Monday, 23 February 2015

More SSTV from the ISS

Like many others around the globe I spent yesterday attempting to receive and decode the SSTV transmissions being broadcast from the International Space Station by the Russian Cosmonauts.

The SSTV activity had been due to last three days starting on Saturday but commencement was delayed by the NASA space walk.

Receiving the signal and decoding is relatively straightforward due to relatively high power used (around 25W) however getting a perfect image is a challenge and dependant on a number of factors.
  • The timing of the overhead pass. Due to the time taken to transmit the image and the three minute delay between each image it is possible to only be in reception range for the end of one image and the start of the next. 
  • The ISS is moving quickly and so the transmission suffers noticeable Doppler shift. FM is more immune to the effect but for optimal performance adjustment of the tuned frequency is required especially on high elevation passes (more information).
  • The ISS moves position, both in direction and elevation as it moves across the sky and will show up the peaks and troughs in a static antennas radiation pattern. This leads to bands of noise when the signal level falls. The use of a rotatable (and if possible tiltable) antenna (or even an handheld one) is the dirigour mode of operating satellites (and the ISS) for serious enthusiasts. 
  • Noise and local interference will also obviously affect the image.
Mission Control

I opted a two pronged approach, the Yaesu FT857D connected to my rotatable four element YAGI which is mounted horizontally for SSB and the old TRIO/KENWOOD TR9000 was connected to the X50 dual-band collinear mounted vertically.


I had two copies of the MMSSTV program running on separate laptops The TR9000 was left running largely unattended tuned to 145.800MHz, while the FT857D was tweaked to the optimum frequency while the YAGI antenna was rotated to the correct azimuth during the pass.

All adjustments were done manually and I use the Orbitron program for prediction and under the Rotor/Radio tab the frequency and azimuth are shown and updated during the pass (as can be seen in the screen show below)


I missed the first low elevation at 11:07UTC, but was able to monitor and decode images on all the remaining passes during the day, with some excellent results, the images show the full images decodes on both radio set ups as a comparison.

FT857D - Yagi

TR9000 - Collinear

FT857D - Yagi

TR9000 - Collinear

FT857D - Yagi

TR9000 - Collinear

FT857D - Yagi

TR9000 - Collinear

FT857D - Yagi

TR9000 - Collinear

I was especially pleased when one of my best images was featured on the Amsat-UK and the Southgate Amateur Radio News websites.

What was slightly worrying and it also happened during the last SSTV activities were some operators transmitting on the downlink frequency even during a pass, what sounded like someone keying up was responsible for the single noise line on another perfect image. I even received an unexpected SSTV image, complete with a call sign while the system was waiting for the next pass. I won't publish it here as everyone makes mistakes.

The experiments are continuing today but I am in work so will just leave an automated set up running on the collinear.

Judging by the messages on social media these SSTV activities seem to have captured the imagination of a lot of operators and several members of my local club South Kesteven Amateur Radio Society (SKARS) had their first go with some excellent results and are hooked! The images can seen on the SKARS Facebook page

Long may the activities continue, hopefully started to transmit some live images from space.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Repairing a Kenwood TR9500, Part4

The troublesome TR9500 has developed another fault, well it has likely had this fault since I've owned it but I have only just spotted it.

After making repairs to the microphone amplifier and the receiver pre-amplifier the rig seemed to be working fine, I'd even used it several times during the UKAC contests with some success.

The 70cm band is under used locally and activity seems largely restricted to repeaters. Due to it's vintage the TR9500 doesn't have CTCSS tones and so cannot be used to access repeaters without some modification and I've been looking at adding a CTCSS board.

In the meantime I really wanted to use the TR9500 a bit more and was hoping to make it part of a satellite station, the TR9500 acting as the UHF uplink transmitter (LSB) and the VHF 2m TR9000 as the downlink receiver (USB) for the AO73 (FUNCube-1) and other satellites.

The satellite portion of the band plan is at 435-438MHz and it was when setting this up I discovered the TR9500 neither received or transmitted in the upper part of the 70cm band (435-440MHz) below this everything was hunky-dory.


