This Satellite Finder Can Watch Amateur TV

Setting up satellite dishes can be a finicky business. To aid in the alignment of these precision antennas, satellite finders are often used which can display audio and video feeds from the satellite while also providing signal strength readouts for accurate adjustment. However, these devices can also be used in interesting ways for more terrestrial purposes (Youtube link).

Using the DMYCO V8 Finder, [Corrosive] demonstrates how to set up the device to pick up terrestrial amateur streams. Satellite reception typically involves the use of a low-noise block downconverter, which downconverts the high frequency satellite signal into a lower intermediate frequency. Operating at the 1.2GHz amateur band, this isn’t necessary, so the device is configured to use an LNB frequency of 10000, and the channel frequency entered as a multiple of ten higher. In this case, [Corrosive] is tuning in an amateur channel on 1254 MHz, which is entered as 11254 MHz to account for the absent LNB.

[Corrosive] points out that, when using an F-connector to BNC adapter with this setup, it’s important to choose one that does not short the center pin to the shield, as this will damage the unit. This is due to it being designed to power LNBs through the F-connector for satellite operation.

By simply reconfiguring a satellite finder with a basic scanner antenna, it’s possible to create a useful amateur television receiver. If you’re wondering how to transmit, [Corrosive] has that covered, too. Video after the break.

Understanding Modulated RF With [W2AEW]

There was a time — not long ago — when radio and even wired communications depended solely upon Morse code with OOK (on off keying). Modulating RF signals led to practical commercial radio stations and even modern cell phones. Although there are many ways to modulate an RF carrier with voice AM or amplitude modulation is the oldest method. A recent video from [W2AEW] shows how this works and also how AM can be made more efficient by stripping the carrier and one sideband using SSB or single sideband modulation. You can see the video, below.

As is typical of a [W2AEW] video, there’s more than just theory. An Icom transmitter provides signals in the 40 meter band to demonstrate the real world case. There’s discussion about how to measure peak envelope power (PEP) and comparison to average power and other measurements, as well.

Although the examples use a ham radio band, the concepts will apply to any radio frequency from DC to light. If you want to do similar measurements, you’d need a scope, a peak-reading watt meter, and a dummy load along with the transmitter.

We enjoyed that he uses a scope probe as a pointer, but we can’t really explain why. If you are ambitious, you can build your own SSB transceiver. Another common way to modulate RF is FM and we’ve talked about it before, too.

Radio Telescopes Horn In With GNU Radio

Who doesn’t like to look up at the night sky? But if you are into radio, there’s a whole different way to look using radio telescopes. [John Makous] spoke at the GNU Radio Conference about how he’s worked to make a radio telescope that is practical for even younger students to build and operate.

The only real high tech part of this build is the low noise amplifier (LNA) and the project is in reach of a typical teacher who might not be an expert on electronics. It uses things like paint thinner cans and lumber. [John] also built some blocks in GNU Radio that made it easy for other teachers to process the data from a telescope. As he put it, “This is the kind of nerdy stuff I like to do.” We can relate.

The telescope is made to pick up the 21 cm band to detect neutral hydrogen from the Milky Way. It can map the hydrogen in the galaxy and also measure the rotational speed of the galaxy using Doppler shift. Not bad for an upcycled paint thinner can. These are cheap enough, you can even build a fleet of them.

This would be a great project for anyone interested in radio telescopes or space. However, it is particularly set up for classroom use. Students can flex their skills in math, engineering, programming, and — of course — astronomy and physics.

We’ve seen old satellite LNAs repurposed to radio telescopes. If you think you don’t have room for a radio telescope, think again.

Algemene Ledenvergadering 2019

Op maandag 25 februari 2019 zal de Algemene Ledenvergadering van de VRZA Afdeling Zuid-Limburg plaatsvinden.

Alle afdelingsleden, die op 1 februari lid zijn van de VRZA, zijn van harte welkom in het Gidsengebouw gelegen aan de Floribertusstraat 19 te Brunssum.

