After a while away from PoTA and a previous experimentation locally with the AlexLoop only bag, it was time for my next PoTA activation. Based on my QTH location (IO90BS) I used the POTA site to find near but inactivate sites. This is becoming harder as PoTA becomes more popular (a good thing) but its always great to go out and activate a site, as the ‘hunters’ will be on the look out for a new location.
I carefully planned my trip, starting with the day before. I relinquished my beloved IC-705 purpose built bag (LC-192) for going fully Alex-Loop ham pack native. The main drawback of this bag is the lack of padding and overall robustness compared to the alex-loop bag, but I was determined to minimise what I was taking.
Not withstanding the mount itself (I used a bike repair stand) everything fitted nicely in the Alex Loop Hampack bag. This includes in the ‘accessories’ my LiFo battery to keep the IC-705 running for extended time over the internal battery, which as shown in my previous ‘test’ is only good for about 2-3 hours on 5W SSB. The observant will also notice I have my iPad in there, rather than my WinTel based laptop.
I had setup and tested SDR Control back at the QTH, so it should be no surprise that it works well out in the field. What I did notice is that (to its credit) it sets the ‘connectors’ all to WLAN in the app, thus when using the IC-705 microphone (which I currently still prefer), this needs to be set back, else no telephony contacts can be made without the iPad.
Whilst the WX (Weather) wasn’t the best to be operating outside, I got setup in the Bongo quite well, at least I was warm and dry, and the IC-705 was at no risk for rain damage (one of the main issues for SoTA, its just not that rugged compared to the KX series of radios). I set about going across the different FT8 frequency/bands. At least this would be a decent propagation test and also make some contacts. I was able to tune in 40M and get the SWR down to 2:1, which resulted in 2 FT8 contacts on 40M. For a magloop I am happy with those results and on a Data mode where the key-time is longer than that for a typical HF QSO. 17M gave excellent SWR readings and resulted in 3 DX contacts. I returned to 20M and worked a further 4 DX stations via FT8, all on 10W of power into a mag loop in pretty grim WX (rain, thunderstorms)
Whilst not the activation I was expecting due to the weather, being able to diversify and setup in the Bongo resulted in plenty of contacts and being able to (TBC) activate the park. I was really glad to start out on telephony contacts and people thanking me to activate the park, it really makes it worth the time and travel to enjoy PoTA.
Despite the beautiful sunny start to the day and strong winds yesterday with more to come today, I was still determined to get out with the IC-705 and Alex Loop Ham Pack for some Parks on the Air.
For this activation I only took my Alex Loop Ham Pack bag, with the IC705 in it and accessories. Every thing fitted really well, whilst not as good as the Icom bag, it was good enough for transportation in the Bongo.
I had already visited G-0157 Holt Heath with XYL the previous week to find a nice location to operate from and was easily able to setup the Alex Loop on the bike-stand without any issue. I was soon on 30M FT8 Frequency and making good contacts well into Europe with 10W of power.
The QSO’s came in with rapid succession, I dare say that the POTA self spot was really helping this time out as some calls were directly at me.
I take pictures of the 73 Acknowledgement as well to ensure i have logs in triplicate, writing down the logs manually also ensures that I don’t double-up a contact, and makes hunting FT8 calls easier. I found a good mix today of calling CQ and responding to other people calling CQ. Going for stronger signals tended to result in the typical signal report/received/73 QSO. In all it took about 90 minutes to get 10 FT8 qsos on 30m – that is with breaks for fresh air and making coffee, so not bad at all.
I then went on to try SSTV around midday, by this time the wind and rain was really howling around the heathland, it was beautiful and spectacular to be operating in such conditions, and the Alex Loop was doing a fantastic job. Sadly my USB cable developed a fault and with the weather getting no better, decided to leave it for another day (i..e I didn’t want a tree to fall down en-route and get stuck !)
I had a brilliant time at Holt Heath and a place I will very much like to return to when the weather improves to setup a mast and an end-fed antenna.
