Monday, April 24, 2017

My AMSAT Etiquette - Rule 1

There has been a lot of chatter recently about etiquette, rules, and bad practice on the Satellites. I think it's worth noting how I operate on the birds, not necessarily to tell you it's how it should be done, but more or less to explain my reasoning for doing the things I do. For the record, I still consider myself to be a new operator, even though I'm approaching 3 years active, and have a pile of rare contacts and extreme DXs on my resume. I still look to those who have been active a lot longer than me to temper my attitude.

It's worth noting that there's a big difference between things that are are illegal, things that are bad form, and things that are just annoying. There are also exceptions to basically every rule, that apply in extremely narrow circumstances. I will try to elaborate on these when I can.

So, with all this in mind, I'm going to do begin a new Opinion series on my AMSAT Etiquette rules. Feedback welcome, public or private.

Rule 1: I never transmit at the bird, if I can't first hear it. 

Most satellites in orbit transmit with a PEP of < 1W.. sometimes as low as 250mW. This makes them hard to hear. Even cheap Chinese HTs can transmit up to 5W, and it's very easy to get rigs transmitting 100W or more. This makes you very easy to hear. Satellites are a shared medium, with an uplink and a downlink. You have lots of users that are very easy to hear all trying to access a satellite that is hard to hear. See where I'm going with this? Even if you don't hear the Satellite, it very likely hears you. And while you might be transmitting 'in the blind' I can promise you that someone somewhere else can hear you doing it.... so when I'm thinking about keying up, every though I can't hear anything, I don't. Every satellite active in the sky either has some sort of 'beacon' that announces itself to anyone who can hear it, or has a transponder that has unique noise footprints, or has a carrier tone, or is so stinking busy with other users that it's impossible to miss. It is not a hard thing to wait until I hear the bird, and then key up. It's as simple as that. 

Exception 1: Before claiming this exception one should have a supreme grasp of Situational Awareness (SA). There are times when the bird may be way out over un-populated parts of the world and you might legitimately be the only operator using it. On a bird like SO-50 or AO-85 they have 'wake-up' tones (certain PL frequencies) in order to get the bird working. It is OK to transmit in the blind in order to wake up a bird, that you otherwise know is there, and is approaching your QTH from a part of the world where it's likely not active. This rule can apply to stations operating on the edge of civilization... near the coast, the far north, the far south, that sort of thing. The only time I will do this from Arkansas is if it's the middle of the night, and I *know* the bird should be there, or I'm traveling to an extreme section of the country (Like CM93) and feel pretty good I'm the first human with a footprint. 

Exception 2: When I'm pushing the distance envelope of what the satellite is capable of, and trying to make a contact with someone that I have a mutual window measured in seconds with, I will transmit in the blind for that station, hoping to get the QSO or the tuning started. This also requires Supreme SA, and there should be a very clear start/stop time to this transmission. If I should be hearing myself, and I'm not when the time rolls around, I will stop transmitting. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Atomic AMSAT Roadtrip - Part I

On July 16th, 1945 the United States of America detonated the first Atomic weapon in history. The Operation was code named Trinity, and for a brief moment early that morning, the New Mexican sky was lit up by a light that had never before bathed earth. 37 years later on July 16th, 1982 I was born. It doesn't necessarily mean anything, but with my interest in physics and science, it is obviously an auspicious date. I've always wanted to visit the Trinity site, and see things first hand - this year, I had the chance.

As many readers of my blog may know, Gabe, NJ7H, travels the country as what you could call the closest thing to a professional rover this hobby knows, besides people like UT1FG and ND9M. In his short year or so on the birds, he has activated over 250 grids in the US, Canada, and several other countries. Gabe is also a pilot, lives (relatively speaking) close, a few grids away in EM15, and is an all around good guy. Recently during a chat we were talking about Trinity, and I expressed my desire to go there sometime. He said 'well, what about the spring open house in a few months!' - I was sold. I made arrangements with the family, and started planning

