Monday, January 15, 2018

Four Eighty Eight

With the completion of the K0D expedition, I was 487/488 on the CONUS grid chase via Satellite. EM41 was the only remainder.  I briefly considered making the drive myself and using a club/1x1 call to wrap it up, but at the same time I kind of wanted to be at the controls of KG5CCI personally for the last one. I decide to be patient, and lo and behold another fellow operator came to the rescue.

Brian, KG5GJT, had a trip planned to Natchez, MS with his wife for their anniversary. Somehow using sweet talking mysticism that I have yet to perfect on my better half, he convinced her to let him do a few satellite passes while they were there. After a few missed attempts on AO-85, on 11/19/2017 at 0356z we made contact on SO-50. EM41 was in the logbook. And then there were none.


All 488 grids in the lower 48 United States were in the log. My first Satellite contact was on July 13th, of 2014, and after making slightly over 4800 QSOs on the birds, 3 years and 4 months later I had em all. Mission Accomplished. 



My global Map Looks pretty good too now - with a big pile of red over the US, much of Mexico, and a portion of Canada, South America, and Europe. 



Even with the chasing, I'm even more proud of my Satellite rover map. In the same time frame I had activated 107 different grids on Satellites. I plan for this map to become more and more populated over the coming years, as it truly is better to give than to receive, and I know I've helped many other chasers on the way to their goal as well. 

Statistics:

As best as I can tell, 164 unique operators were responsible for the 488 grids. That means there was some serious rover action that took place. In some cases (like the W1AW/x calls) I'm really not sure who the operator was, so I left those alone, in other cases were a 1x1 was used by a group of activators, I gave both ops credit. With that in mind, my top 10 looks like this:

AL6D (Also as KM4RTS, NJ7H & K5T) 107 Grids
W5PFG (Also as K5L & K5T) 36 Grids
AC0RA (Also as K0D, K6R, and K5T ) 33 Grids
WD9EWK (Also as W7O) 27 Grids
N6UA 18 Grids
AK4WQ 16 Grids
N4UFO 13 Grids
KX9X (as various KX9X/x) 9 Grids
N9IP 9 Grids
AA5PK 7 Grids

Full Stats in a spreadsheet HERE if you are really that interested.


THANK YOU!

To all the operators along the way, especially the crazy rovers who spend much time and fuel going to places way off the beaten path, to help color in blank squares on a map. Now that this obsession has been put to bed, I can focus on what comes next. 

73!

Monday, January 8, 2018

The K0D Story

Editors Note: This blog was originally published in parts, but for the sake of continuity, I have centralized it all here in this post and removed the other pieces. I hope you enjoy this format more.



The Idea

So back at the end of October 2017, I was staring at my AMSAT grid map, and it looked a little something like this:


I had made a lot of great strides in the world of grid chasing, thanks to a bunch of really great rovers. Alex (N7AGF) Doug (N6UA) Clayton (W5PFG) and Paul (N1PEB) had managed to knock out several of the stragglers in random places around the map that were proving difficult earlier in the fall, then Patrick (WD9EWK) got a couple for me on his way to Reno for the AMSAT symposium, and Gabe (NJ7H, now AL6D) finished out a few of my far western grid pairs on his way to Alaska for a new job. That left me with just a big hole along the DN/EN field line thru the Dakotas, and EM41 to finish out my CONUS map on Satellite. EM41 would come in due time, but figuring out how to deal with that void in the Dakotas was going to be tricky. I could wait for someone else go rove thru the area - which might take years - Or I could take matters into my own hands. I've spent months building a properly functioning remote station here in EM34 that works well enough in most directions. I'm also a fairly accomplished rover in my own right, so activating all the grids and 'working myself' was definitely going to be possible. That said, I was going to need help.


I took the idea to Wyatt, AC0RA, one of the most accomplished rovers in the AMSAT and VHF/UHF community today, and also a good friend. I discussed the possibility of roving to each of the grids I needed over the course of a couple of days, using my parent's QTH in EN21 as kind of a 'home base' due to it's relative closeness to the grids needed. He thought the idea was solid, and agreed to help - I made a map of how to navigate the highways and byways to hit all the grids needed, in the shortest amount of time possible and we had our plan. Then of course, we started adding extras.


Anyone who's been following this blog has been watching my slowly growing fascination with 6m Meteor Scatter. Since these grids were so rare on Satellites, it figured that some might be rare on 6m too. Well, they are. Quite a few actually are in the '3rd rarest' category (yellow) on the FFMA chaser board. Since this rove was going to occur in November, chances of e-skip were basically slim to none, but meteor scatter could work. Also a few of the local big guns in the /0 region (K0SIX especially) needed some of these grids in their final 50 for 6m FFMA. Wyatt knew this too, and suggested the possibility of taking his Rover truck with a modest 6m beam on it so we could do both Satellites and 6. As icing on the cake, since there would be 2 licensed hams in the truck we could theoretically operate in motion with 1 driver and 1 operator. This was something that Wyatt had told me he was interested in trying at some point anyway - as for contests he normally goes out solo. With that it was settled and on the morning of November 9th, 2017 we would head north from EN21 and begin a nearly 2000 mile trip to activate 13 of my 14 remaining AMSAT grids needed to complete the KG5CCI 488 map. We would also operate 6 Meter MSK144 Meteor Scatter in motion, and from certain fixed locations on the rarest grid lines. I applied for the K0D 1x1 special event callsign. Since there were 2 hams, and I would be keeping my personal callsign for my Arkansas station, it would make everything easier from a logging perspective, and keep the operation on the up and up.  I acquired LOTW certs, and setup a simple QRZ page with details for what we were up to. We were set for the rove.