It hasn't taken long to locate the issue, the HET unit employs two crystals L33 (36.6222MHz), L34 (37.1777MHz) which are switched in to the oscillator Q1 depending on the selected frequency. L33 being referred to as low band, L34 as high band the switching occurring around 435MHz.


The switching HL signal (via R10) and transistors Q3/Q4 are working correctly it is just crystal L34 is not resonating. The surrounding diodes, capacitors, inductors and resistors all look fine, no obvious shorts or broken joints.

I have to do some more diagnostics to rule out any of the passive components but if it is the case that the crystal has failed then it may prove difficult to source an economical replacement.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Feature Tech AW07A Antenna Analyser - First impressions

Christmas seems such a long time ago and one of my presents was a Feature Tech AW07A HF-VHF-UHF Antenna Analyser which I have finally been able to try it out.


It is about the size of a thick paperback book and is a powder coated steel case similar in style to that used by MFJ equipment, indeed the MFJ-266 analyser appears to be a re-badged version albeit for a lot more money than this unit can be purchased.

It can be powered by batteries fitted internally or by an external supply and is supplied with a power cable for connection to an external supply, mine was white/black rather than the normal red/black cable. It has a N-Type socket for the antenna and comes with two adapters for PL259 and BNC connectors.


It has a power button near the external power socket, two buttons on the top select HF and VHF/UHF operation and two other buttons marked UP and DOWN to select operating mode and/or the frequency band being used. Unfortunately one thing it doesn't come with is a manual but a copy can be downloaded from QSL.net or a slightly different version from the manufacturers website. But I actually downloaded the manual for the MFJ-226 has it is much more detailed.

The front panel decal and manual state it can be run from 10.8-12V, in fact the manual states it should ideally be less than 12.5V and no more than 13V. While doing some research I found the reason for this limitation hidden away on this aliexpress webpage "Avoid higher than 13V power supply circuit for the UV segment may be damaged due to excessive power dissipation." So this would seem to rule out using a standard 13.8V power supply.

It can be fitted internally with eight AA batteries and this is the way most people would use as it offers portability. Removing four screws allows access to the battery compartment and the internals electronics seem well built.


It takes eight AA batteries, in two boxes. The battery boxes have lids secured with a small screws and are fixed to the case using simple sticky pads, while secure at the moment I can imagine in time the adhesive could dry-out and become unstuck leaving the battery boxes loose inside the unit.


The display is a simple two line LCD with an optional bright back light which can be turned on during the power up sequence. The display shows the battery or supply voltage and pressing Down puts the unit into a frequency counter mode. Pressing Up puts into the antenna analyser mode.


In the analyser mode it is a simple case of selecting the HF, VHF or UHF mode. VHF works from 85-185MHz, UHF is 300-390MHz, the HF is split into six overlapping bands A: 1.5-2.7 MHz B: 2.5-4.8 MHz C: 4.6-9.6 MHz D: 8.5-18.7 MHz E: 17.3-39 MHz F: 33.7-71 MHz selected using the Up/Down buttons.

Turning the vernier  tuning knob adjusts the generated frequency the antenna is being tested against. I connected the analyser to my 2m YAGI antenna and turned the knob to find the lowest SWR


The manual describes what is being displayed (on UHF just the SWR is shown)

“139.763 MHz” is the frequency
“V “is the band (A,B,C,D,E,F in HF, V in VHF and U in UHF)

The bottom row shows the complex impedance Z = R + jX, so on this screen 

“41” represents R = 41 ohms the resistive component
“18:” represents the reactance component value, jX = 18 ohms
“45” is the overall complex impedance magnitude Z = 45 ohms
“1.5” is the SWR value

As you can see for a 2m antenna something isn't quite right! The antennas were down due to last weeks strong winds so I was taking the opportunity to do some maintenance and tweaking of the 2m antenna since I'd seen an increase in the SWR during recent UKAC contests. I had suspected feeder issues, possible water ingress but I tried a dummy load at the antenna end but that read as expected (Z=50ohms) and metering the continuity of the feeder showed no issues, it just seemed to be resonant at too low a frequency.