De vergadering begint om 20:05 uur, inloop vanaf 19:45 uur.

Leden ontvangen nog een uitnodiging per post of per e-mail maar daarin de agenda.

Superheterodyne Radios Explained

The general public thinks there is one thing called a radio. Sure, they know there are radios that pick up different channels, but other than that, one radio is pretty much like the other. But if you are involved in electronics, you probably know there are lots of ways a radio can work internally. A crystal set is very different from an FM stereo, and that’s different still from a communications receiver. We’d say there are several common architectures for receivers and one of the most common is the superheterodyne. But what does that mean exactly? [Technology Connection] has a casual explanation video that discusses how a superhet works and why it is important. You can see the video, below.

Engineering has always been about building on abstractions. This is especially true now when you can get an IC or module that does most of what you want it to do. But even without those, you would hardly start an electronics project by mining copper wire, refining it, and drawing your own wire. You probably don’t make many of your own resistors and capacitors, neither do you start your design at the fundamental electronic equations. But there’s one abstraction we often forget about: architecture. If you are designing a receiver, you probably don’t try to solve the problem of radio reception; instead you pick an architecture that is proven and design to that.

There are other examples. Do you really work out a binary counter every time? Or how to make an op-amp amplify? You start with those building blocks. Of course, true innovation means you have to stop doing that and actually think of new and different (and possibly better) ways to do the same task. But most of the time you aren’t trying to innovate, you are trying to get the job done.

The video is pretty straightforward and doesn’t assume you have much radio background. However, it does manage to do some real demonstrations and it is worth a watch. There are many other receiver architectures, of course. Regenerative, superregenerative, homodyne (direct conversion), Hilbert, and Weaver are all types of receivers and there are doubtless more. The funny part is that many of the ideas we still use today came from one man: Edwin Armstrong.

All About Ham Satellites

How hard is it to build a ground station to communicate with people via a satellite? Probably not as hard as you think. [Modern Ham] has a new video that shows just how easy it can be. It turns out that a cheap Chinese radio is all you need on the radio side. You do, however, benefit from having a bit of an antenna.

It isn’t unusual for people interested in technology to also be interested in space. So it isn’t surprising that many ham radio operators have tied space into the hobby. Some do radio astronomy, others bounce signals off the moon or meteors. Still others have launched satellites, though perhaps that’s not totally accurate since as far as we know all ham radio satellites have hitched rides on commercial rockets rather than being launched by hams themselves. Still, designing and operating a ham radio station in space is no small feat, but it has been done many times with each generation of satellite becoming more and more sophisticated.

While it is true you’ll get better results with a directional antenna, it is possible to make some contacts with a fairly modest one. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, tracking when the satellite was overhead was a major task, but the modern ham just needs a cell phone app.

If you have images of hams sitting at their radios having long-winded discussions, you haven’t seen a typical satellite pass. You don’t have much time, so the contacts are fast and to the point. In fact, this video dispels a lot of ham stereotypes. A young guy shows how you can do something exciting with ham radio for very little investment and it doesn’t matter if you have deed restrictions because all the gear would fit in your garage when you aren’t using it.

The downside is that [Modern Ham’s] demo didn’t show him making any solid contacts although he was clearly hearing the satellite and people were hearing him. He admits it wasn’t his best pass. The second video below shows a much more typical pass with the same kind of setup. If you want to see what results you can get with a more modest antenna, check out this video.

In addition to satellites built by hams, some have started life doing a different task and been taken over by hams later. If you don’t have a ham license (and, by the way, they are easier to get than ever), you can still listen in to some very interesting space communications.

Trompetenklänge zu Heilig Abend

Auch heuer wird uns IN3ECH, Karl aus Welsberg, erneut ein Weihnachtslied mit seiner Trompete vorspielen. Die Liveübertragung findet am 24. Dezember 2018 um 19.00 Uhr statt und wird über unsere Umsetzer im Land ausgestrahlt.

