Category: satellites

Icom IC-W32A: A Work in Progress

This is contingent to my “Workin’ the Birds” Series. However, it is a more technical discussion of amateur radio equipment. The primary purpose of this blog is preserve information I want for later. However, I feel that the information contained in these posts may be found edifying for others. If you can’t look up edifying, you are not the target audience of that secondary purpose. A third purpose is a demonstration of my technical skills and abilities as well as communication. It is not working as well as I would like.

I wanted an upgrade from my Baofengs for multiple reasons and the Icom IC-W32A is the radio that I ended up choosing. The W32A is well regarding within the Amateur Satellite Radio community as one of the best. After my post on the high price and poor selection of equipment available at this time, I ended up back tracking into the early 2000’s for my “new” gear. This HT is well loved. Wear spots, but no nicks or gauges. Used, but not abused. The only thing that was missing from what I wanted (better receive, reasonable price, better channel management, S-Scale) was better channel management, though there is the option of skip programming which may prove useful.

The bad is being an ebay radio (and 10 years old), I knew I would be needing a new battery. With this particular auction I didn’t get a charger either. At this moment in time, the charger missing is a bad thing. I don’t know if the radio will even turn on. While I was willing to risk what I did on the auction, I wasn’t ready to double the bill to fail. I need to know if this thing will power on and transmit. I was able to get around this though, with an adapter from RadioShack. Two options:

Since I have all of components for option 2, I went with that. The primary reason was the low cost – $3.50 and a bit of wire and solder. You could buy an official Icom Charger, but if this thing functions well, I’ll be switching to this lithium-ion battery pack. What a waste to get the official Icom option when I’ll use it … once.

After looking around the manual and talking with people on reddit and the AmSat mailing list, I was able to determine the polarity and power output of the plug. 12V, center positive.

After charging, the radio powered up! Oh joy. I at least have a reasonably priced scanner now. Except tuning to a NOAA Weather station, I do not have audio output. Plug in some headphones, and I have sound. Great. This could be either a broken speaker, or a broken headphone jack. Without the headphones, I have a working mic. With the headphones, I do not. For now, the solution is to find a reasonably priced handset to plug in. This will work until I have checked everything else out, and insure that the radio is worth my time to repair further. It will also provide inexpensive replacement parts. The replacement will be here Monday (4/18) and I will attempt to check into my ham club net with the radio that night.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll leave this post linking various resources and information that I found while waiting and getting the radio to function to this point.

Resources

Parts

Disclaimer:

Borrowing from my podcasts, this post is not sponsored by our employers, employees, who or what have you. All opinions expressed have been, are, and always will be our own. Said opinions expressed on the show are believed to be well reasoned and insightful. If you find a topic mentioned on the show interesting and decide on further action, then it is your responsibility to research, consult your doctor, lawyer, significant other, etc and understand the full risks of such an action. Providing a link to a resource online does not certify the usefullness, safety, or reliability of the content or providers on the other side.

The information in this post is semi-technical and capable of damaging\ruining\destroying your prized transceiver. It’s not my fault if you turn it into and efficient boat anchor.

Minor Update

I’ve found that filling a bit off the bottom of the plug from radio shack makes it connect more reliably.


Workin’ The Birds: SO-50

For a change of pace, I thought that I would try making contacts through SO-50. SO-50 is another FM repeater satellite and until the commissioning of Fox-1 as AO-85 the only FM repeater still operational.

Unlike AO-85, the uplink for SO-50 is 2M and the downlink is 70cm. Here is my channel configuration that I’m using for my baofeng. Here’s what I’ve learned since my last attempt.

  • Open the squelch:
      I was debating whether or not I would leave the squelch open in my last post. I’ve deciding now that I will.
  • Mount the antenna on a tripod:
      I’d seen about as many people with mounts as just aiming the antenna by hand. Tracking a satellite is hard, let alone managing two radios, a recorder, a time piece, directions …. I could go on.
        I’ll be mounting mine on a camera tripod from now on. I found a piece of aluminum square stock, then I drilled a 5/8″ hole through it and then a drilled and tapped a 1/4-20″ through the side. Finally, I cut it off (about 2″ long) and drilled and tapped a 1/4-20 hole in the bottom. I find that I need a small piece of flat stock about 3 1/2″ long to put between the tripod and aluminum block. Clear as mud right?

    2016-01-06_18-51-11_328

      I cut a piece of 1/2″ copper pipe (that conveniently fits up the south end of a north bound arrow antenna). Insert it in the south end, then slide through the 5/8″ hole and tighten the thumbscrew to keep it in place. When I do a day pass and finish up a few other things, I’ll dedicate a post to the subject, with pretty high quality pictures.
  • I seriously need a way to orient angles
      Like, I set of protractors or something. Its very frustrating trying to track a satellite with no clue where the angles are.
  • Higher qualities recordings are only good if they’re complete:
      Oops. I noticed that my last recording wasn’t all that high quality so I tried to improve it. It worked, but I alo managed to get skips in the recording. I guess my droid 2 is getting old. Let’s see if I can’t find a decent dedicated recorder somewhere in addition to those protractors.
  • Relax, it’s late night pass and there’s only a few people on:
      No, seriously. I did an 11pm CDT pass and there were only 3 people trying to trade. Chill people. I said they were going fast and furious but for a late night pass it didn’t hold true.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve learned from my last two passes. Also, congrats to this young lady on her first contact. I also made my first contact last night, and yes, I was pumped.


Workin’ the Birds: Fox-1A

This is a continuation/review/progress report from my previous Workin’ The Birds post. The reason is to talk a little bit about the new bird on the block, Fox 1-A and notate what I learned while I tried to listen in on one of the passes.