The final piece of the puzzle was how to work 'myself' since I would physically be in North Dakota with Wyatt, using the K0D callsign, and in all likelihood out in the middle of nowhere lacking cell phone reception to remote into KG5CCI myself. I was going to need more help. Luckily another ham friend, Clayton, W5PFG, answered the call, and agreed to operate my station remote during the passes required. We tested the station multiple times to make sure remote operation was functioning correctly, and felt like it was ready.

The idea was simple enough, and the plan was set. The K0D expedition was on.

Day 1: 

November 9th at 4:00AM CDT we were on the road. Wyatt had met me at my Parent's QTH in EN21 near Crescent, IA the night before, and we got everything in the truck ready. Rolling out of bed at an ungodly hour we scarfed some breakfast Mom has prepared and jumped in the truck heading north. We had a long day ahead of us, and had to get moving early. It was ~720 miles to DN98 where we planned to spend the night. The idea was to go north to Sioux Falls as fast as we could, go west thru EN04, and then get on US83 which would parallel the DN9x/EN0x line thru the 5, 6 and 7 grid pairs, then finally pick up DN98 at the end of the night when we crashed in Minot. 8 of the 13 needed KG5CCI grids would be activated in this first day, and the times were going to be tight. The first goal of the day however was EN04 by 8:00AM local, to catch an XW-2A pass. We chatted for a bit once on the road, and at 5:00AM after entering EN12 we got on 50.260 and fired off a CQ:


It didn't take us long to get our first contact. KA8TBW was in the log at 5:08AM from EN12 while driving 75mph down I-29 south of Sioux City, IA. 8 Minutes for the contact with a 3 element beam,  only 3' above the cab of the truck, and 100W from the IC-7300. The 6m in motion idea was really just secondary to the AMSAT grid activation, but already we were making contacts. We knew this was going to be a lot of fun. 


We kept trudging along North on I-29 until Sioux falls, where we headed west on I-90 until Mitchell, SD. We grabbed gas and a Wyatt found a baked breakfast item which he raved about being damn delicious for the rest of the trip. We busted north out of Mitchell and got to the EN03/04 line. I already had EN03 in my Satellite log from Arkansas, but we were at the line so we did both anyway. I remoted into the home station on my phone, and Wyatt ran the IC-910 - 1 quick contact later we were back in the truck. Popular demand on Ping Jockey for some new ones required that we go operate from the EN13/14 line as well, plus our buddy Greg, W0LGQ needed both of them on sideband. I fired up a bit of periscope to capture our shenanigans. 

After screwing around at the corner for close to an hour (but making a ton of contacts on both Satellite and 6m) we headed back northwest again. We had plenty of time at this point, cause the next needed grids weren't until DN95 & EN05, and the next passes that looked favorable were going to be UKUBE-1 and CAS-4B, so we had time. We continued until reaching the town of Gettysburg, SD - just inside EN05 and stopped for gas and lunch at a local diner. It took a little bit to get our food, but the wait was rewarded with a darn good open face hot beef sandwich, which was the special of the day. Loaded up with beefy gravy goodness we headed north until getting out of town a ways, and found a dirt road to operate a CAS-4B pass from, right on the DN95/EN05 line. Wyatt hoisted the 6m beam and I grabbed at the Arrow. 


This particular section of the trip was probably the most delicate time wise - we were still 350 miles from our Motel room for the night, and if something went wrong on these passes there were no other satellite windows with EM34 for several hours. Luckily though everything worked out. W5PFG was running the KG5CCI remote like a boss and picked me up operating as K0D right away. I worked a pile on CAS-4B, and Wyatt worked a bunch on 6M from the line. After about 20 minutes we jumped back in the truck and continued north. A quick hour on the road and we crossed into North Dakota, shortly there after we crossed into DN96 and immediately turned east off the highway onto dirt roads looking for the line. We found it just south of Hague, ND and got setup just in time for another CAS-4B pass (this one a little higher) but still in perfect position to work the entire US West to East.


Once again, I jumped on the IC-910 and Wyatt ran the IC-7300 from the truck. Once again I found W5PFG running the KG5CCI remote, and knocked out 2 more in the 488 chase. North Dakota is a rover's dream land. Flat treeless expanses for miles, clear view of the horizon everywhere. We couldn't have asked for better terrain. 

