Using the Ultimate3

I have dusted off the Ultimate3 QRSS beacon kit that I built earlier in the year while a foundation licensee. Having progressed to a intermediate licence I can now operate something I’ve constructed.

Until now it has been attached it to a dummy load with the FUNCube Dongle Pro+ SDR in close proximity as a receiver for experimental purposes.

One unresolved issue was it being consistently off frequency. The DDS modules used are prone to temperature fluctuations and component variances so the Ultimate 3 has the option of using a GPS module to provide both an accurate time source and an accurate 1PPS input which can be used to self calibrate. Except in my case it had proved to be unreliable.

I am using one of the inexpensive GY-GPS6MV2 modules containing the U-Blox chipset I posted about previously with the additional tap off to provide the 1PPS TTL signal.

Initially the GPS module was connected in close proximity to the Ultimate3 but struggled to maintain lock probably due to interference from the DDS module. Even when lock was achieved the calibration never seemed to work. I posted a question on the yahoo support group and from the answers I verified the calibration setting were correct so the only likely culprit was the quality of the 1PPS signal.

The serial NMEA sentences and the 1PPS signal from the GPS are likely to be required in other planned projects, such as an ‘shack clock’ and a GPS disciplined frequency standard. So I decided to put the GPS module  into a waterproof housing that can fitted on the shack roof in clear view of the sky and away from any potential interference. A multi-cored cable supplies power and the TTL RX/1PPS signals being fed back to the bench.

Sourcing an inexpensive weatherproof enclosure (£2) and waterproof cable gland were straightforward enough. I mounted the GPS module on a piece of strip board and replaced the on board LED with one mounted in the enclosure so I easily determine if the GPS had achieved lock, since it only flashes when it has. The LED is sealed with epoxy resin. It should be noted that the outputs of the U-BLOX chip are only rated at 10mA so bear it mind when selecting an LED and calculating the current limiting resistor. The connecting cable is some surplus unscreened alarm cable fitted with a couple of ferrite clamps.

The GPS now has no trouble achieving lock and quickly sets the Ultimate3 clock. Researching the 1PPS problem I hadn’t come up with anything definite, as the signal looked okay on the oscilloscope. But I decided to fit a 10K resistor pull up resistor between the 1PPS output and the 3.3V supply on the GPS module. If this actually made the difference I have no idea but the Ulimate3 now successfully calibrates the DDS using the GPS.

At the moment I have configured the beacon to run WSPR and I have been spotted by other operators. Initially I wasn’t getting much RF out of the device and it turned out to be a combination of poor connection caused by me not removing the enamel properly on a toroid winding and an iffy antenna connector. Both have been corrected and now get a measurable deflection on the SWR/Power meter. With the additional of a second power amplifier FET it is around 200-250mW.

I purchased the Ultimate3 with a low pass filter for the 40M band and while I have had some European spots the results have been a little disappointing. 40M has turned out to be almost unusable at my QTH due to QRN/M so not sure if that is having an effect, also the antenna I have isn’t naturally resonant on 40M so is going through a tuner which will certainly be introducing some losses, without the tuner the FETs get very warm!

With this in mind I have purchased some additional LPFs for the 30M and 20M bands and the LPF relay switching board for the Ultimate 3 so can try/run multiple bands.

Cheap GPS module

Several of the Arduino projects I have been experimenting with have used a GPS module to provide accurate time and/or location information and in the case of the QRSS/WSRP QRP beacon a highly accurate GPS derived 1 second pulse is used for frequency calibration. A number of people have enquired about the GPS module I am using.

Most GPS devices have a limit on the altitude they work at, normally 60,000 feet or less. This is a legacy of the now defunct CoCom (Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls) restrictions. For my HAB project this restriction needs to be disabled and the GPS must be switched into ‘flight mode’ In the HAB community the favoured devices are made by U-BLOX

Therefore when I was sourcing a GPS I had search specifically for a inexpensive device using a U-BLOX.

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The GY-GPS6MV2 as supplied

I soon found something called a GY-GPS6MV2, it appears to be a generic design and is readily available on eBay from suppliers in China, Hong Kong and Singapore and can be purchased at the moment for around than £10 (approx $15) including postage!

It is also available from domestic suppliers but often at a much more inflated price, but you don’t have to wait several weeks for them to be delivered.

There are many other GPS modules available but this module seems to be one of the cheapest available. it is often listed as a NEO6MV2 GPS Module Aircraft Flight Controller.

The module consists of a small PCB 25mm x 35 mm size with a separate ceramic antenna connected by a small lead which is 25mm x 25mm in size. The Antenna is quite heavy and isn’t suited to Pico HAB payloads but for other uses is more than satisfactory.

On the board is a small button-cell battery to provide backup to the GPS chip and a small EEPROM connected to the GPS chip which I believe can store configuration(s). I haven’t used it myself just using the module in it’s default set up at the moment. For a schematic click here

The board has four connectors VCC, GND, TX (Transmit) and RX (Receive) and can be powered by the 5V supply on Arduino boards since it has a small regulator to provide the 3.3V needed. 

