Oceania DX SSB Contest 2018 – AREG Portable

Once again the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group entered the Oceania DX Contest from a portable station established on the ranges ~100km north of Adelaide. The group established a DX capable HF station with verticals on 160/80/40m and beams+verticals on 20/15/10m at full legal power (400W) with the explicit aims of:

  • experimenting with antennas and antenna systems
  • training operators in contesting
  • experimenting with filtering and transceiver configurations

The planning for the event starts several months out with a planning night held back in the club rooms. Each band is assigned a captain who leads the group responsible for that particular station. All up about 20 members are involved in some way in the design, construction and operation of the multi-multi portable station.

Propagation and Station Design Night

Low Band Station Development

Testing the 80m vertical

Each year a new part of the system is constructed. This years major advancements occurred firstly with the low band station lead by Steve VK5SFA and Grant VK5GR (160/80m). New vertical antennas were designed and tested, with the 80m antenna being trialed during the Trans Tasman Low Band Challenge contest in July. 80m was based on a folded 1/4 wave vertical monopole with elevated radials derived from a modified crankIR vertical.

The 160m antenna was based on a capacity hat loaded 17m vertical (derived from designs by DJ0IP). After several working bees Steve gathered a group together and staged a test and tune day in a local park in Adelaide a few weeks before the event.

The addition of these antennas this year replaced the dipoles used last year. The intention from moving to verticals was to lower the angle of radiation, thus (hopefully) improving our chances for DX. The low band station was then ready for action.

High Band Station Upgrades

On the high band station Matt VK5ZM was scrambling to complete the design of the antenna switching network for the SO2R (Single Operator 2 Radio) 20/15/10m station. This system is unique in that it manages the antenna switching between both bands and radios to enable one operator to call CQ on two bands at the same time. Last year was the first time “the beast” as it is known was tried. This year the rest of the automation needed to be completed with the antenna selection and switching boards. Matt worked tirelessly to complete the system integration in time.

After all the preparations we were ready for the contest weekend.

Day 1 – Friday – Construction begins

With a virgin site to occupy, members started out early from Adelaide on the Friday. The first antenna to make it into the air was the 80m vertical, ready by about 11am. Oly VK5XDX, Steve VK5SFA, Grant VK5GR and Mark VK5QI all helped getting the first array into the air. Team 2 then arrived and started on the 40m antennas while Team 1 started on 160m. Lead by Andy VK5AKH, the 40m team included Peter VK5KX, Gerard VK5ZCV, Paul VK5PH and Scott VK5TST (who also set up the camp kitchen).

80m vertical

The 40m team got cracking and in short order got their first antenna in the air as well, which was an inverted V intended for domestic contacts (much higher angle of radiation).

40m inverted V (for domestic contacts)

While the inverted V went up work progressed preparing to raise the 160m antenna. This was the first trial of the weekend. As the antenna was raised, the top 7m section which was made from a 9m squid pole failed. The top hat wires were proving to be quite heavy and hard to control as the tower was raised using a temporary derrick.

160m Erection Failure No.1 (17m version)

Fortunately the squid pole wasn’t damaged and we were able to lower the array and reset for a second try. Unfortunately Murphy had invaded the site and the next 3 attempts didn’t go any better, with the 4th try seeing the demise of the squid pole as it shattered. The moral of the story was that Squid poles are just not sturdy enough for this application,and the capacity hat wires should be made of lighter materials.

160m top hat loaded vertical (12m version)

Facing the prospect of no 160m antenna at all, the team hit upon a plan to put up a 12m version of the antenna, and compensate with the antenna matching unit. Finally on the 5th attempt with the light failing the antenna and its 700m worth of radials came into resonance with a good VSWR. Time would tell whether it would radiate well the next night as the contest started.

Team 2 on 40m meanwhile was having more luck. Their second antenna was an elevated feed 40m quarter-wave vertical with elevated radials. After realizing a couple of components of the feed system had been left behind, some bush mechanics were performed and the antenna climbed into the sky.

Makeshift 40m feed point mounts

40m vertical

The WIFI coax relay switch was installed and the LMR400 feeders for both 160 and 40m were run nearly 200m back to the operating hut.

Finally, the 40m station was setup and the team began test contacts during Friday night using a ICOM IC7610 and SPE 1.3KFA linear followed by a Low Band Systems 1500W filter.

Andy VK5AKH driving 40m

Compared the last year we were back on schedule with all antennas in the air for 160-40m by the end of day 1.

Day 2 – Saturday – Construction and Contest Start

Saturday saw more of the construction crew arrive and work start on the high band station as well as loading all of the radios into the operating cabin. Matt VK5ZM arrived with his done Daniel VK5FDNA and then the team was joined by Darin VK5IX and Kim VK5FJ who bolstered the crew building the high band station. By now there are people everywhere (so if I have missed someone please let me know so I can add you). By lunchtime the last of the antennas were deployed with the verticals setup for 21 and 28MHz and the tri-band spider beam was in the air for 20/15/10m. The antenna combining and switching network was also established.

Rigging the Spiderbeam

10/15/20m Spider Beam with 80m and the microwave site in the background

10 and 15m verticals – phased with the Spiderbeam

To support the station, a tent city was assembled providing sleeping quarters for the radio crew. Site logistics were managed and the kitchen staffed by Scott VK5TST. A key aspect of the event is to keep the team well caffeinated and fed. Assisted by Sharon VK5FSAW who shopped and planned the menu, Scott kept everyone plied with everything their stomachs desired.

Scott making “GOOOOD” Coffee

So far this year the team had been blessed with excellent weather as well. Unlike last year when the station was built with 30-40knot winds howling over the hills, it was mostly calm this year making construction much easier.

Finally, as the start time approached, the finishing touches were put on the station and facilities. 40/80 and 160m opened up on queue at 0800z and the contest began.

Murphy however decided to show his hand again, this time around the high band station. PTT switching issues were uncovered at the last minute and unfortunately the TR switching was damaged in one of the SO2R station amplifiers. Matt VK5ZM struggled on but in the end the last minute rush to complete the development of the antenna switching network the preceding week meant that there just wasn’t enough time to debug the rest of the SO2R station. About 30 minutes into the contest the sad decision was made to demote it to a single radio. This delayed activating the 20m station by about an hour. None the less, once all was ready away we went with 3 active operating positions across 4 bands (with manual switching on 80/160m).

Night fell, dinner was served and everyone settled into the routine of calling CQ. Oly, who was a new contester in the team quickly proved he was a machine on both the 160/80 and the 20m station while a steady crew manned 40m.

VK5ARG by night

Through the night the score slowly built with the effort invested in the low band station in particular raking in points, although not so many multipliers. 20m proved as always to be the multiplier gathering band. Even so, the following map shows the reach achieved by the 160/80m station:

80m and 160m contacts

Grant VK5GR driving 80m with Matt VK5ZM working on the SO2R in the background

Kim VK5FJ Driving 160/80m

40m meanwhile was powering along as well with lots of traffic from Europe as well as a reasonable amount from North America. Nighttime on 40m was hard going however when the band filled with a huge number of YB contest stations. This should have been a blessing, but obviously their noise floor was such that they couldn’t hear our 400W despite our 5×9 copy of them.

40m Contacts

As the night wore on, 80m was hit by another curse. Two of the dreaded northern radar stations appeared, one taking out 3720-3780 and another taking 3790-3850. For a while we had a 10kHz gap in which to eek out contacts before one of the radars moved down to fill it – thus putting an end to any aspirations of working DX on 80m.

20m meanwhile powered on into the night before giving up on Short Path Europe around midnight. At this point, we entered the “long dark teatime of the soul” in contesting – the graveyard shift where we called incessantly but made little progress. Little did we know that with sunrise things were about to get much worst.

Day 3 – Sunday Morning

The team had been watching the solar forecasts for the preceding couple of days and had reached the point where we were dreading what would happen on Sunday. Sure enough, just when we didn’t want them to, the predictions came true with a geomagnetic storm starting on the daylight side of the planet over the Pacific. We watched as the T index dived lower and lower, creeping across the equator and rendering our North American and later our Asian and European (LP) paths useless.

20, 15 and 10m contacts

Even contact with Japan was problematic. Then the real rub set in. We would call JA stations we could hear, but they would answer with us saying “Sorry no contact JA Only!”. There was a JA domestic contest on and they did not want to give us a QSO! We tried repeatedly Sunday morning on 20m and occasionally on 15m but to no avail. Robbed of our one great hope for prefix multipliers in JA, plus no North American short path (and only a fleeting 20 minute long path NA opening) our score progressed along at a glacial pace.