Back in the truck again, we continued north. One more line op for the night and the hardest batch of satellite grids would be knocked out. Luckily we had many more options now for birds as the early evening brings on the 'XW Train' of Chinese Transponder Satellites, 1 by 1 for almost 3 straight hours. We wound north for almost 2 hours this time, crossing over I-94 just east of Bismark, turning east near the town of Tuttle, ND. The sun was getting lower in the sky, more snow was on the ground, and the thermometer was dropping fast... it was obvious we were getting pretty far north. We found a spot on a reasonably clear road (the initial road we had mapped was covered, and I mean *covered* in ice) and setup operations. This time W5PFG had a family commitment and couldn't run remote, so Wyatt braved the cold and ran the IC-910 on an XW-2C pass as K0D while I remoted into the KG5CCI EM34 station on my laptop from the truck. 


Side Note: I just want to comment on the hilarity that is technology. I was sitting in a pickup in North Dakota, speaking into into a wireless bluetooth headset, connected to my computer, which was connected to a wifi hotspot, via my cell phone, which had established a VoIP link, over the internet, to my computer in Arkansas, that was piped into a radio, which was then transmitted at a Satellite and repeated back down to a receiver, being held by a guy roughly 10ft away from me. I often struggle to explain what I do to non-hams, but on this day, I was struggling to explain what I was doing to myself. 

Anyway, contact was made quickly and I switched spots with Wyatt to let him warm up in the truck and work some 6m. I jumped on AO-85 to give the FM only folks a chance at some rare grids - and then we packed it up and continued heading north. KG5CCI was now 7 for 13 on grids - and the most time sensitive part of the trip was over. Things were looking good. 

The goal for the night was Minot, but on the way we took a small break to meet up with Bill, ND0B, who lives near Harvey, ND. We hooked up with him at the local Pizza Ranch, where we stuffed ourselves silly on buffet pizza and fried chicken. This was my first experience at a Pizza Ranch, and while I'm not sure it'd be my first choice - when it was the only choice, I wasn't disappointed. It was hot, fresh, and plentiful. Considering where we were, I couldn't have asked for much more. After saying our farewells to Bill, we got back on the road, with the final 80 miles or so to go. The stretch of road between Harvey and Minot was amazingly desolate, and we also hit our low temperature of the trip here: 


It was flipping cold. We continued to work 6M MSK144 while in motion, right into the outskirts of Minot. We found our motel for the night, and quickly unpacked. It actually had warmed up a bit - but not much. I believe it was 8°F in the parking lot of the Microtel as we were unloading our gear. I did need DN98 as well, so once again I jumped on the remote and Wyatt fired up the IC-910. This time though, things didn't go quite so well. The pass was a nice high descending FO-29 but for some reason my LinPhone Audio wouldn't connect. The bitter cold had been giving us grief on our devices, but this was something different. I ran inside to my laptop, already on the hotel wifi, but no luck there either. Something had happened to shut down the LinPhone voip proxy servers, and I couldn't connect my audio. This was the only technical failure of the trip, and it happened from a station location with good internet and warm facilities. Murphy had finally got us. I troubleshot for a while that night, but decided it was useless without the proxy server functioning. Exhausted after the drive, and having more options in the morning we made sure all the different battery powered devices were charging and called it a night. 

Day 2:

After 6 (more or less) hours of sleep, we were refreshed and ready for day 2. Over the night the LinPhone proxy server had begun working again, and my VoIP connection to my home re-established. A nice high AO-7 pass (and Wyatt standing in the cold again) and we had KG5CCI in the logs from DN98. 8 down, 5 to go. We got everything packed back up and got on the road shortly after 5AM local. The plan was to head west to DN88/78 Line, and be on site for FO-29 at 7:49AM local time. It was just over a hundred miles, and while snowing - it was cold and windy, so the roads were in fine shape. As soon as we got out of town, we fired up 6m again, and immediately started making Meteor Scatter contacts while in motion. Right about day break we got to our spot on the DN88/78 line and setup. This was the furthest point from home of our Trip, and also the rarest of the grids we planned to hit - both on 6m and on Satellites. Within seconds Wyatt had a pileup, and I setup the IC-910 for a 60° FO-29 pass. W5PFG was running KG5CCI again, and since the reception was good, and we had a bit of time to spare, I fired up some periscope:
After an amazingly successful activation (I worked 21 stations on a single FO-29 pass and Wyatt worked 15 6m stations in about 30 minutes) we packed back up and begun - for the first time - going south. Originally we had thought about meandering over into Montana, but decided instead to shoot down to the DN77/87 line, since we were so close - and there was an SO-50 pass about 30 minutes later that we should easily be able to get too. We kind of aimlessly drove around til we got to a good spot - on what appeared to be a levee next to the Missouri River, direct south of the town of Buford, ND, and setup once again. Unfortunately the reception wasn't the best - so no periscope, but I did snap a selfie after working another ginormous pile on SO-50.


With DN88, DN78, and DN77 in the bag for KG5CCI, 3 more of the 488 had gotten knocked out in a 1 hour time span. Only DN85 and DN73 remained, and those were slated for K0D activation later in the day. We packed up from the line, and continued on the levee we were on, because turning around on the ice might have proven to be a bit tricky. At the end of the levee we surprisingly (and awesomely) found ourselves at the Missouri-Yellowstone River Confluence - which was a cool treat. 


