ, N8RO, AJ5C, K8YSE, KI6YAA, W7JPI, N5ZNL, KI4OTG, AA5PK, AA5CK.

We continued driving down into Saline Valley, and after sunset finally stopped at Upper Warm Springs. There, I was able to make a few more contacts -- it was really nice to have some satellite "chats" while sitting at the campfire, the sky had so many stars visible.

Satellite Contacts from Upper Warm Springs (DM16du)
FO-29 (11/24/2010 0202z): W7JPI. No one else on bird. Nice ragchew by campfire!
AO-07 (11/24/2010 0315z): W7LRD. Nice chat.
VO-52 (11/24/2010 0412z): WA6ARA. We were only ones on the sat, nice QSO.

Wednesday (11/24/2010)
The wind really picked up around 0000 local time Wednesday morning, so it was a difficult night in the tent! Before leaving, I was able to make a few more contacts:

Satellite Contacts from Upper Warm Springs (DM16du)
AO-07 (11/24/2010 1516z): WC7V, KC7MG, one station in DM14.
VO-52 (11/24/2010 1600z): WA6ARA, N7RP

We then packed up camp and drove over to the west side of Saline Valley. En route (11/24/2010 1749z), I was monitoring 18.150 HF and heard Dieter ZL8X starting up transmissions from a Kermadec Islands DXPeditition. I called him right back and got a nice 5-9 contact! Other than trying to keep up a sked, this was the only HF work on the trip. Early in the afternoon we arrived at a campsite on an access road to an abandoned mine in Keynot Canyon, on the west side of remote Saline Valley.

Satellite contacts from Keynot Canyon on west side of Saline Valley (DM16br)
SO-50 (11/24/2010 2053z): WC7V, K7CWQ, NM6W.
AO-27 (11/24/2010 2113z): AJ5C, WC7V, K7CWQ, KA5GTM, KG7EZ, K8YSE.
AO-51 (11/25/2010 0000z): WA6ARA, KG6ZVC, KG6NUB, K2AK, K7MDH, AC7SU, KC6LTY, WA9JER.
FO-29 (11/25/2010 0106z): N9AMW, WA6ARA. Doppler shift getting difficult again!
VO-52 (11/25/2010 0254z): N9AMW, W2???. Very noisy downlink for some reason.

Thursday (11/25/2010)
Thanksgiving Day we packed up camp, but before doing so I was able to make one more set of contacts:

Satellite Contacts from Keynot Canyon on west side of Saline Valley (DM16br)
VO-52 (11/25/2010 1618z): N7RP, KG0I.

We then drove the 3.5 hours out of Saline Valley and on to Furnace Creek (paved road, yay!). At Furnace Creek we camped one more night, then returned back to Fairfield on Friday.

Lessons Learned
1. Always remember to reset the grid square locator on the software that controls the doppler correction! The first day I was really having to "fight" the computer control of the radios to get the tuning correct, and only after the pass realized that the netbook computer still thought we were in Fairfield!

2. Be sure to manually reset the computer clock from WWV every day. My netbook time drifted 10 seconds in two days, and this was enough to throw off the doppler correction quite a bit.

3. It would have been handy to bring my HT radio along -- the twin FT-817 setup takes about 10 minutes to put together, making it just a bit inconvenient for side-of-the-road stops to work the FM sats. Since the Yaesu FT-530 full duplex dual-band HT and an Elk antenna work so well, if I had that along with me, I might have made some more roadside stops to do quick FM bird contacts.

4. The Spot Messenger worked well -- it recorded almost all track points and also sent out emails letting others at home know we were safe each night. It has the advantage of working where cell phones (and APRS tracking) don't work, especially in this remote part of the country.

Thank you
Thanks to everyone for making contacts, and the help and chat along the way! I really appreciate it. Special thanks as well to Mike WA6ARA for posting details of my trip on the amsat-bb list, it was good to hear other stations I worked who had been following our progress!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

AO-51 Handheld!

