Cool Stuff, DX, Operating

The Final Courtesy

The final chapter of the Hi Juno event has arrived at the NT7S shack. After months of waiting and wondering if my reception report was received, I returned home from a SOTA activation to find the beautiful Hi Juno QSL in my mailbox.

Thanks to the folks at JPL who coordinated this intriguing event and took the time to QSL all of us crazy hams who participated. The Hi Juno QSL will definitely sit as one of the specially treasured ones in my collection.

Here’s to a successful mission!

Cool Stuff, DX, Ham Culture, Operating

We Make Contact

My last blog post (from two months ago, sorry about that) detailed my participation in the worldwide Hi Juno event; a coordinated effort from amateur radio operators from around the world to send a very slow speed Morse Code signal (HI, to be exact…DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT DIT-DIT) to the Juno spacecraft as it slingshotted around Earth on it’s way out to Jupiter.

After the attempt, the Juno science team promised an update to let us know how the experiment turned out, but was very quiet over the last few months. Worse, was news that Juno had tripped into safe mode during the Earth flyby. There was a decent chance that no usable data from this experiment would be recovered. Suddenly, yesterday on 9 December 2013, there was a press release announcing that there would be a presentation on the results of the Juno Earth flyby, including results from the Hi Juno experiment, and that this presentation would be streamed online. This morning at 10:30 AM, I eagerly connected to the livestream to see what they would announce.

Hi Juno Spectrogram
Hi Juno Spectrogram

In short: we did it! As you can see in the spectrogram above, our signals were detected by the Juno spacecraft in a couple of different time slots. The green dits are the signals that were actually detected by Juno, while the gray ones are anticipated signals which were not detected. One thing is slightly misleading about the spectrogram, as it appears that our actual signals are not depicted in it. I’m not sure why that is, but I imagine it is for clarity in public outreach. Still, as a ham, I would love to see the spectrogram without the overlay of the expected data. One other thing that is interesting is the streaky lines in the upper right-hand corner. It is said that these are terrestrial SW broadcasters.

The Waves instrument primary investigator said that there were at least 1400 hams who participated in the experiment (I assume that is based on the number of QSL requests sent through their email address). If you assume that each was running a barefoot commercial rig (I was, but had it dialed back to 50 W just to go easy on the finals), it’s not hard to imagine that collectively we put around 100 kW of 28 MHz RF out there for a few hours.

Perhaps this stuff is too obscure for the average person to care about, but in my view this is one of the most inspiring and amazing things I’ve done in amateur radio. You can see a bit of my raw reactions from Twitter below:

It’s pretty rare for a space agency to reach out to the public at-large for active participation in a spacecraft science experiment. The fact that we were able to pool together and successfully transmit a signal to space probe whipping around the Earth at very high velocities just boggles my mind. I also have to give a huge huzzah to the team who created the public outreach website for Hi Juno. It was top-notch and did a perfect job in coordinating all of us hams around the world. I hope that the success of the Hi Juno experiment will encourage science teams to consider similar future efforts when possible.

It does seem that the Hi Juno experiment had quite an impact on the science team, as it inspired them to create a short documentary about the event and the results, which you can see below. It’s very well produced and exciting to watch. There is also a shorter video which just shows a depiction of reception of the Hi Juno signal. Now I just need to wait for my Juno QSL to arrive…

UPDATE: Here’s a press release about Hi Juno from the mission page.

Cool Stuff, DX, Operating

Hi Juno After-Action Report

As I write this, the Juno spacecraft has completed its slingshot maneuver around Earth, having stolen a bit of Earth’s rotation energy. and is now on its way out to Jupiter. A bit before the designated 1800 UTC start time for the event, I was able to set up my Icom IC-718 at the appointed frequency of 28.324 MHz with an output power of approximately 60 watts CW.

I executed the hijuno.py script via SSH (as mentioned in my last post) a few minutes shy of 1800, turned on my handheld scanner so I could monitor the transmit frequency, and waited for the show to start. I also checked a few WebSDR receivers to see if I could detect how many hams were participating in the Hi Juno event.

Hi Juno Website
Hi Juno Website

The transmitter started up, but immediately I could see that it wasn’t in sync with other stations that I could hear and see on the receiver. My shack PC is running Ubuntu 13.04 and it set up to automatically set its clock via NTP, but obviously it was off by quite a bit. So I had to duck into the shack quickly to manually update NTP, then come back to my laptop to restart hijuno.py via SSH. This time, I could see by following along with the interactive Hi Juno website and listening to my transmit monitor, that my timing was correct. As you can see above, the website had a nice graphical display of when to key up and key down for those doing this manually. That little yellow triangle at the bottom of the screen moved from left to right to indicate the current position within the transmit timing window.

W5ZA WebSDR
W5ZA WebSDR

At this point, satisfied that the Python script seemed to be working, I went back to WebSDR for a listen. The W5ZA 10 meter beacon receiver in Shreveport, Louisiana seemed to be a great choice for monitoring all the Hi Juno signals out there, probably because it was still in daytime, as opposed to the European receivers, which seemed to be showing nothing. Normally this would be considered bad, but I have to think in this case it was a good thing, since the ionosphere was probably not reflecting 10 meter signals back to Earth in this part of the world, and they were free to make it to Juno. To the left, you can see a screen capture of the W5ZA WebSDR just after a Hi Juno keydown period.

