A Portable Satellite Station Part 2 – 2.0 Station Goals and Antenna System


M2 Antenna Systems LEO Pack On Display at Dayton 2016

M2 Antenna Systems LEO Pack on Display at Dayton 2016

We came upon the M2 Antenna Systems booth while walking around the exhibit halls at Dayton last year. M2 had one of their LEO Pack satellite antenna systems on display there. This got us thinking about building a new, more capable version of our portable satellite station. The LEO Pack is a relatively lightweight circularly polarized antenna system for working satellites using the 2 m and 70 cm bands. It turns out that AMSAT members can purchase the LEO Pack at a discount. Starting with the LEO Pack in mind, I began to lay out some goals for a new, 2.0 Portable Satellite Station:

  • Be capable of working all active Amateur LEO Satellites including those using linear transponders and digital modes
  • Be portable and manageable enough to be setup in an hour or less
  • Be simple enough to operate so that HAMs who are new to satellites can make all types of satellite contacts with a relatively short learning curve
  • Be manageable to transport and store
  • Utilize computer controlled antenna tracking to aim the antennas
  • Utilize computer control to manage radio VFOs to compensate for doppler shift
  • Be easy to transport and store
Computer Controlled Satellite Station Via MacDoppler

Computer Controlled Satellite Station via MacDoppler Software

We decided to take a computer controlled approach for both antenna aiming and Transceiver VFO management to meet our goal of making the station simple to operate for new satellite operators. After some research on the available options, we choose MacDoppler from Dog Park Software Ltd. for this purpose. MacDoppler runs under Mac OS/X and works well on our MacBook Air laptop computer which is very portable. This program also has broad support for many different rotator and transceiver platforms and is very easy to understand and use. Finally, the program features high quality graphics which should make the station more interesting to folks with limited or no experience operating through Amateur Satellites.

With the satellite tracking software chosen, we made selections for the other major components in the 2.0 Portable Satellite Station as follows:

I will explain these choices in more detail as our article series proceeds.

Glen Martin Roof Tower

Glen Martin 4.5′ Roof Tower

Our solution to making the antenna system portable is built around a Glen Martin 4.5′ Roof Tower. This short tower is a high-quality piece made of extruded aluminum parts. The tower is very sturdy when assembled and is light in weight. We added a pair of extended “feet” to the tower which are fabricated from 36″ x 2″ x 1 /4″ strap steel. This gives the tower a firm base to sit on and allows us to use sandbags to weight it down (more on this later).

Our chosen Yaesu G-500 AZ/EL Rotator is a relatively inexpensive Azimuth/Elevation rotator which is suitable for light-weight satellite antennas such as those in the LEO Pack. This rotator can be installed as a single unit on the top of a tower or separated using a mast. We choose the latter approach as it is mechanically more robust and helps to keep the center of gravity for our portable antenna system low for improved stability.

Yaesu G-5500 Elevation Rotator

Yaesu G-5500 Elevation Rotator

Separating the Yaesu AZ/EL rotator requires as short mast and a thrust bearing to be used. The mast was made from an 1-3/4″ O.D. piece of EMT tubing from our local hardware store. The thrust bearing is a Yaesu GS-065 unit. Both of these pieces fit nicely in the Glen Martin Tower. The thrust bearing provides support for the LEO Pack and G-500 elevation rotator and greatly reduces stress on the azimuth rotator. We also added a Yaesu GA-300 Shock Absorber Mount to the azimuth rotator. This part provides shock isolation for and reduces strain on the azimuth rotator during the frequent starts and stops which occur during satellite tracking.

LMR-400 Feed-lines And Antenna Connection Jumpers

LMR-400UF Feed-lines and Antenna Connection Jumpers

We decided to use LMR-400 UltraFlex coax throughout our antenna system. LMR-400UF coax provides a good balance between size, flexibility and loss for our application. To keep feed-line losses reasonable, we choose to limit the total length of the coax from the transceiver output to the antenna feed point to 50′. This results in a loss of about 1.3 dB on the 70 cm band. The result is that our planned IC-9100 Transceiver which has a maximum output of 75W on 70 cm will deliver a little more than 50W maximum at the feed point of the 70 cm yagi. This should be more that enough power to meet our station goals. Allowing a total of 15′ for antenna rotator loops and transceiver connections, we settled upon 35′ for the length of our coax feed-lines between the tower and the station control point.

