QRP Hours contest

Sunday 22nd October was a good day for QRP in VK-Land. And even thougth HF conditions haven’t been good at all (especially according to some), I had success and a lot of fun by taking part in this short contest run by the CW Operators’ QRP Club Inc.

This year the contest was restricted to the 40m band and consisted of two sections: the first hour CW and the second Phone. I took part in the CW section only.

The rig I used was my trust Elecraft KX1, this time with 12v gel cell power as I didn’t have to worry about weight: I was to operate from the back deck of my home. The antenna was the Buddistick that I attached to the hand railing of the deck by means of my new Buddistick G-clamp. My key was the Pico Paddle. Power output was 3W.

My set up for the contest. All ready to go.

Tuning up the antenna on 40m was not easy. I couldn’t get a match at all with my Hendricks BLT Tuner, so I hauled out my LDG auto tuner, which gave me a 1.9:1 reading, which was the best I got. QRP is all about compromise, so I went with that.

The Buddistick mounted to the railing with my new G-Clamp.

I do think that the proximity of metal guttering didn’t help, but I had to make do with the situation I found myself in. At least there was some good height, facing south – which would be good for VK1 and VK2 contacts.

Nice height even though I needed to angle the whip.

Noise levels were high on the band but nevertheless, I was able to work VK2IG, VJ2GAZ, VK2FGBR, VK1DA, VK2JDR and VK2IO.

Next time I’ll try a long wire antenna.

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New battery power for my FT-817

I have long wanted/needed to upgrade my battery power for my Yaesu FT-817. The prompt came when the internal battery died. My choice was the kit put out by Windcamp; a 3000mAh internal LiPo battery and new battery compartment lid for the radio that comes fitted with a PCB and charging circuitry that allows the supplied mains charger to charge the battery while inside the radio.

The parcel arrived from China beautifully packed. The battery and the new replacement lid came packaged in very nice plastic cases, which, together with the instructions and charger, all fitted into a compact cardboard box for shipping.

The contents of the parcel.

After extracting the individual components from their packaging, it was time to think about installing the battery into the radio.

It is a tight fit but the components plugged together as intended. Note the PCB on the underside of the new lid.

When the battery and associated wiring was all nice and snugly fitted, I popped the lid closed and got ready to charge the new LiPo battery.

The new lid in place and ready for charging.

The charger has a double-coloured LED to indicate the state of the charge: red for charging and green for a completed charge. The initial charge takes around 5 hours to accomplish.

According to the supplied documentation, the rated voltage of the battery is 11.1V, with the output voltage range stated as between 9 and 12.6V. The maximum output current is 4A.

Now to test it in the field.

Working F0-29

Now that I have worked an FM satellite (in my case SO-50) the next challenge was to try a SSB satellite.

The basics would be the same I figured, except I would need to use my Yaesu FT-817. In fact, all I needed to do was to switch rigs and take into account that I would be needing to run to 817 off my 7 a/h SLAB, which I would need to slip into a spare camera bag so I could carry it over one shoulder.

The battery is in a camera bag hanging on my left side, and the FT-817 is slung around my neck (I knew the strap would come in handy some day).

So that I could work the satellite single handed out in the field without the aid of computer software, this is what I did:

  1. Set the rig into split mode
  2. Set VFO A to 145.960. This is the uplink.
  3. Set VFO B to 435.840. This is the down link
  4. Make sure the antenna connection is set to the front connector on the radio
  5. Keep the radio set to VFO B

When I saw the satellite is within range (using Satellite Explorer on my PC), I went outside and pointed the antenna into the rough direction of the satellite’s approach. This was roughly north. Then I put out a call (the radio switches to VFO A automatically when the PTT is activated but returns to VFO B when it is released. Then I immediately began tuning down the band to listen for replies.

Sure enough, I heard Wal VK4CBW, George VK2WEL and Geoff VK2ZAZ. I had a very satisfying QSO with them, but it was challenging having to continually alter the receive frequency by hand during the receive cycle while altering the direction of the antenna to take into account changes to direction as well as height, all at the same time.

Next is to think about improving my operating setup, perhaps with some form of automatic tracking capability.

 

 

Working Satellite SO-50

One aspect of amateur radio that I am enjoying lately is working the FM satellite SO-50. To do so I use my Boafeng GT-3TP dual band hand held and an Elk log periodic antenna that I have mounted on a camera tripod.

My basic satellite communications setup.

