Made my first satellite QSO

As well as flying a high altitude balloon another of my aims this year was to finally make a satellite QSO. Pleased to say last night I finally achieved it!

Last month Abdel Mesbah M0NPT chairman of the Hucknall Rolls-Royce ARC came to South Kesteven ARS to give an informative talk on operating amateur radio satellites. Abdel was the first UK operator to receive the AMSAT-UK 73 on 73 award for making 73 confirmed contacts via the FUNCube satellite AO-73.  http://amsat-uk.org/2015/01/28/abdel-m0npt-73-on-73-award/

Abdel explained all the current active satellites, how to work through them and gave hints and described techniques for achieving success on this more challenging mode of operation.

Spurred on I opted to target the SO-50 satellite which until very recently this was the only satellite carrying a FM transponder. The satellite receives on 145.850 MHz and retransmits them on 436.800 MHz (+/- 10 kHz Doppler shift). Operation requires the use of CTCSS (PL) tones of 74.4 Hz which starts a 10 minute timer and then a 67 Hz tone used for the contact. More details of how to operate and a video are on the AMSAT-UK website

I initially tried using just a suitably programmed Baofeng UV-5R with a NA771 whip and could clearly hear the downlink on higher passes, I called a few times with no luck.

I hadn’t monitored SO-50 much before and sadly it seems to suffer from very poor operating, with stations calling over contacts in progress, or stations continually calling CQ CQ seemingly oblivious to any reply and those that just keep calling “hola hola hola” for whatever bizarre reason! I would be lucky to get through the QRM with just the whip so I needed a better antenna.

Despite being extremely busy at the National Hamfest last weekend I did manage to get hold of a dual band Yagi that was reasonably lightweight for hand held use and capable of being easily dismantled for transporting. (The Moonraker YG27-35 Dual Band) it has a single feed point and two adjustable gamma match sliders and was easy to adjust using my analyser.

It has a single feed and I tried it with the Baofeng and reception of the downlink was excellent, again on a couple of passes I tried answering calls with no success.

Last night I decided to try again but with the FT-857D set at 10W output. I put it on a small workbench in the garden and powered it from my portable SLA battery. I ran split operation with the 2m Tx VFO set at 145.850MHz with 67Hz CTCSS, the 70cm Rx VFO set at 436.800Mhz I was able to adjusted it down in 5kHz steps during the pass. I got the wife to take a picture while I was operating.

As I started to hear the downlink I heard Abdel M0NPT calling and answered him, I was shocked when he came back and we exchanging details – that was it I had made my first QSO via an amateur radio satellite! Then amazingly other stations started calling me and I was able to also work DO2SYD.

I did manage to record it on a small dictaphone (did have a bit of a brain fade with my callsign at one point!)

I could get hooked on this…  There is also the new LilacSat-2 (CAS-3H) satellite with a FM transponder to try to work!So much to do, so little time…

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.

FUNCube-1 & FUNCube-2 Decoding Update

In the film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” there is a scene where the lucky children (and parents) enter the “Land of Candy” where everything is edible and they run around grabbing a taste of everything. I am beginning to know how they felt.

Amateur radio has so many different things to try and over the last year I have found myself jumping around having a dabble at new things. Doing this and time being scarce has inevitably impacted the HAB payload and other Arduino projects. I have also neglected some of my previous satellite monitoring activities.

I had been regularly decoding the FUNCube-1 (AO-73) telemetry and uploading packets to the data warehouse (see earlier posts). To do this I had been using a discone in the loft and a FUNCube Dongle on the ageing main computer in the house.

This computer was on 24/7 but I couldn’t leave the FUNCube dashboard running continually as the processor load would cause the noisy fans to kick in, besides for most of the day there wasn’t a receivable pass. So I would just start up the dashboard when needed which meant remotely logging in from work. Due to an increasingly busy work load I would often forget or be unable to start it up and have got out of the habit. I therefore missed many opportunities to climb up the uploading ranking chart (it is really for the science honest!)

Of late there have been a large number of new satellites launched including the UKube-1 and the QB50 satellites which have modules and transponders as part of the FUNCube project.

Catching up with news after the holiday to Skye I noticed the announcement that an enhanced version of the FUNCube decoder dashboard has been released promising improved performance. The dashboard will also capture and upload (but not display) the FUNCube-2 telemetry transmitted from UKube-1

Looking at the FC1 upload ranking list I saw I had dropped down significantly and decided it wasn’t acceptable!

