Recent AO-85 Observations – 17 February 2016 AMSAT-BB Post

For the past several days, I have observed the following:

– On ascending passes, I can activate the transponder at AOS very easily.  Either polarity V or H works.

– Previously, I needed 10-15 degrees at times on ascending passes to activate the transponder.  As I approached TCA, the challenge getting in always went away and I could get into the transponder easily.

– Descending passes have never been an issue for me. I could access the transponder at AOS and activate the transponder as low as 0.1 degrees elevation.

– Downlink receive polarity seems to flip almost constantly or be equal at times.  I’m running a V or H antenna configuration (not RHCP or LHCP.)

– Suspected reason is the spacecraft’s spin rate has changed with it now in constant sun.

– As a result I’m hearing some newer stations working AO-85 with handheld transceivers.  I’ve worked 2 new stations in the last 2 days who emailed me directly after the pass stating they were seeing some success with an HT.

Omnis, Dipoles, Eggbeaters, Moxons, Turnstiles for Satellite Antennas

I am not a fan of omni antennas for the current LEO satellites. The eggbeater or moxons are marginal performers at best.

Short, quality feedlines and RX preamps are good ways to minimize ineffectiveness of omnis but there’s no silver bullet.

If you have no other choice but omnis, you may find yourself limited to certain satellites** and certain passes. SO-50, for example, is not going to be favorable. Compensating for lack of hearing ability by running full power won’t make you many friends.

Working satellites on an almost daily basis, one can often identify an eggbeater or omni user by their inability to hear a very strong signal from the satellite.  Usually these operators have a strong signal but can’t hear themselves or another strong station calling them.

A set of small yagis at a fixed elevation with an azimuth rotor will yield far better results. The trick is not using longer, high-gain yagis. You’ll have more beam width with smaller ones. Considering what many stations achieve with an Arrow or Elk antenna (7,000+ km contacts,) bigger isn’t always better.

Bottom line:

  1. Omnis are okay as long as you understand the shortcomings.
  2. You may make some contacts with omnis.  Try it but don’t invest much money or effort into them.
  3. Omnis are an okay choice if you have no other option but to eliminate the need for a rotor.  I realize sometimes there are operational constraints.
  4. Don’t expect consistent AOS to LOS performance with an omni unless you have a great view of the horizon and sky in all directions and a very low-noise RF environment.

** The best satellites for omni’s are likely going to be mode B (U/V) SSB transponders like AO-73, XW-2A, XW-2C, XW-2F. AO-7 will be okay at times depending on health and elevation of pass.  FO-29 will be marginal if you pick the right passes.

Organizing my W5PFG/P Satellite Station for Portable Trips

One thing on my list for a while has been to acquire and setup the right size carrying cases to travel with and protect my investment in portable equipment.

Over Christmas I acquired a Pelican 1500 (yellow, as shown below.)  The Icom IC-821h fits perfectly inside along with the microphone.  I could probably make room for the power cord but at the moment, my cord is a bit long and doesn’t coil compactly.

The second case is a Plano Protector Series #1404.  It is not waterproof or nearly as rugged as the Pelican case but it holds all of my accessories and adapters needed for /P securely.

Aside from my coax jumpers and antennas, everything fits neatly into each box.
Box 1:
  1. Icom IC-821h Transceiver
  2. Icom Microphone

Box 2:

  1. Heil Dual Pro-Micro Headset
  2. Heil hand-trigger PTT
  3. Heil adapter for IC-821h
  4. Sony digital recorder
  5. Spare batteries for digital recorder
  6. Icom power cable
  7. Spare power cable and cigarette plug (for emergencies)
  8. Belkin 5-way audio splitter (to take audio out and feed to headset and digital recorder)
  9. Compass
UPDATE: One reader pointed out that my use of the Belkin 5-way audio splitter was hypocritical since I gave him a hard time for using one in his portable setup.  I must confess, he’s right.  I normally do not need to split audio more than 2 ways (to headset and recorder) but sometimes it’s convenient to be able to have an audience listen. 

