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.

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.

W5PFG/VE2 marks operation from 99th and 100th MH gridsquares

My recent trip to Montreal, Quebec, Canada and the subsequent satellite operations from FN25 & FN26 mark my 99th and 100th maidenhead gridsquares operated via amateur radio satellites.

The map below is a plot of all gridsquares from which I’ve operated since 2011.

And the list:
  1. EM00
  2. EM01
  3. EM02
  4. EM03
  5. EM04
  6. EM05
  7. EM06
  8. EM10
  9. EM11
  10. EM12
  11. EM13
  12. EM14
  13. EM15
  14. EM16
  15. EM17
  16. EM20
  17. EM21
  18. EM22
  19. EM23
  20. EM24
  21. EM25
  22. EM26
  23. EM30
  24. EM31
  25. EM32
  26. EM33
  27. EM34
  28. EM42
  29. EM44
  30. EM45
  31. EM55
  32. EM54
  33. EM53
  34. EM52
  35. EM63
  36. EM64
  37. EM65
  38. EM66
  39. EL09
  40. EL08
  41. EL07
  42. EL18
  43. EL19
  44. EL28
  45. EL29
  46. EL39
  47. EL98
  48. DL79
  49. DL88
  50. DL89
  51. DL98
  52. DL99
  53. DM12
  54. DM13
  55. DM70
  56. DM71
  57. DM72
  58. DM73
  59. DM74
  60. DM80
  61. DM81
  62. DM82
  63. DM83
  64. DM84
  65. DM85
  66. DM86
  67. DM91
  68. DM92
  69. DM93
  70. DM94
  71. DM95
  72. DM96
  73. EM86
  74. EM96
  75. FM07
  76. FM08
  77. FM09
  78. FM19
  79. FM29
  80. FN10
  81. FN25
  82. FN26
  83. FN30
  84. FN31
  85. FN32
  86. FN33
  87. FN35
  88. FN41
  89. FN42
  90. FN43
  91. FN45
  92. FN51
  93. FN53
  94. FN54
  95. FN55
  96. FN56
  97. FN57
  98. FN65
  99. FN66
  100. FN67

DK3WN SatBlog posting about FM satellite operation

Mike, DK3WN, has an excellent blog posting about “FM transponder operating techniques” over at his DK3WN SatBlog.   It probably should be printed and posted on the wall of many satellite operators’ shacks.

Probably the single most important (and challenging) point he makes is about self-discipline.  Sometimes making a contact is not the best thing to do on a busy satellite pass when you have already worked all the stations previously!!!

Sure, it’s tempting to make contacts.  We step into our shack hoping to snag a new grid or a new station in the log and we want results!

I’m guilty of making contacts on an FM satellite pass when I probably shouldn’t.

This is a tricky issue.  I’m not the best operator in the world and I assure you that I will continue to make mistakes.  Just hopefully not the same ones daily.  We just need to be reminded sometimes that FM satellites are a precious resource.

Should you be a part of the AMSAT Community or an AMSAT Organization?

There are plenty of people who operate on the amateur radio satellites who can identify as being part of the AMSAT community.  Many of them are what I’d consider active operators – those heard on passes multiple times in a week or any given month.

The complex question I pose today is “what is the difference between the AMSAT community and the AMSAT organization and why does it matter?”

The AMSAT community of operators isn’t launching satellites.  AMSAT organizations with donors and volunteers are launching satellites.

Being active on the birds does not mean you are supporting the AMSAT community.  It means you are active in the community as a whole.  That’s great.  People know your callsign, your name, and have you in their log.  That doesn’t get new satellites built and launched.  Sending a few emails to the AMSAT-BB or other email lists doesn’t exactly count as volunteering to help the AMSAT organization grow, improve, and make launch goals.

I’m not the most active AMSAT volunteer on the planet.  I’ve been trying to do a few hamfests a year, write some Journal articles, keep my membership current, and make an occasional donation. I tend to think every little bit of support helps – no matter what role you play.  I encourage new operators to join an AMSAT organization with a vision and a proven track record.