In most projects all that is required is data out of the GPS. The GPS TX (data out) being connected directly to the microcontrollers RX (data in) The (0V and 3.3V) level shift of the signal is compatible with the TTL input of the microcontroller.

The GPS by default will start up and output standard NMEA sentences at 9600 Baud, until GPS position lock is achieved the NMEA sentences won’t have a long/lat location. The module also has an LED which will start flashing once a lock is achieved.

There is no direct connection for the highly accurate 1PPS (pulse per second) signal that can be used for frequency calibration, but the flashing LED is driven by pin 3 of the GPS module which is the 1PPS (pulse per second) signal required.

The 1PSS signal, like the TX is either 0V and 3.3V, in order to use it a small lead will need to be soldered onto the board, either directly onto Pin3 of the GPS chip, or alternatively on to the small current limiting resistor used by the LED, as indicated below.

Showing the GPS 1pps points

Ultimate3 QRSS Beacon kit built!

At the start of the year I did some experimentation with cheap DDS modules based on the Analog Devices AD9850 connected to the Arduino board, making a rudimentary WSPR transmitter prototype.

My current licence restrictions prevent me using anything home-brew for transmitting except for commercial kits. So I ordered an Ultimate3 QRSS beacon kit from Hans Summers (G0UPL) thinking that it would be okay. I subsequently learned that any commercially available kit must satisfy IR 2028 which is all a bit vague and unclear but sadly I don’t believe this particular kit does.

All was not lost, building this kit should more than satisfy one of the practical assessments of the intermediate examination, which will get me around this problem.

The Ultimate3 kit is extremely popular and so I had to wait a little for delivery and it arrived on Friday. After the last few weekends of non-radio activities I had planned to get my antennas backup and do some proper operating. Like many people I had been forced to take everything down due to the barrage of storms and high winds the UK has been experiencing recently.

A tidy workbench

Saturday saw no let up in the wind, so I decided to spend a few hours building the kit instead.

The instructions were extremely clear and straight forward and soon had it built up, though it is high time I invested in new soldering station. I have a basic Antex 25W iron. I cannot remember exactly when I brought it but it is well over 10 years ago.  It was more than adequate to build this kit and for soldering connectors but I could do with something adjustable and more comfortable.

Taking shape

The only issue I had was winding the first toroid, 25 turns later I realised I had wound it the wrong way round so the leads didn’t line up with the holes in the PCB. I could have made it fit but nope I will do it properly so I unwound it and did it again.

I also made the mistake of not scraping the enamel off the toroid wire and tried the heat it and bubble it off method, except I think my iron just isn’t hot enough so ended up using a piece of wire wool to remove the enamel.

Lessons learned I soon had the other three toroids correctly wound and wire prepared for the low-pass filter board.

Close up of the LPF

   A final visual check and powered it up and it worked first time!

All built
It works!

Setting it up

Full of confidence I grabbed my trusty GPS module which has been pressed into service on a few Arduino projects including the HAB project. Quickly soldered some connecting wires and powered everything up.. all was well or so it seemed when the display suddenly went blank, backlight was on, just no characters.

Pressing the button I occasionally got some random characters and a flashing cursor! I de-soldered the GPS and still nothing. I suspected the display was faulty but trying it on the HAB prototype board confirmed it was okay. I checked the display connector continuity and everything appeared okay.

Out with the oscilloscope I started probing, everything checked out. Crystal was oscillating and data pulses on the display control lines. Then I checked the supply pin on the display and it was only reading 4.1V, this under-voltage would explain the odd display behaviour.

PSU output was 5V, micro-controller was 5V, DDS module had 5V. All very puzzling till I removed the DDS module and spotted a discoloured track on the PCB, touching it with a screwdriver and the lacquer fell away revealing a tell tale scorch mark, somehow I had made a nice resistor!

Burnt track to right of micro-controller

A quick wire link soldered in place and everything was back to normal.

What caused it? Checking the de-soldered GPS connecting wire I spotted a stray single strand of wire on the ground wire. I suspect this must have shorted to the adjacent 5V line and since I was using a nice beefy ex-PC PSU as a bench supply it had popped the track without the hint of a flicker. The GPS has been rewired properly and is working nicely, now to connect a dummy load and experiment some more.

Sunday was a lovely day, wind dropped so antennas have been put back up and I took the opportunity to tidy up the installation a bit. I also dug out an old fibreglass pole to put the M0CVO HW-20HP back up. I didn’t get to do any operating in the end as by the time I had done this and made up a couple of decent patch leads it was time for roast beef and all the trimmings and an evening in front of the TV.

The HW-20HP back up

Putting PL259 and N-Type connectors on coax is also part of the intermediate assessment, so perhaps I should have videoed making up the patch-leads as proof 😉