SKCC 5123T----- FISTS 14979----- Flying Pigs 2331----- NAQCC 3610-----QRP ARCI 14176-----Polar Bear 257

Monday, December 11, 2017

Dreaming of a Winter's Day

Those of us who can't get enough of ARRL Field Day will be out the last full weekend of January operating Winter Field Day. I have an outdoors location reserved at Falling Waters State Park near Chipley, Florida. We usually get a break on the cold weather in Northwest Florida, but there are exceptions.

I operated class 1B 2 operator for ARRL Field Day last June. It was a great experience. I am no seasoned camper but I made it through two nights. I was joined by Rick NZ2I for one night and he also was the camp cook. The antenna I built for the confines of the camp site was a big success. It is a 100 foot loop deployed 30 feet across and 20 feet vertical 10 feet above the ground. I designed it to fit in the camp site that will park a 30 foot RV. I have used it several times since Field Day and it performed well.

I will be at the same camp site and use the same loop antenna as last FD,  but I will go for the QRP category this time. I just noticed that WFD rules allow 5 watts CW and 10 watts peak on phone and digital. I would really like to see ARRL adopt that definition. I have in mind to also go QRP in the June 2018 ARRL FD. So WFD will be a test of my QRP station.

My choice of a WFD QRP rig is my Elecraft KX3. I decided to dress things up and add a Elecraft PX3 spectrum display and a heat sink for the KX3. I took the KX3 and PX3 for a test drive Sunday and I am very impressed with the PX3. I am interested in PSK-31 for Field Days. I have done very little. The KX3 built in support for PSK is enhanced greatly with the PX3 spectrum and waterfall display. Also, the PSK text is decoded in the text area of the display. I can see PX3 much better than my laptop. I brought up FLDigi on the laptop and my eyes don't jive with that tiny text font.

So my next step will be hooking a keyboard to the PX3. It will do the text macros and such for PSK as well as CW. I will also install the heat sink and do the temperature compensation. I will have a few outings before WFD to get comfortable with the KX3 and PSK. The computer solutions for PSK are great but I think the Elecraft approach will be fine for adding some digital contacts on WFD.

My friend Bob KK4DIV will have a camp site across the park road for WFD. Dennis WA6QKN and Chris VA3ECO have plans to come and play. It will be fun! I enjoy planning phase for these events. .

Monday, December 4, 2017

My WSPR Beacon Rocket is Launched into Near Space

I launched a WSPRLite beacon on my hobby rocket at the Dec 2nd rocket launch in Samson, Alabama. Weak Signal Propagation Reporter, WSPR, is a tool to study radio propagation. WSPRlite is a stand-alone WSPR transmitter or beacon. There is a network of WSPR receivers worldwide that post spots of beacons to I dreamed up an experiment to compare the reports of a beacon at altitude with a reference beacon on the ground. I chose the 20 meter HF band for this experiment.

Question: What is the effect on the propagation of 20 meter radio waves using a half wave vertical at a significant altitude over ground level.

Discussion: A rocket can be used to put a beacon at altitude for a short time. The rocket will ascend to an altitude of at least 1000 feet quickly and slowly descend to ground level under parachute. If I am lucky the chosen rocket will be elevated for the 2-minute transmission cycle of a WSPR beacon. The choice of rocket/rocket motors will affect the hang time.

I have a rocket with a payload bay.I will load the payload bay with:
USB Powerpack
WSPRite Module setup for 20 meters
LNR Trail Friendly End Fed matchbox with a half wave (32 ft) wire exiting from the bay.

Phase 1 Ground Calibration

Setup a Bravo 7K vertical as a reference antenna with a WSPRLite
Setup the rocket payload WSPRLite with the half wave wire extended vertically to a support pole.

Start the WSPR Beacons simultaneously on even minute at 20% duty cycle
Run the beacons for at least an hour.
The WSPR system of receivers will establish the relative SNR delta between the two antennas. 