AMSAT-NA http://www.amsat.org is one such organization.  They have successfully launched multiple satellites over their many years of existence.    If you are not a member, you should be.  That is the “minimum” you should do as an active member of the AMSAT community.  If you are located in another region with an AMSAT-affiliated organization planning a new satellite, join them and get involved.  Don’t sit on your duff and brag about how active you are.

Remember, satellites are an infrastructure-based operating environment like repeaters.  Infrastructure has an associated cost.

Using Twitter to Post Grid Operations for Rover and Portable Stations

I post all updates for my grid expeditions on my Twitter account @w5pfg.  Generally I will post the pass date and time in UTC, the satellite name, and the grid from which I’ll operate.  I try to do this in advance of a grid op as much as possible.

Twitter is probably the most versatile tool for notifying individuals about grid operations.

You can access my Twitter feed by web at: http://www.twitter.com/w5pfg

If you create an account on Twitter, you can configure email and text (SMS) alerts.

It is not necessary to have Internet access to send notifications.  I can post a Tweet simply by sending a text (SMS) to a special phone number.  Alternatively, I can send a Tweet even if I don’t have cell coverage but do have Internet access.   To do this, you will need to have Twitter validate your mobile phone number with your account.  It is painless.

Twitter provides a lot of flexibility.  There is no cost for this service and it is generally as reliable or better than email service.  It does not rely on an individual relaying information for you.

The good ‘ole days – A reminder

Getting cards like this reminds me of when I made my first satellite contacts. I actually two “first” contacts…Once about a decade ago and then about three years ago when I got bit by the big and became very satellite-active.

I hope that David takes the plunge and joins AMSAT! 

David, if you’re reading this blog, it was a pleasure to work you.  We’ve all been there and had the thrill of that first contact on satellite.

When to say "Portable" (follow-up to my "Handheld" post)

I previously had posted about the use of saying “handheld” when you give your callsign on a busy FM satellite.  In short, I think it’s a dumb idea, with few exceptions.

See my post from last year about “handheld” at:

Today I will focus on the over-use of another word: “Portable”

I think that a lot of new hams get on satellites and say their callsign followed by “Portable” because other people are doing it.  If you are standing in your back yard with an Arrow or at the local park, “portable” might seem like a reasonable thing to say.  Heck, if you are taking your XYL to the mall two towns over, you are portable, aren’t you?


Let’s look at this differently for a minute.  To many operators, “portable” gets lost in the proverbial noise. You can say whatever you want.  Heck, I am tempted to say “Ribeye” because it’s my favorite steak.  If you want to say “Howdy Doody,” that’s okay, too except it takes away from precious time on the bird.  Most of the time this “portable” (and “handheld”) nonsense is limited to single-channel FM satellites, a place where time is most precious.

The only reason I believe it is worthwhile to say “portable” is when you are operating outside your home grid. This gives grid-chasers notice that you are essentially “away from home” and perhaps somewhere exotic.  Again, say what you want, but to keep saying “portable” from the backyard is no different than me saying “in the shack” every time I transmit my call letters.

John/K8YSE touches on this on his website at http://www.papays.com/sat/general.html <- Look for the "A Word about signing “PORTABLE” heading.  It’s worth reading.

My advice is to give your callsign clearly and phonetically… BUT timing should be appropriate.  Don’t give your callsign every 3 seconds just because you’re not making a contact.  Let some time pass, maybe 30 seconds, maybe 2 minutes – use some common sense.  It depends on the traffic on the satellite.  If there are a lot of stations on, obviously you don’t need to give your call sign as often.  Take it easy.  COOL IT.  Otherwise, you will look like a lid.  You don’t need to work EVERY station on the pass.

In closing, only use “portable” when it really fits — portable outside your home QTH, preferably outside your home grid/state/city/etc.