As part of my antenna upgrade I have put up the X-50 dual-band collinear on the top of the pole feed with nice low loss RG213. This is currently connected to the FUNCube Dongle Pro+ dongle on the shack laptop, with the latest dashboard software installed.

It has been running 24/7 for the majority of the last week and has captured close to 2000 telemetry packets from FC1 a significant performance increase compared to my earlier set up, and I have now surpassed the 10,000 packet milestone (currently 11,626). I have also uploaded over 500 telemetry messages received from the FUNCube-2 on UKube-1. I have actually received more but a fault in the warehouse meant a lot were rejected due to a incorrect data field.

The FC2 subsystem on UKUBE-1 may not be enabled on every pass while the satellite is commissioned and the FUNCube team will be releasing an updated dashboard shortly for when it is operating full time.

At present both satellites are passing one after the other, with UKube-1 gradually gaining. So as FC1 goes LOS (loss of signal) UKube-1 rises elsewhere for AOS (acquisition of signal)

On one pass yesterday I thought I would capture some screen shots and show how I’ve got the dashboard set up for both payloads.

As already mentioned the existing dashboard can be used to receive both FUNCube-1 and 2, if using the FUNCube Dongle Pro+ by setting the central frequency to 145.905MHz and adjusting the upper and lower filter curtains both payloads can be received.

On the Orbitron prediction software you can see FC1  is overhead, with UKube-1 over the North pole.

The reception window on the dashboard is limited by moving the curtains. I have the lower one set at 145.906MHz just enough to filter out the centre SDR spike,  the upper one is at 145.945MHz. The telemetry signal on FC1 is at 145.935MHz but due to the Doppler effect the received frequency will vary above and below this nominal value, 10kHz either size is sufficient to compensate.

If you were just interested in one satellite you would move the lower curtain to around 10kHz below the nominal download frequency. However since UKube-1 is on 145.918MHz the lower curtain is set to below this again to compensate for the Doppler shift.

The resulting receive window will allow both to be received. However this does risks problems should QRM occur in the pass band as the decoder can lock on to this, luckily the improved dashboard software discriminates between the signal and noise much better than previous versions.

The dashboard below is receiving the FUNCube-1 signal (click to enlarge)
 

The data is being uploaded and checking the real time display on the warehouse confirms this (my old callsign M6GTG) however you might not show up every single time and the FUNCube-1 Flight Model tab must be chosen as seen below.

As the pass finishes and UKube-1/FC2 comes overhead and due to the omni-directional X-50 I don’t need to change anything.

The dashboard soon detects the new signal at the lower frequency and begins decoding.


The received payload ID is shown in the bottom right of the dashboard

Again the upload can be confirmed by viewing the real time data page on the warehouse by selecting the UKube-1 FC2 Payload tab. It should be noted that it seems FC2 is sometime sending spurious data elements in the telemetry which the warehouse is rejecting so some uploads may not be displayed.

It is really that simple.

Antenna Update

Tuesday night is RSGB UKAC contest night, this week on 432MHz. Following the frustrations of the weekend I spent a therapeutic Monday evening cutting various lengths of RG213 and fitting N-Type connectors.

I have now got a coax run through the wall into the shack, with another to follow soon. To facilitate ‘switching’ between multiple aerials I have fitted each aerial with a length of coax running down the pole, terminating in an in-line N-type socket near the base. It is a simple case of connecting the appropriate shack coax, fitted with a n-type plug, to the appropriate socket.

To keep everything water and weatherproof I have opted for a DRi-BOX. These are inexpensive plastic boxes sold as waterproof housings for outdoor electrical installations such as garden or Christmas lights.

The lid has a silicon seal and there are a number of cable entry points with a flexible seal. When the lid is firmly clamped securely in place the box is effectivly watertight.

It is a bit of a fiddle with the thick RG213 but it seems to work well. There was a vicious thunderstorm and downpour yesterday afternoon and the Dribox lived up to its claims after sitting in a few inches of water.

Still awaiting the X-50 collinear on the top!

The pole now has the 2M Yagi and the 70cm 7-element ZL-Special fitted. The 70cm aerial is far from optimal but I was looking forward to giving a go with some decent coax.