In the face of adversity we soldiered on and took the time to train some new operators. 11 Year old Daniel VK5FDNA, who had only just qualified for his foundation license a few weeks before, was coached through a couple of contacts with his dad Matt VK5ZM.

VK5FDNA learning how to drive the station from dad (VK5ZM)

Meanwhile we also had Gerard VK5ZCV get some practice in as well. It was clear we weren’t going to set any records this year so we  decided to use the time we had well, sowing the seeds for next year.

We also had some visitors to the site during Sunday with Ben VK5BB and Olga VK5FOLG making the trip up for a look as did Paul VK5PH. Ady (newly licensed as VK5FADE) brought his family along to see what it was that we had been talking about at the club over the past couple of months. It was great to see some new faces looking to discover what the contest station and scene was all about.

Later in the afternoon 40m came back to life and we were able to put a few more EU and South American stations in the log.

Mark VK5QI Driving 40m

Finally as the contest drew to a close, it seemed on 20m at least as though we ran out of stations to work. The signals we could hear were all in the log. We had even stooped so low as to beg a contact from a couple of VK nets. In the end we could only muster less than half our score from 2017. Given the amount of effort that went in to building the station, a bit of a disappointing result, however a result none the less.

So, as the sun set over the site, the station wound down. The team then retired to the meals area for a baked potato feast with all the trimmings.

Sunset from Koch’s Hill

After dinner quite a few headed for home and a comfortable bed while the die hards remained on site to work some more DX.

Day 4 – Tear Down

The next morning fresh troops arrived from Adelaide, and the process of packing up began. Our luck with the weather finally failed us with winds approaching 40 knots ripping over the site. None the less, timed between gusts, all the antennas were safely lowered to the ground and carefully packed back into their cases and bags for transport home.

What had taken 2 days to build was secured on trailers and ready to roll in under 5 hours. The remains of the team then headed to Kapunda Bakery for lunch before dispersing back to our home QTHs ready to think about 2019.

Thank You!

The contest band captains couldn’t have done it without all of the help received from members of the club. So in no particular order, we would like to thank the following:

VK5TST, VK5XDX, VK5SFA, VK5GR, VK5AKH, VK5QI, VK5FJ, VK5ZM, VK5FDNA, VK5KX, VK5ZCV, VK5PH, VK5IX, VK5FSAW who all helped design, construct, provide logistics in terms of food and sanitation, man the station on air and then tear down VK5ARG for 2018! (and apologies if I have missed someone). It is a huge team effort each year and this year was no exception.

Amateur Radio Fox Hunting by Bryan Ackerly VK3YNG – Special November 9th Meeting date

The next meeting of the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group Inc will be held ONE WEEK EARLY in November on the 2nd Friday of the month to accommodate a visit from Bryan Ackerly VK3YNG who is going to talk to us about getting started in Radio Direction Finding (or commonly known as Fox Hunting in VK). The meeting will be held at the usual venue in the Fulham Community Centre, Phelps Court, Fulham starting at 7.45pm

Photo by Adrian VK5ZBR – Mt Gamber National Championships

Bryan is the creator of the VK3YNG Sniffer receivers which have received wide acclaim and is full of information on how to get started and participate in this fun filled and action packed aspect of Amateur Radio.


Rod VK5UDX teaching Adrian VK5ZBRs daughter how to DF

Following the meeting, a come and try Fox Hunting event will be held the following day (Saturday November 10th) at 1pm in the South East corner of the Adelaide Parklands, off Beaumont Rd near the Greenhill Road end. The come and try day will allow those without gear to come and see how to get started and to try their hands at some pedestrian direction finding using equipment such as Bryan’s sniffer receivers.

Visitors are most welcome at both events. If you have ever been curious or just want to come for a day in the park on Saturday then drop on by – we would love to see you and introduce you to the fascinating world of radio direction finding!

Location of this event

AREG IRLP & DSTAR Gateways Back in time for JOTA

 

After several months of disruptions due to lightning and HDD failures at both the VK5RSB IRLP node and the VK5RWN DSTAR Gateway AREG is pleased to announce that we have been able to restore both services in time for this weekend’s Jamboree on the Air for the Scouting and Guiding communities.


VK5RSB Internet Relay Linking Project Node #6214

The IRLP Node 6214 will be available for use by users supporting JOTA this weekend, 20, 21 October. The node can be accessed via the VK5RSB 70cm repeater on 439.900 (-5MHz) using a 91.5Hz CTCSS access tone.

In the support for JOTA, the prefix access code has been removed for this weekend, thus allowing free access to the node.

Therefore to access remote IRLP nodes,

  • dial in the 4 digit DTMF node address of the remote node.
  • to disconnect the IRLP connection, just dial “73” a the end of the QSO.

AREG wishes the JOTA teams and other users, to have fun with contacts via the IRLP Node 6214.


VK5RWN DSTAR Gateway Restored for the 2m/70cm repeaters

The VK5RWN D-Star repeater and gateway is also now fully functional after its computer rebuild. It’s new computer has been installed and the gateway configuration is now complete using the new ICOM G3 software.

Currently the configuration is;

  • Port C, the 2m port, is unlinked and available for general use or user linking to reflectors and gateways etc (147.0375 +600kHz)
  • Port B, the 70cm port, is permanently linked to Reflector REF023C and will output any activity on this reflector and will repeat local RF activity on the 70cm channel into the reflector network. (438.400 -5.4MHz)

NOTE: Port B may be disconnected from the link to REF023C with the unlink command, “^^^^^^^U” , (the ^ represents spaces)  then it may be connected by the user to another address.

VK5RWN activity is now being reported to various Dashboards,

D-Star network access seems to fully functional. Ben VK5BB reports that he has tested linking to several reflectors through the local gateway as well as connecting directly to VK5RWN via his JumboSpot hot spot successfully.

So, any members or DSTAR users in Adelaide who have an interest in D-Star, have D-star capable radios and are registered on the D-Star system, please give VK5RWN a try out and feedback will be appreciated please?

73 from Ben VK5BB

AREG Meeting THIS FRIDAY – Member Lightning Talks Round 2

The next meeting of AREG will be held on Friday October 19th starting 7.45pm. The topic for the evening is another round of Lightning Talks presented by you the members. The task is simple, you have 5 minutes to introduce or talk about your latest experiment, amateur related activity or idea. We have 6 slots so don’t be bashful, come along and tell us what has made you tick in Amateur Radio.

One of the talks will be a quick intro on how to decode SSTV using a 2m handheld and a phone – something that might be helpful for Horus 50!

A screen will be available provided you can deliver your talk via MS Powerpoint. Bring props or whatever you wish while the time keeper will keep proceedings lively by holding everyone to their 5 minute time limit.

The general meeting will be held after the talks so come along and meet your fellow AREG members face to face.

Visitors are always welcome too!

The meeting is held at the Fulham Community Centre, Phelps Court, Fulham.

AREG’s 20th Anniversary Event – Horus 50 Balloon Launch – 4th November 2018

2018 marks 20 years since the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group was formed. To celebrate this milestone, the club is planning to fly a special Amateur Radio focused high altitude balloon in what will be the 50th Project Horus Mission.

The Project Horus team itself is also celebrating 8 years in the air! Project Horus was founded by Terry Baume and continues to perform regular high-altitude balloon launches from locations around South Australia under the auspices of the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group.

When will this be happening? Currently it is planned to fly on Sunday the 4th of November (weather permitting). Liftoff is planned for 10AM ACDT. We are going for altitude so coverage will hopefully extend as far as Melbourne at the peak of the flight.

The goal is to engage with amateur radio in as many ways as possible. We want you to talk through the balloon, see the world from the balloon’s perspective and know where the balloon is during the flight! How can you do all this you might ask? The Project Horus team have specifically tailored this flight to include:

  • a 2m (down) / 70cm (up) Cross-band FM repeater. Amateurs within the repeater footprint will be able to make live QSOs with the club station VK5ARG and each other via the FM repeater using relatively modest stations.
  • a 2m SSTV beacon transmitting images from the balloon live during the flight. You will be able to see the world from the balloon’s perspective using a 2m receiver and simple software (you can even use an app on your phone).
  • Track the balloon via a 2m APRS beacon during the flight!

The launch site will be the usual Mt Barker High School Oval. Launch crews should be on-site around 8:30-9AM. If you haven’t attended one of our launches before, this is a great opportunity to come along and see what’s involved first-hand!