I am already looking forward to my next Parks on the Air outing, but they are getting more further afield now as the nearby ones are slowly getting done…
FT8 QSO Summary (as uploaded to QRZ and PoTA)
Edit – 20/2/22
Many thanks to CU3BL & CU3HY for ‘hunting’ me ! Was glad to see in the park activation that my self-spot had helped!
With the weather arriving as predicted, a productive day was had in the shack tidying away whilst the rain poured down on Bournemouth.
With another park activation completed for G-0079 with my 10 FT8 QSO’s recorded, I set about looking for the next park to attempt another activation. It was also good to be spotted by a fellow PoTA operating from Germany (DK8MT).
Even with the bad weather and apart from the early morning walk with Sweety being the only time I had been out, a nice drive survey Holt Heath looked a good way to enjoy a local ride out.
With some online investigation, I was able to determine a position still within the park boundary and a good place to park the bongo.
With the location found, Station Manager and I headed out to investigate first hand. Despite the rain, we enjoyed the lovely ride out and finding a new area we hadn’t previously explored. This is a great benefit of PoTA in exploring and finding these new places, and something we can enjoy doing together irrespective of the weather conditions thanks to the trusty Bongo.
With the rain coming down I didn’t want to venture too far from the Bongo, it was enough to see the heath land with the gauzy bushes which would be a challenge to operate in, but also the decent paths that could provide a good place to setup if the conditions are good enough. There is plenty of space to setup the End-fed antenna as an inverted V or a sloper configuration for sure. Whilst visibly there was no ‘height’ to give any take-off there was also no obstructions nearby, in the distance some pylons could be seen around a mile away.
The drive was short, and interesting, the location viable for both mag-loop from the bongo and also the end-fed antenna depending on the conditions come the day. I am looking forward to see how well the IC705 and either antenna will do in this beautiful location.
Having kept an eye on the Kiwi WebSDR I could see plenty of activity on the 10m band, a sure sign that the ‘skip’ from the ‘E Layer’ had picked up. For those ‘new’ to skip, there is an excellent write up here by VK3FS on the behaviour of this ionospheric band.
Here I’ll be showing over the course of just a few short hours how the E-layer built up, the collapsed.
Tuning to the 10M frequency for FT8, 28.074, there was allot of activity, transmissions from Europe where coming in the strongest, and even as far as Brazil in South America. It was incredble to see the band so ‘alive’
I started transmitting on what had now become a very noisy channel, with plenty of DX around Europe coming in very strong. My own signal from the Hustler 6BTV and 40 watts of power resulted in the QSO’s started to roll in, with little to no reties.
Grid Tracker really came into its own here, making logging to QRZ effortless so I was able to focus on QSO’s rather than uploading ADIF files. This resulted in 2 confirmed QSO’s almost immediately, with an impressive the furthest being 950 miles to IS0SLM in Dolianova.
Just as quickly the band and opened up, the conditions returned back to the regular behaviour for the E-layer, as seen in the 19:22 and 19:39 signal spectrum from WSJTX.
By 20:30 I could still be heard but the 6BTV, a vertical and with that being non-directional, wasn’t pulling in the weaker signals for a QSO to be completed.
My reception reports via Pskreporter showed a big difference. I’d be interested to know if this was a phenomenon of the grey-line as the sun set or just the charge in the E-layer collapsing and limiting propagation again.
I was still really happy in this ‘short’ time to get so many FT8 QSO’s via 10m. It really is a fascinating band, and one I will do more research with as I continue to improve the performance of the 6BTV and also work 6m with my Yagi antenna
The great thing of having a WebSDR is the ability to monitor a huge amount of the HF spectrum visibly.
Seeing a sudden surge of red comms in the KiwiSDR, I then set about transmitting WSPR packets. And sure enough, I was reaching Italy with 5W on 10M !
I still have my 2M/70cm and 6M beam to complete, but this really motivates me to get that done sooner rather than later, I hope the ‘skip’ season is around for a while, but it wont for me thats for sure !
In the mean time, here is an excellent video from Oxford Shortwave Youtube channel, demonstrating the reach he has on his 2m antenna, something I’d reallly like to do with FT8 as well !