Tuning around prior to the start of the contest and the band seemed quiet, hearing just a strong local operator. The contest start time passed and I was met with a wall of static only hearing the occasional very weak signal. I tried unplugging and reconnecting plugs, new patch lead, took the VSWR/Power meter out with no effect after 20 minutes I gave up. I decided something was obviously wrong with my new installation at the top of the pole.

I went back into the house where the wife was watching some dreadful house/diy/makeover program on TV which I could only manage for about 15 minutes. Grumpily I went upstairs and fired up the FUNCube Dongle and twitter and realised I’d forgotten and completely missed the first pass of the newly launched UKube-1, unlike some lucky ones. Idly I tuned to 70cm using the discone in the loft and could see a waterfall of signals! Including that local operator with a lot of splatter considering he was running just 10W

Going back into the shack and things had improved, so perhaps it wasn’t my setup! After missing nearly a hour I searched and pounced again, just making 14 contacts but achieved my highest score so far for a 432MHz UKAC contest, still operating as M6GTG in the low power section.

Various operators have commented on the weird/poor/flat conditions last night, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so dismissive of my ability to put up a decent antenna!

ICUBE-1 Reception Reports Needed

I have been messaging with Dr Khurram Khurshid the manager of the ICube-1 team and they are struggling a little

 “.. we received icube for a couple of days using FunCube / HumSat TLE’s but not anymore we are looking for our own TLE’s but haven’t been able to track icube for the past few days”

They may officially ask for assistance but after unexpectedly making the first signal report back on the 21st November, I thought I was just ask if anyone could keep an ear out.

ICube-1 was released as part of the UNISAT-5 payload and if still functional is in CW mode on 145.947MHz and the message is “First Cubesat of Pakistan”

Some info/links http://amsat-uk.org/2013/11/25/unisat-5-mission-update-november-24/

I have done an analysis of my first capture  http://nerdsville.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/im-famous-and-icube-1-move-and-velox.html

 The ICube-1 facebook page http://www.facebook.com/ICUBE1

Thanks Andrew M6GTG

I’m famous! and ICube-1, MOVE and Velox-PII telemetry decodes

My confirmation of ICube-1 successful deployment was featured on the AMSAT-UK website on Sunday.

Screenshot of the Amsat-UK webpage

My very quick and patchy decode of the CW beacon was sufficient to identify and verify ICube-1 but I had only been able to decode the words ***ISTAN and CUBESAT. For my own pride I wanted to decode more of the CW message “iCUBE-1 First CubeSat of Pakistan”

I had the IQ file from SDR# so could process it as much as I needed and have used a couple of Morse/CW decoder tools before, but find the free ones often struggle with the faint Doppler shifting CW, just a little too much noise and not enough signal.

Audible decoding isn’t an option (yet) but I can visually decode, but the signal going up the waterfall shows the dots and dashes but is too quick for me, and ideally I would like it horizontal rather than vertically.

Then I remembered I had installed Spectravue a few years ago, Spectravue is a powerful spectral analysis/receiver program primarily for use with SDR devices, it was the program used to calibrate my first FUNCube Dongle.

Spectravue is able to take the IQ file and play it back at varying speeds, it can demodulate signals and importantly allows pausing of the playback and easy access to the section of interest, something SDR# is sadly lacking, also it allows a horizontal waterfall display and the ability to save images.

I set about processing and decoding and as you can see from the screenshots below, I managed to identify most of the message (the letters have been added later) The FUNcube-1 telemetry signal can be seen at the top of the images, along with some QRM.

Partial decode of ICube-1 CW beacon

Partial decode of ICube-1 CW beacon

During the process I also spotted two further signals from Velox-PII (145.980 MHz) and the First-Move Cubesat (145.970 MHz) – both of these were recorded in the first decent pass over the UK after deployment  (10:21 on 21 November 2013) the incorrect time shown on the bottom of the screen shots comes from the fact the files processed were copies and the file time stamp had been altered in the process.

I can only wonder when the first reception reports were made? Then again I shouldn’t be greedy, one first-to-report is probably enough 😉

Velox-PII Telemetry/CW beacon

First-Move Telemetry and partial ICube-1

VELOX-PII is the first Singapore picosatellite to operate in low-earth orbit, and was developed under the Nanyang Technological University’s Undergraduate Satellite Program. Details here including how to read the telemetry message.