SO-50 carries several experiments, including a mode J FM amateur repeater experiment operating on 145.850 MHz uplink and 436.795 MHz downlink. The repeater is available to amateurs worldwide as power permits, using a 67.0 Hertz PL tone on the uplink, for on-demand activation. The repeater consists of a miniature VHF receiver with sensitivity of -124dBm, having an IF bandwidth of 15 KHz. The receive antenna is a 1/4 wave vertical mounted in the top corner of the spacecraft. The receive audio is filtered and conditioned then gated in the control electronics prior to feeding it to the 250mW UHF transmitter. The downlink antenna is a 1/4 wave mounted in the bottom corner of the spacecraft and canted at 45 degrees inward.

The Elk was loaned to me by Wal, VK4CBW, an avid satellite fan who lives down the road from me. The antenna is basically a held-held job but I do find it gets a bit heavy after a while, hence the tripod.

Today SO-50 was within range at 4.56pm, so I put out a call and was answered by Roy, VK4ZQ, from Nundah in Queensland. And although Roy isn’t that far from me, the satellite is. The apogee height is 665km, which means at its furthermost distance from the earth, it is 665km away. Not bad for a two-way FM contact.

 

Springbrook National Park dissapointing

Sunday 21st May 2015 was to be a good opportunity to work some Park to Park contacts as the VK5 mob had organised a mass activation to coincide with the WIA AGM. So I decided to activate Springbrook summit VK4/SE-011 and Springbrook National Park VKFF-0463.

The only problem was that Cyclone Debbie had washed away all bridges leading up to Springbrook. The only access road was a back road through the Numinbah Valley. So my wife and I set off nice and early on the 1 hour 40 minute run, but missed the crucial turn and ended up going the normal way up, via the Gold Coast. By the time I realised my mistake it was too late; we were committed.

Just as we drove into the Springbrook National Park, we encountered a road block. Those manning it told us what I suspected. If we wanted to reach the summit we’d have to retrace our route back and go the back route – an additional 40 minutes they told us. So we decided to set up the station along the banks of the river just inside the boundary of the park.

My shack for the activation. Nice cover at least.

My rig for the day was the Yaesu FT-817 with an LDG Z-100 Plus ATU, 7a/h gelcell and an endfed antenna supported by a squid pole. My paddle was the Pico Paddle from Palm Radio in Germany.

This was the first time I used my new Sherpa pack. Fabulous.

All went well and I heard loads of traffic on 40m, all working the various VK5 parks. It was the first time I had been working against pile-ups! Fortunately I was able to tail gate a few contacts and worked two parks: Gerard VK2IO in VKFF-1278 and Rob VK2AAC/2 in VKFF-0004. That was the end of my SSB contacts as my 5W was no match for the 100W stations I was competing with. So it was out with the Pico Paddle and within a few minutes I worked Mike VK2CCW and Ian VK2BJT. CW is really great as it allows you to make contacts despite being low power.

I wasn’t able to activate the summit for SOTA; that will be another time now as I have unfinished business. But we did get to log four contacts towards WWFF and saw first hand the damage a cyclone can cause.

DSC01800

These are some of the trees that were up-rooted during the cyclone.

FT-817 Escort for portable work

I came across mention of the FT-817 Escort on You Tube recently and decided it looked like just the thing I needed. So I ordered one from Portable Zero (http://www.portablezero.com/). It arrived, together with a Sherpa Pack that I also fancied, in about a week.

 

The contents of the package, with a good set of instructions.

Installing the side rails and fold-out stand was easy enough, with no dramas at all. And the completed job looked real cool.

I ordered mine in military green; it also is available in black.

The stand eliminates one of my dislikes of the Yaesu FT-817: it’s hard to read the display when out in the field or even in the shack due to the lack of a tilt stand. The escort also offers protection for the knobs, which are easy to damage or move while in the field.

The stand tilts the rig up nicely. It folds away easily too for transportation.

I have enjoyed using the rig now in the shack and look forward to taking it on an activation.

The radio is use in the shack.

Building SOTABeams’ PowerPole PP-4 Way power distribution board

One of the challenges I was having while operating portable was making sure that my power polarity was correct. Fiddling around on a mountain peak with red and black connectors on a 7a/h gel cell is fraught with danger. And when I have two or more components to connect, well …

The answer I found on the SotaBeams web site (http://www.sotabeams.co.uk/).

I placed an order for their PowerPole PP-4 Way power distribution board.

A week or so later, a padded envelope arrived in my mail box.

The contents of the envelope.

Construction was easy as the kit is very simple. All that was needed was a soldering iron and some solder.

 

The power poles ready for soldering.

I ordered the kit only (without the enclosure), so I headed to the local supermarket and bought a cheap plastic sealable container that would do just fine. All I had to do was to cut out a piece wide enough from the lid for the connectors to stick through.

The PCB sits under the lid with the connectors sticking through. I secured it into place with four nuts and bolts.

The power supply connects to one set of power poles and the radio, atu and other items connect to the others. Simple.

Works like a charm. Will make a difference in a park or on a summit.