The analyser confirmed what I'd observed with a normal SWR/Power meter a higher than desired SWR in the middle of the SSB section of the 2m band.


Unfortunately I was unable to get it any lower than 2.5 and most adjustments seemed to increase the SWR.  For peace of mind I double checked the analyser by swapping the feeder on to the 2m/70cm collinear and that was spot on


again I double checked the SWR readings back in the shack using the normal meter


While I try to sort out the antenna issue I can say the analyser seems to do its job well. The tuning knob is a little twitchy and has a bit of play which makes setting the frequency accurately a little harder than it should be but hopefully that might improve with use.

The unit also has other functions none of which I have used yet but it is bonus to have some useful test functions available in the shack.

The AW07A can be used as an inductance/capacitance meter by powering it up with the U or D button held down. The inductance or capacitance of a component fitted across the antenna socket is then displayed and this can be done for any test frequency by selecting the band and turning the tuning knob.

As I mentioned earlier the unit can also function as a frequency counter that can measure signals between 1 and 500 MHz and can be used to give an indication of relative RF field strength. A signal source or an external antenna that yields a usable signal level may be connected to the analyser’s antenna jack. The usable signal range is quoted as -20dBm (30mV)  to +10dBm (1V). Note that the display reading is a RMS value.

Obviously in the antenna analyser mode the output which is approximately 2V in magnitude can be used as a signal source, with 20dB of second harmonic suppression. 

The MFJ manual goes into some detail of how this all works and how to use the analyser for a number of common tasks such as checking baluns, making 1/4wave stubs or measuring velocity factor of coax.

While the AW07A has some obvious shortcomings and may not be a precision device I am impressed with it and what it can seemingly do. It is shame about the lack of a manual but I am not sure getting one is justification for the premium price of the near identical MFJ unit.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

OFCOM undue interference consultation

Happy New Year!

2015 has started with some important developments. Ofcom have launched a consultation on draft regulations for new wireless telegraphy legislation. The proposals are intended to strengthen regulatory power and keep pace with technological advances with respect to interference of radio communications from electronic devices.

Current Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) regulations should prevent electrical and electronic apparatus emitting electromagnetic energy that would cause interference to radio communications but as most licensed operators have experienced this is not the case. In particular the growth of "power line" networking equipment (PLT) in recent years has caused much distress to amateur radio particularly in populated areas. I myself have suffered interference from what I believe are PLT devices.

It is certainly true that most newer devices are much better and are notched to prevent emissions in certain bands but there are still many older devices in use and imported non-compliant devices are still readily available. It is not just PLT devices that cause issues but solar panels with RF noisy inverters, unfiltered switch mode power supplies, plasma televisions and other equipment that pollute the spectrum.

Unfortunately at present Ofcom has limited enforcement powers so are proposing the law is amended to make it a criminal offence to continue using equipment identified as a source of undue interference.

Several agencies such as GCHQ, CAA and emergency services have voiced concerns in the past over the threat of RF pollution (Telegraph newspaper article) so not surprisingly this weeks announcement has been given the 'spooks' spin with some sensationalist headlines "You could be prosecuted over your broadband thanks to GCHQ" as the Telegraph reported.

I feel it is important that UK licensed amateurs respond to these proposals and the consultation is only open till next month it is very easy to respond on line at the Ofcom website

It is quite a timely announcement from Ofcom since I have been forced to use the QRM eliminator that I purchased back in August due to increasing interference. I have not been able to use it in line with the FT857D as it requires the PTT/TX-GND signal from the CAT/Linear socket from the transceiver to activate a bypass when transmitting. The issue being I wished to use the CAT functionality at the same time and this involved making up a harness with the appropriate 8-pin mini-DIN plug/socket. I purchased some plugs and sockets but kept putting it off due to the fiddly nature of the small connectors and I didn't wish to cause any damage to the FT857D by shorting the pins.