Phase 2 Launch

Setup the WSPRlite beacons for full duty cycle
Start both beacons at an even minute.
Setup the rocket on the launch pad with the antenna draped loosely on the ground
Launch the rocket about 10 seconds prior to an even minute.
The WSPR system of receivers will establish the relative SNR delta between the two antennas.

Post Launch

Capture the data from the WSPR database. See if the SNR delta between the two beacons is greater at altitude than during the ground calibration.

I checked out of the gear at my home the day before the launch. Here is a video

At the launch, I ran a comparison of the rocket's beacon callsign N4KGL to a Bravo 7K vertical callsign W4RYZ on the field. The comparison report is at this link. Then, I prepared the PML Arial Rocket with an Aerotech I140 motor. The WSPRLite, a USB power supply, and a LNR Trail Friendly End Fed matchbox were in the payload. A 32-foot wire attached to the matchbox extended through a hole in the side of the payload bay.

The PML Arial Rocket on the pad ready to launch

Notice the antenna wire extending out of the payload bay.
The WSPR beacons transmit on a two-minute cycle starting on even minutes. I usually set the beacons for a duty cycle of 20 percent. If you start two beacons at the same time they will be synchronized. I thought I could set the duty cycle to 100 percent. That was not the case. 50 percent is the max.

With a 50 percent duty cycle, I could not predict exactly when a transmit cycle would start. There seems to be some randomness at play. That made pushing the launch button at the right time a bit difficult. So we waited until an even minute came to hear the beacon tone start on my KX2. John Hansel, the Launch Control Office pressed the button with perfect timing.  The rocket assent and decent under parachute were, fortunately, only slightly short of two minutes. The rocket landed safely on the field. The comparison report for the flight is at this link.

The Rocket Beacon N4KGL was -1.76 dB relative to the reference Bravo 7K vertical W4RYZ on the pre-flight ground comparison. The Rocket Beacon, N4KGL, was +1.8 dB relative to the reference Bravo 7K vertical, W4RYZ, during the flight. Therefore the flight beacon was +3.56 dB on average in the air than on the ground. Standard deviations are noted in the report. It is worth reviewing all the details in the reports for the complete picture. I can at least say the trend of the data shows there is an advantage in elevating the beacon/antenna. I believe the rocket altitude was at least 1500 feet or up to 2000 feet. There was no altimeter was on board.

I have had experience doing antenna comparisons during my study of the saltwater effect for vertically polarized antennas. I export the spots data from the SotaBeams website.  Then, I import it into a Microsoft Access database.  I developed the Spots Database to do the calculations and generate reports. The output is very similar and agrees with the results Dxplorer,net provides. However, those results eventually slip out of the time windows that the website uses. I can filter specific time periods for comparisons.

I enjoy getting empirical data in these experiments to examine what I understand about antennas and propagation. This experiment was mostly for the fun of it. I may try kites or balloons to elevate a WSPR beacon in the future. WSPRlite is exceptionally easy to use. It is reliable even in near space. All this is a good exercise for my interest in rockets, radios and relational databases. Thanks for reading!

Suzy had a great time greeting the fliers and spectators at the launch.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Success with the New AO-91 FM Satellite

AO-91 is a new FM s amateur satellite. It was known as Fox-1B before launch. It motivated myself and several Club members including Jim K4LIX and Bob KK4DIV to give it a try. It had been a while since I had the gear together to do an FM satellite. I started with the Kenwood TH-D72A and programmed the AO-91 frequencies in the rig memories. It had been long enough that I had to rediscover that the programming cable for the D72A is just a USB cable.

Greg N4KGL's photo by Phil N4STC
My first attempt was Saturday at the field behind the Panama City ARC Clubhouse. My antenna was the Elk log periodic. The bird was very crowded. I came up with nothing. I did hear Matt NJ4Y very well. Immediately after AO-91, AO-85 came over, and I got a couple including Bob KE4AL my friend in Dothan, Alabama. So my gear was working. I later emailed Matt, NJ4Y. He said that he was using a bit more than HT power and he recommended that for the busy day passes. He also suggested trying one of those middle of the night passes. I did an AO-91 pass at 2 AM Sunday morning with the Kenwood TH-D72A. It was very different due to fewer hams trying to use the bird. It sounded crystal clear just like a local repeater. I got three contacts.

