Author Archives: kb5ez

2018 NASA On the Air Event

2018 is a big year for NASA anniversaries and the amateur radio clubs at NASA centers would like for you to help us celebrate.  It will be 60 years since NASA was created, 50 years since NASA orbited the first man around the moon, and 20 years since the first elements of the International Space Station (ISS) were launched into low-Earth orbit.

The amateur radio club stations at the various NASA centers and facilities plan to be on the air with special event operations to celebrate these monumental achievements, as well as current milestones. Some clubs will be offering commemorative QSL cards and a special certificate will be available indicating how many NASA club stations you worked on various bands and modes. We plan to have a web-based system for you to check your points total and download a printable certificate at the end of the event in December 2018.  Points will be awarded for each center worked on each band and mode (phone, CW, digital, and “space” modes). The event will run from December 11, 2017 through December 27, 2018 with the following key dates:

Apollo 17 45th anniversary – 11-14 December 2017, beginning of event

NASA founded 60th anniversary (Space Act signed by President Eisenhower) – 29 July 1958

ISS First Element Launch 20th anniversary – 20 November 1998

ISS Node 1 Launch 20th anniversary – 4 December 1998

Apollo 8 50th anniversary – launch 21 December 1968, splashdown 27 December, end of event

Note that there will be other special event operations by the various centers commemorating and celebrating specific events, but those listed above will include participation from most of the clubs. All operating modes are fair game including “space” modes such as satellites, meteor scatter, EME, ISS APRS, etc. We hope to be on the air for casual contacts and contests as well. All contacts with NASA club stations will count toward your total. QSL cards can be requested from each club you work and details will be on the individual QRZ.COM pages for each club callsign.

Here is a list of the participating centers and facilities with designators and callsigns for each:

 

Center/Facility Acronym Callsign State
Ames Research Center ARC NA6MF California
Armstrong Flight Research Center AFRC NA6SA California
Glenn Research Center GRC NA8SA Ohio
Goddard Space Flight Center GSFC WA3NAN Maryland
International Space Station ISS NA1SS, etc. earth orbit
Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL W6VIO California
Johnson Space Center JSC W5RRR Texas
Kennedy Space Center KSC N1KSC Florida
Langley Research Center LARC KG4NJA Virginia
Marshall Space Flight Center MSFC NN4SA Alabama
Stennis Space Center SSC TBD Mississippi
Wallops Fight Facility WFF W4WFF Virginia
White Sands Complex/White Sands Test Facility WSCTF N5BL New Mexico

 

Check back for direction to further details of the event and information on how to check your contacts and obtain a certificate at the end of the event.

Please help us celebrate this significant anniversary year for your space agency.  We look forward to working you!

The participating amateur radio clubs, and the NASA On The Air (NOTA) event activities are independent of, and not officially sponsored by NASA.

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Apollo 16, 45th Anniversary Special Event

Start Date/Time 2017-04-20 00:00 UT
End Date/Time 2017-04-23 23:59:00 UT
Club/Organization Sponsor Marshall Space Flight Center ARC, Huntsville, AL.
Call Sign NN4SA
Self spotting on the DX cluster
Stations contacted may request special QSL  by sending an S.A.S.E. to

NN4SA
c/o Donald Hediger, ES35
Huntsville, AL
35812 USA
Public contact email msfc-NN4SA@mail.nasa.gov

Apollo 16 was the first mission to visit the lunar highlands.  John Young and Charles Duke spent 71 hours on the surface while Ken Mattingly remained in the Command Module in lunar orbit.  There were 3 EVAs each using the Lunar Rover developed at MSFC.  More details on the mission are available here.

Apollo16

John Young flying high in this photo taken by Charlie Duke.          NASA photo.

Wading-in to the Contesting Pool

Rob Suggs KB5EZ     2 August 2015

Our NN4SA Yahoogroup frequently sees announcements of upcoming contests and encouragement to get out to the club station and give them a try.  Many of you have home stations but may not have tried contesting yet.  My purpose here is to give you a general idea of what to expect so that you can wade in and begin enjoying contesting.  Contests are a great way to collect contacts for Worked All States and DXCC.  I have around 135 confirmed countries and I think all but about 10 were collected during contests.  When you first tune across the bands you may be a bit intimidated, but don’t despair, you can dip your toe in, make a few contacts, and before you know it you’ll be working them all.