Wyatt did some logging and checked some email while I jumped out and snapped another selfie in front of the sign. I walked down to the river, to pay my respects to Lewis and Clark, and back on the road we went. We meandered just a bit, not knowing exactly where we were going, and ended up in the town of Fairview, MT. We needed gas, and needed food - so we found a Subway, fueled up, and decided the best bet was to go back east a ways to US85 and then south. For the next few hours we traveled south, without really a whole lot to do. And by 'not a whole lot to do' I mean we were kept busy logging, and working 6m in motion, as well as chatting on PingJockey and seeing when the passes would line up from DN85 and DN73. This was the point of the trip that it donned on me, that we'd driven over 1000 miles in the past 24 hours, and time had absolutely flown by. I've always found long trips kind of enjoyable with good company, or a good audio book - but was astonished just how far we'd gone in what seemed like the blink of an eye. A few miles after this epiphany, we did pass thru a small portion of Teddy Roosevelt National Park - and got to see a small piece of the famed 'Badlands' of North Dakota. 


We kept south on US85 until just north of the South Dakota line. We drove west of the highway and found a dirt road on the DN85/86 line. I didn't need DN86 for the KG5CCI 488, but we were there, and figured why not. With W5PFG manning the remote, we quickly hooked up for a contact on AO-7 and were down to 1 to go. Wyatt hoisted the 6m mast and made some good contacts there as well - including some stations far west out in Idaho - which is usually too far for both of us on Meteor Scatter. It had also warmed up significantly, and was near 50° - so we shed some of our polar gear and and repacked for 'warmer' temperatures.

We got back on US85 and kept going south, finally stopping for fuel and snacks in Belle Fourche, SD. Up until this point, we hadn't quite figured out our plan for DN73. It was on the far western side of the Black Hills, and and hotel for the night was in Wall, SD about an hour East of the Black Hills. A wildcard had also been thrown at me, in the form of Nick, UA0ZGX who I had asked for a sked while I was 2000km northwest of where I normally am. The perfect AO-7 pass for him was about 2350z - while the CAS-4B that was going to be the last grid was coming over at 2352z. Working Nick wouldn't get me a new grid, but it would get me another all important DXCC entity, and it would actually complete my WAC requirements. So, we decided to aim for a spot in the Thunder Basin Grassland, northwest of Osage, WY - just inside the line of DN73. I was chancing it to find a spot with a good location, but I figured out there I'd have a much better horizon that I would back closer to the Black Hills. We navigated to the area, found a rise on a pull off on the side of the highway, and setup shop. I fired up periscope, and well, you can see for yourself (Fair warning, some not so nice language was getting used, apologies for that after the fact).
We had pulled it off. Despite from difficulties with noise, frequency coordination, and a language barrier, I had hooked up with UA0GZX as KG5CCI on AO-7, then switched over to CAS-4B, and operating as K0D worked W5PFG operating as KG5CCI from EM34, getting CONUS grid #487 in the logs from Arkansas. In retrospect, watching that live video I have to laugh at myself, but I was pretty overwhelmed at the time. In the course of about 5 minutes I had worked a new DX, completed the WAC Satellite requirements, and had gotten all but one CONUS grid in the logs. I was exhausted from driving and lack of sleep, but I was pumped full of adrenaline from the experience. The hour or so we spent in DN73 on the side of the road was some of the funnest ham radio operating I've ever done.

At the same time all this was going on, Wyatt had been working piles on 6m. We hung out for a while after the passes, since the spot was good and we were working quite a few stations. After about 30 minutes though the pings became less frequent and we decided to pack it in for the night. We had met every satellite goal for the trip - and only experienced one technical failure, which we were able to remedy without too much trouble. The 6m operating (while originally just a side thought) had turned out to be almost as important as the satellite fun, and there were requests for 2 more grids the next morning.

We got back on the road just after dusk, and headed to Wall, SD to crash for the night. We flipped a coin to decide whether to go back to I-90 and around the north side of the Black Hills, or right thru the middle. We opted for the 'thru the middle' path - and were rewarded with a bunch of altitude ear popping and nervous deer alongside the road. It was fun to drive thru the Black Hills again, as I hadn't been there since I was a kid, but I'm not sure I'd make the same choice again after dark trying to make good time. A few hours later we rolled into Wall, found our motel and nearly collapsed. Convinced of the need for a beer after such an epic accomplishment though, we drove a short ways to a local bar, for sandwiches and cold beverages. Hardly able to keep our eyes open we finished our chow and fell down quick like upon return to the room.


Day 3: 

Part of the reason for choosing Wall as our stopping place for the night, was that it put us in perfect position to the DN83/DN93 line - which was another set of extremely rare 6m grids. With meteors being the best in the early AM, we got up at 5AM and drove the 15 minutes or so out to the line just north of the Badlands National Park.


