Thank you for contacting us for our Orion Test Flight Special Event

Thank you for contacting us for our Orion Special Event Station, yesterday, Saturday December 6, 2014.  We commemorated the successful EFT-1 test flight of the Orion spacecraft, flown the previous day. Thank you also for sharing your thoughts about the United States Space Program, and for expressing your support and pride.

We operated with our club call sign WA4NZD. We logged about 230 QSOs, most on 20 meters SSB. We tried 10 and 15 meters, but didn’t get much traffic.  We tried a few digital QSOs, most on 40 meters RTTY. Our operators were KB5EZ, KK4IKR, N4CNY, and WA2JQZ.

If you contacted us, QSL via Logbook of the World and eQSL. Paper QSL cards are available with a business sized SASE to WA4NZD MSFC Amateur Radio Club, c/o Donald Hediger, ES35, NASA MSFC, Huntsville, AL 35812, USA. Our email contact address is wa4nzd/at/gmail/dot/com..

Check our speical event page https://wa4nzd.wordpress.com/special-events/test-flight-of-the-orion-spacecraft-eft-1/ for additional information.

The Orion completed a successful test flight on Friday December 5, 2014, with a splashdown at 10:29 Central Time. The Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) was designed to test the Orion spacecraft and its systems, especially its heatshield for re-entry. The flight lasted four hours, and made two Earth orbits. The second orbit was highly eccentric, which enabled a high speed re-entry comparable to returning from deep space missions. EFT-1 is the opening test flight that will eventually lead to operational missions with the new Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift launch vehicle.  The Space Launch System is now being developed and built at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.  Some components of the Orion test vehicle were designed and tested at NASA Marshall. The next flight of Orion will be aboard the Space Launch System, at this time scheduled for about 2018.  The Orion spacecraft is managed by the NASA Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, Texas.

More information about the Orion spacecraft and program: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/orion/index.html

Orion_emblem_white

Update – Orion Special Event – Dec. 6

We plan to begin our special event station at 9 AM Central Time / 1500 GMT.

Orion Test Flight Special Event – Saturday December 6, 2014

The Marshall Space Flight Center Amateur Radio Club (MARC), WA4NZD, will operate a Special Event station to commemorate the successful EFT-1 test flight of the Orion spacecraft.

Operation will be on Saturday December 6, 2014 (Central Time) throughout the day, using the club call sign WA4NZD.

We will be self-spotting on the DX cluster — look for “WA4NZD SE Orion Flight Test“. We will operate on various bands and modes, depending on favorable propagation conditions. We expect to operate on 20 meter phone.  We probably will operate on other bands, on phone and digital modes, at the discretion of our operators.

QSL via Logbook of the World or eQSL. Paper QSLs will be available with a business sized SASE to WA4NZD MSFC Amateur Radio Club, c/o Donald Hediger, ES35, Huntsville, AL 35812.

Check https://wa4nzd.wordpress.com or WA4NZD on QRZ.COM for updated announcements.

The Orion completed a successful test flight on Friday December 5, 2014, with a splashdown at 10:29 Central Time.

The flight was designed to test the Orion spacecraft and its systems. The flight lasted four hours, and made two Earth orbits. The second orbit was highly eccentric, with an apogee of 3600 miles, which enabled a high speed re-entry comparable to returning from deep space missions. The flight is officially named Exploration Flight Test 1.  It is the opening test flight that will eventually lead to operational missions with the new Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift launch vehicle.  Some components of the Orion test vehicle were designed and tested at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

The next flight of Orion will be aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) being built by MSFC.

Special Event Station planned for the Test Flight of the Orion Spacecraft

We are planning to run a brief Special Event Station to commemorate the first test flight of the Orion spacecraft. As of this writing, the scheduled launch date is December 4, 2014. It is possible the flight could be delayed. We plan to operate our special event on the first full Saturday, central time, following a successful flight.  (That is, if a successful flight occurs on a Saturday morning or afternoon, central time, we will operate the following weekend on Saturday.) We will post future announcements and details about our special event on our QRZ page http://www.qrz.com/db/WA4NZD, and on our website here, once we are ready to proceed. We will operate with our club call sign, WA4NZD.

