Monday, July 25, 2011

Camping and Satellites - Grid CN90

This last weekend we took a trip to Eagle Lake in Lassen National Forest, northern California. The location was in the middle of grid CN90, and I brought the portable satellite gear for a test-run of working the satellites prior to the CM79 grid trip.

The location was beautiful -- Eagle Lake is a large lake at around 5000' in elevation, surrounded by relatively low mountains and pine forest. I hadn't known what the terrain would be like prior to the trip, but it turned out to be a very good location for ham radio satellite operation! On the lake, I could see to almost the horizon in most directions except for south -- perfect for the sats.

I brought the same radio equipment that I had used on previous trips -- the Twin Yaesu FT-817ND setup, with the addition of a voice recorder and Heil headset (thanks to Patrick WD9EWK for the suggestion of an easy way to avoid having to write everything down!). Power came from solar panels (2x20 watts) and a compact LiFePO4 battery pack. Tracking with the netbook computer running HRD and SatPC32. As usual, the antenna was the Elk dual-band log periodic.

Saturday night, after setting up camp, I was able to work three satellites: SO-50 (15 degrees E ascending), AO-07 (30 degrees W ascending), and VO-52 (90 degrees ascending). I was able to make 7 contacts on the three birds, and it was a good opportunity to get used to manually pointing the antenna and tuning the radio again! For some reason I could not get the netbook to tune the radios for VO-52 -- it was constantly trying to put me up to 5 kHz off frequency. Only later did I discover that even though I thought I had updated the keps in the SatPC32, apparently the update didn't happen! So, all of the remaining passes were done by manually tuning the radios.

Early Sunday morning I had some nice contacts on SO-50, then worked AO-07, AO-51, AO-07 again, VO-52, AO-07 a third time, VO-52 again, and FO-29. Made another 21 contacts in that set. The low easterly passes were a lot of fun, I was able to work stations I hadn't worked from my home QTH before.

Then it was time to head out kayaking and enjoying the lake.

Later on Sunday afternoon I worked AO-51 and made 16 contacts in the 60 degree E ascending pass. I made a few more contacts on AO-51 as it came around again to the west ... and then VO-52 and SO-50 yielded 6 more contacts. A final evening pass with SO-50 to the west yielded one more contact.

Finally Monday morning it was time to head out on the lake again and pack up camp. Before doing so I did one more pass -- a 30 degree E ascending VO-52 pass, and was able to make another 3 contacts before it was time to go.

Here's a rundown of the equipment used:

The portable operating station. Solar panels in the foreground, chair and everything else in the background:

The solar charge controller, and a "Watts Up" power meter. I find the power meter really helps to keep an eye on how much power the panels are generating, and serves as a good reminder to move them (if need be) to generate more power (ie. in the evening hours when the sun angle is low).

A close-up of the station. The two Yaesu FT-817ND radios hang from the tripod, with the headset and voice recorder plugged in to the right. The netbook displays the tracking information. Radio tuning control cables (USB-Serial) are coiled up in the blue bag, since I wasn't using PC tuning this time I just left them coiled up. The LiFePO4 battery is in the lower left.

A close up of the K2 Energy LiFePO4 battery. It continued to peform well on this trip.

Overall it was a great trip. Since the objective of this one was to have fun camping with my XYL first, and only do radio if there was some spare time, it did work out well for the satellite passes. I also was able to learn a number of lessons: It's important to be sure (and verify!) that the current keps are loaded into the computer. It's very useful to practice manual tuning beforehand. And using a headset and recorder really does help to keep track of contacts. It was a lot of fun talking to other satellite operators while out camping!