The weather was cool - but nowhere near what it had been up around Minot the previous day - so even though KG5CCI didn't need the grids on Satellites, I setup the IC-910 and Wyatt went to work on the IC-7300. As it was Saturday morning - the typical Ping Jockey weekly gathering time - the pile ups were big. We handed out both grids to 18 chasers in just over an hour of operating. Once again I have to admit that I was amazed what we were getting done with a 3 element yagi at 30' or so, and 100W. For anyone reading this that likes 6m operating, but gives up when E-Skip isn't happening, you're seriously missing out. Meteor Scatter is the bomb diggity. If you're still not convinced just look at Wyatt's face:


That is the picture of a happy, happy ham. Anyhoo.... about 8AM we packed up the station and started heading east again on I-90. We continued to operate in motion on the interstate, picking up a new contact about every 15-20 minutes on average. It doesn't sound like much, but when you consider we were handing out grids AND traveling 75mph down the interstate, it's really pretty amazing. Wyatt decided he needed to make 1 final stop in Mitchell, SD (not hunting the breakfast pocket from 2 days before) but instead to grab some fishing poles at Cabelas. While he was inside I hoisted the mast and hung out in the parking lot making contacts, knocking out a few more 6m QSOs from EN03 that we had missed the 2 days ago on the outbound leg. 


We also, by popular demand from the AMSAT crew, did an SO-50 pass to the west, working a few people that had missed the FO-29 pass a few days ago. After this, we stowed all the gear and decided to shut the RF down and take a nice mellow cruise back to EN21 and talk about the epic adventure we had just completed. 

K0D Statistics & Data

On the AMSAT Side of the House:

14 Passes Worked
19 Grids Activated 
66 Unique calls logged 
184 QSOs Made 
Single Best Pass - 26 Contacts made on SO-50 at 1528z Nov 10th from DN87/77 line.

On the 6M Side:

24 Grids Activated
37 Unique calls logged
108 QSOs Made
2581 MSK144 Transmissions sent
2188 MSK144 Pings decoded
Best Contact Distance - W8BYA in EN61 from DN78/88 Line at 1691.7km

General Stats:

1852 Miles Driven
2591 APRS Messages Sent from K0D-5


Here's a link to all the 6m Logs

And Here's a link to All the 6m contacts we made plotted on Google Maps.


Acknowledgments

It's hard to understate how many moving parts had to come together to make this adventure work. I want to make sure to thank my folks, for letting me and Wyatt use their house to serve as our launching pad before the trip, and our crash pad after the trip, as well as watching my kiddo for a few days while I went 'off to play with radios and space stuff'. I want to thank Bill, ND0B for meeting us for the Pizza in the frozen wastelands of Harvey, ND. I want to send a big thanks Clayton, W5PFG, for running the KG5CCI remote - and for all the advice and mentoring he's given me in the AMSAT world these past few years. And of course I want to thank Wyatt, AC0RA, who was crazy enough to agree to a trip to North Dakota with me, in November, just to fill in a few black squares on a map. Also the use of his pickup and equipment made something possible that I just wouldn't have been able to do solo. Thanks buddy. 

What's Next?

Well, you tell me. I've got some ideas, but they're all a ways out. For now, I'm going to keep writing and keep planning. But the rover bug will never die. We'll see where the grids take me. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy 2018 from KG5CCI

Happy 2018 Ham Radio Readers!


There isn't much substance to this post besides that. I have promised to get better at writing blog entries but thus far I have failed pretty hard. My goal for 2017 was to get a new entry out every 2 weeks - I did not meet that goal, with only 21 entries published during the year. In 2018, I will try harder. Now that I've got the 488 AMSAT chase completed, I SHOULD have more time. I'm also done with school, so I SHOULD have more time. All of these SHOULDs though can quickly get confounded by a gorgeous little blonde girl running around asking Daddy to help her out with things, and let's be serious - You all (and me) would probably be better served with me building and experimenting in the shop and then posting pictures to Twitter rather than writing about it in this blog.. Right? Well OK maybe not.. 

THE POINT of this is I've got a lot more things to write about than I do have time and gumption to actually do the writing. With that in mind, for 2018 I'm going to set my goal the same. One entry, every 2 weeks. I will try my best to hit this goal. I'm going to use the scheduling function of Blogger to make them all come out on Monday morning too - that way every other Monday, you should have something to look forward too... or jeer at me for. Either way, it's entertainment. 

For a little 2018 teaser - here are some of the things I've already started on: 


The K0D Story - Part II
YADR (Yet another Distance Record) on FO-29
Finishing the AMSAT 488 Chase
More Meteor Scatter adventure
Cheap Yagis
Cheap Duplexers
Precision Time Issues
STFU about Millennials in Ham Radio (Written by a Millennial in Ham Radio)


See anything there you like? Good. I hope to make 2018 an enjoyable year. And if not, well that's cool too. 73's Ya'll. 

-Dave, KG5CCI

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Home Station Build - Polarity and Relays

One of the most contentious concepts when building Satellite stations is the idea of polarity. Normally with terrestrial stuff, this concept is pretty easy to understand. FM is usually vertical (due to the prevalent whip antenna that is everywhere) and sideband/weak signal stuff is usually horizontal (for ground gain). Satellites - and for that matter EME and Scatter - don't quite follow the same rules though. Polarity can get messed up on the signal by all sorts of things in transit, and considering with birds we're dealing with powers <1W often, having that extra 30db of gain you get by matching your polarity exactly makes a big frigging difference. Of the birds that are floating up there, all but FO29 and AO7 currently have linear antennae on them, so to get the best match you want a linear antenna down here on earth, aligned perfectly to what the bird in space is aligned too. This obviously gets tricky in a fixed position station. Enter the X-Pol antenna, which I spoke about here. Now the question comes though, how do you best take advantage of what is basically 2 different antennae, with 2 different feed points, with a single radio?