Tonight's contact on AO-51 was quite fun! Rather than use my usual sat setup (the twin FT-817ND's and Elk antenna) I took my older Yaesu FT-530 dual-band radio hiking in a nearby park. The park is bisected by the -122 longitude line, so half is in CM88 and the other half is in CM98; there's a fire road that goes up to the top of a 800-foot hill with some radio towers. I arrived at the top of the hill just before an AO51 pass at 10/22/2010 0056 UTC -- and didn't expect to hear anything since I had only the stock 8" rubber duck on the antenna. The pass was a western (ocean) ascending pass with a max elevation of 30 degrees.

I was quite suprised at mid-pass when I could more-or-less clearly hear KI6IUJ in DM13! He was commenting that there weren't many people on the bird at the time, so quickly I gave him a call -- again, just using the stock duck on the antenna, with only two watts output. Imagine my amazement when he came right back to answer my call! Woohoo!! We exchanged grid squares, and I heard another ham calling me but at that point I lost contact with the bird, just noise after that.

Compounding the difficulty of this one was the fact that the Yaesu FT-530 is a true full-duplex dual band radio, so since I had forgotten to bring earphones or a speaker mike, every time I transmitted I had to manually turn the volume down and then back up again for RX. And it was raining at the time. But the contact with just a stock HT, out in a park in the rain on a hilltop with the sun setting, was a whole lot of fun!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ham Radio Satellite Observations and Tips!

In no particular order, here is a list of the ham radio satellites that I have used so far. There's definitely a learning curve for using each satellite, and I've tried to add as much of the useful information as I can remember! Just FYI, the full rig setup is described in an earlier post, but to summarize I work portable with twin FT-817ND QRP radios and an Elk log-periodic dual-band antenna, for full-duplex operation on all of the linear and FM satellites.

AO-51: FM (2m up, 70cm down)
A fun satellite to work, easy to do with even a handheld. It's possible to work this bird with a rubber duck! There is no set daily schedule of operations, however the control team will change the uplink/downlink configuration periodically for a few days at a time. Often very crowded during weekends and during passes over central North America. From here in the west coast, ocean passes (west) are often fairly quiet, with just two to five hams on. Often hear Hawaii and Alaska from here in California. 5W into a directional antenna works great. Polarization stays pretty constant until mid-pass then seems to flip 30 to 90 degrees. The bird is sun-synchronous so there are good passes at start and end of day - the western passes at the end of the day are accompanied by a nice sunset. Often requires a CTCSS tone. The latest updates for AO-51 are located here.

SO-50: FM (2m up, 70cm down)
Less traffic than AO-51. No pre-set schedule, seems to use the same mode day-in and day-out. Also easy to work with 5W and a directional antenna. One quirk is that this bird seems to spontaneously change downlink frequency: I have recently seen it appear 10 kHz below published, and sometimes 5 kHz below. When this happens, it appears to be gone entirely (if using computer tuning) unless you switch to manual adjustment. You can overcome this by having multiple instances of the nominal downlink frequency in your control software. Requires a CTCSS tone to activate it (stays on for 10 minutes), and a separate CTCSS tone for uplink TX. Since this bird is not exactly sun-synchronous, there are some nice passes during the day, as well as nighttime passes.

AO-27: FM (2m up, 70cm down)
Fairly busy during passes. This satellite has scheduled operations, and is typically turned on as it comes over North America in afternoon passes. Fairly easy to work. There aren't any real quirks with this one, other than to be prepared for it to either not be there (if not turned on) or to suddenly turn off part way through the pass.