So with us coming out of winter into Spring (20/3) I really wanted to tidy up. And tidy up everything. My shack had become a really bad ‘mess’ and as an engineer/student/professional this is my ‘small home office’. I’ve had used these Keter Store-It Out Midi Outdoor Plastic Garden Storage Shed around my back garden for storing various things and they have proved really good, in capacity and being waterproof. With an electric screw driver i was able to put it up and thanks to a mild Friday evening, started filling it. Swiftly I had reclaimed my floor and alot of other space in the shack/office 🙂 I then turned my attention to outside the office !
With the bad weather forecast I had already lowered my Nebula, as it look pretty high wind forecasts. I’m pretty sure my mast would of been ok, but I don’t like to take a risk where its not necessary, so the best part of the week I was without HF on my main right (IC7300). The end fed antenna for receiving Weefax was still doing a grand job thou pulling in the images
I took the opportunity to inspect the Nebula and i noticed the main pivot bolt had got seriously bent out of shape, so I took the decision that i would have to rebuild the swivel base with a much larger bolt for the scaffold pole to go thru. I six hours then tidying down the Nebula and al its components. I think for now I wil keep my DX Commanders (I Now have 4) for when I can construct a full phased array with them. I know how good the Nebula is and the classic, so getting a phased array for amazing DX. What I do have now thou is a lovely clear garden, free from antennas apart from my 40m dipole for WSPR and my end fed an NVIS heights for RX.
I have a staggering amount of uni work going on as well as work-work, and I feel that i could get my shack and all my equipment really in tip-top order before mounting another antenna, be it HF, UHF or VHF. Hopefully the weather and longer evenings will mean that I’m not off the air for long (other than WSPR) and soon trying out a new and exciting antenna.
So a few very long nights and little sleep, but having been making the most of my lunch-break to get little jobs done on the base as well.
On 5/1 i received my Makita routing kit, its not ‘brilliant’ but got the job done as the photos show. Could put it on my Bosch SDS drill and make enough of a gap to get the washer and bolt onto the main bolt. With everything tightened up and in place i gave a very liberal dose of industrial superglue to secure everything in place. A day later it was ROCK SOLID ! very optimistic that i should get no more ‘wiggles’ from loose bolts !
As ever the English weather arrived right on queue. I had received this *awesome* ‘paint‘ the night before. Its actually for sealing leaking roofs, but principle is that it will keep the water out the wood. It is as thick as treacle to apply but one coat has left the wood well protected.It can take upto a week to dry, but hopefully it will be ‘dry to the touch’ ahead of the weekend so i can guy the antenna up.
Overall, i’m happy that the bolts on the end and glue will keep the mast secure on the bolt, and the paint will ensure the longevity of the wood on the base (or more so than it just being naked!).
As i have been doing more ‘re-arranging’ in the QTH, I thought I would revisit the snippet from the previous weeks posting on NOAA & METEOR decoding. I have evolved from ‘home brew’ antenna and tools on OS-X to fully automated and a specialist NOAA/METEOR antenna.
Hopefully by the end of the post, you will get a feel and and idea of where you would like to start or explore further !
My first interest in weather and amateur radio came from receving Wefax images. I still do this as it complements and also gives me some idea of interference/reception issues as i can usually clearly see any issues in the fax.
My favourtie charts are the UK ones available from on 4608 Khz trasmitted by Northwood.
I find the detail and various types of graph really satisfying to read and decode via HF.
Following on, i found on youtube about a simple antenna and using SDR receiver to decode ‘NOAA’ satellites
The audience here is very clearly windows users, and whilst I have a Windows 10 machine for HF Digital modes, i wanted to keep the SDR seperate from that system.
I built the antenna from bits I had around, although it did take up quite a bit of decent low-loss coax to get it up a reasonable height.
Get the antenna orientated well North-South effected the signals the most. Whilst heigh was important, gettign the polarization brought about the best results.
My first reception pics, whilst not amazing, really pleased me as the technology was at least working correctly. On a mac the missing component was being able to decode the ‘wavs’ to images, for this i used https://github.com/artlav/meteor_decoder which was easy enough to build via homebrew.