The Trinity Site is inside White Sands Missile Range, which is still an active US military installation. It is only open to the public twice a year, once in the spring, and once in the fall. As you would think, places that we test nuclear weapons are not exactly close to civilization, and WSMR fits that bill well. Most of WSMR is in grid DM63 (for us Sat Ops) and it is also deep in what is known as the Chihuahuan Desert, surrounded by mountains in all directions, and at least 2 hours from the closest lodging of any significance. Too add to this, Gabe and I are both active sat rovers, and we had to make a plan to hit as many grids as possible to and from the site. If you know anything about Gabe, you also know that if you're within about 1000 miles of an international border, any roadtrip requires you to cross it. This led do a directive to visit Mexico during the journey too. Also since this was an Atomic roadtrip, we sought out any other landmarks of interest, and found the site of Project Gnome in southeastern New Mexico near the town of Carlsbad, that would be on the way home after visiting El Paso and Juarez. We had a general plan made.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and we were ready to go. I packed up the Mustang and headed for Oklahoma City (5 hours from the QTH) to crash at Gabe's Thursday night so we could get a jump on the trip the next morning. Patrick, AKA 'Jacket Guy' (A non-ham friend of Gabe) also decided to join us on the road trip, and ended up being an awesome addition. We also planned to meet a friend of mine from Arizona, as well as some of Gabe's former classmates from college. All in all, we had a crew. We picked up a rental car (the number of people going dictated something a big larger than the Crosstrek or the Stang) and headed west on I40. We didn't get too far before chatter from the peanut gallery (Other Satellite Ops on Twitter and Hangouts) demanded that we stop in EM05. So hey, why not.

We worked Matt, KK4FEM (who had asked for the stop) and a bunch of others. Now, it's worth mentioning here - that we hadn't really told the rest of the AMSAT community who else was with Gabe and me. I'm the one taking the picture, Gabe is operating, and there is another gentlemen (wearing a jacket) standing by as well. This instantly created the widely trending question of 'WHO IS THE JACKET GUY??' on the Atomic Amsat Roadtrip. Patrick was instantly christened as #JacketGuy.

Continuing down the trail our next goal was to stop on the DM95/DM94 Line, south of I-40 and just east of Amarillo. We had an spot picked out and everything, however due to a sick fascination with airplanes and arguments about what was the best <insert plane here> in the rover vehicle, we totally blasted right past our exit and had to settle for a spot just in DM95. This is when I also remembered my fun discovery of Periscope Live Video via twitter a few weeks back in Wisconsin. I made a few contacts on my station (for rover credit) and then went live:
After our silly Periscoping, we continued west and south. We missed (yet another) exit in Amarillo and had to loop back to head south. Our next stop was a Walmart in DM94, where we grabbed some gas and other provisions. We also went live here while working from the parking lot.
We continued west and South, making one stop in DM84 next to a feed lot that smelled like it. At this point we were hitting grids frequented by Clayton, W5PFG and chaser demand was light, but were racking up credit for our own rover scoreboard. The journey progressed west and south, and afternoon turned into evening. Finally after many miles on the road (and an interesting experience with a crazy homeless guy in Roswell) we hit our first day's destination - The Valley of Fires Campground.

We managed to get our camp setup, and headed back into town for some late evening grub, and made further plans. At this point we were only a few miles from the DM63/DM73 line and figured we should get it activated that night on a nice SO50, AO73, and EO88 trifecta of passes. We drove in the dark until we found the line, and put it on the air. Since this was a set of awfully rare grids, I actually worked NJ7H on AO73, via the my remote station, on my phone, with sketchy reception barely keeping it together for my own chaser credit. After that I setup my own portable station and jumped on the SO-50 pass to join in the rover activation fun. We promptly shut down after those passes, headed back to camp, crawled into our tents, and passed the @#$% out. It had been a very long day, and we had another long day coming up.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

1 Year & Housekeeping Notes

So my blog has been up for just over a year now, and I've made 21 entries thus far. Some were pretty simple, like saying 'first!1!!', some were just a bunch of pictures, some I probably should have split into multiple entries. With this in mind, I'm going to try my best to stick to the 2 entries per month for the upcoming year, but I might up that if I have a lot of good content. I may also go to a more scheduled approach to things, trying always to get a new blog entry out on Monday, in order to give people something to look forward too.  For note, I've got 6 entries I haven't completed yet, I'm just working on getting content together for them. There's always things I can blog about, it's really just a matter of acquiring pictures and media to have a nice interactive experience :)

Also, after a year of entries I've been able to pretty well classify everything I write into 3 categories. Stories, Tech, and Opinions. I've added Label functionality to my blog, so if you're interested in a particular thing, it's easy to find and pull up - just click on the filter on the right of the page.

I especially will try to keep the Tech category on topic, and editorial free - cause there's a lot of folks interested in that. All my rants I'll definitely keep to Opinion, cause there's only a few interested in that. That's it for now, thanks for reading, and here's to more in the coming year!