Concurso Costa del Sol V-UHF 2016

Yesterday, my father and I hiked to Cerro de San Pedro, SOTA summit EA4/MD-020 (1425m), to work QRP in this month's national V-UHF contest: Concurso Costa del Sol. Since the forecast for Sunday was rainy, I decided to go up on Saturday's afternoon. The summit is a short hike from a nearby road. We arrived to the summit around 14:25UTC, so I could work in the contest for a bit more than two hours until we started packing at 17:00UTC before it got too dark.

Activity seemed a little low, although this is not surprising, given that the national RTTY contest was also running at the same time. I also get the impression that there is more activity on Sunday mornings. Nevertheless, my results have been better than in March's contest. I did fewer QSOs, but got more points and worked more DX. In fact, I could work almost everybody I heard. In the map below, as always, my location is marked in red, the stations in blue are those worked only in 144MHz and the ones in green where worked both in 144MHz and 432MHz.

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Concurso Combinado V-UHF 2016

This weekend, being the first weekend in March, marks the start of the Spanish V-UHF contest season for this year. In previous years, I've been operating casually in some of these contests as a portable station. Sometimes I've worked on the countryside just outside my town, Tres Cantos, and on other occasions I've being enjoying the contest from a summit while doing a SOTA activation. My plan for this year is to participate in all (or almost all) of the contests and try to work from a summit as many times as I can. I pretend to work QRP (5 Watts) always and enter the 6-hour category, which allows working for a maximum of 6 consecutive hours.

Today, I've worked in the Concurso Combinado V-UHF. The weather forecast was too windy and cold to stay for several hours on a summit, so I decided to work from the countryside near town. I've worked this morning from 09:00UTC to 12:00UTC more or less. The equipment was, as usual, an FT-817ND and an Arrow satellite yagi antenna (3 elements on 144MHz and 7 elements on 432MHz). See below for a map of the stations worked. My position is marked in red, the stations worked in 144MHz only are marked in blue and the stations worked in both 144MHz and 432MHz are marked in green.

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Building the GALI-39 amplifier kit from Minikits

The GALI-39 is a DC-7GHz MMIC amplifier from Minicircuits. This device has a gain around 20dB and a NF of about 2.4dB. The nice thing about MMICs is that their input and output impedances are matched to 50Ω, so it's quite easy to work with them. Minicircuits makes many MMIC amplifiers suiting different needs, but unfortunately their products are not so easy to get in small quantities.

Minikits.com.au is an Australian store that sells Minicircuits parts in small quantities as well as many interesting RF kits. I needed some RF amplifier having a known NF to do some signal level calibrations, so I ended up ordering the GALI-39 amplifier kit from Minikits. This kit includes just the GALI-39, a PCB and the handful of SMD components you need to bias the amplifier. At 22AUD, the price of the kit is about right and buying the kit instead of just the GALI-39 saves me to do the shopping for the assorted SMD components and using the PCB instead of botching some circuit is always nice, because the PCB uses microstrip transmission line (but the substrate is regular FR-4). Here I have a look at what is included in the kit (I've been unable to find a complete list on Minikit's web).

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LilacSat-2 downlink signal strength

In a previous post, I recorded and decoded LilacSat-2 telemetry. This satellite transmits telemetry on 437.200MHz and 437.225MHz using two different radios and antennas, as can be seen in the radio info page. The transmission on 437.200MHz is usually 9k6 BPSK telemetry, but this is the same frequency, radio and antenna that is used for the amateur FM transponder when it is active. Looking at the waterfall as I recorded the IQ, I had the impression that the signal on 437.200MHz was much weaker than the signal on 437.225MHz. Using my LilacSat-2 receiver and the IQ recording I did, I have plotted the signal strength on both frequencies to compare.

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Decoding LilacSat-2 telemetry

After having my first QSO through the Harbin Institute of Technology amateur radio satellite LilacSat-2, I decided to give a serious try to the telemetry decoding software. This is available as a GNURadio module. A Linux distribution with all the proper software installed and configured is provided, for an easy use. However, I have used GNURadio in the past, so I wanted to try to setup the GNURadio module directly on my machine.

The web page for LilacSat-2 gives also a description of the different telemetry formats. The satellite has an SDR radio transmitting on 437.200MHz. This radio is used for the FM amateur radio transponder and also to transmit several different telemetry formats. The satellite also transmits telemetry on 437.225MHz, presumably using a different (non-SDR) radio and a different antenna, so that the satellite can keep transmitting telemetry even if the SDR system fails. Typically, when the FM transponder is disabled, the satellite will transmit 9k6 BPSK telemetry on 437.200MHz and 4k8 GFSK telemetry on 437.225MHz. These can be seen in the picture above, which was made using my RF recording and baudline. The packet on the upper right is 4k8 GFSK and the packet on the lower left is 9k6 BPSK. Notice the slight slant due to Doppler.

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