Jene, die das “Link Südtirol” nicht hören, können sich über Echolink am IR3UGM mit der Nummer 55883 einwählen.

Wir danken Karl und hoffen auf zahlreiche Zuhörer.

FROHE WEIHNACHTEN.

FCC Gets Complaint: Proposed Ham Radio Rules Hurt National Security

On November 10th, [Theodore Rappaport] sent the FCC an ex parte filing regarding a proposed rule change that would remove the limit on baud rate of high frequency (HF) digital transmissions. According to [Rappaport] there are already encoded messages that can’t be read on the ham radio airwaves and this would make the problem worse.

[Rappaport] is a professor at NYU and the founding director of NYU Wireless. His concern seems to relate mostly to SCS who have some proprietary schemes for compressing PACTOR as part of Winlink — used in some cases to send e-mail from onboard ships.

The FCC proposal is related to a request by the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) seeking to overturn baud rate limits imposed in 1980 presumably in an attempt to limit signals eating up too much spectrum on the bands. However, PACTOR 4 — specifically mentioned in the proposal — is narrow bandwidth but capable of sending 5,800 bits per second and is thus not permitted on amateur bands. The ARRL argues that this is actually preventing efficient use of the bands. Keep in mind that while PACTOR is well-known, PACTOR-II, -III, and -IV are proprietary and generally not decodable without using an approved modem.

It doesn’t seem especially related to us that upping or removing bandwidth limits would necessarily result in national security problems per se. First, the airwaves aren’t exclusively American. So while the FCC can control radio operators in the United States, that isn’t the entire problem. Second, enforcement is lax but doesn’t have to be and anyone who really wants to compromise national security will probably flaunt the law anyway. And finally, anyone who really wants to send secret messages can probably do it over other means and/or use steganography to conceal their encoding.

So we aren’t sure what the real point to the filing is. Sure, sending encoded messages on the ham bands is against the rules, which ought to be better enforced. If PACTOR-IV is going to be used by hams it ought to be open. But upping the baud rate limit doesn’t prevent or allow this from happening. Is it really a national security risk? If it is, it seems to us only minor. What do you think?

FT8: Saving Ham Radio or Killing It?

 

It is popular to blame new technology for killing things. The Internet killed newspapers. Video killed the radio star. Is FT8, a new digital technology, poised to kill off ham radio? The community seems evenly divided. In an online poll, 52% of people responding says FT8 is damaging ham radio.  But ham operator [K5SDR] has an excellent blog post about how he thinks FT8 is going to save ham radio instead.

If you already have an opinion, you have probably already raced down to the comments to share your thoughts. I’ll be honest, I think what we are seeing is a transformation of ham radio and like most transformations, it is probably both killing parts of ham radio and saving others. But if you are still here, let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on in ham radio right now and how it relates to the FT8 question. Oddly enough, our story starts with the strange lack of sunspots that we’ve been experiencing lately.

Classic Ham Radio

I’ve been a ham radio operator since 1977. The hobby has changed a lot over the years. I can remember as a teenager making a phone call from my car and everyone was amazed. Ham radio covers a lot of ground, but “traditional” ham radio is operating a station on the HF bands — 3.5 MHz to 30 MHz — and talking to people all over the world. That kind of ham radio is suffering right now for a few reasons. First, HF propagation largely depends on sunspots and sunspots tend to ebb and peak on an 11-year cycle. Right now we are in a deep low part of the cycle and even the last few peaks have not been very good and no one knows why.

I’ve often thought that if Marconi and the others had started experimenting with radio during a sunspot low, they might have decided radio wasn’t very practical. With low sunspot activity, higher frequencies don’t propagate well at all. Lower frequencies might get through, but those require much larger antennas and that causes another problem.