I planned to met Bob KK4DIV at Kinsaul Park in Lynn Haven, Florida for a Sunday A0-91 day pass. In preparation, I gathered my Yaesu FT 8900 and programmed it. That would give me more power than an HT. I joined Bob and Phil N4STC at the park. The weather was excellent. The A0-91 pass yielded two contacts including Matt NJ4Y at EL98.

Another one of Bob KK4DIV's cool videos. Notice Suzy in the background at the park.

So I have now been checked out on the FM birds again. There will be more opportunities with another bird in the sky thanks to AMSAT. Bob and Phil and I discussed setting up a base satellite station as a club project. None of us have a home station or experience with a satellite tracking antenna. I expect that Chris VA3ECO, another one of my satellite Elmers, can help. He is expected to arrive in Panama City early January. He has a satellite station up in Ontario.

Note the Kenwood TH-D72A and the Yaesu FT 8900 are capable of full duplex on satellites. Bob is using the Yaesu FT 7900. When you hear yourself on the downlink you know you go through. Phil N4STC was using an HT to copy us. The downlink is on two meters so you do not have to worry about Doppler.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Portable Activation Guide: Join Us or Chase Us

I got inspired to create an online Portable Activation Guide for sites nearby Panama City Florida. Click on this link or the image.

This Portable Activation Guide is an aid to local and visiting hams in the Panama City, Florida area. Use it to choose a site and an activation program for your outing. We are blessed with many beautiful sites nearby. Some are on the saltwater gulf or bay which can enhance radio propagation. Our weather allows activations year round.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Team of Two for the November 2017 RaDAR Challenge

I am happy to report that the plan, the weather, and the radio propagation came together nicely for the November 4th, 2017 RaDAR Challenge, RaDAR is Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio. It originates with Eddie Leighton ZS6BNE in South Africa. I was pleased to have Dennis WA6QKN as a teammate. Our venue was St. Andrews State Park near Panama City, FL. We operated at four locations within the four hour period. We traveled one kilometer by foot between locations. It was necessary to make five contacts before moving to the next stop.

Location 1 was the parking lot at the Jetties area. I chose to take a gamble and do an FO-29 satellite pass. I felt it was a gamble since I have not been too active on satellites lately. Fortunately, I made nine contacts. Among the contacts were Bob KE4AL in Dothan and Chris VA3ECO in Ontario. They had a heads up I was on satellite. Chris is my Elmer for linear satellites.

Location 2 was one kilometer North at a clearing near the turpentine mill. I chose 40 meters. Dennis and I erected a 40-meter dipole supported by three ten-foot fiberglass poles. The rig was the KX2 running ten watts.The low dipole supports NVIS. We were able to work Tom WD0HBR and Don K1DC my friends in Dothan, Alabama 75 miles away on CW.  We got a couple more CW contacts and worked Don KK4DWC in Southport on SSB.

Location 3 was Sandy Point. It is on the Grand Lagoon shore and gives us a wide azimuth over saltwater. I chose the Chameleon whip with transformer and two counterpoise wires for vertical polarization. Verticals on the salt water are always a great performer. We operated 20 SSB. We picked up Jim K4LIX local and four more. Two were in Canada including Chris VA3ECO. We had roughly 45 minutes left in the four hours when we packed up.

Location 4 was the picnic area still near Grand Lagoon. We chose the Chameleon vertical again. I spotted us on DX Summit as WWFF KFF-1917. It created a pile-up which was just what we needed on 20-meter CW. The chasers included two stations from Spain, one from Canada and Joe N2CX who was at a park in New Jersey.