Relays

I decided to use Tohtsu CX-520D relays to best utilize the X-Pol design. They take 2 N-Inputs and put them on 1 N-Input, and switch between sides based on a 12VDC current. Current off - Take the horizontal side.. current on - take the vertical side. I had, of course, do a little soldering to make it work the way I wanted, but I attached a little stub of wire, and then put 12VDC quick connectors on the wire, so I essentially had a 'plug' so I could disconnect the long run of wires back to the shack, and keep the relay in place. 


Duplexer

Coming out of the common side of relay I hooked in a N-Type Barrel connector, and then went straight into the common side of a Comet CF-4160n duplexer. Obviously on the 2M side I'm using the 2M side, and on the 70cm side I'm using the 70cm side. In Satellites since we're receiving a signal at the same time we're transmitting a signal, the concept of 'desense' comes into play often, where a 2M transmission will overwhelm the 70cm receive. I've never had this problem with my Icom 821, but I didn't want to chance it. The duplexers essentially act as a filter to make sure only the signals I want are coming in the coax I want them to come in. 


Mounting

Finally I mounted everything inside a waterproof plastic box, and sealed up the coax ingress/egress points with silicon. I took a U-Clamp and attached the box to my cross boom, then cut specific LMR400 length to go from the Relay to the different polarity side of the antenna. I sealed up the coax holes with Silicone, let it all dry, then took the whole thing outside and stuck it up on the mast.


Controller

The goal was simple with my controller, adjust my polarity from the computer. That way when I was remoted in from another location, I could make changes no matter where I was. A quick search of Amazon led me to THESE little gizmos. For $29 and free shipping I could click a button on my computer, and open and close a 12V circuit. This worked perfectly to control the Tohtsu relays, as well as turn on/off my Preamp, and do things like wire in a PTT toggle switch and control a small 12V LED light above my computer. I stuck it to a piece of plywood, and then used some Marine 12V bus connectors (to split the power from my power supply) to wire everything out so it was clean. 



I fused everything (cause duh) and I also wired in a Solid State relay (12VDC in - 12VDC out) that I tried using to turn the power on and off to my 821, however I found out later that most SSR's have an inherent 10%-15% voltage drop across them under load, which doesn't work to well for sensitive Icom's. There are specific SSR's that don't have that high of a drop I've found since, but for now I've just been leaving my rig on when I need to use it remote (more on that later). Final product was clean and easy, and gave me a great source of 12V control in the shop, all from the computer. 



Monday, November 27, 2017

My AMSAT Etiquette - Rule 3



Rule 3: I don't jump in the pile when I don't need the grid.


This is one of my personal biggest beefs on the Satellites. I think it bugs me so much, because it's something that is done almost exclusively by operators that should know better, but choose to do it anyway. 

If a rare grid (or a rare DX for that matter) is active on a pass, and you already have their grid or entity confirmed, you should exercise that RTL (release to listen) button, kick back, and enjoy the show. If you instead choose to immediately jump into the inevitable pileup, likely using all the watts you have, you're taking up precious time that the DX could be responding to others, giving them a new grid or new entity. Choosing the option to work a DX a 2nd time, makes you a showoff, a jerk, and otherwise makes active rovers who might also be listening less inclined to give you the time of day next time they're somewhere rare. In short, use that Situational Awareness skill that is always getting brought up, and make sure you're not screwing someone else out of a new contact, just to show others on the pass how awesome you are... cause - pro-tip - You're not. 

Exceptions: Obvious exception is that if there IS no pile and the rare DX is calling CQ, by all means give them a call. I will usually listen for at least 2 CQ sequences with no takers, before I make a QSO with someone rare I've already got logged. I will also cut a little bit of slack to people calling someone right at the edge of their footprint. Sometimes you just have seconds to determine who a caller is - that's OK too.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Meteors and EM43

So, in my last article talking about 6 meters, I mentioned EM43 and the desire for it to get activated. Well, since then I've done just that - twice now actually. So let me tell you my tale, first though, a quick precursor on grid chasing in the land of Six.




In my little part of the world, grids on Six are not that uncommon. Unlike Satellites, there are a LOT of people that do Six, and anyone with a dipole and 100W during Sporadic E season can make contacts pretty fast. There are also several contests each year where Six is a big part of the score, and rovers specially build themselves to cover lots of ground and make as many contacts as they can on VHF bands that include 6 meters. None of this stuff happens on Satellites. So as a general rule, if people live somewhere, there are usually at least some sort of active Six operators there. Well, that takes me to EM43. This grid is primarily in the River Delta area of Arkansas and Mississippi. There are not a whole lot of people out there, and it's not a particularly well to do region financially. That said it is beautiful in its own way, and has some of the best southern cooking you'll find.. so I enjoy trips there when the opportunity arises. EM43 also happens to be one of the only 2 grids near me that greater than 25% of the 'FFMA Leaders' need in their chase. Switch gears back to Satellites real quick, and the state of Mississippi is one of the rarest on the birds. It is often on people's "last to work" list for WAS, so I make it a point to go portable down there with an arrow at least a few times a year. With these two things in mind, a mission was cooked up to activate EM43 on Six, and activate the state of Mississippi on the birds. A date was chosen, and we were off.

