I'm trying to further optimize my small EME station. Based on the noise plots in the posts below, it's easy to see that raising the antennas to higher elevations will significantly decrease the radio noise that they "see" from the surrounding houses. What I have noticed over the last six months or so is that by raising the antennas out of the noise (and pointing them slightly away from the moon), I can get significantly improved reception of EME signals. This is because the main lobe of the antenna array is fairly broad, so even if the array is not pointed directly at the moon, there's still enough gain to receive signals. Similarly, the steep sides of the main lobe help to selectively null out much of the surrounding terrestrial radio noise.
So, if the reception of moon signals at low moon elevations can be improved by pointing the antennas above the moon, does this have any negative effect on the transmission of signals to the moon? If so, how much? Is there a way to find out?
I have found that an easy way to test this is to call CQ, and monitor the reports of my received signal strength at a distant station. The LiveCQ.eu site makes this relatively easy, as members of the MAP65 spotting network automatically upload signals that they have received from the moon. In my case, station KB8RQ has a very good receive system and (when online) automatically will report my signal, in real-time, as it's received. KB8RQ also has the advantage of using an adaptive-polarity dual-receive system, which helps to eliminate the effects of signal strength variability due to Faraday rotation.
My first test was to alternate a +0 degree elevation offset with a +7 degree elevation offset. The offset is the number of degrees in elevation above the moon. I was able to record received signals at KB8RQ over the period of about half an hour of calling CQ (with three brief interruptions as new inits from Hungary, Germany, and France replied to the CQ calls!). Plotting the reported signal strength over time gave the following plot:
What about higher elevations? Some draft antenna gain modelling of the M-squared (M2) 2M7 yagi antennas by W6YX suggests that it should be possible to raise the antennas 15 degrees above the target with only a -1dB penalty in signal. The plot below shows the predicted gain of the 2M7 antenna in both the Horizontal (H) and vertical (V) planes:
My second test was therefore to alternate calling CQ at +0 and +15 degree elevations above the moon. Results from this test are below.
The second test indicates, again, a relatively small difference in transmit signal strength between having the antennas pointed at the moon versus raised 15 degrees above. Mathematically, the pairwise comparisons indicate that elevating the antennas results in -1.6dB signals with a standard deviation of 3.2dB. This actually fits very closely with the model predictions!
Subsequent tests the next day indicated similar results:
In addition to KB8RQ, station S52LM in Slovenia was reporting signal strengths at the same time. The S52LM station has less receive capability than KB8RQ so the signal strengths are lower:
Overall, what does this all mean? Basically, it provides some early evidence that it's okay to aim the antennas well above the moon, in order to reduce the effects of the surrounding terrestrial noise and improve received signals, with little impact on the transmitted signal itself.
How much should the antennas be raised away from the moon in my situation? It really depends on the moon's proximity to the surrounding terrestrial noise. If the moon is at 20 degrees elevation, then raising the antennas +15 degrees will get them to a part of the sky with approx -3dB less noise, substantially increasing receive capability, with only an estimated -1.7 dB reduction in transmit signal strength. If the moon is at 50 degrees in elevation (already in quiet sky), then there's no benefit to aiming the antennas off of the moon. I haven't tested it yet, but based on the +7 degree tests, the calculated shape of the main lobe, and the fact that the +15 degree test shows a -1.7dB reduction, I suspect that a +10 degree elevation offset will not have a measurable impact on transmit signal strength. My gut feeling is that using a "permanent" elevation offset of +10 degrees will allow me to take advantage of lower noise levels without any significant impact on TX signals.
(much thanks to W6YX for the M2 2M7 draft antenna plots!)