Portable Tower Cable Connections and Base Straps

Portable Tower Cable Connections and Base Straps

We added some custom fabricated plates to the tower to act as a bulkhead for feed line and control cable connections and to mount our low-noise preamplifiers. The control connections for the rotators and preamps were made using 6-pin Weatherpack connectors and rotator control cable from DXEngineering. The control cables are also 35′ long to match the length of our coax feed lines. This length should allow the tower and the control point to be separated by a reasonable distance in portable setups.

Low-Noise Preamplifiers From Advanced Receiver Research

Low-Noise Preamplifiers from Advanced Receiver Research

We added tower-mounted Low-Noise Preamplifiers from Advanced Receiver Research to improve the receive sensitivity and noise figure for our satellite antenna system. Two preamps are used – one each for the 2 m and one for 70 cm antennas. While these units can be RF switched, we decided to include the preamp control lead in our control cable to allow for control of the preamp switching via sequencers. This was done to provide an extra measure of protection for the preamps.

Levels And Compass For Tower Setup

Levels and Compass for Tower Setup

We added a compass and pair of bubble levels to the tower assembly to make it easier to orient and level it during setup. This picture above also shows the Yaesu shock absorbing mount for the azimuth rotator.

Weight Bags To Anchor Portable Tower

Weight Bags to Anchor Portable Tower

Finally, we added a set of weight bags to securely anchor the tower when it is set up in a portable environment. These bags are filled with crushed stone and fasten to the legs of the Glen Martin tower with velcro straps.

LEO Pack Antenna Parts

LEO Pack Antenna Parts

With the tower and rotator elements complete, we turned our attention to the assembly of the M2 LEO Pack. The LEO pack consists of two circularly polarized yagis for the 2m and 70 cm bands. The 2m Yagi is an M2 Systems 2MCP8A which has 8 elements (4 horizontal and 4 vertical) and provides 9.2 dBic of forward gain. The 70 cm Yagi is an M2 Systems 436CP16 with 16 elements (8 horizontal and 8 vertical) and provides 13.3 dBic of forward gain. Both Yagi’s are meant to be rear mounted on an 8.5′ aluminum cross boom which is included in the LEO Pack. The picture above shows all of the parts for the two antennas before assembly. It took us about a 1/2 day to assemble and test the antennas and both produced the specified SWR performance when assembled and test in clear surroundings.

Assembled LEO Pack On Portable Tower

Assembled LEO Pack on Portable Tower

The picture above shows the assembled LEO pack on the portable tower. We attached a short 28″ piece of mast material to the cross boom as a counterweight to provide better overall balance and to minimize strain on the elevation rotator. The antennas and the two outer sections of the mast can be easily removed to transport the antenna system.

2m Circularly Polarized Yagi Feed Point

2m Circularly Polarized Yagi Feed Point

The LEO Pack yagis achieve circular polarization via a matching network which drives the vertical and horizontal sections of the antennas with a 90 degree phase shift. The phase shift (and a final 50 ohm match) is achieved using 1/4 wave delay lines made of coax cables. We configured our antennas for right-hand circular polarization. The choice between right and left hand circular polarization is not a critical one in our LEO satellite application as most LEO satellites are not circularly polarized. The advantage of circular polarization in our application is the minimization of spin fading effects.

Green Heron RT-21 Az/El Rotator Controller

Green Heron RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller

The final step in the construction of our antenna system was to add the rotator controller and test the computer aiming system. We have had very good results using Green Heron Engineering rotator controllers in our home station so we selected their RT-21 AZ/EL rotator controller for this application. The RT-21 AZ/EL rotator controller is really two rotator controllers in a single box. The rotator control parameters such as minimum and maximum rotator speed, ramp, offset, over travel and others can be independently set for each rotator.

Rotator Test Using MacDoppler

Rotator Test Using MacDoppler

The RT-21 AZ/EL Rotator Controller connects to our computer via a pair of USB cables. We run Green Heron’s GH Tracker software on our MacBook Air laptop to manage the computer side of the rotator controller and to provide a UDP protocol interface to the MacDoppler tracking software. The picture above shows the test setup used to verify the computer controlled antenna pointing system.