Central States VHF Society CS-VHF Reverse VUCC Award – Satellite

After operating from over 100 different grid squares, I decided it was time to apply for the Central States VHF Society (CS-VHF) Reverse VUCC Award.

Arliss, W7XU checked my cards and issued the award last week, December 9, 2015.

Thank you, friends, for all the great QSO’s while I’ve been on the road!

The award is issued in increments of 25 starting at 100.  I’m now at 117 grids but don’t really plan on increasing my endorsements any time soon.

Say Hello to My Little Friend – The short Arrow

Reach for the skies!
Long a trick passed down from one roving guru to another, I have decided to share my recent experience with the home-brewed “short Arrow.”  I first heard about this from my friend Wyatt, AC0RA.  Others over the years have made this same, basic hack.
Essentially my original Arrow II is unmolested.  However, if you wanted to start with a solid boom Arrow you could easily saw boom to cut off the end 4 elements.  
I took some 3/4 aluminum tubing and created a new boom.  You can buy a 6′ piece of this tubing at Lowe’s for approximately $20. 
Using the original Arrow boom as a guide, I made holes in the new boom to match alignment and spacing of elements to the factory-made one.  Using a drill press, I made the 6 holes required (2 for 2m, 4 for 70cm.)  The original Arrow elements fit perfectly through my new home-brewed boom.
Photo of new short Arrow, old boom (in it’s 2-piece travel configuration) and excess 3/4 tubing.


Ready to test the short Arrow on a 65 degree-elevation FO-29 pass.

The short Arrow performs great, assuming you have a clear view to the horizon.  I was able to work FO-29 AOS to LOS.

During a recent trip to Ohio for the AMSAT Space Symposium, I used AC0RA’s short Arrow to work a 3 degree elevation SO-50 pass.  It worked very well in open farm country.

The best part is, I can assembly my original “normal” Arrow using the boom.  I have the option of full or “mini” size.

All in all, this modification goes to prove “bigger isn’t always better.

2015 AMSAT Space Symposium Wrap-up

In October I attended the 2015 AMSAT Space Symposium in Dayton, Ohio. It was held at the downtown Crowne Plaza Hotel.  It was a well-attended event and the roster was packed with very technical presentation.  Great fellowship is one of the many reasons I attend these events.

Entrance to the Dayton Crowne Plaza from their parking garage.

Working satellites from AC0RA’s pickup truck. He’s holding his shortened Arrow.
We operated from the EN70/80 line, EM89, and EM79 before the Symposium.

N8HM working SO-50 from the rooftop of the parking garage.

Enjoying the Friday evening auction.

Saturday lunch at the Dublin Pub (Dayton)

Giving a demo of my remote-controlled satellite station from 13th floor lounge of hotel.

Just a few of the operators who attending this year.
It was nice to meet WB8RJY and K8OE who were also in attendance!
And I almost forgot my friend and fellow Texan Glenn, AA5PK.

Infamous “Corner Booth” at Denny’s approx midnight. 

My Thoughts about the "Alaskan" Arrow 146/437-14

DISCLAIMER: I don’t want this posting to come across as being “Anti-Arrow.”  I love and use the normal 146/437-10 LEO satellite antenna.  I have two of them! 

However, I do want to share my thoughts about the Alaskan Arrow, model 146/437-14.

J. Boyd, NI3B, recently made this comment on the AMSAT-BB email list about the Alaskan Arrow:

Pros: Having those extra elements makes it so much easier to lock onto a
bird and reach it with less power.

Cons: It weighs as much as a baseball bat. Holding one of those things
up in the air for fourteen minutes and your arms will look like Popeye
the Sailor Man at LOS. You're going to need a tripod, or at least a
camera monopod to brace it against the ground.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend buying an Alaskan Arrow if you already own a regular 146/437-10 Arrow. I recently bought one and have already sold it after some field trials.

Basically, it works well. Nothing is wrong with it. For $140 without the diplexer, it’s a bit steep. I think the value proposition is not quite beneficial enough.

For someone who has a regular Arrow, there is little noticeable improvement for 95% of all passes and operating. My normal Arrows can work every current bird from AOS to LOS assuming I have a clear path to the horizon.