HO-68: FM/Linear (2m up, 70cm down)
This bird is often very crowded during weekend passes when in FM mode! This satellite is also scheduled, sometimes it's off, sometimes on, sometimes in FM, and sometimes in linear transponder (SSB) mode. The website usually has the current schedule for activation, and the satellite is often turned on for daylight passes over North America. If nothing is heard on FM when the satellite is expected to be active, check SSB because it's probably in linear transponder mode. The FM repeater also relays packets. so there are quite a few packet bursts during a typical pass. Requires a CTCSS tone. Seems to have a bit larger footprint than the other FM birds. This satellite often "ignores" uplink transmissions, for example, you can TX once, hear nothing on the downlink, then TX a few seconds later and hear yourself full quieting. This bird also seems to be "tumbling", in that the downlink polarization changes about every 30 seconds or so -- so handheld antenna polarization control is especially helpful. The latest updates for HO-68 are located here.

FO-29 Linear/SSB (2m up, 70cm down)
This linear transponder sat has a 2m uplink and 70cm downlink, and had a pretty much sun-synchronous shedule with morining and evening passes. However, as of mid-October, the power budget on the sat forced the operators to turn the unit off entirely, and then the bird failed to respond to any command signals. Currently it's silent. 5W and a directional antenna was plenty to work this one. We'll see if it comes back to life.

VO-52: Linear/SSB (70cm up, 2m down)
This one is 70cm uplink and 2m downlink, and makes some nice mid-morning and early-evening passes. The mid-morning passes usually have one or two conversations on them, while the evening passes (9pm local time, 0400UTC) are virtually devoid of anyone else! I find this to be a good sat for testing my radios with uplink/downlink calibration, etc -- even though I just talk to myself (call CQ) on this bird on the evening passes, it's still handy to make sure everything's working well. It's also good for practicing aiming the antennas, optimizing polarization, etc. The bird is fairly sensitive and quiet. Works well with 5W and a directional antenna.

AO-07: Linear/SSB (70cm up, 2m down)
This is the satellite that went "dead" many years ago with shorted batteries, then came "back to life" after the short went open-circuit. Since there are no functional batteries, the bird is only active in sunlight (which right now, given its orbit, is 24 hours a day), and switches between Mode A (2m up, 10m down) and Mode B (70cm up, 2m down) every 24 hours (currently around 0000 UTC). The website is a good one to check for the current mode. Since AO-07 is in a much higher orbit than any of the other satellites listed here, it has a much larger footprint. One thing I've found is that AO-07 seems to "disappear" on passes that go nearly directly overhead; this might be because when looking up underneath the sat, the antennas may not be oriented for best reception of my QRP signal with the small log-periodic. I haven't tried Mode A, but on Mode B, I've made some nice contacts out to 3000-mile range (maybe 15 degrees elevation).

Key Resources:
Real-time satellite status:
The AMSAT site:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Twins! Portable QRP Satellite Station

For anyone that's interested, here's a complete description of the set-up I'm using for my portable sat operation. This is what I use for the satellite contacts, and is basically two twin FT-817ND radios hanging on a tripod, with an antenna above, and a netbook computer sitting beside. The system works great so far! I'll try to keep this description updated as things change, but this is what works for me right now...

1. Antenna, feedline, and diplexer.

I use an Elk Dual Band 2M/440L5 log-periodic antenna . The antenna is mounted to a lightweight photo tripod, with the mounting PVC pipe modified to fit the quick release adapter on the tripod (this allows easy removal of the antenna from the supporting tripod). This arrangement allows for easy azimuth, elevation, and polarization control during the pass.

The antenna is connected to the diplexer via a 6-foot length of RG-8X cable. The diplexer is a Diamond MX-72H unit that reportedly provides 60 dB of isolation between the 2m and 70cm input/output lines. The 2m ouput is marked with orange tape, the 70cm output is marked with blue tape; this color scheme helps to identify the appropriate cable connections for the whole system.

