Internationale organisaties adviseren radiozendamateurs om bij contact met een Oekraïense amateur de roepletters, naam, QTH en andere persoonlijke details NIET te herhalen. Het is ook zeker NIET de bedoeling om contacten op het DX-cluster te zetten, QRZ.com of andere loggings te maken.
Dit alles om de veiligheid van deze amateurs te garanderen zodat zij niet kunnen worden achterhaald bij het maken van internationale contacten.
Bovenstaande is overigens volledig compliant met de machtigingsvoorwaarden in Nederland (je hoeft alleen je eigen roepletters te vermelden).
The tech news channels were recently abuzz with stories about strange signals coming back from Voyager 1. While the usual suspects jumped to the usual conclusions — aliens!! — in the absence of a firm explanation for the anomaly, some of us looked at this event as an opportunity to marvel at the fact that the two Voyager spacecraft, now in excess of 40 years old, are still in constant contact with those of us back on Earth, and this despite having covered around 20 billion kilometers in one of the most hostile environments imaginable.
Like many NASA programs, Voyager has far exceeded its original design goals, and is still reporting back useful science data to this day. But how is that even possible? What 1970s-era radio technology made it onto the twin space probes that allowed it to not only fulfill their primary mission of exploring the outer planets, but also let them go into an extended mission to interstellar space, and still remain in two-way contact? As it turns out, there’s nothing magical about Voyager’s radio — just solid engineering seasoned with a healthy dash of redundancy, and a fair bit of good luck over the years.
The Big Dish
For a program that in many ways defined the post-Apollo age of planetary exploration, Voyager was conceived surprisingly early. The complex mission profile had its origins in the “Planetary Grand Tour” concept of the mid-1960s, which was planned to take advantage of an alignment of the outer planets that would occur in the late 1970s. If launched at just the right time, a probe would be able to reach Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune using only gravitational assists after its initial powered boost, before being flung out on a course that would eventually take it out into interstellar space.
The idea of visiting all the outer planets was too enticing to pass up, and with the success of the Pioneer missions to Jupiter serving as dress rehearsals, the Voyager program was designed. Like all NASA programs, Voyager had certain primary mission goals, a minimum set of planetary science experiments that project managers were reasonably sure they could accomplish. The Voyager spacecraft were designed to meet these core mission goals, but planners also hoped that the vehicles would survive past their final planetary encounters and provide valuable data as they crossed the void. And so the hardware, both in the spacecraft and on the ground, reflects that hope.
The most prominent physical feature of both the ground stations of the Deep Space Network (DSN), which we’ve covered in-depth already, and the Voyager spacecraft themselves are their parabolic dish antennas. While the scale may differ — the DSN sports telescopes up to 70 meters across — the Voyager twins were each launched with the largest dish that could fit into the fairing of the Titan IIIE launch vehicle.
The primary reflector of the High Gain Antenna (HGA) on each Voyager spacecraft is a parabolic dish 3.7 meters in diameter. The dish is made from honeycomb aluminum that’s covered with a graphite-impregnated epoxy laminate skin. The surface of the reflector is finished to a high degree of smoothness, with a surface precision of 250 μm, which is needed for use in both the S-band (2.3 GHz), used for uplink and downlink, and X-band (8.4 GHz), which is downlink only.
Like their Earth-bound counterparts in the DSN, the Voyager antennas are a Cassegrain reflector design, which uses a Frequency Selective Subreflector (FSS) at the focus of the primary reflector. The subreflector focuses and corrects incoming X-band waves back down toward the center of the primary dish, where the X-band feed horn is located. This arrangement provides about 48 dBi of gain and a beamwidth of 0.5° on the X-band. The S-band arrangement is a little different, with the feed horn located inside the subreflector. The frequency-selective nature of the subreflector material allows S-band signals to pass right through it and illuminate the primary reflector directly. This gives about 36 dBi of gain in the S-band, with a beamwidth of 2.3°. There’s also a low-gain S-band antenna with a more-or-less cardioid radiation pattern located on the Earth-facing side of the subreflector assembly, but that was only used for the first 80 days of the mission.
Two Is One
Three of the ten bays on each Voyager’s bus are dedicated to the transmitters, receivers, amplifiers, and modulators of the Radio Frequency Subsystem, or RFS. As with all high-risk space missions, redundancy is the name of the game — almost every potential single point of failure in the RFS has some sort of backup, an engineering design decision that has proven mission-saving in more than one instance on both spacecraft over the last 40 years.
On the uplink side, each Voyager has two S-band double-conversion superhet receivers. In April of 1978, barely a year before its scheduled encounter with Jupiter, the primary S-band receiver on Voyager 2 was shut down by fault-protection algorithms on the spacecraft that failed to pick up any commands from Earth for an extended period. The backup receiver was switched on, but that was found to have a bad capacitor in the phase-locked loop circuit intended to adjust for Doppler-shift changes in frequency due primarily to the movement of the Earth. Mission controllers commanded the spacecraft to switch back to the primary receiver, but that failed again, leaving Voyager 2 without any way to be commanded from the ground.