This flight is designed to test the Orion spacecraft and its systems, especially for high speed atmospheric re-entry from interplanetary space missions. The flight will last four hours, and make two Earth orbits. The flight is officially named Exploration Flight Test 1. It is the opening test flight that will eventually lead to test and operational missions with the new Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift launch vehicle.  Some components of the Orion test vehicle were designed and tested at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

More information:

QRP ops on Monte Sano – “Summits on the Air” JT65 Activation, April 2014

By Gary WA2JQZ, with Rob KB5EZ.

On a nice Saturday last April (2014), Rob KB5EZ, Kalen KK4KLT, and I WA2JQZ met at Monte Sano State Park to operate a portable, digital QRP ham radio station. We set up and operated a portable JT-65 station for the international “Summits on the Air (SOTA)” [http://www.sota.org.uk/]. This was the first time a JT-65 operation was tried on Monte Sano — such a first-time activity is called a summit “activation”.

For some this is serious physical sport. As for us, we parked near the ranger office, and hiked a few hundred yards to a clearing on the ridge, which fulfilled the SOTA rules. Monte Sano is on a relatively long and flat sandstone capped plateau ridge, about 2000 feet in elevation. We chose a location near the east edge of the plateau, that was clear and had once apparently been the site of a cabin.

Rob operated JT-65 with his TenTec Rebel and laptop, with some portable batteries. But first we had to erect his EndFedz end-fed 20 meter wire antenna. Using a homebrew slingshot, Rob shot a fishing line over tree branches to raise the antenna. After the end of the fishing line swung over a tree limb and returned to the ground, we attached the antenna’s support cable to the fishing line. Here Rob is reeling back the fishing line, to raise the antenna support cable.

Rob, reeling back the fishing line, to raise the antenna support cable.


Rob reeling back in the fishing line, to raise the support cable for his EndFedz 20 meter antenna.

Readying the antenna support cable.

Rob preparing the antenna support cable. Monte Sano.

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The 20 meter endfedz antenna with balun, deployed, supported by a tension line at this side with the coax feed. The antenna is strung over the tree branches and tied at the other end with another support cable. Monte Sano.

The multi-meter indicated the lowering voltage as the power was used.

Rob KB5EZ set up his laptop to run the digital mode JT-65. A small blue battery and his TenTec QRP Rebel transceiver are behind the monitor. The yellow volt meter was added to monitor the drain on the battery.

We needed shade in order to view the monitor screen.

We needed shade in order to view the monitor screen.

We needed shade in order to view the monitor screen. We therefore chose to set up at this old chimney. The chimney also served to support one end of the wire antenna.

Backup logging of QSOs.

Although Rob’s program logs the QSOs, Rob also used a notebook as a backup logbook. The TenTec Rebel QRP transceiver is visible behind the laptop.

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JT-65 in action…

The program window displays the information we need to have a QSO and monitor other QSOs happening at the same time. The dark colored portion at top left is a “waterfall” display that shows the signals we are receiving (frequency is the horizontal axis) within a 2 KHz-wide range, centered around our set frequency. For 20 meters JT-65, that set frequency is 14.076 MHz. Time is the vertical axis, and the display scrolls downward with time. Therefore each roughly vertical line is the display record of someone’s live JT-65 signal.

We can choose to respond to a signal calling CQ, or find a clear frequency and send out our own signal. Or sometimes, if the situation seems worth the attempt, we could try to call a station that is just finishing a QSO with someone else.

Transmissions are cycled exactly for one minute each, referenced to Greenwich Mean Time. For a QSO, one person sends while the other receives, then the roles switch. The data transmission lasts 47 seconds, and contains a maximum of only 13 characters. During those 47 seconds the message is sent twice, and error checked. The last remaining 13 seconds of the minute are just enough time to read the latest text messages and choose a reply. JT-65 was originally created for EME Moon bounce. Its ability to reliably send short messages as very weak signals makes it a popular amateur mode.

If you look closely, you can see that each JT-65 signal is composed of a base frequency with discreet jumps a few Hz higher, creating the characters.