Amsat just put in Fox 1-A into orbit and gave it the designation AO-85.  I was able to use the AmSat Prediction Tool to find out when the passes would be. I have a recording of what I was able to hear at the bottom of the post for you to listen to if you like.

My simple setup to get the recording was as follows:

  • A uv5r set for receiving, locked to 145.980. Placed on my left pocket with the volume cranked to max. I had the squelch set to 2.
  • A BF-F8HP setup to transmit to AO-85 w/ doppler shifts, using medium power, at 4 watts. I didn’t really have anything to say, and my tracking was so sporadic (as you can hear) that I didn’t try to get into the sat. I was prepared for transmitting with my throat mic however. Using a throat mic will prevent the echo crossing on the two radios. I had thBF-F8HP sitting next to the uv5r, clipped onto my left pocket.
  • For recording, I launched a sound recording app on my droid, then slid the phone mic out into my left pocket, underneath the baofengs. It should still have been able to pick up my voice.
  • I used an arrow antenna directional antenna.

What I learned tonight:

In my previous post, I mentioned that I thought magnetic declination might be an issue. NOAA has a website showing magnetic declination and for my QTH magnetic north is … only off by 2 degrees.

Rotating the antenna along the boom can make quite a difference in receiving ability.

I would debate the value of leaving the squelch open. In the future, I’ll set it to 1 or 2. When you get close to the satellite it will open the squelch, letting you know you’re in the neighborhood of what you’re aiming for.


Amateur Radio and Workin’ The Birds

You can view the follow up posts in the Satellites area of my blog.

I originally wrote this piece for Core Concept Podcast. While I hope to resurrect the podcast, I needed to gather my thoughts on what I know as I work towards my goal of making contacts via the ham birds. I decided to attempt contact via the birds after the ARRL Field Day 2015.

Please know that this is not a complete, working guide to making contacts via Ham Radio enabled satellites. These are my notes on the subject, a goal which I’ve been unable to complete yet. I needed to make notes of what I’ve found and learned so far. I figured that I may as well make them public for all to see in the hopes that someone will find them useful.

Equipment

Antenna

The equipment needed is pretty simple. Youtube has videos showing people making contact with an HT turned sideways. However, contact is made easier with a yagi antenna which focuses where your radio transmissions will be sent or received. I elected to purchase an Arrow Antenna but plans for tape measure yagis and beam yagis that you could make are available online. Ham birds usually have a 2m uplink frequency and a 70cm downlink frequency. Sometimes its inverted however, so you would want to make sure that your yagis tuned for both.

Radio(s)

It is often advised to use a second radio so hear whether or not you are coming through the satellite. Otherwise, enabling dual watch on your baofeng should be sufficient. So I can know if I’m making it through, I ordered a Baofeng BF-F8HP to use. Having a second radio will also give me a backup unit for my shack. Another advantage is that the BF-F8HP transmits with 8 watts of power instead of the 4 watts the Baofeng UV5R has, so the F8HP should expand my range, if even for just a touch.

Documentation

Another thing that is noted it it would be worth recording your session so that you can make sure you have copied your QSOs correctly. I will use my laptop and my Blue Snowball microphone to achieve this.

Prepping to Make Contact

Finding Satellites to Contact

If you’re using a baofeng HT, you’re limited to FM birds only. KD0HKD has a great page listing a number of birds equiped with FM repeaters. However, most of his documentation links for the satellites have gone dead, lost to the passage of time on the internet. That’s okay, because some of Amsat’s own links are no better.

I was advised to pick two satellites to work on a regular basis. I was going to try to work SO-50 and the ISS but, alas, the ISS Fan club reports the FM repeater has been down for quite awhile now. So, I’ll stick with trying to work SO-50 and wait for when Fox-1A is operational.

Getting your gridsquare

To make contacts via a satellite, you’ll need to know where to point your yagi. Your gridsquare will give satellite tracking software the ability to determine where a satellite will rise in relation to your location. Also, when doing an exchange over a satellite, one of the pieces of information you’ll need to trade is your gridsquare.

You can calculate your grid square using the awesome Grid Square Calculator from Levine Central which allows you to enter your call sign to calculate your grid square representing your location on the globe. QRZ.com provides one as well, but it is more complicated to use.

Your elevation can be a little hard to find, but the wikipedia page had the elevation for my home town so I used that (and suggest you do to). Satellite trackers need this information as well.

Finding Satellites

There are a few different ways to this. You can use one or more of the following three resources:

  1. The Amsat Satellite Tracker. Very confusing, will only give a list of passes and headings. Will only show the passes for a single satellite. Shows pass times in UTC, so you will have to convert them to your local time zone or it will be useless.
  2. Heavens Above android app. Has a nice “live sky” plotting ability. I don’t think it was designed with Ham radio enthusiasts in mind. Can pull your location from GPS.
  3. GPredict. Probably the best option in my opinion. Not very user friendly, but provides a wealth of information once you understand how the program flows. And there is actual documentation (so far).

On both the AmSat Satellite tracker and GPredict you will need enter your grid square, elevation. I think GPredict is the best option currently.

This is the point where I haven’t been able to translate technical knowledge into physical experience. So everything is abit fuzzy from here on out.

Go outside, and using either a lensatic or baseplate compass figure out the points on the horizon where the satellite will come up, the mid point of its travel, and the point on the horizon where it will descend. Remember to account for magnetic declination.

Connect your radios to the arrow antenna and open the squelch on your receiving unit. Coordinating with the times and azimuth points that GPredict provides, trace the path of the satellite. When you cross the broadcast path of your chosen satellite the static will fade from your reception. You may also hear the call signs and gridsquares of other sat users.

If you can’t find your satellite, Amsat has a status page that other hams can report if they have been able to use a satellite. It may be worth checking and seeing if others have heard from the bird recently.

Additional resources