2. Radios.

The radios that I use are twin Yaesu FT-817ND all-band multimode portable QRP units. I don't have one radio dedicated to TX one to RX, but instead one is dedicated to 2m (RX and TX) while the other is dedicated to 70cm (RX and TX). In keeping with the color scheme, the 2m radio is marked with orange tape, while the 70com radio is marked with blue tape (quite necessary since both FT-817ND's look identical!). I also have the radio displays set so that the 70cm radio has a blue display while the 2m radio has an orange display:

The two radios hang via their shoulder straps from the apex of the tripod, and the appropriate feedlines from the diplexer feeds into the two radios. When working statellites in V/U mode (2m up and 70cm down, ie. AO-51, SO-50, HO-68, FO-29), I simply plug the microphone into the "orange" radio and the earphones into the "blue" radio. When working statellites in U/V mode (ie. VO-52 and AO-7), I simply unplug the mike and earphones and swap. The microphone is the stock Yaesu mike, and the earphones are an inexpensive pair on a retractable reel (this keeps them from getting tangled when not in use). Both radios are essentially using the default out-of-the-box settings. The two settings of importance are CAT BAUD RATE (32400) and make sure that the Squelch/RF Gain selector is set to Squelch, not RF Gain.

3. PC Connection.

Both radios are connected to the computer with CT-62 CAT cables. One cable is the authentic Yaesu CT-62 cable with a 6-pin mini-DIN connector on one end and a 9-pin serial DB9 connector on the other; this connects to a Cables-To-Go USB-Serial adapter. Both ends of this combined cable are marked with blue tape, and are used with the UHF radio. The other cable is an all-in-one CT-62 USB cable from Valley Electronics, which goes directly from the radio 6-pin mini-DIN to a USB connector. This cable is marked orange at both ends and controls the VHF radio. Both cables use the Prolific PL-2303 chipset, and I'm using driver version (installed in Vista SP2 compatibility mode, run as admin). The cables work equally well. Within Windows, one cable appears as COM4 (this is the orange "VHF" radio) and the other cable appears as COM3 (this is the blue "UHF" radio). As long as the same cables and same USB ports are used, this numbering is consistent, so the corresponding software settings only need to be set once.

4. Netbook Computer.

The computer that I use is a lightweight Samsung N150-Plus nebook . It comes with Windows 7 Starter, has three USB ports, and roughly a six-hour battery life. I chose the Samsung because of its matte screen; most netbooks these days have glossy screens, and I think the matte screen is easier to view in direct sunlight. Since I operate exclusively outdoors, it's important to have a screen that I can see! The backlight is plenty bright enough on the netbook to see the screen at any time of day.

So far, the Windows 7 on the netbook runs all the same applications as my home PC, with barely any performance difference (I don't notice it any slower). I've marked the USB ports on the computer orange and blue, to be sure that the interface cables for each radio always get plugged into the same port. This ensure that COM port number does not change. To keep things simple, I set the time zone on the computer is UTC so all software runs in UTC by default as well.

5. Software.

The software I use for radio control is SatPc32. The software is pretty easy to use, but more importantly, works very well!

I use the software with the default settings for everything except for the radio setup. The settings I use in the radio configuration screen are as follows: Setup > Radio Setup then Radio 1 = Yaesu, Model = FT-817, Baudrate = 38400, Com Port = 3, CAT Delay = 70, Autom RX/TX Change = checked, Radio 2 = Yaesu, Model = FT-817, Baudrate = 38400, Com Port = 4. (Note that the baudrate settings are part of the drop-down menu that toggles "Model" with "Baudrate". ) The screenshot below shows the radio setup for the twin FT-817ND's:

The software I use for satellite tracking is actually the satellite module from Ham Radio Deluxe. I use this software in "radar" mode, and have the radar plot of the satellite path on the screen underneath the SatPC32 software; this way I can see exactly where to aim the antenna, since the radar plot gives a nice graphical view of direction and elevation of the selected satellite. The radar view is also a good quick way to look for future passes.

I originally tried to use HRD for both radio control and tracking, but had fits with HRD locking up under Windows 7 when controlling the radio; SatPC32 has no such problem. In addition, SatPC32 seems to use a much more streamlined and efficient method of radio control than HRD (if you use both you'll see what I mean).