FIRST-MOVE built by students at the Technical University of München. MOVE stands for München Orbital Verification Experiment. Details here

November Satellite Madness!

I haven’t done any satellite tracking of late, however this month sees 37 satellites being launched carrying amateur radio payloads. Yes 37!!

Yesterday three cubesats Pico Dragon, ArduSat-1 and ArduSat-2 were jettisoned from the ISS using the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD), a fourth TechEdSat-3p was released this morning.

Today also saw the launch of Minotaur-1 from NASA’s Wallops Island containing 29 satellites, 12 of which are amateur payloads, they have all been deployed.

Tomorrow sees the Yasny Dnepr launch carrying 31 satellites, of which 21 use amateur radio allocations, including FUNCube-1.

Get along to the FUNCube website http://funcube.org.uk/ for further information and to download the handbook and the dashboard telemetry application, after all this is what those FUNCube dongles were designed for!

For up to date information check out the Amsat-UK website, and here is a handy link for a full list of payloads and frequencies http://amsat-uk.org/2013/11/13/three-amateur-radio-satellite-deployments-in-november/

 photo 71dca420-14bc-4c88-9bd2-1ac043cc785e_zpsad07389a.jpg

CubeSats Galore!

No the Phonesats don’t look like this!

It is an interesting time if you are into chasing satellites as there is a plethora of CubeSat launches imminent.

Last night I settled down and logged into NASA-TV to watch the Orbital Sciences Antares Test Flight (A-ONE Misson) Antares is a new medium-class space launch vehicle. Following this test launch and a further demonstration mission it will hopefully become a cargo deliverly system to the International Space Station (ISS)

As part of this initial test there were a number of CubeSats on board due for deployment unfortunately with just twelve minutes on the clock the launch was halted due to a premature separation of a launch pad umbilical connection to the Antares upper stage used for data communications. Orbital is currently analysing what happened. The next launch attempt is tentatively set for no earlier than Friday pending a successful resolution of the issue and acceptable weather conditions.

The CubeSats due for deployment were part of the NASA PhoneSat project. Three CubeSats called Alexandra, Graham and Bell are 1U sized and similar to the British STRaND-1 CubeSat utilise Commericial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Electronics, namely a HTC Nexus One smartphone running the Android operating system for the Phonesat 1.0 satellites (Graham and Bell) and a Samsung Nexus S for the Phonesat 2.0 Beta satellite (Alexandra) The satellites also contain an external radio beacon, batteries and a circuit to reboot the phone if it stops transmitting, again all off the shelf commerical parts.

All three satellites are emitting packet transmission over the amateur radio band at 437.425 MHz, utilising the call sign KJ6KRW and will be spaced apart to allow reception of all three during a single pass. More details are available at http://www.phonesat.org

Also onboard Antares was the commericial DOVE-1 satellite, a technology development experiment. Originally intended to have a telemetry downlink on 145.825MHz this apparently is no longer the case.

More information about the Antares payload is at http://amsat-uk.org/2013/04/16/antares-cubesat-launch/

If the Antares does launch on Friday, it will share the skys with Soyuz-2-1a which is due to be launched at 10:00UTC from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Amongst its payload are four CubeSats with amateur radio payloads, OSSI-1, BEESAT-2, BEESAT-3 and SOMP. Again more details can be found at the AMSAT-UK website at http://amsat-uk.org/2013/04/17/soyuz-cubesat-launch/

Also next week the launch of CZ-2D from the Jiuquan Space Centre is planned on April 26, carrying the Mode J (145/435) linear transponder satellite TURKSAT-3USAT along with the Argentine CubeBug-1 and Ecuadorian NEE-01 Pegasus TV Cubesat

TURKSAT-3USAT – http://amsat-uk.org/satellites/turksat-3usat/
CubeBug-1 – http://amsat-uk.org/2013/03/22/cubebug-1/
NEE-01 Pegasus – http://amsat-uk.org/?p=14689

So it looks like being a busy time, once the orbits are known and the TLEs are published.

Sadly it seems STRaND-1, that got me so excited last month has fallen silent after its transmissions became intermittent over the Easter weekend. After failing to receive any radio transmissions the team are apparently asking the EME weak-signal community to listen for the STRaND-1 LO (Local Oscillator) at 312.5MHz to see if it is still alive.