Part I - The Perseids


I got up at 4AM on August 12th and headed southeast. It was going to be just shy of a 2 hour drive, and I wanted to be onsite an operating by 6AM. I had packed all my gear the night before, so I stumbled to the Mustang, turned on APRS, and hit the road. About an hour down the road I exited the pine forests and hit the true delta country - while there was some fog, the drive was mostly easy going. K9CT was emailing about every 15 minutes watching my progress, especially once I crossed into EM43 waiting for me to setup. I crossed the Mississippi river at the Greenville crossing, found my spot, and got the Moxon up in the air.


As soon as I turned on the radio I could hear the telltale sounds of MSK144, and I figured K9CT was already calling me. As I got WSJT-X booted, sure enough he was there, and I quickly answered him. At this point, Problem 1 reared it's ugly head. The sounds came back after my first call, and I could tell I should be decoding them, yet nothing was happening on my screen... I noticed my fast waterfall display wasn't moving.. the wsjtx program was working, but it wasn't decoding clearly audible signal. I rebooted the program after 2 or 3 sequences where nothing was happening, and it promptly decoded Craig's R-01 report. I started sending my RRR, but after 2 or 3 sequences, noticed the waterfall stopped moving again. I rebooted the program, again, and as it came up I got his 73 message. So, QSO complete. Yay.. first new one handed out. Meanwhile though, WSJT-X was freaking out, and I didn't know why. This problem continued the entire morning and I never did fully solve it.. let me tell you, restarting the program every couple sequences got real old.


Despite the software problems, I was making QSOs, so I kept at it. Problem 2 occurred after working N8OC I got back out to spin the Moxon around to the south, and as I doing so something went 'snap' above my head, and I looked up to see my Moxon wire hanging loose on the back right corner.. not good. I promptly too it down and started looking it over. The wire had snapped right on the corner where the stress support connects. I seriously considered calling it a day, but figured I'd see what I could do. I had thrown in a small butane torch, a roll of solder, and my coax crimpers, to compliment my normal road-trip tool bag and lifetime supply of duct tape I carry everywhere, so I got busy... after 5 minutes of some very crude repair work I got the wire back together, and duct taped it to the mast. It wouldn't survive being taken apart again, but I just needed it work for another couple hours.... and it did. Every QSO I made after 1200z, was made on a busted, field patched antenna held together with globs of solder and 12 foot of duct tape. Moral of this story - ALWAYS bring tools with you to the field.


After Murphy was beaten down twice, things started getting better. The rocks were falling, and the pings were coming. I was fighting some weird noise at 50.283, but a QSY to 50.263 solved most of those issues. Pingjockey worked well as a place to announce my spots, and folks did a good job adjusting as I had to. While running several skeds with people, I activated auto-seq and got out to work some AMSAT, making 38 QSOs on 4 passes on the birds, so it really was a multi-mode rove with lots of happy chasers all around. Along with my 8 QSOs I made on the meteors, I wasn't unhappy for my trial attempt at 6m roving, but it left me wanting more.Oh yea, I of course did some live periscope too.



Part II: Upgrades, and a Retry


I was hooked - but before a re-attempt, I needed an upgrade. The homemade moxon and PVC mast on a speaker stand tripod worked, but it didn't work well. The flimsiness of everything, un-optimized runs of coax, and of course the lack of gain needed to be dealt with. So, first order of business was a proper beam. Thru some wheeling and dealing I managed to score an MFJ-1762 for next to nothing. I acquired some military surplus 'Camo Netting Supports' which are 4' long aluminum interlocking mast sections that easily will support a small beam at anywhere from 16'-24' feet, but are small enough to fit in the mustang. I got some scrap iron together and had a Ham buddy weld me up a 'drive over, tilt down' base that also fit in the Stang's trunk, but still be a nice solid place to put my mast. Finally I measured out a run of LMR400uf that would run to the new antenna on my portable mast and be just right to fit back inside the car so the RF was only going the distance required, and no more, thru some quality coax. I tested everything out at home, and it was working good - so I picked another date to try again. October 14th, 2017 at 4AM I was on the road again.


I didn't have to travel quite as far this time, as activating Mississippi wasn't the goal, just the EM43 grid. So I stopped in EM43FV in the town of Mitchelleville, AR where there is a large grain elevator, with a huge gravel parking lot for the rice trucks to park and wait. Luckily it wasn't rice season, so the parking lot was completely clear, and provided a nice spot to park and operate. It took about 10 minutes to get the base/beam/mast fully assembled and up 20' in the air, which was a little bit longer than the Moxon, but it paid off big. I immediately was hearing much bigger signals that I had with the Moxon, and the contacts were coming much faster.