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The lower left part of the window lists each message transmitted (with a time stamp). If the line is illuminated in green, that message is a CQ call. If the line is illuminated in red, your callsign is in that message!

How do you have a QSO? The lower-middle display lets us choose what message text to send. The standard message exchanges are preset and can be activated with mouse clicks. There is also a field for a 13 character free-text message, which must be typed in.

  • We could call CQ. We first much select a clear part of the spectrum by clicking in the waterfall at the base frequency we want to operate. The red bar at the top of the waterfall indicates the frequency range our transmission will use. In the lower-middle display we then select the “radio-button” to send a CQ message, we choose whether to send during the odd or even minute part of the cycle, and enable transmit. The CQ message will automatically include our callsign with our grid square, e.g.,: “CQ KB5EZ EM64”. We could alternatively call CQ with a text message of our own. Rob sometimes tried “CQ KB5EZ SOTA”.
  • Or we could try to respond to someone else’s CQ. That’s done by double-clicking the text line at left that we want to respond to. The program automatically selects the caller’s frequency, then sends a preset text with our callsign and our grid square, for example, “VE9OK KB5EZ EM64”.
  • The person sending the CQ can acknowledge the response by calling the station back with a signal report (by double-clicking the text line and selecting the “radio-button” for signal report). The message could look like “VE9OK KB5EZ -04”. Then the second person sends a signal report in response. The signal report value is the decibels below the noise floor, and is automatically determined by the program. Afterwards, “RRR” and “73”, or some closing message is sent. And that’s the QSO.
  • If several people respond to a CQ, the caller has the option of which one to respond to. If no one responds, one could continue to call CQ. The programs usually have a counter to call 5 CQs automatically, and then if there is no further action, to stop.

Our challenge is that we operate at very low power. Most other stations operate with more. A station that we hear very weakly will probably hear us even more weakly or might not hear us at all. If they do notice us, they might easily choose to respond to a stronger signal. We’re competing with stronger signals.

And so a rule of thumb, for better success operating at low power, is to call CQ to seek others to contact us, rather than compete with responding to other stations. In other words, if we call CQ, we have the chance to get several callers at once. If we respond to someone else’s CQ, the odds are strongly reversed against us.

However, if we still do respond to another CQ, then it is best to respond to the stronger signals. Chances are better those stations will hear us as a strong signal too, and therefore would more likely respond to us.

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Rob KB5EZ and Kalen KK4KLT.

During the afternoon we had 3 QSOs in reply to our CQs. We also succeeded in replying to 3 other stations that called CQ. We had a total of 6 QSOs.

JT-65 is a slow-paced mode in which to make contacts. With the challenges of operating QRP in the field, this is even more so. Nonetheless, as Rob pointed out at his presentation at the 2014 Huntsville Hamfest, you then have time for other things. You can really enjoy your outdoor environment. You can talk with your friends. And you can easily attract non-ham visitors who pass by. You have lots of time to show and tell with them, to have a relaxed chat and to share the enjoyment.

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Rob KB5EZ and Kalen KK4KLT

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Rob KB5EZ and Gary WA2JQZ

As you can see, we had an enjoyable outing!

Hexagonal Beam Antenna Presentation by Rob Conklin N4WGY

At our last meeting earlier this month, we were treated to an excellent talk about Hexagonal Beam antennas, or Hex Beams,  by Rob Conklin N4WGY. Rob is a local ham, a mechanical engineer, and a home brewer.  He introduced to us what the Hex Beams are, how they perform, and how they are constructed. And he shared his home brewing experience of building one for himself. He showed us how relatively easy they are to build.  It was such a good talk, and a good source of information, that I would like to highlight what he shared.

These are some attractive characteristics of the Hex Beam.

  1. They are relatively low-cost directional antennas compared to the regular multiband Yagis, and don’t require large towers.
  2. Compared to the regular Yagis, their profile provides lower wind loading, and they are relatively more stealthy.
  3. They are relatively light weight (~25 lbs) and small (~22 feet diameter).
  4. They perform well. Their gain and front/back ratio are comparable to the regular 2-element Yagis. They will work well if just above the roof. They are typically HF, and for HF many of the measurements don’t require tight tolerances. They have about a 3 dbi gain over dipoles.
  5. You can buy commercially made Hex Beams.
  6. But they also are very conductive to home brewing.  Good selections of commercial parts and kits are available.  You don’t need fancy tools nor a lot of skill.
  7. You can get up to 6 bands without traps and without a tuner.  They are relatively easy to adjust.