Luckily, the fault-protection routines switched the backup receiver back on after a week of no communication, but this left controllers in a jam. To continue the mission, they needed to find a way to use the wonky backup receiver to command the spacecraft. They came up with a complex scheme where DSN controllers take a guess at what the uplink frequency will be based on the predicted Doppler shift. The trouble is, thanks to the bad capacitor, the signal needs to be within 100 Hz of the lock frequency of the receiver, and that frequency changes with the temperature of the receiver, by about 400 Hz per degree. This means controllers need to perform tests twice a week to determine the current lock frequency, and also let the spacecraft stabilize thermally for three days after uplinking any commands that might change the temperature on the spacecraft.
On the transmit side, both the X-band and S-band transmitters use separate exciters and amplifiers, and again, multiple of each for redundancy. Although downlink is primarily via the X-band transmitter, either of the two S-band exciters can be fed into either of two different power amplifiers. A Solid State Amplifier (SSA) provides a selectable power output of either 6 W or 15 W to the feedhorn, while a separate traveling-wave tube amplifier (TWTA) provides either 6.5 W or 19 W. The dual X-band exciters, which use the S-band exciters as their frequency reference, use one of two dedicated TWTAs, each of which can send either 12 W or 18W to the high-gain antenna.
The redundancy built into the downlink side of the radio system would play a role in saving the primary mission on both spacecraft. In October of 1987, Voyager 1 suffered a failure in one of the X-band TWTAs. A little more than a year later, Voyager 2 experienced the same issue. Both spacecraft were able to switch to the other TWTA, allowing Voyager 1 to send back the famous “Family Portrait” of the Solar system including the Pale Blue Dot picture of Earth, and for Voyager 2 to send data back from its flyby of Neptune in 1989.
Slower and Slower
The radio systems on the Voyager systems were primarily designed to support the planetary flybys, and so were optimized to stream as much science data as possible back to the DSN. The close approaches to each of the outer planets meant each spacecraft accelerated dramatically during the flybys, right at the moment of maximum data production from the ten science instruments onboard. To avoid bottlenecks, each Voyager included a Digital Tape Recorder (DTR), which was essentially a fancy 8-track tape deck, to buffer science data for later downlink.
Also, the increasing distance to each Voyager has drastically decreased the bandwidth available to downlink science data. When the spacecraft made their first flybys of Jupiter, data streamed at a relatively peppy 115,200 bits per second. Now, with the spacecraft each approaching a full light-day away, data drips in at only 160 bps. Uplinked commands are even slower, a mere 16 bps, and are blasted across space from the DSN’s 70-meter dish antennas using 18 kW of power. The uplink path loss over the current 23 billion kilometer distance to Voyager 1 exceeds 200 dB; on the downlink side, the DSN telescopes have to dig a signal that has faded to the attowatt (10-18 W) range.
That the radio systems of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 worked at all while they were still in the main part of their planetary mission is a technical achievement worth celebrating. The fact that both spacecraft are still communicating, despite the challenges of four decades in space and multiple system failures, is nearly a miracle.
If there’s one thing that amateur radio operators are good at, it’s turning just about anything into an antenna. And hams have a long history of portable operations, too, where they drag a (sometimes) minimalist setup of gear into the woods and set up shop to bag some contacts. Getting the two together, as with this field-portable antenna made from a tape measure, is a double win in any ham’s book.
For [Paul (OM0ET)], this build seems motivated mainly by the portability aspect, and less by the “will it antenna?” challenge. In keeping with that, he chose a 50-meter steel tape measure as the basis of the build. This isn’t one of those retractable tape measures, mind you — just a long strip of flexible metal on a wind-up spool in a plastic case. His idea was to use the tape as the radiator for an end-fed halfwave, or EFHW, antenna, a multiband design that’s a popular option for hams operating from the 80-m band down to the 10-m band. EFHW antennas require an impedance-matching transformer, a miniature version of which [Paul] built and tucked within the tape measure case, along with a BNC connector to connect to the radio and a flying lead to connect to the tape.
Since a half-wave antenna is half the length of the target wavelength, [Paul] cut off the last ten meters of the tape to save a little weight. He also scratched off the coating on the tape at about the 40-meter mark, to make good contact with the alligator clip on the flying lead. The first video below details the build, while the second video shows the antenna under test in the field, where it met all of the initial criteria of portability and ease of deployment.
Over on Retro Recipe’s YouTube channel, [Perifractic] has been busy restoring an old promotional video of how Commodore computers were made back in 1984 (video below the break). He cleaned up the old VHS-quality version that’s been around for years, translated the German to English, and trimmed some bits here and there. The result is a fascinating look into the MOS factory, Commodore’s German factory, and a few other facilities around the globe. The film shows the chip design engineers in action, wafer manufacturing, chip dicing, and some serious micro-probing of bare die. We also see PCB production, and final assembly, test and burn-in of Commodore PET and C64s in Germany.
Check out the video description, where [Perifractic] goes over the processes he used to clean up video and audio using machine learning. If restoration interests you, check out the piece we wrote about these techniques to restore old photographs last year. Are there any similar factory tour films, restored or not, lurking around the web? Let us know in the comments below.