The cooler morning was working better too, as the rig was staying chill, and the laptop was running fine. I was making contacts with people that were further away, and making contacts with people running smaller stations. For example, I picked up Jim K5ND over in EM12 my 3 Elements and 100W to his Moxon and 100W in about 13 minutes - which is pretty fantastic considering the size of our stations. While running rocks, I also did setup the Sat station and work a few passes, considering there's always new folks on the birds. 



I operated for a few hours, made 17 contacts and decided to call it a day. My improved setup had done everything I'd hoped it would, and I was happy with its performance, based on what I'd invested in it. Obviously a bigger beam and more power would yield more contacts faster, but that's down the road. What matters now, is I think I've become a somewhat successful 6m rover. And that's definitely another tool in my Ham belt.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Home Station Build - New Beams!

Now that I'm wrapped up with school, I'm going to try and get back on the blogging wagon. One of the biggest developments at KG5CCI the past few months, has been the setup and deployment of some new Innovantennas X-Pol Yagis for Satellites. As you've seen from some of my other pictures, I had been using an Arrow mounted to the cross beam on the G-5500. It sorta worked, but there is something like a 30db difference in signal on the VHF/UHF frequencies if you get polarity mismatched - so sorta working didn't cut it. A buddy of mine (KB1PVH) had put up some LFA Loop, Cross polarized Yagis, designed and manufactured by Justin, G0KSC, and had been very happy with them. They were the size I was looking for, manufacturing and shipping was relatively inexpensive (especially considering they came from England) and the performance looked good. I decided to give them a go. A few months after sending the necessary emails and exchanging the required funds, they arrived. 


Packaging was well done, all the pieces survived the trip across the pond well. 


There was a ton of plastic wrap to cut thru. Not a bad thing, but have the razor knife handy :)


The day was hot, so I setup my portable tripod inside my shop and cranked the A/C to maximum. I knew I'd be sweating putting everything together. It got a little crowed, but it was nice to keep everything out of the weather until I was ready to test. The instructions were straight forward, and the assembly was easy. I sorted all the elements out in a line on the ground, matching size for number, and started in. Everything fit in place smoothly, and while my power screwdriver was nice, it all could have been easily assembled with a hand powered one too. The bolts that held the elements themselves in place were chosen well, with an 'under-flush' design that completely hid the nut from view, and then was covered with a plastic shield. The plastic end caps on the elements were also a nice touch, though both them and the shields that went into the nut holes were a little tricky to get in place. I ended up using a small plastic mallet I have for aluminum gunsmithing work to get the plastic in place, without dinging anything up - and it worked beautifully - though I question if that's a standard tool in most Ham's inventory. 



If I had a complaint about the assembly, it would be the match/balun configuration - especially on the 70cm side. I would guess that the balun was made for a non cross-polarized beam, because when attaching the horizontal, the vertical driven element got in the way. When attaching the vertical, the horizontal got the in way. The actual pigtails coming off the balun were also the same size - indicating that they were MEANT to go straight back, and not off to an angle, but off to an angle was the only direction they would go. I asked KB1PVH if he had the same issue, and he did - he said just run the balun however it will go, then use coax to loop it back around to the polarity switch, which I did. The pigtails got a little smooshed, but they seemed to handle it OK. 

I also really didn't like that I had to stack multiple nuts on top of the oversize bolt to clear the boom (it just felt dirty.. I can't explain why) but I suppose it's no different from having a slightly extended pigtail on coax feed. I also found out that Innovantenna makes a longer balun, so you don't have to cut your own coax and have an extra connector in there - In retrospect, I totally should have done that. Making my own jumper to run between the balun and the coax switch wasn't a big deal, but with weak signal stuff, every .02db matters. If there's any modifications I might make the future, it would be rolling my own match with offset pigtails, and cut exactly to the length 


The 2 Meter side went a lot smoother, bigger waves means bigger parts and a big more room to navigate around. I still didn't really care for the balun construction, but at least I didn't feel like was stressing the pigtails. Once both sides were assembled I hooked up my coax and my relays (more on that later) and took them outside for testing and tuning with my assistant..ermm.. uh.. assisting. 


If you've never messed with an LFA loop before, G0KSC build them with a sliding tube inside a large tube, that is then held together with pipe clamps. This makes it easy to loosen the clamp, and then make the loop larger or smaller. This may actually be my favorite 'feature' of Justin's design. It is super easy to fine tune your drive element to the exact operating frequency for the AMSAT band. I pointed the beams straight up and adjusted until the analyzer was closer, then fine tuned them a smidge more once I got them up in the air. 


My first mast was only about 8' up but I've got it on a 14' 6065 Aluminum mast now, and plan to take it take it even higher soon. They work great. 

All in all, I would definitely buy another G0KSC designed antenna. There are a few things I didn't like about them, but they sounds great, went together easy, and weren't overly priced. I had a few issues with actually ordering them (emails got crossed, delivery time was a bit longer than I expected) but the design is solid.  If you're looking for a great set of cross polarized yagi's for 2m/70cm - I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them.