Mixed OS/X and Windows Software Environment

Mixed OS/X and Windows Software Environment

One challenge associated with selecting a Mac OS/X platform for computer control is what to do about the inevitable need to run Windows software as part of the system. In addition to the GH Tracker software, the WaveNode WN-2 Wattmeter and digital modem software for satellite/ISS APRS and other applications require a Windows run-time environment. To solve this problem, we use a virtual machine environment implemented using VMware Fusion and Windows 10 64-bit on our MacBook Air Laptop along with Mac OS/X. Using the Unity feature of VMware Fusion allows us to run windows apps such as GH Tracker as if they were native Mac OS/X apps. The picture above shows an example of this.

Rotator Controller and Software Configuration

Rotator Controller and Software Configuration

With the antennas removed from the cross boom, we tested the operation of the computer controlled tracking system. The Yaesu G-5500 AZ/EL Rotator have some limits as to its pointing accuracy and backlash performance.  Experimentation with the combination of  the RT-21 AZ/EL rotator controller, GH Tracker and MacDoppler setups was required to achieve smooth overall operation. We finally settled on a strategy of “lead the duck” tracking. The idea here is to set up the rotators so that they over-travel by a degree or so when the computer adjusts them and couple this with a relatively wide 2-3 degree tracking resolution. This maximizes the overall accuracy of the pointing system and minimizes the tendency towards constant start-stop operation of the rotators during satellite tracking. Our current configuration for all of the elements involved in the tracking system is shown above.

With the antenna system complete and tested, we can move onto the next step in our project – the construction of a computer controlled transceiver system. We will cover this element in the next part  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

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 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.

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 null’ing 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

 

Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Gateway Part 3 – On The Air Remote!


Remote Operating Setup In Our Home Office

Remote Operating Setup In Our Home Office

In the previous articles is this series, we explained how we integrated a FlexRadio-6700 Software Defined Radio (SDR) into our station and how we used it as a platform to build the Remote Operating Gateway for our station. The project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

With all of the hardware and software installed and the integration steps complete, we will  show some examples of using our remote operating setup on the air in this article. The first set of operating examples were made using the Remote Operating Client PC in our Home Office. This system is shown in the picture above.

Working The VK9WA DXpedition - Left Monitor

Working The VK9WA DXpedition – Left Monitor

We were able to make several contacts with the VK9WA DXpedition to Willis Island using our remote operating setup. The picture above provides a closer look at how we setup our Remote Client PC to work VK9WA (you can click on the pictures here to see a larger view). We just completed a CW contact with the VK9WA DXpedition on 40m and you can see that we have the QSO logged in DXLab’s DXKeeper. We used CW Skimmer to help determine where the operator was listening (more on this in a bit). We also used our Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier to make it a little easier to break through the pileup.

Working The VK9WA DXpedition - Right Monitor

Working The VK9WA DXpedition – Right Monitor

The picture above shows a better view of the second monitor on our Remote Client PC. SmartSDR is running to control our FlexRadio-6700 SDR and it is set up for split operation in CW mode on the 40m band. We also have DXLab’s DXView running and we used it to point our antennas to the short path heading for the VK9WA DXpedition. Finally, we used DXLab’s WinWarbler to remotely key the Winkeyer connected to our SDR in the shack to make the actual contact.

VK9WA DXpedition 30m Pileup Viewed From CW Skimmer

The video above shows the VK9WA DXpedition operating split in CW mode on the 30m band. Note how CW Skimmer allows us to see exactly where  the operator is listening (the VK9WA operator’s signal is the green bar at the bottom and the stations being worked can be seen sending a “599” near the top). You can see many of the folks trying to work the VK9WA DXpedition move near the last station that is worked in the pileup video.

VK9WA DXpedition 30m Pileup  Viewed From SmartSDR

The next video shows the VK9WA pileup in the SmartSDR application which controls the radio. This video provides a closer look at how SmartSDR is set up for split operation. Can you find the station that the VK9WA operator worked?  It is not quite in Slice Receiver B’s passband.