If you do not own an Arrow antenna, I would suggest buying the 146/437-10 model.  You can easily hold this antenna in your hand or easily mount it to a tripod if you desire. Mounting the Alaskan one to a tripod is do-able but you’ll definitely want some counterweight.

Update: December 8, 2016: One good reason to buy an AK Arrow for your “first” Arrow is that it can be broken down and used in sections: one or two-thirds the original size.  The 1/3 sized AK Arrow is very similar to my favorite short-Arrow configuration. Therefore, if you want to spend the extra dollars for an AK Arrow you do buy yourself some added versatility.

As pointed out by the gentleman mentioned above who claimed “Popeye Arms” are a side effect for using this antenna, he is spot-on. I am not a fan of using tripods and the Alaskan Arrow almost forces you to use one. The Alaskan Arrow is unwieldy and not as easily portable as a regular Arrow.

Having made several thousand contacts with an Arrow in the field, I cannot justify using the Alaskan Arrow as a replacement. I bought one thinking I would use it on our RV adventures.

I’m not dismissing there is extra gain in an Alaskan Arrow. KG5CCI made some great transatlantic contacts with his in 2015.  However, bear in mind that contact distances over 7,000km have been made for years with the regular Arrow.

I’m a fan of the standard Arrow LEO antenna. For extreme DXing, home/permanent mounting, I’m confident the AK Arrow works great.

A great collection of Arrows at the 2014 AMSAT Space Symposium

My first experiences with AMSAT AO-85 Fox-1A on October 9 & 10, 2015

AMSAT successfully activated the mode U/V FM transponder on their new AO-85 (Fox-1A) satellite sometime early on October 9, 2015.

At approximately 1005 UTC on October 9, 2015, I made my first contact with Wyatt, AC0RA, on the AO-85 transponder. On that pass I also worked KO4MA, KC4LE, N8MH, N8HM, KA4H.

On the following pass at 1141 UTC, I worked AA5PK, and KM4IPF.

Last night, on the 01:51 UTC pass on October 10, 2015, I listened to AO-85 using an Elk 2M/440L5 antenna feeding into a Kenwood TM-D700 using LMR-240.

At the same time, I recorded this pass from my shack with an M2 2M7 antenna, azimuth and element rotor G5500, controlled by SatPC32 — a fully automated station.  Notice how my home, fixed station experiences a lot of fading since I couldn’t move the antennas for optimum polarity.

First projected Fox-1A Passes over the Lower ’48 (USA) – 8 Oct 2015

A look at the first pass of Fox-1A over the USA:
AOS near 23:53 UTC on October, 8

A look at the second pass of Fox-1A over the USA:
AOS near 01:20 UTC on October, 9

A look at the third pass of Fox-1A over the USA:
AOS near 03:13 UTC on October, 9

Source keps:

All are so close together, I grabbed the top one and used it for Fox-1A.

The Great Satellite Deluge

September brought the amateur radio satellite community a whole new era of voice transponder fun. China’s Long March 6 (CZ-6) rocket delivered a series of satellites, most carrying amateur radio transponders.
I was very lucky to be one of the first in the world to receive footprint of the new satellites during their first orbit.  To my amazement, I copied beacons and telemetry from all of the new objects!
I quickly discovered that the transponders on XW-2E and XW-2F were operating. I called CQ for a bit on both but did not receive any responses.  It wasn’t until the second orbit that I worked Glenn, AA5PK.
Fast-forward to today and now we have 2 (sometimes 3, depending on LilacSat-2’s schedule) new transponders available to work.  XW-2E and XW-2F seem to be great sounding birds with good ears. SatPC32 Doppler correction works flawlessly with the newest set of Keplerian elements.  
LilacSat-2’s FM transponder is activated on a schedule.  I’ve made a handful of contacts on it with stations across the USA.  I think the control stations are still figuring some things out but I have been very grateful for their efforts to give us a workable FM transponder.

As you can see, this is quite a few satellites moving towards my location for AOS.  Which one should I work?  That’s a great question to be faced with when it seemed as if a few years ago, the number of amateur satellite transponders was dwindling.