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

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

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.