The rest of the event was fairly…uneventful. The Python code worked perfectly and stopped transmitting at the right time. It was fun chatting on Twitter with other hams who were also participating in the event. Based on watching the WebSDR waterfall and checking Twitter search, it seemed like there were quite a bit of us taking part in the event. I have no idea, how long it will take for us to hear back from the investigators whether this worked or not, but I hope it’s fairly soon. I’m definitely looking forward to getting a QSL. My first one from an interplanetary spacecraft. I also have to say that the Hi Juno website worked wonderfully during the event with its simple and clear graphic instructing you when to transmit, and showing you transmit window. if we ever get more opportunities to participate in experiments like this in the ham community, it should be a model on how to run things. Even though we didn’t get any immediate gratification, it was a fun event and I hope that NASA/JPL reaches out to us again in the future.

Coding, DX, Homebrewing

Hi Juno!

As a world-class procrastinator, I know I’m very late with this post only about 12 hours before the event. However, I still wanted to share it with you in the hopes that maybe it could help one person.

As you may have heard, the Juno spacecraft will be making a close approach to Earth on 9 October 2013 as it slingshots to gain energy for the trip to Jupiter. The investigators who are in charge of a radio receiver on the spacecraft wish to see if they can detect intelligent life on Earth who may be transmitting on the 10 meter band. Therefore, they are asking licensed radio amateurs to transmit a slow-speed CW “HI” signal to Juno during a window at Juno’s closest approach. The full details are on the Hi Juno page (due to the US government shutdown, the primary page is offline, but the event is still planned to take place).

BWFZtUsCcAA8RgFIn order to be able to take part in this event without having to be right at the transmitter (I have to take care of my two toddler boys during the specified time period), I wrote a program in Python which will automatically transmit at the appropriate time. You just need a PC synchronized to NTP time, a 10 meter CW transmitter, a serial port, and a keying interface (which I will describe shortly). I plan to execute the program on my shack PC via SSH and monitor my transmissions on a portable receiver to maintain control of the transmitter.

Serial Port Keying Circuit
Serial Port Keying Circuit

Here is the simple keying circuit I use to key my Icom IC-718. It should work with just about any grounded keying transmitter, but as usual your mileage may vary. I use a DB9 female jack for the serial port. The RTS line is used to turn on a 2N7000 MOSFET, which will ground the key line in order to transmit. You can use any key jack that is appropriate for your transmitter. I use this circuit with a USB-to-Serial adapter, and it still seems to work fine.

The actual Python program to control the serial port keyer is found here at GitHub. You will need to have the PySerial module installed on your system, in addition to the regular Python installation. I’ve tested it here, but please be sure to test it yourself on a dummy load before using it on the air (you will need to temporarily change the START_DATE variable to an earlier time in order to get the program to transmit). You will also need to change the DEVICE, BAUD, and CALLSIGN variables to values appropriate for you. Linux/OS X users would change DEVICE to whichever “/dev/tty*” port is appropriate, where the * is your port numbe. Windows users would use “COM*”, where * is the COM port number. Sorry that I can’t hold your hand through this, but it should be fairly simple to get running. Linux and OS X users may also have to execute the program under sudo in order to access the serial port.

Please let me know if you end up using this, and don’t forget to request a QSL from Juno!

CC-Series, DX, Etherkit, QRP

The Thrill of QRP DX

Last night after the rest of the family was in bed, I was hacking on the CC1 firmware to add the BFO calibration routine so that I could get an accurate readout of my receive frequency. After successfully completing that task at the late hour of 0130, I decided to cruise 40 meters to see what was going on. Normally the best time for 40 meter DX at my QTH seems to be from about 0200 or so until sunrise, so I thought I might catch something.

Scanning below 7.030 MHz, I came across a very loud station. I figured it was somebody in CONUS, but decided to listen for an ID just in case. It actually turned out to be PJ2/K8ND in Curaçao. Not exactly rare DX, but it’s still quite a ways from my QTH and it’s a new one for me. So I figured I would take a crack at it with the CC1. Long story short, I set the CC1 in XIT mode and after an hour of trying, my 3 watt signal finally managed to crack the JA-wall. I was pretty excited! Not exactly a heroic snag in the annals of DXing, but it was a good one for me. My single HF antenna is a ZS6BKW only up about 30 feet, so busting a 40 meter pileup to a station 6000 km away made my night. My first DX contact on the CC1! Even better, I woke up to find that the FB op uploaded his log to LoTW immediately, and I’ve got +1 to my DXCC count.

QRP is fun!

DX, Homebrewing, QRP

Push It To The Limit

New England Code Talker by AA1TJ
New England Code Talker by AA1TJ

Although there are many days when I can barely stand the level of rudeness on QRP-L (and increasingly on qrp-l.org), I am sometimes reminded why I maintain my membership. Some recent events there have helped to boost up the numerator in the signal/noise ratio, and correspondingly, my interest.