At the height of classic ham radio, every ham wanted a beam antenna or a cubical quad or some other type of rotating directional antenna. Being able to swing an antenna at a particular direction brings more power to bear on the receiver and also helps you receive the other station. The problem is, the antenna elements are typically about a half wavelength in size. So at 20 meters, the elements are about 10 meters in size. You can shorten them a little using some tricks but you pay a price for that in performance. At 10 meters, though, the size is quite manageable. Many hams had directional antennas for the 20, 15, and 10 meter bands (all-in-one antennas called tribanders). A very few would have something for 40 meters — despite Mosley’s description of its 40-20-15 antenna as “vest pocket”, but that was pretty exotic. At 80 meters, mechanically rotating directional antennas are all but unheard of.

So when propagation is bad you should go to lower frequencies, but that means larger antennas. Worse still, the last few decades have seen an increasing hostility to ham radio antennas with city governments, home owner’s associations, and similar. People living in apartments or condos have the same kind of problem. So the number of hams who can even put up a tribander or any sort of visible antenna has dropped significantly.

So here you are with your radio. The bands are bad, and your small hidden antenna is not very good at any band that might work. What do you do?

Voice is Wasteful

One historical answer to this problem was to quit talking and start using Morse code. For a variety of reasons, Morse code will get through when there isn’t enough power, antennas, or propagation to send voice communications. A skilled operator can pull a Morse code signal out of noise that you would swear is just noise. But what if you aren’t a skilled operator? Bring in a skilled computer.

Some hams have always experimented with digital operation, mostly with war-surplus teletype machines. Sending data digitally is almost as good as sending Morse code and it is easy to type and read a printout compared to manually sending and receiving code. Sure, computers can read code, but since a human is sending it, it is likely to not be perfect copy unless the software is very smart and can adjust to slight variations like a human operator can.

Then came a digital mode called PSK31. It was a low-bandwidth slow digital protocol that used a computer’s soundcard to both send and receive. The computer could pull data out of what you would swear was nothing. There was some error correcting and other technical features that made PSK31 possibly better than Morse code for disadvantaged operations even by very skilled operators.

There are other similar digital modes, but most of them have not really caught on in the way that PSK31 has. Until FT8.

So FT8?

FT8 is a digital mode, too. It was specifically created to work well in really bad situations like meteor scatter or moonbounce. To maximize the chances of success, each FT8 packet holds 13 characters and takes 13 seconds to send. The protocol depends on a highly synchronized clock and every minute is divided into 15-second slots. Because of this FT8 contacts are highly structured and short. It’s like Twitter on sleeping pills. You won’t use FT8 to talk about your new motorcycle with your friend in Spain.

However, because the information is digital and of limited format, a typical exchange is that one operation calls CQ. Another operator notices and clicks on the first station in their display. Now their computers exchange basic information like location and signal strength. And then the contact is done.

The Good, The Bad…

If your goal is to “work” a lot of countries, or states, or islands, or any of the other entities hams try to get awards for, then this is great. It favors getting the minimum data through under the worst conditions. If you want to use ham radio to learn about other people and cultures, this doesn’t help because you just can’t say all that much. The truth is, though, that having long casual conversations with people very far away doesn’t happen as much as you’d think anyway.

[K5SDR’s] point, though, is that right now HF ham radio is on the brink of disaster even without FT8. The bands are bad and with antennas restricted, there isn’t much to do for a lot of hams. FT8 lets them get on the air. Purists complain it doesn’t take skill. But honestly, we’ve heard that before. Automated Morse code gear didn’t ruin ham radio. Nor did the availability of store-bought equipment.

Besides, this is all classic ham radio. There’s plenty of other things to do: emergency preparedness, radio control, propagation experimentation, and TV or image transmissions, just to name a few. If those don’t excite you, there’s moonbounce and satellites (even one orbiting the moon), so there’s always something to get involved with. The frontier is moving, and ham radio is moving with it, or at least maybe it should be.