6. Power.
Everything runs on battery power, so this arrangement is super-portable! I simply use the internal rechargeable packs on the twin FT-817ND's and the laptop, and recharge them as necessary. On occasion I'll use a 7 ampere-hour sealed led acid (SLA) battery to power both radios: The battery has an Anderson PowerPole connector with fuse on top, that connects to a 1-foot-long 10-gauge jumper (with ferrite cores on either end). The jumper connects to a 4-way PowerPole splitter, into which are plugged two short barrel-connector-to-powerpole jumpers (one for each radio). The use of heavy-gauge wire on all but the short jumpers to the FT-817ND's prevents voltage drop that can affect the RX radio during transmit on the TX radio (important when listening to yourself on the downlink). While testing, and transmitting on 2m with the jumper disconnected from the SLA, I managed to reset the TX radio to factory defaults (!!!) probably via RF-feedback into the 1/4-wavelength long power cord. Hence the ferrite cores, and no more transmitting on internal batteries with the cord hanging loose.

7. Operation.

For portable operation (which is all I ever do since I don't operate indoors!), I carry the tripod (with attached antenna and radios) to the backyard (or to the pickup truck). I'll then start up the netbook computer and plug the CAT control cables into the orange/blue marked USB ports. I'll next start HRD to bring up the radar plot for the selected satellite, and after that start SatPC32. Next I'll select the satellite on SatPC32, and turn on CAT control (C+). I'll verify the radios are tracking the frequencies shown in the software, and also verify that the software frequency display tracks movement of the VFO knob on the radio used for RX. I'll then check to be sure the radios are in full-power (5W) mode by clicking the appropriate soft-menu buttons on the radio. At this point, the system is ready to go -- aim antennas and talk!

For the linear satellites (SSB), there is an extra step of using the SatPC32 CAT control dialog box to adjust the uplink frequency so that I can hear my audio clearly on the downlink -- out of the box, SatPC was needed about -2000 Hz correction for FO-29 and VO-52 and no correction for AO-07. This correction (calibration) can be saved so it's only necessary to adjust this a few times at first. The screenshots below show what the CAT control screen looks like:

And pressing "Change/Store Data File" brings up a new box allowing you to store the new uplink calibration in the DOPPLER.SQF file:

Occassionally, adjustments during the pass are necessary, sometimes if the keps are out of date, or if the computer clock isn't dead on (needs to be within about a second of UTC), or if the temp of the radios (or satellite!) has thrown off the frequency a little. During the pass, I'm sure to aim the antenna at the portion of the sky indicated in the radar plot, and I'll quickly toggle the polarization of the antenna side-to-side to find the best downlink polarization. This seems to be stable for the first and second half of the pass, but often changes during the middle.

Here's the operations checklist I typically use on a pass:

[] Start Netbook
[] Connect orange/blue CAT cables
[] Start both FT-817ND radios
[] Adjust TX radio power to 5W
[] Verify mike to TX radio and earphones to RX
[] Launch HRD sat tracking
[] Launch SatPC32
[] Select desired sat on SatPC32
[] Turn on CAT control on SatPC32
[] Turn on CTCSS encoding (AO-51, SO-50, HO-68)
[] Verify FT-817NDs are tracking
[] Turn VFO on RX radio; verify TX radio tracks freq changes
[] Adjust uplink calibration (linear sats only) using CAT menu

8. Results.

The system works great!! Working the FM sats (AO-51, SO-50, HO-68, and AO-27) is easy with the computer-controlled dopper correction, and there's no more need to manually tune the VFO's with these ones. In addition, having full-duplex on FM makes it much easier to tell if my transmission has collided with another ham, or if I'm making it into the bird at all (ie. HO-68 is a little bit finnicky, sometimes you transmit and no audio appears). Working the linear sats (HO-68, VO-52, FO-29, AO-07) is fun as well, and the arrangement works quite well. The only negative to the FT-817ND is that it doesn't update TX frequency while the PTT is keyed, so you need to unkey every once in a while for the TX to update for doppler shift.