By chance I spotted this cable on eBay which is the same as my current CAT cable but with the addition of the PTT/TX-GND signal on a short pigtail with a phono (RCA) socket making it a breeze to complete the installation.

I am hoping to improve the noise performance by putting up a new HF antenna in the future, to this end I have had a nice Christmas present. A Feature Tech AW07A HF-VHF-UHF Antenna Analyzer


Once I have used it in anger I will post a proper report, but it seems a great piece of kit with some encouraging reviews, currently available of £168 on eBay it is a massive £200 less than the identical MFJ-266

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Sending Christmas Greetings to the ISS

There was much media coverage in the UK of the "Santa pass" (Telegraph, Daily Mail) The International Space Station passed over the UK in the late afternoon and early evening on Christmas Eve and around 17:20GMT promised an especially bright display in the dark skies. So imaginatively we were asked to observe and imagine that the bright moving point of light was actually Santa off delivering his presents.

As luck would have much of the UK had a crystal clear sky and I even managed to get my 80 plus year old Mother-in-law out in the garden to watch the spectacle. She was impressed and it was great to overhear lots of excited children coming out in the nearby homes to watch Santa as he flew overhead.

Back in October 2013 after becoming a newly licensed radio amateur I managed to send APRS packets to the International Space Station which were digipeated and received back on earth by other operators. Back then I used a lowly Baofeng UV5R handheld and I decided to repeat the exercise this time using the FT857D (this time running around 20W) to talk to Santa!

The computer I used back then has been decommissioned so on the laptop I installed the UISS program from ON6MU which makes easy work of APRS to the ISS and instead of the cumbersome AGWPE I used the excellent soundcard modem from UZ7HO.

I attempted to send a message on the pass at 15:43 but failed completely, discovering I'd got my soundcard incorrectly set up. I corrected this and left the autobeacon mode running in UISS during the Santa pass and checking back much later could clearly see I'd sent and had a message repeated back from the ISS.


Checking the ariss website (www.ariss.net) I could see the repeated message had been received by another station and my position was showing up on the map (M0NRD)

I have successfully done it again today on Christmas Day! As the raw packets below confirm.

M0NRD>CQ,RS0ISS*,qAR,DM2RM:73' Happy Christmas from Andrew IO93OB
M0NRD>CQ,RS0ISS*,qAR,MB7USS:=5304.08N/00048.47W-73' Happy Christmas from Andrew
M0NRD>CQ,RS0ISS*,qAR,HG8GL-6:73' Happy Christmas from Andrew IO93OB


It was a nice achievement and another nice Christmas present was achieved early this morning while running WSPR on 40m, managing to get received in New Zealand


Anyway enjoy the rest of the festive season and I wish you all the best in 2015

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Another year gone...

Today I celebrated my birthday and reflecting on the past year I realised just how much I have achieved during my first year as a bona fide radio amateur.

While I gained the foundation licence back in September 2013 it was only at the start of the year that I took possession of my first proper radio and began my first real forays into the hobby. That is not to say the end of 2013 weren’t without its highlights, remember ICube-1?

While the foundation level licence gave me access to most bands, be it at only 10W, I was not content to stay as M6GTG. I passed the intermediate in May (2E0NRD) and finally got the full licence in October (M0NRD) and have slowly been honing my operating skills.

I competed for the first time in the RSGB UKAC and other VHF/UHF contests. They have proved to be an enjoyable and educational activity. The structure exchange helped me overcome my initial microphone shyness and the goal of improving my score each week to become more competitive forced me to improve my set up.

Construction of a headset interface and the addition of a foot switch were simple projects as was the building of a simple but effective Moxon antenna for 6m (blog post). This together with a permanent antenna pole, rotator system and upgraded coax all have helped me improve and learn. I even tried my hand at some portable operating with varying degrees of success. I have received some invaluable help and advice from people, especially Robert G1ZJP (M1MHZ) The results for the year have been coming in and I am very happy with my final positions in the various bands for a first timer and hope to be more competitive next year. .