Back In The Shack – Reception report VO-52

Things are hopefully get back to some form of normality here after a difficult few weeks.

During my downtime I missed the news that VO-52 HAMSAT had fallen silent on the 28th February a week after my last post. But good news the Dutch built CW/SSB transponder  was reactivated yesterday so last night and this morning I monitored a couple of passes. The transponder was certainly busy and I got some nice captured IQ files to analyse later.

Using just the loft mounted discone I monitored quite a little QSO between G7SVF and I8CVS this morning which I managed to capture using the audio recorder.

VO-52 (15-Mar-2012-0823) by nerdsville

The discone It isn’t the best antenna for satellite work, especially with the FUNCube dongle as it’s wideband characteristics heavy overload the front end, but it is nice capture all the same, even if it made me slight late this morning and so got caught in the school run traffic.

I did a Google search on the call signs and discovered I8CVS is Domenico Marini from Napoli Italy. Dom appears to be a well known expert in amateur satellite operation.  On that page is a picture of Dom in 2003 next to an impressive antenna array which appears to be sited on top a high rise building (oh the envy!)

While my own set up is much more modest. I have done a little tinkering, building a small UHF Yagi out of some metal coat hangers but have yet to test it in anger. I have also become a little more familiar with my FUNCube setup. I use the SDR-Radio.com application and having updated to a much later beta version have had much more success. There were some issues that involved the swapping the I and Q signal on early versions but these appear to have now been corrected.

After listening to the ICQ Podcast I have been monitoring a few propagation beacons (GB3VHF and GB3BUX) (I will post more on this later) and using those beacons have got the frequency calibration more or less spot on now. I have also discovered that the Doppler Invert option needed setting so now SDR-Radio more or less correct perfectly as the satellites passes (still occasionally needs some manual interaction)

I really must make a real effort to get a licence and become less passive in this hobby, just not sure how I am going to afford an all-modes transceiver mind! 

Vega rocket launchs on Monday

The first qualification Vega flight from the space center at Kourou in the Caribbean is scheduled to take place on February 13.

Vega is a new launch vehicle from ESA/Arianespace to handle small to medium-sized satellite payloads. It is a four-stage launcher tailored to carry the growing number of small scientific spacecraft and other lighter-weight payloads.

The first flight is carrying eight student built amateur radio satellites comprising seven CubeSats and a microsatellite called ALMASat, Arianespace have just released a video showing the payloads.

A full list of the satellites and frequencies and other information about the launch is listed on the Amsat-UK website http://www.uk.amsat.org/4180

ALMASat-1 – University of Bologna, Italy
437.465 MHz 1200 bps FSK and 2407.850 MHz
http://www.almasat.unibo.it/02_projects/almasat-1/almasat1.htm

e-st@r – Politecnico di Torino, Italy
437.445 MHz 1200 bps AFSK
http://areeweb.polito.it/ricerca/E-STAR/

Goliat – University of Bucharest, Romania
437.485 MHz 1200 bps AFSK
http://www.goliat.ro/

MaSat-1 – Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary
437.345 MHz GFSK 625/1250 bps, CW
http://cubesat.bme.hu/en/

PW-Sat1 – Warsaw University of Technology, Poland
There are 5 modes of operation:
– Receive only – no downlink
– CW Beacon CW – On-Off Keying (OOK) CW 12 WPM on 435.020 MHz
– BPSK Beacon – BPSK 1200 bps AX25 (1 frame on 20 sec) on 435.020 MHz
– Control communication mode. Downlink BPSK 1200 bps AX25 on 435.020 MHz
– Voice Repeater mode (aka “AO-16″ mode) – uplink 435.020 MHz FM and downlink 145.900 MHz DSB
http://tinyurl.com/CubeSatPW-Sat

Robusta – University of Montpellier 2, France
437.325 MHz 1200 bps FM telemetry with one data burst of 20 secs every 1 min
http://www.ies.univ-montp2.fr/robusta/satellite/?lang=en

UNICubeSAT -University of Rome, Italy
437.305MHz 9600 bps FSK
http://www.gaussteam.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=97%3Aunicubesat&catid=36%3Aunicubesat&Itemid=145

There is a lot there to have a go at receiving with the old FUNCube Dongle! I will have to get around to finally construct myself a homebrew 70cm antenna in the next few days.