Testing a simple pulse generator for Linrad calibration

Lately, I've being talking with Juan Antonio EA4CYQ and Pedro EA4ADJ about performing Linrad calibration to enable the use of the smart noise blanker. They pointed me to the SIGP-1 by Alex HB9DRI, which is a 144MHz pulse generator with which I was already familiar, and a simpler pulse generator by Leif SM5BSZ which I hadn't seen before.

Leif's generator is very simple. It uses a 555 timer to generate a square wave, a 74AC74 flip-flop to divide the frequency of the square wave by 2 and obtain a precise 50% duty cycle, a 74AC04 inverter as a driver, and capacitive coupling to turn the edges of the square wave into RF pulses. Alex's SIGP-1 is an improvement over Leif's design. It generates the square wave in the same manner, but then it uses a helical bandpass filter for 144MHz with around 5MHz bandwidth to convert the square wave into 144MHz pulses, and a PGA-103+ MMIC RF amplifier and a BFR91 RF NPN transistor as a class A amplifier to increase the output level. The SIGP-1 has two main advantages over Leif design. The output is stronger, so the S/N of the pulses is higher, and the filtering helps prevent saturation in the receiver. However, Leif's design uses only simple components and it's adequate in many cases.

I have built and tested Leif's generator and used it to calibrate my FUNcube Dongle Pro+ at 144MHz. I've also tried doing the calibration at other frequencies and it also works well, but the pulses are not very strong at 432MHz and above.

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Improving phase noise performance of the DF9NP 27MHz PLL

In some of the latest posts, I've being talking about the phase noise performance of 10GHz receivers, and in particular, of 27MHz references for Ku-band LNBFs (1, 2, 3, 4). Indeed, this started when I checked the performance of my new 10MHz GPSDO and 27MHz PLL by DF9NP and I wasn't too happy with the phase noise.

After working with Dieter DF9NP in investigating this problem and performing several tests, Dieter found that the problem was likely in the loop bandwidth of the 27MHz PLL. The loop filter bandwidth is 50Hz. He proposed the following component modifications to change the bandwidth to 300Hz.

Modification of the PLL loop (new values in red)
Modification of the PLL loop filter (new values in red)

After I performed the modifications, I was quite surprised and happy with the results. As always, I've used the beacon of BADR-5 at 11966.2MHz to test the phase noise performance. Linrad's AFC is in use. The result is below. As you can see, it is as good as the best references that I had tested before.

10MHz GPSDO and modified 27MHz PLL
10MHz GPSDO and modified 27MHz PLL

For comparison, this was the performance before the modification. The difference is huge. Many thanks to Dieter for his effort and to Luis EA5DOM, who also participated in the discussion and gave some good advice.

10MHz GPSDO and 27MHz PLL
10MHz GPSDO and 27MHz PLL

Update on phase noise of 27MHz references

This is a follow up to a previous post where I investigated the phase noise of 27MHz references to be used for a 10GHz receiver. Dieter DF9NP has being kind enough to send me a 10MHz 0.25ppm TCXO to do some more tests.

I've connected the 10MHz TCXO to the DF9NP 27MHz PLL and used it to receive the beacon of BADR-5, as I did in the previous post. The phase noise of the 10MHz TCXO + 27MHz PLL can be seen in the following figure.

10MHz 0.25ppm TCXO and 27MHz PLL
10MHz 0.25ppm TCXO and 27MHz PLL

For comparison, see below the phase noise with the DF9NP 10MHz GPSDO and 27MHz PLL. There is not much difference between both. This seems to indicate that the culprit of the phase noise is the 27MHz PLL, as the 10MHz TCXO should be quite clean.

10MHz GPSDO and 27MHz PLL
10MHz GPSDO and 27MHz PLL

Phase noise of 27MHz references for a Ku-band LNBF

Today, I've being measuring the phase noise of the different 27MHz references that I have for my Ku-band LNBF. The LNBF is an Avenger PLL321S-2. I've modified it, removing the 27MHz crystal and including a connector for an external 27MHz reference signal. In my lab, I have the following equipment to generate a 27MHz signal:

  • OCXO/Si5351A kit. This kit includes a 27MHz OCXO and a Si5351A frequency synthesizer. The Si5351A can act as a buffer and output the OCXO signal directly or generate a 27MHz clock.
  • A DF9NP 27MHz PLL and a DF9NP GPSDO. The GPSDO generates a 10MHz signal which is locked to GPS. The PLL generates a 27MHz from the 10MHz signal.

I've used linrad to receive the beacon of BADR-5 at 11966.2MHz using different references for the 27MHz signal. The AFC in linrad tries to compensate for any drift in the reference or the satellite beacon. By averaging, one can get good plots of the sideband noise of the beacon. This is far from a proper lab test, but it gives a good idea of the performance of the references.

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Outputting the crystal oscillator directly in the Si5351

I'm using a OCXO/Si5351A kit as an external 27MHz reference for my LNBF-based 10GHz receiver. At first, I intended to use a buffer amplifier to take out directly the 27MHz cyrstal oscillator in the kit. However, I finally configured the Si5351A to generate 27MHz, as that was simpler.

Taking a look today at the documentation for the Si5351, I've realised that it is possible to configure the Si5351 to connect some of its outputs directly to the crystal oscillator input, acting as a buffer and bypassing all the frequency synthesis stages. To do this, XO_FANOUT_EN, which is bit 6 in register 187 "Fanout enable", must be set to 1. The selector CLKn_SRC, which is bits 3 and 2 of clock control register (registers 16-23), is set to 00 (XTAL source) on reset, so this is already set correctly. It is probably a good idea to set CLKn_IDRV to 11 to get the highest drive strength on the output pin.

Calibrating the S-meter in Linrad

In a previous post, I talked about the GALI-39 amplifier kit from Minikits. Here I will describe the procedure to calibrate the S-meter in Linrad (or another SDR) using this amplifier or any other amplifier with a known NF and an uncalibrated signal source. Leif Åsbrink has a youtube video where he speaks about the calibration of the S-meter in Linrad. However, he doesn't use an amplifier, so I will be following a slightly different procedure.

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