Hex Beam Design

When I first saw Hex Beam antennas, I was confused because I couldn’t immediately distinguish what their many elements were for. But actually their basic plan is simple.

If it is a monoband antenna, it is just a 2-element wire Yagi system, with a driver and reflector. The wires are supported by what looks like an upside-down umbrella structure.  The structure consists of 6 spreader arms mounted radially from a central base-plate, and a straight center post also mounted from the base-plate. The wires mostly follow the spreader arms’ hexagonal shape.  The driven element wires are supported by one half of the upside-down umbrella, the reflector is supported by the other half.  The spreader arms are structurally supported at their open ends by Dacron tension cords connected to the top of the central post.  Two Dacron cords also run between two spreader arms on the front driver side of the antenna, to maintain correct separation.  The central post contains a 50 ohm coax feed.  A mast mounted to the bottom of the base-plate can be rotated to direct the antenna.

Hex Beams are often multi-band antennas, with up to 6 bands. The multi-band antennas have individual 2-element wire Yagi systems for each band, stacked as you go higher up the umbrella. The 6-band Hex Beam that Rob built operates 6, 10, 12, 15, 17, and 20 meters. The shorter wavelength 6 meters antenna wires are the lowest, where the distance between spreader arms is least.  20 meters wires are the highest.

And so unlike the regular Yagis which use trap coils to operate on multiple bands, the Hex Beam design just utilizes separate wire sets for each band.

This is Rob’s antenna on the roof at his home.

Hex beam antenna on Rob's roof.

Hex beam antenna on Rob’s roof. The front driven element side is facing us.  Click to enlarge, click “back” on your browser to return.  [Courtesy N4WGY]

Classic and G3TXQ Hex Beam Versions

Rob discussed two designs of the Hex Beam. The original classic version was manufactured by Traffie Technologies, and then copied by many home brewers. Rob said many hams use it and swear by it. But it has two performance shortcomings.  First, it is narrow banded; that is, if you tuned the antenna length for the SSB portion of the band, its SWR might be too high at the CW end. Second, if front/back selectivity is peaked, the SWR is no longer optimized. And so that front/back selectivity had to be compromised.

The shortcomings were overcome in 2007 by Steve Hunt G3TXQ. After extensive modeling and experimenting, he developed a modified design that corrected both problems and gave the hex beam better performance: The G3TXQ design has good SWR across the full ham bands.  And the peak front/back ratio is at the optimal SWR.  With a slightly simpler wire system, it is also is a little easier to build. Rob built a K4KIO version of the G3GTX design.

In both the original and G3TXQ designs, the layout of the driven element wires is similar.  The driven element layout is shaped like an “M”, or more precisely like two “V”s.  One end of each “V” starts from the feed connection at the central post, extends to a spreader arm, then continues as a side of the hexagon to the next spreader arm.  Spacer ropes clamped at the spreader arms keep the wires in sufficient tension.

Schematic top view of G3TXQ Hexbeam antenna

Schematic top view of G3TXQ Hexbeam antenna. [Courtesy N4WGY]

The other end of the spacer ropes connect to the reflector wires. The spacer ropes keep a critical separation distance between the driver and reflector elements. The lengths of the wire elements and the spacer ropes are the critical measurements to make for the hex beam.

In the original design, the reflector wires had also followed an “M” shape configuration. In the G3TXQ design, however, the reflector wires follow the hexagonal shape provided by the spreader arms.

Performance

As Rob points out, the G3TXQ design provides good SWR performance across the full range of each ham band. He showed us a spectrum analysis of his antenna.