It's amazing to me how well the Elk antenna and the diplexer work (thanks to N3TL for posting this idea!). It wouldn't seem possible to be able to hear a 250 mW signal coming from >2000 miles away on the exact same antenna that is transmitting 5W PEP simultaneously, but I've seen over and over again that it works. And works well!

So far, I've made quite a few contacts on all of the aformententioned birds. When operating out in the open (ie. sitting in back of pickup truck with clear view to west) I have found I can easily hear myself coming back on the downlink for sats down to about 3 degrees above the horizon (over 6,000 miles round-trip!). I've also found that the hams in the satellite community are a great group, and really appreciate all the help and advice they've provided so far!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

VHF Contest from Lassen Nat'l Park!

For the ARRL September VHF QSO Party contest, I used the FT-817ND QRP radio, the Elk Log Periodic 144/432 antenna, and a home-brew 50MHz dipole. Camped at Summit Lake in Lassen National Park Friday and on Saturday hiked the 2500 feet (3.5 miles) up to the summit of Brokeoff Mountain (9200' ASL) by around 2pm. Was able to operate QRP (typically 2.5 watts) from the summit for two hours, and had a lot of fun!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Contacting the ISS with the FT-817ND!

Woohoo!! Yesterday I managed to make a nice 2-way QSO with one of the astronauts on the International Space Statin (ISS)!

The ISS has a ham radio station on board (callsign NA1SS), and the crew is periodically active making contacts with hams down on earth below. A few days ago I programmed in the ISS uplink/downlink frequencies into the FT-817ND qrp portable radio, and kept an eye on when good passes might be coming over.

The frequencies are:
FM VOICE for ITU Region 2&3: North and South America-Caribbean-Greenland-Australia-South Asia: Downlink 145.800; Uplink 144.490
And I programmed memories into the FT-817ND for doppler shift on the above frequencies +/- 3.0 and 1.5 kHz.

The ISS is in fairly low orbit and moves very fast, so it's only in view for around 10 minutes at a time. Yesterday at around 4:30pm, there was a good pass with the ISS coming overhead, south to north, slightly east of my location here, with a maximum elevation of around 60 degrees. I set up the radio with the Elk log-periodic VHF/UHF on a tripod, and sat in the backyard waiting for the station to pass overhead. Using a netbook computer running the Satellite Tracking module of HRD software, I was able to keep the antenna pointed at where the station was in the sky as it moved overhead. Nothing heard at all at first.

I put out a call every 30 seconds or so -- "NA1SS from KB5WIA near Sacramento" just in case thew crew was listening. After the third call, as the ISS was near max elevation overhead, right away a voice came back with something like "KB5W?A from NA1SS" -- how exciting! The signal was S9-plus, and the audio was so clear I could hear the fans/motors humming in the background up there. I corrected my call, and he came back something like "KB5WIA good to meet you this is Colonel Doug Wheelock aboard the International Space Station NA1SS". I then thanked him for the contact, wished them a happy Labor Day Weekend (what's a long weekend like aboard a space station, I wonder?!), and said I'd clear so he could make some other contacts. I heard around 3-4 more quick QSOs before the ISS dropped below my northern horizon.

Pretty cool for QRP from the backyard!

UPDATE 1: Two days later, I was able to make another (very!) quick contact, and record the downlink audio. Here it is in the attached file: ISS Audio 6 Sept 2010. The file (a one megabyte MP3) is a recording of the entire pass, from AOS to LOS -- intermittently you'll hear Col Wheelock on the ISS talking to various stations. He comes back to my call around 4m18s in the recording, and then makes quite a few more contacts.

UPDATE 2: Here's a link to a photo of Col. Wheelock talking to hams below:

UPDATE 3: The QSL card (confirming 2-way contact with the ISS) arrived! Here it is, below:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

QRP via Amateur Satellite AO-51!