I continued to do this for some weeks and built up my collection of NOAA pictures. I had still yet to sucssfully decode METEOR-2 as that was a digital signal and passing times were not in favour of a day-time working schedule.
We are still currently in a Covid-19 situation as time of writing and since Feburary 2020 here in the UK, so whilst many designs of NOAA antennas exist, I very much avoid supermarkets/large DIY outlets,etc unless absolutely essential, and usually for ‘click and collect; (Order online, pick u pin store, no wandering around).
With that in mind i reached out to Dr Google to find pre-made NOAA antennas. This thread on reddit https://www.reddit.com/r/RTLSDR/comments/8biful/is_there_any_place_to_buy_a_decent_137_mhz_noaa/ gave me the link to the National RF antena http://www.nationalrf.com/satellite-tenna.htm. These are built to order, so there is a wait time, but it is well worth it. I was kept fully informed of progress and still had my V antenna to keep me going. Packaging from the US was fantastic, very well protected and assembly was very easy. I did have to get some PVC pipe to use a ‘mount’ to the mast and a BNC to SO39 adaptor, but these are very easy to come by and have no real loss to the to the receive-only antenna.
I used my VHF mast, replacing my 2m/70cm antenna with the NOAA antenna. Whilst the mast can go up 30ft, it requires careful observation and maintenance to keep that high. Instead, i opoted for just over roof height of 2m and a clear line of sight to the horizion.
The antenna greatly improved the reception of signals as later pictures show, albeit I am still using the mac and GQRX and a simple SDR at this time.
I continued with the Mac, SDR, GQRX, Gpredict and meteor decode for quite some time, but as i got busier with work i had no time even to manually decode, as much as I enjoyed it !
The next step was to further improve reception and automate. This was accomplished by purchasing filters and amplifiers specifically for the NOAA RCPT frequencys in VHF and then re-cycling a Raspberry PI3.
The original video gives the necessary filters, but for a shortlist here they are
NooElec SAWbird+ NOAA
Flamingo+ FM – Broadcast FM Bandstop Filter v2
NooElec NESDR SMArTee XTR SDR
As I wanted to automate this and provide a simple way to just look at the received images i used https://github.com/reynico/raspberry-noaa repo, which was by far the easiest package to setup and use on my Raspberry pi.
If your not familar with linux/unix this could be a bit of a blocker, as you do need to manually edit some configuration files, so being familary with standard OS commands and a text editor like ‘vi’ i would say are the ‘essentials’ to being able to use this. I dont mind saying i had to refresh my memory on how ‘at’ the scheduling tool worked having always be a ‘cron’ person.
In practice once setup, there is very little to do, but what i have done is to alias ‘atq’ to make the list of tasks in date order.
This makes reading the scans far easier and i can still use gpredict on my mac to see which ones are the most interest to me. The software will automate, and try, every scan, but if rtl_sdre is already running, will not be able to run. In that case its always useful to ‘prune’ out the less interesting or scans which will suffer the greatest interference. I always priortize Meteor passes over NOAA passes as Meteor decodes seem to be. a maximum of 2 per day. This is easily managed by the combination of ‘at -c <job>’ to ensure no duplicate tasks are running.
I have been running on a PI now for just over 2 weeks, and as part of the QTH tidy up am moving the Pi from a ‘desk’ to a shelf where it will be safe and less prone to me knocking the amplifier and notch filter out.
I am amazed by all the scans i can receive and thoroughly enjoy understanding how it works, and being a recipient to the amazing images that both the NOAA and Meteor satellite send for free !
Overall i can say that investigating the weather satellites has really complemented by amateur radio activities. I’ve learned how important good antenna design is by the progression from a simple V dipole to a professionally built helical antenna, and the use of amplifiers, band filters and the right SDR unit to use for the hardware available.
I have since purchased 2*Pi4 as I would like to use a Raspberry PI more with the other SDR’s i have (Airspy, HackRF) to learn to program and enjoy the decoding more. Building good antennas will only help what i need for future amateur broadcasts as well.
Overall, i can really strongly recommend decoding weather satellites, if anything you get amazing images of your QTH and combined with WeFAX you can make your own weather predictions !