Laptop Remote Operating Client

Laptop Remote Operating Client

We also configured our Laptop PC to be a Remote Operating Client for our station. Our Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Headset is used to as both a wireless microphone and headphones with this system. Our Laptop Client PC can be used from any location on our property via the WiFi Wireless extension of our Home Network.

Window Arrangement For remote Operating From Laptop

Window Arrangement For remote Operating From Laptop

Since our Laptop PC has limited screen space, we created a configuration of overlapping windows to provide access to SmartSDR, key elements of the DXLab Suite and the applications which control/monitor our KPA500 Amplifier and Antennas. Each window is arranged so that a portion of it is always visible so that we can click on any required window to bring it forward when we need to use it.

Operating From Our Remote Laptop Client – A 20m SSB QSO

The video above shows a QSO that we made with AD0PY, David and his friend Daniel in Missouri, USA. We used the FlexRadio-6700 SDR/SmartSDR combination in VOX mode to make transmit keying simpler. At the beginning of the QSO, we  turned out antennas to point to AD0PY. Also note the operation of the KPA500 Amplifier when we transmit in the video. The QSO is logged in DXLab’s DXKeeper at the end of the contact in the usual way. Its fun to make casual contacts this way!

As you can see from this post, there is very little difference when we operate our station remotely or from our shack. This was an important goal that shaped the design of our Remote Operating Gateway and Client PC setup. Our next post will provide some details on how we setup the CW Skimmer and Digital Mode (RTTY, PSK and JT65/JT9) software to work on our Remote PC Clients.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Gateway Part 1 – System Design And Hardware Installation


Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio Stack

Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio And Remote Operating Gateway

We’ve been planning to add a remote operating capability to our station for some time now. We also did some previous work with a FlexRadio Software Defined Radio (SDR) in our station and we felt that an SDR would be a good platform to build a remote operating project around. We decided to combine our remote operating goals with a next generation SDR upgrade (a FlexRadio-6700) for our station. This project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

We will be tackling our goals of building a Remote Operating Gateway (GW) in two stages. Stage 1 will focus on operating our station from other rooms in our house (our Home Offices are prime locations for this). Stage 2 will involve operating our station “On The Go” from anywhere in the world that has sufficient Internet Access is available. We also want to enable full control of our station when operating remotely including:

  • Use of our Amplifier
  • Antenna Selection
  • Rotator Control
  • Equipment Power Monitoring and Management

We also use a microHAM station control system and contesting equipment and we want to fully integrate our new Flex-6700 SDR with this gear. Our Flex-6700 uses a dedicated Microphone to avoid some audio integration issues that we encountered between the Flex-6700 and the microHAM MK2R+ that we use in our station.

SDR/Remote Operating Gateway Architecture

Flex-6700 SDR/Remote Operating Gateway Architecture

The first step in this project was to develop a system design (pictured above). We opted for an architecture which uses the Flex SDR as a third radio in Anita’s Operating Position. Her position is now an SO2R setup with a Yaesu FTdx5000 as the primary radio and a choice of either an Icom IC-7600 or the Flex-6700 SDR as the second active radio.

Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier and KAT500 Auto Tuner

Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier and KAT500 Auto Tuner

Elecraft W2 Watt Meter

Elecraft W2 Watt Meter

FilterMax IV Automated Band Pass Filter

FilterMax IV Automated Band Pass Filter

The Flex-6700 SDR has an associated Elecraft KPA-500W Amplifier/KAT500 Auto Tuner combination, an Elecraft W2 Wattmeter, an automated band pass filtering via an Array Solutions FilterMax IV and a dedicated microHAM Station Master Deluxe (SMD) Antenna Controller. The Elecraft components are good choices for our remote operating project because they all have applications which enable them to be controlled and monitored over a network (more on this later in this series of articles).

Station Antenna System

Out Station’s Antenna System

The additional microHAM SMD allows the Flex-6700 SDR to have full access to and control over our entire antenna system and associated rotators.

K1EL WinKeyer

K1EL WinKeyer

Our setup also includes a K1EL WinKeyer to enable computer controlled CW keying of the Flex-6700 SDR. This device is relatively inexpensive in kit form and was fun to put together. We have a Bencher Iambic Paddle connected to the WinKeyer for in-shack CW operation.