I often make three locations in the four hours and am struggling to make the fourth. This time we made four which is par for the course. I think Dennis made the four locations possible with his help with the gear. We took turns pulling the cart. Maybe RaDAR on foot is a little like golf. We did enjoy four great venues in one outing. The only thing we lacked was a RaDAR to RaDAR contact. Tom G0SBW heard us in the UK but missed working him. There were a number of other RaDAR operators active. You can find their reports on the RaDAR Community on Google+. Welcome back to Lucy M6ECG!

Dennis WA6QKN

Friday, November 3, 2017

Detailed Nov 4th RaDAR Challenge Plan for WA6QKN and N4KGL

RaDAR is Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio. Dennis WA6QKN and I will be teaming up for the Nov 4th RaDAR Challenge. We have chosen to operate at St. Andrews State Park near Panama City, FL from 1400 - 1800 UTC or 9 AM to 1 PM CDT. We will set up portable and make five contacts. Then we will walk at least one kilometer to the next location. As a team, we will combine our contacts so both WA6QKN and N4KGL call signs count. The exchange is RST, name and grid square. If grid square not known QTH will do. See the rules at All chasers welcome and appreciated.

The first stop will be at the parking lot near the Jetties. Pin A on the photo. I will operate the FO-29 Linear satellite pass using N4KGL call. Dennis WA6QKN will be on 146.565 FM Simplex as these simplex contacts count. While we transition we will monitor 145.210 W4RYZ repeater.

The second stop Pin B on photo will be near the boat ramp on Grand Lagoon in the second hour. I will start on 40 meters HF see frequencies below. I will work my way down the list as needed. It is an anyway which way we can situation to make contacts. So bear with us. For local ops 146.565 FM simplex is good at each stop.

The third stop Pin C will be at Sandy Point in the third hour. I will start on 20 meters HF and work up. Additional stops are a maybe. We might even keep going after four hours.

St. Andrews State Park is POTA KFF-1917. Watch for spots on DX Summit. If you are operating portable or chasing give me a heads up. RaDAR to RaDAR is a top priority.

FO-29 will be visible from Panama City, on Saturday, November 4 09:03:16 AM 1403 UTC
Starting in the S (172°)
Ending in the NNW (345°) at 09:19:43 AM
Maximum elevation: 66°

7.029.5 CW
7.296 LSB

14.059 CW
14.346 USB

18.081.5 CW
18.157.5 USB

W4RYZ Repeater145.210 - 100 hz tone
146.565 FM Simplex

St. Andrews State Park

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Nov 4th RaDAR Challenge Plan N4KGL & WA6QKN

For the first time, I will do a team effort for the RaDAR Challenge. Dennis WA6QKN and I will use our own calls and combine our contacts. We will make at least five contacts together and move by foot to the next location. We will only take credit for contacting a station once per band per mode. We may run a VHF station and HF station concurrently. This team effort is an experiment and perhaps the rules can be amended in the future to account for RaDAR teams.

Our chosen site is St. Andrews State Park near Panama City, FL. I have shown three stops A, B & C on the photo below. The distance between them is one kilometer. We will progress through the stops A-B-C-B-A as far as we can in 4 hours. The four hour period will be 1400 - 1800 UTC. We have the option to extend our outing and keep going after the four hours if we like. RaDAR transitions over 24 hours count for the special WWFF-KFF POTA RaDAR Awards. The park is reference KFF-1917.

At the first stop A, I will attempt to work five stations on the FO-29 linear satellite on SSB. This will require my Icom 910H and an Arrow Antenna. the pass info is
FO-29 will be visible from Panama City, on Saturday, November 4 09:03:16 AM
Starting in the S (172°)
Ending in the NNW (345°) at 09:19:43 AM
Maximum elevation: 66°
I will return the sat gear to the van after the pass. The 1st sat contact will count as a bonus.

We will rely on a KX2 at ten watts on HF. The HF antennas will include a low 40-meter dipole with 10-foot poles, an N6BT Bravo 7K vertical and an Alex Loop magnetic loop. I have a beach cart to carry the antennas that will double as a table.

I provide more details to coordinate local and RaDAR to RaDAR contacts as we get closer. Good luck to all participants and chasers. Be Safe!

Greg N4KGL