HF operating proved initially off putting, plagued by QRN/QRM and my initial microphone shyness I veered toward the more noise immune data modes. I built a data mode interface and have had a fair degree of success with PSK/JT65 and RTTY as dabbling with a few other modes and over the last few weeks I have experimented with FreeDV and find it fascinating.

As I have become more confident I now operate voice more often and now regularly give points away on contest weekends because I like the short formalised exchange. Indulging in small talk in normal contacts is something I am not good or comfortable with but as I’ve got to know local operators I have started to join in the local nets and art of conversation is becoming easier.

The High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) has taken a back seat at present. I still have active plans to get a flight up with my own payload and have given a number of successful talks to local clubs over the year which I have enjoyed. Missing the UKHAS conference was a bitter disappointment but I still track flights and I hope to reinvigorate this interest in the spring as I get back up to speed with recent developments. 

Due to time constraints I have also mothballed plans for numerous construction projects based around the Arduino. Last months rearrangement of the shack should allow me to finally get around to finishing them.

Operating the JOTA station GB2FFC for a local scout group was very rewarding. The write up from this blog was included in the latest RSGB Radcom magazine and we hope to do it again next year. Being asked to contribute content to the AmateurRadio.com website came as a surprise and thanks to all those who have commented on my ramblings.

Another rite of passage was managing to repair my first rig, an elderly TR9500, yes it was only a modest achievement but a massively satisfying one and it has given me some confidence in purchasing second hand equipment in the future.

As well as building up the shack and continuing to improve my setup and operating I have some specific aims for next year...

Make a proper satellite contact
Satellite reception and tracking is something else that has been neglected recently, though I am still decoding FUNCube-1 telemetry daily.

Make a meteor scatter contact
I attended a fascinating presentation at the Spalding and District ARS by Robert G1ZJP about Meteor Scatter operating just before the Perseid meteor shower. I have made a couple of attempts since including during the recent Geminid shower and while I can receive signals no problem I have yet to make a successful contact. It is definitely on the to-do list but I may need to increase the power output, maybe even investing in some amplifiers and better antennas who knows it could lead to attempting some EME!

Make a proper SOTA/IOTA activation
Next year I will be holidaying in Scotland on the Isles of Skye and Islay so want to make a better attempt at operating in these more remote operating than I did this year. I also want to take a radio up a mountain!

Become more involved locally
I joined the South Kesteven ARS last year and regularly communicate with members of the nearby Grantham ARC. There have been suggestions of operating special event stations as well as repeating the JOTA event. I enjoy the meetings and conversations and is nice to bounce ideas off each other and hope to be more involved in organising activities.

Anyway, still a few hours of my birthday left so off to enjoy a wee dram or two and a slice of my birthday cake made by loving XYL



Sunday, 7 December 2014

Repairing a Kenwood TR9500, Part3

Back in September I attempted to repair a Kenwood/Trio TR9500 UHF All-modes transceiver for a fellow club member. It had a faulty microphone pre-amp which I replaced and all seemed well but it had further issues with the receiver. Cutting his losses and wanting shot the owner sold it to me for the princely sum of £10.

I have had her back on the bench and initially couldn't find anything wrong. However in real use it become apparent that she was in fact profoundly deaf! Picking up test transmissions from the nearby FT857D or Baofeng outputting into a dummy load was one thing but it wasn't receiving anything else!

From the service manual and schematic I deduced that it could be the initial RF receive amplifier. It is a dual-gate mosfet (3SK76) It proved tricky but I managed to source a replacement on eBay and it was a simple job to replace once I'd extricated the PCB.

I can report it is now working and the video below shows it monitoring the GB3EE repeater in Chesterfield. From the coverage map I shouldn't be able to hear it but I can and reception has been marginal at best using other receivers but it repaired TR9500 doesn't have any problems.


I wonder if the rig has been subjected to a high RF field in the past this could easily have damaged the receiver amplifier and an induced RF into the microphone lead could have damaged the microphone pre-amp. It just seemed strange it having both faults.

Tuesday night is the last 432MHz UKAC contest and hope to use her in anger.