SDR microHAM Integration

SDR microHAM Integration

The diagram above shows the details of the device interconnections which make up the SDR Radio System. The microHAM SMD Antenna Controller requires a serial CAT interface to its host Flex-6700 SDR to determine what band and frequency the SDR is on. The Flex-6700 SDR does not provide such an interface directly but it does create CAT control virtual ports on a host Personal Computer (PC).

DDUtil Setup - SDR Virtual CAT Access

DDUtil Setup – SDR Virtual CAT Access

DDUtil Setup - Bridging Physical Serial Port To SMD

DDUtil Setup – Bridging Physical Serial Port To SMD

To solve this problem, we used an application called DDUtil to bridge the derived CAT port associated with the SDR to a physical serial port on the PC. The PC’s physical port is then connected to the microHAM SMD associated with the Flex-6700 SDR. The pictures above show how DDUtil is set up to do this.

Station COM Port Configuration

Station COM Port Configuration

The microHAM gear, WinKeyer, Rotators, Radio CAT Interfaces, Amplifier/Auto Tuner Interfaces, etc. all use serial or COM ports on a host PC for control. It’s also true that many loggers have trouble with accessing serial ports above COM16. All of this requires a carefully developed COM port allocation plan for a complex station like ours. The figure above shows this part of our design.

A-B Switching Design For Radio Port 4

A-B Switching Design For Radio Port 4

microHAM Bus Expansion And Antenna Switching Gear

microHAM Bus Expansion And Antenna Switching Gear

The last part of the hardware puzzle required to integrate the SDR into our station was the installation of a second microHAM uLink Bus Hub, microHAM Relay 10 Control Box and an A/B antenna switch which is controlled by the microHAM SMDs. This allows the 4th radio port on our antenna switching matrix to be shared between the Icom IC-7600 and the Flex-6700 SDR.

microHAM Configuration For SDR Station Master Deluxe

microHAM Configuration For SDR Station Master Deluxe

The last step in the integration of the Flex-6700 SDR was to configure the microHAM system for the new equipment. This involves adding SMD #5 to the microHAM system and configuring it (and the rest of the system) to know about the Flex-6700 SDR, associated amplifier and its interconnections to the rest of the system.

SmartSDR Software

SmartSDR Software

The Flex-6700 SDR Hardware is controlled and operated via FlexRadio’s SmartSDR Application over a network. We have 1 Gbps wired and an 802.11 b/g/n Wireless Ethernet systems in our how and the SmartSDR/Flex-6700 SDR combination works well over either network. The software based approach used with most SDR allows new features to be added to the radio via software upgrades.

SmartSDR Setup - Tx Keying And Interlock

SmartSDR Setup – Tx Keying And Interlock

It is very important to prevent the Flex-6700 SDR and the associated Amplifier from keying up when the antennas in our station are being switched or are being tuned. The screenshot above shows the configuration of SmartSDR to enable the keying and interlock interfaces between the Flex-6700 SDR and its associated microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller to implement these functions. This setup enables the Tx Keying and Tx Inhibit interfaces between the Flex-6700 SDR and the microHAM Station Master Deluxe to work properly to key all of the equipment in the setup (SDR, Amplifier, active Rx antennas, etc.) and to lock out keying when antennas are being switched or when one of our SteppIR antennas are tuning.

Flex-6700 SDR With CW Skimmer

We will cover some additional software and integration steps to realize our Remote Operating goals. For now, check out the above video to see how the system performs. This video was recorded using our Flex-6700 SDR and CW Skimmer during the 2015 ARRL CW Sweepstakes Contest. We are really enjoying operating in CW mode with the new SDR setup!

– Fred (AB1OC)

2014 Amateur Radio Highlights


2014 Readers Around The World

2014 Readers Around The World

It is once again time for our annual 2014 Year in Review post. First, I’d like to thank our readers for their continued interest in our Blog. Our blog was viewed about 100,00 times in 2014 from 165 countries around  the world. You, our readers have made 2014 our busiest year yet and this provides Anita (AB1QB) and me with great encouragement to continue to provide content for our readers.

2014 was a very busy year in Amateur Radio for us. Our activities included a continued focus on station building, contesting, WRTC 2014, special events, providing presentations to help other in the hobby learn about new things, attending several HAM Events, progress on operating awards, and most importantly – time spent on the air operating.