In case you haven’t followed much of what has happened on the list in the last few years or haven’t listened to SolderSmoke, there’s a fellow by the name of Michael Rainey AA1TJ, who could be considered the mad genius of the QRP world. He has created what has to be considered some of the most unique and inventive minimalist QRP circuits that our hobby has ever seen. Take a look at his website to get an idea of what I’m talking about. I’ve also attached a YouTube video below showing you how AA1TJ has to operate this very unique transmitter.

AA1TJ trying for transatlantic QSO
AA1TJ trying for transatlantic QSO

His latest flight of fancy is his New England Code Talker voice powered CW transmitter. Yes, you heard correctly; the transmitter is powered 100% by voice sound pressure energy (about 15 mW RF output). AA1TJ has already made numerous successful QSOs with the transmitter, proving that the concept actually works. Recently he, AA1MY and W1PID met at the beach front cottage of W1REX to attempt the world’s first voice powered transatlantic QSO, as well as what was claimed to be the world’s first transatlantic QRP QSO on 160 meters (I think I misunderstood that. It’s supposed to be AA1MY’s first 160 meter transatlantic QRP QSO), both very amazing feats. I won’t spoil the story, so get yourself over to W1PID’s website to read the details of how this expedition turned out. I must salute all of you gentlemen for pushing the boundaries of our wonderful hobby and trying something never done before. Well done!

Update: Here’s the “Rexpedition2009” report about the event from W1REX (PDF format).

Update 2: A great video from W1REX showing the transatlantic 160 meter QRP QSO:

DX, Operating

DX Success

Midway2009LogoDXing is something that has never really been a part of my ham career. Not because I haven’t had any interest in it, but mainly because I haven’t had much of station to speak of. Being restricted to compromise antennas and low power does a lot to dissuade you from seriously pursuing DX (especially during these sunspot-lean years). Yes, I know it’s possible to make DX contacts with such a station, but it takes a lot of time and dedication. Frankly, I just didn’t have the attention span to sit at a pileup for hours trying to get lucky.

Now that I’ve got a decent, permanent multiband antenna up in the air, it seems like a good time to give DXing a more serious try. When I heard about the K4M DXpedition to Midway Island, I figured that would be as good of a chance as any to get my feet wet. It’s not very difficult to make trans-Pacific contacts from my QTH, and with thousands of miles of salt water between us and very little land, I knew I had a decent chance.

The first few days were a bust (thanks frequency cops and jammers), but by the time the operation was starting to wind down, I managed to get 3 QSOs with K4M, all on 19 October. Right around dawn (the best time I’ve found to hear trans-Pacific DX from here), I snagged them on 40 meters CW then QSYed a bit up the band to get them on phone. Neither attempt took a ton of effort, although I found the SSB contact to be particularly easy…although it shouldn’t be that tough with 100 watts. A few hours later, I saw them spotted on 17 meters, so I gave that a try as well, and got them in the log after about 15 minutes. Pretty cool!

I’m sure this isn’t very impressive to most of you old timers, but it was fun for me. I watched eagerly for the next logbook update to make sure I made it in the log. Sure enough, all three QSOs were up there by the end of the day. I was so happy that I made the donation so I could get the QSL sent direct to me. I feel like I’m doing everything backwards in ham radio, but it’s great fun to finally experience what just about everyone else already knows.

DX, Ham Culture, Homebrewing

This Is How You Do It

While I occasionally get a bit worried about ham radio having to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, there are encouraging signs that some hams get it. The two areas in ham radio where this seems most pronounced is in Radiosport and DXing/DXpeditions. Outside of the United States, these aspects of the hobby seem to be doing a decent job of attracting folks under 50 to our nerdy little world (no offense to you crusty old guys; without you our hobby would be non-existent). I’m not quite sure why, but inside of the US, these pursuits haven’t quite had the same pull on the younger crowd. Speaking for myself, I’ve never felt I could seriously tackle either activity without having the ability to deploy a half-decent antenna, something I’ve only recently been able to do because I just purchased my first single-family house. Perhaps other younger folks have had a similar problem.

Anyway, let me show you the efforts of a few people who have helped in blowing a little dust off of our vintage hobby. First up is the website and video blog of XR0Y, the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) DXpedition. These guys have a very visually appealing website with tons of information about the operation, a blog to keep you updated on the latest news, a Twitter feed, and perhaps best of all, a really cool video blog. The production values are top-notch (they are promising HD video of the actual operation) and it’s interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at a DXpedition from start to finish. Here are the first three videos in the series; it looks like many more are on the way:

Next, a topic a little bit nearer to my heart, courtesy of W2LJ. Larry was contacted by VK1AA regarding a new QRP transmitter kit from GenesisRadio called the Q5. It looks like this kit is geared towards the new kitbuilder/homebrewer, perhaps as something to build on a club “kit night”. The design uses CMOS logic for the LO and driver amp, which feeds into a class-A PA (about 1 watt output). I don’t see any low-pass filtering on the output and there’s no specification on the spurious products, so an outboard filter might be in order.

GenesisRadio got an excellent video spokesman for their kit; young VK2FJDX. Check out the FB job he does in promoting the new kit: