27 October 2014

CQWW SSB 2014 fail

I wanted to take part in CQWW SSB this year, as usual in the SOSB QRP category. This year I chose the 10m band as propagation was looking good, and I was planning to install another antenna especially for this purpose.

Unfotunately, the weather defeated me in a big way. The vertical  was already damaged for some time and I didn't get around to fix it as the 41m long OCFD was working just as good. My plan was to fix the vertical and to install a 10m tuned horizontal dipole aimed at Europe and NA in the evening before the contest, but it was cold and it was still raining. So, I decided to do it during the contest when Asia propagation starts to fade away and NA doesn't kick in yet; after all, the weather forecast was better, I will need a break anyway at a certain point, and I had the OCFD that was enough to work the stronger stations.

Well, I can definetely say now that I won't ever trust again the weather forecast. On Saturday morning the wind was really strong, so strong in fact that it broke one arm of my OCFD, an antenna that was holding in all kinds of weather for 3 years. This happened about 30 minutes into the contest, I tried to use the vertical but no luck, I could hear fine but my 5W wasn't making it through. Got up on the building trying to fix it, but the wind was so strong it almost sent me flying off the roof (and I'm a BIG guy). Still hoping, I decided to take a break until the wind settles, and now it comes the big "screw you" from Mother Nature: not only the wind doesn't stop, but it starts raining and that quickly turns into SNOWING ! Imagine that, less than a week before it was clear sky and 21C outside, and it's below-zero and it's snowing exactly when I needed to do antenna work the most. Sad thing is, one day before the forecast said 8C and 10% chance of rain for Saturday, and when I write this, 2 days later, the sky is clear and there are 6C outside

I guess this was a real lesson, but hopefully until CQWPX SSB 2015 comes I'll have the triband Yagi up and I won't need to worry about these issues anymore. Anyway, timely preparations are very important.

21 October 2014

Portable SDR transceiver with integrated VNA and GPS

The field of amateur Software Defined Radio is moving quickly nowadays and the latest spawn is something really interesting: a portable SDR transceiver that integrates a Vector Network Analyzer and a GPS module. This thing covers up to 30MHz (plus 144Mhz band) and is open source, so basically it can do whatever you want it to as long as you're good with software and can hack the hardware a bit.



The brain is a STM32F429 microcontroller running at 168MHz; while it's integrated ADC's are really modest (12-bit, 7.2Msps) compared to other SDR equipment out there, they can offer good receive performance in this application. It also comes with a nice color TFT LCD and everything you will ever need to know about it can be found on it's Hackaday page.


15 October 2014

An amateur radio beacon will fly to the moon and back

Also called the 4M, Manfred Memorial Moon Mission will travel to the Moon and hopefully back to Earth aboard the Chinese Long March 3C rocket. Its payload will include a JT65 beacon that will transmit shortly after departure on the 2m amateur radio band. Transmission will include the callsign LX0OHB as well as various info: elapsed time from launch, power supply parameters, temperature and dosimeter readings etc. Transmitter is 1W output into L/4 monopole.

For those that want to monitor the beacon, here's the required info:

- TX freq: 145.980MHz, +/- 2.9KHz variation depending on temperature, +1KHz/-2.2KHz Doppler shift
- departure time: October 23 2014, 17:59 UTC, expected on air at 19:17 UTC
- special JT65 software version from here.
- extra info here.

More details about the project, on the AMSAT-UK website.

08 October 2014

Noble NR4SC - monoband QRP TRX for 70MHz band

Noble NR4SC is a new transceiver for the 70MHz ham-radio band, supporting SSB and CW and offering an output of 10W. It's a simple design with good usability, easy to learn and to use.





24 September 2014

SOTA activity again, near Predeal

I was planning for about a month to go for a SOTA trip to the Retezat Natural Preserve with YO2BP and activate some nice 10-point summits; the nature is really beautiful there and I wanted to see it for some time now, plus the weather predictions looked awesome. Unfortunately, something came up that made the trip not possible, and as I already had my bags packed and got into the SOTA mood, I decided to at least do a short trip to some acessible peaks I haven't activated yet.

So, in the morning of September 18 2014 I got in the car with a friend of mine and drove to the small touristic town of Predeal (about 140Km North of Bucharest), looking to activate something in the surroundings. The initial plan was to make this a 2-day trip so I could get 4 summits, but due to various reasons it ended up as a one-day trip so I could only activate two of them.

YO/EC-252 Piatra Arsa (1258m, 6 points) was my first target: we took the car on DN73A for about 5Km, until a small road goes to the left (and on to a lodge, not sure about it's name). Even if there's paved road there is a sign that says something along "Natural Preserve Area, motor vehicles forbidden", so we leave the car and start the hike. Sure enough, 10 minutes later we are near the lodge and behind it starts a path uphill towards the peak, so we take it. We already can see some surroundings from there:


22 September 2014

Ciucas X3 - a good EmComm exercise

Ciucas X3 is a once-a-year trail running event that takes place in Romania's beautiful Ciucas mountains - you might have read about them in my previous stories, as i've made two SOTA activations from the region: YO/EC-049 and YO/EC-057. There are 3 circuits (21, 42 and 105km long) across mountains, hills, forests, a village and the outskirts of a small town, some passing trough wild areas (there were even two brown bear spottings !). Over 600 runners take part in this event, plus almost another hundred staff members, volunteers, mountain rescue, gendarms - mountain division, etc.



04 September 2014

CQWPX 2014 - official results came in

As I was expecting after the claimed scores, I ranked #5 in 21Mhz single-op QRP category. This was my second time participating in CQ WPX SSB, the first one was in 2013 where I worked just for 4 hours to get the feeling for it.

This time I wanted to be on the air for the full contest, but I was really sloppy: for some reason I thought the contest starts in the afternoon and I planned to do some antenna work in the morning. When I wake up Saturday morning and turn the radio on I hear the band full of contesters so I decide there's no time to waste, I get on air and work the first 4 hours with the damaged antenna - a 42m long OCFD with a broken arm. I take a break, eat, get on top of the building, fix the OCFD and install a 7.5m fishpole vertical, take a shower and get back on the air. The break took about 3 hours but it was needed, for the rest of the contest I worked with the vertical wich proved slightly better.

I managed a total of 260 QSO's (but 252 validated), 3.1% error rate, 207 multipliers and a final score of 76797. The winner of 21MHz single-op QRP (YT1CS) had 403 QSO's and 338 multipliers for a total of 225108 points; he is less than 400Km away from me and just a few degrees to the South, so no big geographical advantage.

For next year I plan to really be on the air for the full contest and hopefully I will have a better antenna. Still aiming at single-op QRP monoband, but still not sure if I will go for 15m or another band.