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

We upgraded our fixed station to include a microHAM Station Automation system this year. This was a major project that added some nice SO2R capabilities to our Multi-one station as well as automated the sharing of our antennas between our two SO2R Operating positions. More of this project can be found here:

Eggbeater Antennas And Preamps SystemsOn Tower

Eggbeater LEO Satellite Antennas And Preamps Systems On Tower

We also added LEO Satellite capabilities to our station with the addition of some new antennas and electronics on our tower. This allowed us to make our first contacts through LEO birds with linear transponders. Our articles on this project include:

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Our Mobile HF Station – Screwdriver Antenna

Our final major station building project was the construction of a state of the art mobile HF station in our Ford F-150 pickup truck. We did this project in phases starting with a simple setup using a 100W radio and HAM Stick antennas through the installation of a Screwdriver Antenna System for the 160m – 10m HF bands and concluding with the installation of an amplifier to enable high power mobile HF operation. You can view the articles on this project here:

AB1OC Operating In CQ WPX SSB

AB1OC Operating In the 2014 CQ WPX SSB

Anita (AB1QB) and I continued to be active in several contests this year. We both continued to develop our skills as contesters and our scores and place in the rankings reflected this. You can read more about our contesting activities and what we learned in the following articles:

Hollis Site Support Team And Referee

WRTC 2014 Hollis Site Competitors, Support Team And Referee

We were also fortunate to host one of the WRTC 2014 competition sites. Along with our friend Scott Anderson, NE1RD, Anita and I acted as site managers for the only WRTC 2014 Competition Site in New Hampshire. You can read more about our WRTC 2014 experiences here.

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

Special event operations were a particularly fun part of our on air activities in 2014. We operated as K2K, New Hampshire in the 13 Colonies Special Event, W1AW/1 as part of the ARRL Centennial QSO Party, and as N1FD Celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Nashua Area Radio Club. It’s great fun to operate in these events and the experience running the pileups that result continued to help Anita and me to develop our operating and contesting skills.

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

We make it a priority to develop a significant amount of our Amateur Radio time to helping others in the hobby learn new things. In addition to writing this Blog, Anita and I try to create and deliver several presentations each year on a variety of topics of interest to the Amateur Radio Community. Our presentation this year included an update of our presentation on Amateur Radio Station Design and Construction and an Introductory Presentation on the DXLab Software Suite. We are always interested in working with Amateur Radio Clubs to deliver the presentation either in person where practice or over the web.

Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (TBD)

Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (K9EID)

We had the fortune to meet some of the legends in Amateur Radio this past year. Anita and I had the opportunity to get meet Bob Heil, K9EID and to appear on his Ham Nation podcast. Bob is an amazing gentlemen and we feel truly fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know him. We also had the opportunity to meet Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ, the President and Founder of QRZ.com. Fred visited our station and did an article about our station on QRZ.com. Anita and I both learned a great deal about HAM Radio and how it came to be what it is today as a result of the time these fine folks spent with us.

Joe Taylor's WSJT Presentation

Joe Taylor’s WSJT Presentation At the ARRL Centennial Convention

Amateur Radio Conventions and HAM Fests were a major part of our Amateur Radio fun again this year. We were fortunate to attend and speak at the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford, CT USA this year – truly a once in a lifetime Amateur Radio experience. We also attended the Dayton Hamvention in 2014 where we had a chance to see all of the latest and greatest in Amateur Radio Equipment.

Our 2014 QSOs By Callsign

Our 2014 QSOs By Callsign

We were quite active on the air making almost 26,000 contacts between the two of us. As you can see from the graphic above, about 45% of our contacts were as part of Special Event Operations. We also made a little over 500 contacts from our mobile station, working over 100 DXCC entities in 2014 from the mobile.

Our 2014 QSOs By Band

Our 2014 QSOs By Band

 We were active on all of the HF bands this year. We made our first contacts on the 60m band and I was able to focus on the 6m band and earn a VUCC Operating Award (100 grid squares worked and confirmed) on that band. Anita and I also made our first DX contacts to Europe on 6m in 2014. Anita took quite an interest in the 160m band and she is working on a Worked All States Operating Award on this band. Our operating time using weak signal and satellite modes on the 2m and 70cm bands was limited to a few contacts this year. I did make my first contacts through LEO Satellites in 2014.