As usual, there’s always the chance the weather for the planned launch date may not be suitable, so a backup launch date of Sunday the 18th of November has been tentatively penciled in (the 11th being the AHARS buy & sell weekend).

Cross-band FM Repeater

Likely suspects operating the cross-band repeater on Horus 23

The cross-band repeater will be using the following frequencies:

  • Uplink: 438.900 MHz, with a 123 Hz CTCSS tone required for activation.
  • Downlink: 147.500 MHz  (~1.4W output power).

To transmit to the balloon at the maximum range of 700km (once the balloon reaches >30km) you will need approximately 10-30W and an 10dBi gain antenna and a clear takeoff towards the balloon. Those stations closer to the launch site will be able to get away with much less.

PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU can hear the repeater before transmitting
and remember to make sure you SET YOUR CTCSS TO 123Hz
or you will not access the repeater.

As with previous flights, the repeater will be run as a controlled net. Listen for VK5ARG acting as net control and please follow their instructions so that as many people as possible can share the repeater.

FM-SSTV Imagery Payload

Instead of the usual Wenet imagery payload this launch will have a new SSTV transmitter operating on 145.100 MHz FM. It will run approximately 250mW transmit power. The transmitter will have 30 second gaps between image transmissions to avoid overheating the transmitter.

Scottie 2 SSTV Imagery Example

The payload will be transmitting images using the Scottie 2 SSTV mode throughout the flight, and can be decoded using any SSTV software capable of decoding this mode (pretty much all of them!). This is a mode that typically is used on HF but is equally adapted to VHF FM work. (Note it is not the same as the PD120 transmissions from ISS).

Examples of suitable software you can use to decode the SSTV pictures include:

Any FM receiver (including handhelds) should be capable of receiving this payload, though as with the cross-band repeater, a Yagi antenna may be necessary for reliable reception at the edges of the transmitter footprint.

If you do receive images, please post them to Social Media and on Twitter include the #horus50 hashtag so everyone can see them!

Telemetry Payloads

As always, we’ll be flying the usual assortment of telemetry payloads, including:

  • Our usual 100 baud 7N2 RTTY telemetry on 434.650 MHz USB. This can be decoded using dl-fldigi, with a reception guide available hereNOTE: There is a known issue with dl-fldigi where it does not upload any received telemetry until about 10 minutes after the software is started. Any telemetry received in this time period will be queued and uploaded after the startup period has completed (i.e. no telemetry will be lost).
  • 4FSK Telemetry decoder

    The new 4FSK Binary telemetry will be transmitting on 434.640 MHz USB. This uses a separate decoder, with setup instructions for this available here. (Previous listeners note that there have been updates to the software – please re-download the latest version!). We would love reports of how the 4FSK signal compares to standard RTTY!

  • If weight permits, there will be an APRS beacon operating on 145.175 MHz with the callsign VK5ARG-12. This will be received automatically by the APRS network.
Tracking of the flight will be available on the HabHub Tracker, available at this link. (Note that other balloon launches will also be visible on this page, including the Bureau of Meteorology launches from Adelaide Airport).
Follow the #horus50 hashtag on Twitter for updates from the launch and chase teams on the launch day.
Stay tuned for updates closer to the launch date…
73
Mark VK5QI

IRLP Node 6214 on VK5RSB 70cm off air!

The Amateur Radio Experimenters Group are sorry to inform the amateur radio community and the users of the IRLP node 6214, that the node is off air for the immediate short term future.

The IRLP node computer, a Raspberry Pi 1, was a victim of the lightning storm over Adelaide Tuesday evening on the 2nd October.

The QTH from where the equipment operates, was directly under a large lightning bolt, which did not strike the ground or local area. It appears though, that the Electro Magnetic Pulse from the lightning bolt did impact immediately below and caused inducted currents in the LAN Ethernet cables connecting the Raspberry Pi to the QTH computer LAN system and the NBN.

The effect of this induced current on those Ethernet cables, took out the QTH modem and the Ethernet ports on the IRLP Raspberry Pi and the shack computer. All other equipment was or does not appear to have been affected.

A call has gone out for a replacement Raspberry Pi 1 as it would be a drop in replacement. If a Raspberry Pi 1 cannot be obtained then later models can be used but, a new operating system image will need to be built up.

So, until a replacement Raspberry Pi is installed, unfortunately the IRLP node 6214 will be off air.

We will keep you posted when updates are available.