Various Contests

There are a number of contests and different rules and scoring.  You can get a full schedule of contests and links to their rules at http://www.hornucopia.com/contestcal/ .  Although ARRL Field Day is not technically a contest, it is certainly similar and many of you have worked it so you have a general idea of the flow.  In most contests you can get multipliers for states, sections, countries, and/or continents.  This past weekend was the North American QSO Party (NAQP) CW.  Two weeks ago was the RTTY version of NAQP and 2 weeks from now is the SSB event.  I really like these NAQP events because they are only 12 hours long (as opposed to some which are 48 hours), have a reasonable contest exchange composed of name and state (or country) like “Rob AL”, and have no high power category so us 100 watt guys are not competing with the legal limit guys.  The NAQPs occur a couple of times a year: Jan/Feb and Jul/Aug.  All contests have an exchange of some sort.  Most are “signal report, state” or “signal report, serial number”.  Of course the signal report is ALWAYS 59 or 599 which makes it a totally useless waste of bandwidth and RF energy.  But, those are the rules.  So I like the NAQP exchange because you at least get to know the other operator’s name and location; or at least his “nom de clef”.

Operating Approaches

There are 2 types of station operations during a contest: “running” and “search and pounce”.  The “running” stations are sitting on one frequency calling CQ, sometimes for the entire event.  The “search and pounce” stations, like me, tune the band answering the CQs.  Without both nobody would be making any contacts (except for the Sprint-type contests where you call CQ, make a contact, then leave the frequency to the station that just contacted you).  The “running” guys’ QSO rates are very high so they will likely win the contests but I have a few First Place certificates on my wall for Alabama section, low power (100w), single operator from doing nothing but search and pounce.  Probably because the “running” stations are running high power and there is less competition in the 100w category.  Another nice feature of “search and pounce” is that you can listen to the “running” station make a couple of contacts and get the exchange typed in your log before you call.

I like to start at the bottom edge of the band (mind your license privileges) and tune up, working each CQ as I go.  For phone, the loud guy wins so you may have to be patient if you are working without an amplifier.  For CW if there is a small pileup you might try a tiny split.  Turn on your TX Clarifier or Transmit Incremental Tuning and add or subtract 10 or 20 Hz.  This is still in the guy’s filter passband but might separate you from the pile.  Turn it off before you tune for the next contact because simplex (no split) is the primary mode for contests and being a little off frequency may make the other station less likely to notice you.  Although split is used for RTTY DXing I’ve never seen it used in a contest so stay in simplex for that mode.  I’ve never run across split during a phone contest.  Considering doing that would occupy 5 to 6 kHz of bandwidth it would be rude at best.

Logging

There is great software available for logging, calculating your score, and alerting you if you’ve already worked a station on a particular band and mode.  We use N3FJP’s software at the club station.  There is a separate program for each contest and it understands all the rules for multipliers and duplicates.  It can also generate an ADIF formatted file for ingestion into your station logging program and a Cabrillo file which is what all the contests expect for your contest entry – usually by e-mail or cut and paste to a website form.  There are many other logging programs available but N3FJP has a shallow learning curve.  If you don’t plan to submit a contest entry (which is perfectly fine) just use your standard logging software or pen and paper.

CW Operating

Even if you have marginal Morse Code skills you might try a CW contest.  The NAQP is a good one because most operators are running between 20 and 30 wpm.  Other contests tend to be faster.  I don’t feel guilty using the computer to send my call and exchange because I know it is clean code and the other operator will appreciate NOT listening to my feeble fist.  I do keep the paddle handy for the occasional “R R” (roger) or “TU” (thank you) or “dit dit” (see ya) although you can program those as macros as well and simply click on them when needed.  I use DM780 with my Winkeyer as the CW interface to the rig and we have both of those at the club station.  The N3FJP software can also interface to the Winkeyer and has definable macros which can include the serial number which it increments with each contact.  It is also nice to have DM780 decoding the CW (via the soundcard interface) to help you with the calls and contest exchanges.  I do advise that you be able to copy your call by ear at least at 30 wpm because the software will occasionally give bad decodes and only your ears/brain can confirm that the other station got it right.  If you aren’t totally comfortable with CW by ear stick to the strong stations using clean CW (probably computer generated) that the software is decoding successfully.  I’ve found that my code speed has improved as I’ve worked the CW contests  with the software as a safety net.