We

Our 2014 QSOs By Mode

Our 2014 QSOs By Mode

We mostly operated in the SSB phone mode in 2014. Anita and I both continue to work on our CW skills and we managed a little over 800 QSOs using CW in 2014. Anita was very active in the RTTY mode as part of her RTTY contesting efforts.

K2K New Hampshire QSL!

13 Colonies K2K New Hampshire QSL!

All of this operating resulted in quite a bit of QSL activity. We sent a total of almost 4,200 QSL cards in 2014!

We again made a video showing all of our contacts around the world in 2014. As you can see from the video, we were fortunate to work quite a bit of DX in 2014.

6M VUCC Operating Award

Fred’s 6M VUCC Operating Award

All of this operating helped Anita and me to make some progress on operating awards this year. In addition to earning a 6M VUCC, I also completed a Worked All States Award on all 9 HF bands 160m-10m. I was also able to complete several nice regional operating awards (Worked All Europe TOP Plaque, Worked All VK Call Areas and Worked All Africa) as well upgrading my DXCC Challenge Award to the 1,500 Band Country level. Anita completed her JARL JCC Award (she worked 100+ Cities in Japan) as well as her Worked All States Triple Play Award (all states on SSB, CW and Digital via LoTW).

Anita and I had a lot of fun with Amateur Radio in 2014. We are looking forward to another great year of HAM Radio fun in 2015. We hope to share some of what we learn and our experiences with our readers here on our Blog.

– Fred (AB1OC)

An Introduction To The DXLab Suite


Introduction To The DXLab Suite

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

I recently had the opportunity to put together a presentation introducing the DXLab Software Suite for several local radio clubs. The idea was to provide a fairly comprehensive introduction to DXLab and to show how it can be used to make Amateur Radio operations, QSL’ing and Award Management easier and more enjoyable. There are several good DXLab introductory presentations and web pages on the internet so we decided to do ours with some “live” demos of DXLab in use within our station.

Why Computer Logging And DXLab?

Why Computer Logging And DXLab?

Not all hams have made the conversion to computer-based operation and logging, so we began by covering the motivation for and some of the advantages of Computer-based operation and logging.

DXLab Suite Components Overview

DXLab Suite Components Overview

The next part of the presentation provided an overview of each of the components of the DXLab Suite as well as some of the basics of how they work together. This was covered via a set of “live” demonstrations using our station. You can view these demonstrations as videos via the following links:

Our station is a fairly complex one. It includes multi-operator capabilities from two operating positions with a total of four active radios and a microHAM station automation system. We also operate under a number of different callsigns from different computers. Finally, we do a fair amount of operating portable and from our mobile HF station. The DXLab Suite’s Launcher program with its multiple workspace capabilities easily handle the multiple configurations and equipment interfaces that are required for our station and operating style.

DXLab Use Scenarios

DXLab Use Scenarios

The next part of the presentation covered some common DXLab “use cases” that one would likely encounter when making contacts, QSL’ing and managing progress towards operating awards.

Casual Contacts With DXLab

Casual Contacts With DXLab

The first demonstration showed the use of DXLab to make casual or “rag chew” contacts. The emphasis here is on using the Suite to automate station configuration and logging tasks and to provide information to enhance the quality of your contacts. This demonstration covers the basics of how the components of the DXLab Suite work together to help you make and log a contact. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

Finding And Working DX With DXLab

Finding And Working DX With DXLab

The next demonstration showed the use of DXLab to find and work DX contacts. This demonstration uses more components of the DXLab Suite including the spotting cluster and propagation prediction features. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

Operating CW And Digital With DXLab

Operating CW And Digital With DXLab

The next demo shows how DXLab is used to find and make a DX QSO using Digital Modes. A RTTY QSO is shown including the use of the WinWarbler component and multiple RTTY decoders (MMTTY and 2Tone). You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

QSL'ing With DXLab

QSL’ing With DXLab

The next demo show how to use DXLab to QSL and confirm contacts. The demo covers QSL’ing via the Logbook of the World (LoTW) and the eQSL online QSL services as well as the generation of paper QSLs along with the assistance that DXLab provides to determine QSL route information. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

DXLab QSL Card Examples

DXLab QSL Card Examples

DXLab can generate labels apply to your pre-printed QSL cards or it can be used to print QSL information directly on blank cards.