Electromagnetic fields are everywhere, all around us. Some are generated naturally, but in vast majority of cases, it’s we humans that are generating them with artificial, electronic means. Everything from your mobile phone to the toaster will emit some sort of signal, be it intentional or not. So we think it only befits the general electronics-orientated hacker to have some way of sniffing around for these signals, so here is [Mirko Pavleski] with his take on a very simple pair of instruments to detect both static and dynamic electromagnetic fields.
The first unit (a simple electroscope) uses a cascade of 2N2222 NPN bipolar transistors configured to give a high current gain, so any charge near the antenna will result in increasing currents in subsequent stages, finally illuminating the LED. Simple stuff.
The second unit relies on the extremely high input impedance of the old-school CMOS 4017 decade counter, which is likely of the order of 100 MΩ or even more. Normally you would not leave such a CMOS input floating, or even connect it with too long a PCB trace — lest it pick up a stray signal —but for detecting alternating EM fields, this appears to work just fine. Configured as a simple divide-by-ten, when presenting 50 Hz AC, the LED can be seen to flash at 5 Hz.
Simple stuff, and this scribe has all those exact parts in the junk box, so will be constructing these shortly!
[G3OJV] knows the pain of trying to operate a ham radio transmitter on a small lot. His recent video shows how to put up a workable basic HF antenna in a small backyard. The center of the system is a 49:1 unun. An unun is like a balun, but while a balun goes from balanced line to an unbalanced antenna, the unun has both sides unbalanced. You can see his explanation in the video below.
The tiny hand-size box costs well under $40 or $50 and covers the whole HF band at up to 200 W. The video shows the inside of the box which, as you’d expect, is a toroid with a few turns of wire.
The proposed antenna is an end-fed dipole fed with the unun. These are somewhat controversial with some people swearing they can’t work and others saying they are amazing. We are guessing they may not outperform a perfect antenna system, but we also know that you can have a lot of fun with almost any kind of radiator.
The element is about 33 ft long, but to make it fit, you can bend the antenna to fit your lot. Again, it is probably not optimal, but better than nothing. Erecting a wire antenna like this is easy and just requires some insulators and supporting rope or string. Using thin wire and low-profile rope, you can hide it nearly anywhere.
Does it work? Seems to in the video, at least judging by the SWR. As [G3OJV] says, why not try it before dismissing it?
Over on the Spectrum web site, [Dale] — a relatively new ham radio operator — talks about his system for sending text messaging over VHF radios called HamMessenger. Of course, hams send messages all the time using a variety of protocols, but [Dale] wanted a self-contained and portable unit with a keyboard, screen, and a GPS receiver. So he built one. You can find his work on GitHub.
At the heart of the project is MicroAPRS, an Arduino firmware for packet radio. Instead of using a bigger computer, he decided to dedicate another Arduino to do everything but the modem function.
You can probably figure out the rest. A $10 GPS, a battery pack, a charge controller, and a few user interface parts like an OLED screen and a keyboard. In addition, there’s an SD card to store messages.
Of course, we couldn’t help but notice that our cell phone has a keyboard, screen, GPS, and storage. We might have been tempted to work out a way to connect the radio to it by Bluetooth. But we have to admit the little HamMessenger setup is cool-looking and probably lasts longer on a charge than our phone, too.
If you are under a certain age, you might not know the initialism VTVM. It stands for vacuum tube voltmeter. At first glance, you might just think that was shorthand for “old voltmeter” but, in fact, a VTVM filled a vital role in the old days of measuring instruments. [The Radio Mechanic] takes us inside a Heathkit IM-13 that needed some loving, and for its day it was an impressive little instrument.
Today, our meters almost always have a FET front end and probably uses a MOSFET. That means the voltage measurement probes don’t really connect to the meter at all. In a properly working MOSFET, the DC resistance between the gate and the rest of the circuit is practically infinite. It is more likely that a very large resistor (like 10 megaohms) is setting the input impedance because the gate by itself could pick up electrostatic voltage that might destroy the device. A high resistance like that is great when you make measurements because it is very unlikely to disturb the circuit you are trying to measure and it leads to more accurate measurements.
We take that for granted today, but a typical voltmeter in the old days was just a meter with some resistors in front of it. While a good meter would have relatively high resistance, it wasn’t as high as a FET. However, with a tube amplifier, a VTVM could also show a very high resistance and still make good measurements. The Heathkit meter used a dual tube as an amplifier along with some input resistor dividers to provide an 11 megaohm input. There was also a rectifier tube switched in to make AC measurements. In the end, the amplifier drove a conventional analog meter, but that load was isolated from the device under test so its relatively low resistance wasn’t important.
The repair seemed pretty simple, but it was fun to see the inside of one of these. Compare it to a digital meter today and it seems very strange, doesn’t it? If you want to read more about how VTVMs were used, there’s a copy of a 1951 Sylvania book about them online. Some people still prefer meters that move and, we admit, for certain tasks they beat even a digital bargraph.