Full SWR scan of N4WGY's hexbeam antenna, from 1 to 36 MHz (160 to 10 meters ham bands). [Courtesy N4WGY]

Full SWR scan of N4WGY’s hex beam antenna, from 1 to 36 MHz (160 to 10 meters ham bands). The grey columns are the ham bands.  Note the SWR dips where this hex beam is designed for: 20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meters. The antenna is also resonant for 6 meters (50 MHz), but the analyzer doesn’t reach that high a frequency.   [Courtesy N4WGY]

 The chart shows the SWR performance of his Hex Beam, as the frequency varies from 1 MHz at left to 36 MHz at right.  The shaded columns are the locations of the amateur radio bands.  For the bands not designed for, 160, 80, 40, and 30 meters at left, the SWR values are well above 3:1.  But at 20 meters the SWR dips to about 1.2:1 and is well below 2:1 across that band. The SWR for the other ham bands designed for also remain below 2:1 and in some cases also dip to as low as 1.2:1.   You can click the image to see the details for each band. You can see Rob made his lengths slightly long, but he can adjust that, to better position the dips within the ham bands.

Rob brought in to show us the antenna analyzer he used to scan his antenna and make the chart.  This analyzer connects through a USB cable to a computer, where the scans can be displayed, zoomed in for details, and saved.  The analyzer is made in India as a kit and costs under $60.  The analyzer is called a Fox Delta AAZ-0914Ahttp://www.foxdelta.com/products/aaz-0914a.htm.

Rob mentioned that he can reliably make contacts around the world, when propagation permits.  And he feels comfortable competing with hams with larger antenna systems.

Construction Tips

Rob Conklin N4WGY presenting at our meeting [Photo courtesy NM4T]

Rob Conklin N4WGY presenting at our meeting, here discussing construction details. [Photo courtesy NM4T]

Rob devoted much of his talk to construction details, and much of the Q&A from the group was about components and building. I will mostly defer to the online resources Rob suggested. But Rob did give some additional advice:

  • Don’t use PVC for the center post.  Especially in the South with UV from sunlight, the material will quickly degrade.  Spend the extra money to get UV resistant tubes.  He recommends buying online the mast sold by K4KIO.
  • For the wire sets, he says 14 AWG stranded/plated and uninsulated antenna wire would be best.
  • Telescoping fiberglass poles are recommended for the spreader arms.
  • Do not make the wire elements too tight.

Here are resource links.

Construction plans:

  • http://www.hex-beam.com/ – The K4KIO website with detailed, step-by-step construction plans, similar to what Rob showed us.

Supplies and commercial hex beam kits:

SWR scanner tool:

Addendum

For the close of the talk, Craig Behrens NM4T brought in to show us a light-weight, self-contained, portable G3TXQ hex beam antenna. It is designed and manufactured by a company in Germany called Folding Antennas.  The antenna weighs only 9 pounds, is collapsable to 45 inches, and comes in an easy-to-carry bag. Instead of folding out like an upside-down umbrella, the spreader arms fold out flat.  The flat configuration has much less bending load, and therefore the spreaders are made thinner and lighter.  The wires have special fittings to attach to the poles. The antenna can be assembled by one person in 10 minutes. [See http://www.vibroplex.com/contents/en-us/d3.html. ]

Craig also showed us a prototype TenTech Patriot QRP transceiver.  It operates SSB, CW, and digital modes on 20 and 40 meters at 10 Watts.  Its design was influenced from recommendations by his QRP Skunkwerks group.  During the following week Rob Suggs KB5EZ (one of the members of that group) gave it some field testing.

 

The club again thanks Rob Conklin N4WGY for giving us an excellent practical, educational presentation.  The club also thanks Craig Behrens NM4T.  And thanks to our members and guests for participating.

One of the eQSLs the club recently received shows a hex beam of KL2R, the Two Rivers Contest Club in Fairbanks, Alaska. You can see the wires in front of the aurora.

QSL card we received from KL2R in Fairbanks, Alaska, showing their hex beam at night (with aurora).

QSL card we received from KL2R in Fairbanks, Alaska, showing their hex beam at night (with aurora).

6 meters opening to South America

5 element 6 meters yagi directional antenna at WA4NZD

5 element 6 meters yagi beam antenna at WA4NZD

At the end of the work day last Friday, I noticed DXmaps showed 6 meters QSOs from the southeast U.S. to Latin America.  And so as soon as I finished work, I went to the club station to see for myself.