QSL Card Label Sheet Example

QSL Card Label Sheet Example

DXLab can print QSL card and address labels on many types of standard label stock. An example of QSL card labels are shown above.

QSL Envelope Generated By DXLab

QSL Envelope Generated By DXLab

DXLab also generates outgoing and return envelopes for your paper QSLs. An example is shown above.

Operating Award Management With DXLab

Operating Award Management With DXLab

The final demonstration shows how to use DXLab to track your progress towards and apply for operating awards. Some of the basics of QSL “aging” are discussed as well. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

The SpotCollector component of the DXLab Suite is very useful as a cluster monitor. It can be configured to alter you via email or text to you mobile when something is on that you need. More information on how to use SpotCollector this way can be found here. The set of operating awards that DXLab knows about and the features that it provides to manage your progress towards earning and applying for awards are some of the strongest features of the suite. We haves used DXLab to help us to earn many different operating awards.

Getting Started With DXLab

Getting Started With DXLab

The final part of the presentation covers the configuration of the DXLab suite to get it to work with your station. Since every station is different, its best to consult the excellent DXLab online help for more information on how to configure the suite.

Useful Information And Links

Useful Information And Links

Lastly, the presentation includes links to useful tools and information to help you get the most from the DXLab suite. Dropbox is a useful file sharing tool and it can help you keep your logs and DXLab configurations in sync across multiple computers. This allows you to use DXLab to access your current logs or to operate your station from difference computers.

I hope that this overview of the DXLab suite will encourage our readers to give it a try. Anita (AB1QB) and I have successfully used  the DXLab suite with our station for several years now. It does a great job automating many aspects of our Amateur Radio operations, QSL’ing and award management. It easily handles the complexities of our multi-operator station and it also handles logging and QSL’ing for multiple call signs that Anita and I operate under. We also use DXLab for our portable, Field Day and mobile operations and it handles all of these scenarios very well.

DXLab was created, enhanced and maintained by David Bernstein, AA6YQ. He makes this excellent suite of software available as freeware for the benefit of the Amateur Radio community. The DXLab suite is available for download here. You can download a copy of our DXLab presentation (without the videos) here. The DXLab Yahoo! Group provides is a good place to seek support and answers to questions about DXLab. I hope that our reader will give the DXLab suite a closer look. For those who already use DXLab, we hope that you pick up some new ideas from how Anita and I use the suite as part of your Amateur Radio operations.

– Fred (AB1OC)

ARRL Centennial Convention This Week – Come Join Us In Hartford!


ARRL Centennial

ARRL Centennial

Anita (AB1QB) and I will be attending the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford Connecticut, USA this coming weekend. We are looking forward to seeing the vendor exhibits, Contest University and the many fine forum presentations which are scheduled.

Station Design Presentation

Station Design Presentation

I will be doing a presentation on the design, construction and operation of our station at the ARRL Centennial event. My presentation is scheduled for Saturday, July 19th at 11 am in Room 27 at the Connecticut Convention Center. I will be presenting the complete story of our station from planning and design, through construction and finally how the station operates and performs. The presentation will include lots of high-resolution pictures and video including material on our shack, tower and antennas.

Updated Station Tour

Updated Station Tour

The presentation will include lots of new material covering all of our recent projects as well as an updated virtual station tour.

Latest Antenna Projects

Latest Antenna Projects

Some new topics will include our latest antenna projects and some information on our recently completed LEO Satellite System.

Station Automation Overview

Station Automation Overview

The presentation will also include information on our recently installed Station Automation System from microHAM.

Current Station Performance

Current Station Performance

We plan to talk about how our station is performing against our original design goals and we’ll have some updated video too!

For those who are attending the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford Connecticut, I hope you stop by and say hello to Anita and me. We’re anxious to meet as many of our readers as we can at the event. For those who cannot make the trip, we will be taking lots of pictures and we plan to post a summary of what we saw here after the event.

– Fred (AB1OC)