RTTY Operating

For RTTY I like to use MMTTY but DM780 works great too.  We have both of those programs on the club station PC.  We also have FLDIGI but I haven’t tried that one for contesting.  They all use the club’s SignaLink box to encode/decode the tones.  Unfortunately, the N3FJP logging programs don’t have a built-in interface to these programs although I understand someone has developed one.  That means you may have to type the call and exchange into the logging program but you have plenty of time to do that when doing “search and pounce”.  It would be tough to do that if you were “running” and calling CQ when you need the speed of point and click to do the log entries.  Of course, you need to program a couple of macros so all you have to do is click to send your call and then click to send your exchange.  You may want macros that send your name and your state twice in case you get a request from the station you just called.  MMTTY has contest modes with macros that can generate and send a serial number if needed.

Phone (SSB) Operating

Phone contests are the easiest to manage but I find my QSO rate is best with CW and RTTY, likely because I am not the strongest guy calling in a busy contest and loud wins the pileup with SSB.  You will make a lot of contacts on phone in any contest so give them a try.  Gary WA2JQZ and I have worked a couple of the NAQP phone contests portable from Monte Sano overlook.  We worked just about everybody we heard using 100 w and end-fed or hamstick antennas.

BTW, for the recent RTTY and CW NAQPs I managed a total of 3 hours operating each and got just over 100 contacts in each.  If only I could spend a little more BIC (butt in chair) time I would be more competitive.  But my purpose is to have some fun and improve my QSO rates – both of which I accomplished.

A couple of other points.  In “search and pounce” you don’t generally need to send the “running” station’s callsign.  When he/she sends CQ, just send your callsign once.  You may get a “?” or “AGN” so send it again, maybe twice.  He will send your call and his exchange.  Then you send your exchange.  He will then send a “TU” or “thanks” and call CQ, QRZ, or simply “his call, NA” for NAQP, for instance.  Then you can tune on to the next one.  Easy as that.  Just be absolutely sure he got your call right.  If not send it again.  Don’t send the exchange until he has your call correct and don’t send your call if you are sure he has it.  Otherwise you may be entered into his log incorrectly.  So here is what a CW QSO might look like.  NN4SA is the “running” station with Don at the helm and I am the “search and pounce” for the NAQP.

him CQ NN4SA NN4SA NA

me KB5EZ

him KB5EZ Don AL

me Rob AL

him TU NN4SA NA

This would be for CW or RTTY but the phone contact looks the same except you might hear “QSO Party” or “thanks” rather than the abbreviations.  After my call he might send KB5? so I would send my call again.  If he still doesn’t get it I’ll send it twice.  For contests which require that aforementioned useless signal report you would use 59 for phone, 599 on RTTY, and typically 5NN on CW, because it is shorter.  Some contests use ITU zones, CQ zones, and sometimes transmitter power levels in the exchange.  For the power level you will usually hear KW for legal limit and 100 (1TT on CW) for low power.  It took me a while to figure that 1TT thing out first time I heard it.  Just think about the dits and dahs.  I have heard 89 for power.  That is probably cutting it a little fine.

For a little extra challenge you might try QRP.  Turn the rig output down to 5 w and give it a try.  I was shocked how easy QRP RTTY was during Field Day one year.  QRP phone is a little more challenging but worth the effort.  Almost all contests have the QRP category and it feels great to make those contacts using such low power.