I heard some 6 meters signals but they were weak.  I therefore decided to assess conditions.  My first check was to listen for beacons below 50.08 MHz, but I heard none.  I then tried scanning the beam 360 degrees while on the CW calling frequency and on a couple of CW frequencies higher, but heard nothing.  However I had heard some SSB phone higher up and went back there.  At first I just noticed relatively local phone stations, but I didn’t hear their contacts.  I then tuned to the phone calling frequency, and then a little lower.

And there was the first DX!  CE3SX in Santiago, Chile, at FF46, on phone SSB.  6 meters was indeed alive, at least to the south.

But the band conditions were tenuous.  The signal was ghost-like, as if not fully there, and difficult to copy.  Eventually I copied the call sign and QTH.  Then I called, and right away had a successful QSO.  I don’t know how easily he copied me, but he got my information right away.

I then went back to a stronger phone signal, and worked WA3VXJ, Karl. He was talking from near Pittsbugh, PA, but he was operating remotley through Skype from Englewood, FL, EL86.

Given that the signals were weak, but there, I then tried working CW and JT65.  I made two JT65 contacts without much trouble, with LU8EX in Argentina GF05, and with CX5BL in Uruguay GF15.  I saw on the display, more faintly, signals from two N3 stations in the FM grids, but they disappeared before I could get to them.  Meanwhile both of those South American stations stayed on JT65 for awhile, but I didn’t hear anyone they contacted.

I then moved down to the CW section, below 50.11 MHz.  I heard two strong stations in south Florida, and worked them: AE2DX in EL88 and  WC4H in EL95.  I heard them work other stations both south and north.  When I tried scanning the beam north though, I couldn’t find any signals.  I even tried calling CQ.  I therefore decided to keep pointing south, and work what I could in that direction, while there was an opening.

Again, all the South American stations I heard were weak and ghostlike, as if coming through shimmering waves that distorted them.  But they didn’t fade away.  I took the approach to listen carefully to the ongoing QSOs, to glean all their information first.  Determining the callsigns was difficult, as a “dit” or “dah” could fade out.  But they kept calling CQ, and often enough they kept working other stations.  I had to listen many times before I felt reasonably sure of the callsigns.   I then tried contacting.  I succeeded in contacting: PY2RN in Brazil GG66 Sao Paulo,  PY2XB also in Brazil GG66, ZP6CW in Paraguay GG14, ZP5SNA also in Paraguay GG14 and close in frequency too, and LU5FF in Argentina FF99.

By then I was getting tired.  But I got in one more phone QSO with a strong station in Florida, Rudy WD4AB in Miami EL95.

Later during the weekend I looked up the stations I contacted on QRZ.  Many of them had substantial antenna systems for VHF and above.  Perhaps that accounts for how the South American operators could copy me quickly.  It is as if I walked into another special part of the ham radio forest, with specialized foresters and hunters.

As one who had been away from ham radio for awhile and who is not familiar with VHF, I value having our club station available with its capabilities.  I have the chance to try more bands and modes than I’ve done before, in new situations, including ones like this, with a 6 meters opening. Our experienced members have been developing our station equipment.  That’s good for them.  And it is also good for our new and less experienced hams.  We have a good asset to help us develop our experiences.

Below are e-QSLs we received from the 6 meters opening. Most also confirmed on LoTW right away.

AE2DX EL88 FL, CW QSO

AE2DX EL88 FL, CW QSO

LU8EX GF05 Argentina, JT65 contact

LU8EX GF05 Argentina, JT65 contact

CX5BL GF15 Uruguay, JT65 contact

CX5BL GF15 Uruguay, JT65 contact

PY2RN GG66 Brazil, CW contact

PY2RN GG66 Brazil, CW contact

ZP6CW 20141004 WA4NZD 6m CW GG14 Paraguay

ZP6CW GG14 Paraguay, CW contact

LU5FF FF99 Argentina, CW contact

LU5FF FF99 Argentina, CW contact

73, Gary WA2JQZ