Yesterday I was able to make three "QRP" contacts through the satellite AO-51, woohoo!

I used my Yaesu FT-817ND coupled to an Elk 2m/440 log periodic antenna sitting on a tripod. The radio has 5 watts maximum output, so this was definitely "QRP"! So that I could quickly correct for the doppler shift, I programmed five memories into the FT-817ND, covering the base frequencies (435.300 downlink, 145.920 uplink) plus or minus 10 kHz on the uplink and 5kHz on the downlink:

1. 435.310 rx, 145.9150 tx pl 67.0
2. 435.305 rx, 145.9175 tx pl 67.0
3. 435.300 rx, 145.9200 tx pl 67.0
4. 435.295 rx, 145.9225 tx pl 67.0
5. 435.290 rx, 145.9250 tx pl 67.0

I tried three passes total. On the first pass (6 degrees maximum elevation above the horizon, to the east) at around 3:30pm I heard nothing -- not too surprising given that I have a large hill to the east. On the second pass (57 degress max el, east) at 5:00pm, I heard quite a few stations on the satellite (yay!) but the downlink was so crowded I didn't have any luck with calling. Finally, at 6:48pm there was another pass (16 degrees max el, westerly pass). I was hoping that the position of AO51 out over the ocean would reduce the number of users quite a bit. Also, to improve my chances, I set up in an area with a clear view to the west -- operating "portable" in the back of the truck. As soon as AO51 came across the horizon I could hear it well, and right away was able to make three contacts -- KA6SIP in CM97, NN6T in DM25, W7IN in DN27 -- yay!! I heard KL7XJ in BP40 as the satellite continued towards Alaska, but wasn't able to make contact. Signals on the downlink didn't get much above S1 or S2 at peak, but it was easily possible to communicate over the satellite with S0 signals.

Overall, this first set of sat contacts was a lot of fun! I had worked satellites back in Oklahoma in the mid-90's, and it's nice to get back into this mode.

Monday, August 9, 2010

QRP UHF From Mt. Lassen

For the ARRL August UHF contest, I took the FT-817ND and an ELK 2M/440L5 antenna to the very top of Mt. Lassen. Parking at the Summit Trailhead at 2pm, it took just over 2 hours to hike the 2 miles and 2000 feet up to the summit. Weather was cool (60F) but no clounds and chance of precipitation. The overall summit of Lassen is very exposed and was extremely windy, with views in almost 360 degrees. The true summit is a small cluster of rocks about 200' high, on the north section of the summit area. I was able to find a space shielded from the wind to set the equipment up; it was nice to be out of the wind! In my backpack I had the FT-817ND, spare AA batteries (2500 mAH), the ELK antenna, a lightweight photographic tripod, 6' of RG-58C cable, the logbook, compass, water, food, and importantly WARM clothing. It took about 10 minutes to set up, and right away I heard a few stations calling CQ Contest on 432.100. I was able to work all of the stations that I could hear using either 5 or 2.5 watts (yay for QRP!).

I made around 9 QSOs from the summit, with signal reports ranging from S1 to S7; grids were CM88, CM87, CM98, CM97, and DM09. The 70cm and 2m beacons from KJ6KO in CM88ws were coming in S9+. After 2 hours at the summit it was time to head back down, and was down just a bit after sunset. Fun! Overall, if the weather cooperates, the summit of Lassen was a great place to operate radio from!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

June VHF QSO Party - Mount Diablo

For the June VHF QSO Party I drove to the top of Mount Diablo (CM97). I worked quite a few stations from the summit, as well as different locations on the upper road, using the standard setup in the mobile (Yaesu FT-857D + ATAS-120A for 6m, HO-Loop for 2m, and 5/8 wave vertical for 70cm).

During the evening hours on Saturday, I worked QRP portable from the same location at my campsite, and then worked mobile the next day. The QRP rig was the Yaesu FT-817 with a HO-Loop for 2m and a Norcal Doublet + Electraft T1 for 6m. Fun!