Summary

As in all things with amateur radio, the first order of business is to listen.  By tuning around you’ll get the cadence of the operators and get a feel for the exchange and other QSO content.  Some are a little more verbose with 73 and “good luck”.  The details for each contest are listed on that WA7BNM site.  We’ll keep reminding you of upcoming contests.  If you don’t have a good station at home plan to drop by the club station and at least listen.  When you get the feel of the contest dive in and make a few contacts.  You don’t have to submit a contest entry to make some contacts but do try to generate the appropriate exchange.  You can even make the contacts with your home call and start collecting for the various awards.  I used to be afraid to participate in contests in fear that I would “mess up”.  They are pretty easy once you get the pattern and most of the operators will help you along.  I still goof occasionally but that is OK.  By doing “search and pounce” you can wade in and pretty soon you’ll find yourself comfortable swimming in the deep end and working everyone you can hear.  You may even want to jump off the high platform and be a “running” station.  Whatever you choose to do you’ll hone your operating skills and have some fun at the same time.

Recommended Reading

I’ve been enjoying reading fiction on my Kindle Fire but have recently acquired a couple of technical e-books that might be of interest to radio amateurs.  Both are available on the Kindle store and can be read on a variety of devices.

“The New DXer’s Handbook 2nd Edition” by K7UA is available for $0.99.  It is a short work and an easy read which is full of good operating information including links to on-line resources.  Whether you are just starting DXing or have worked DXCC with 1w and a coat-hanger, you’ll find something of interest, and the price can’t be beat.

“Propagation and Radio Science” by KL7AJ is available in hardback from ARRL and I was at first reluctant to go the e-book route.  But it is about 1/2 price electronically and is nice to have as a portable reference.  This is a very interesting book which describes details of radio propagation that we hams don’t pay much attention to.  It also gives some ideas on problem areas of ionospheric physics where hams can contribute.  The author lives in Alaska and has done professional ionospheric research there for years so he knows what he is talking about.  This book made me aware of the propagation of the ordinary and extraordinary waves we all generate as our signals enter the ionosphere.  It explains some of CW signal degradation I have noticed and given me things to listen for in future operations.  The discussion of reading ionosonde data (available on-line) was very useful, especially for determining when there could be sporadic-E openings.

At first I was disappointed with this e-book in that the figures are hard to read even on my large format Kindle.  Then I discovered that by holding pressure on the figure on the screen you can zoom in to see it better.  My only criticism of this book is that I personally would have liked to see more math.  The concepts presented are sometimes complex but the author does a great job of explaining then in down-to-earth terms.   More of the math would help the technical readers understand it even better but could be skipped if so desired because the written descriptions are so good.

This last one is not available as an e-book.  “200 Meters and Down” was originally published in 1936 by the ARRL.  It is still available from the ARRL in hardcopy form.  It details the beginnings of amateur radio and the struggles to keep it alive after WWI.  I didn’t realize what a key role Hiram Percy Maxim and the ARRL played in saving ham radio not only in the U.S. but the rest of the world.  Fortunately, the military and commercial users initially thought that radio was only useful at very low frequencies and the hams were banished to the “useless” HF portion of the spectrum at wavelengths shorter than 200m.  Through their perseverance and experimentation, hams discovered world-wide propagation at HF and managed to hang on  to allocations to those bands as the military and commercial operators gradually saw their utility and adopted them.  This is a fascinating story that every ham should read to appreciate the allocations we have and the tradition we need to continue.

Rob  KB5EZ

Portable operations around MSFC in February

I’ve been doing portable HF operations for several years now.  I’ve mostly done contesting with the station setup in the back of my SUV with a mobile-mounted hamstick or end fed antenna in a tree.  But I’ve also done a SOTA activation (http://www.sota.org.uk/) and a QRP to the Field (http://www.zianet.com/qrp/).   Like fishing, all of these are an excuse to get out into the outdoors and do something relaxing.  You may not catch much in either activity but with portable HF you’ll at least enjoy dipping the hook in the ionosphere while admiring the scenery.  I have to admit that I don’t always go QRP (sorry, NM4T) especially in the contests but do occasionally operate that way.  You can always setup on your patio and look for a ragchew partner but it is nice to have a goal or framework for your operations.  Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio (RaDAR http://radar-america.blogspot.com/) has been gaining popularity as such a goal while doing portable HF ops and that is what we did around MSFC on a beautiful, mild, winter day in early February.  Craig/NM4T did a really nice writeup in the April QRP Quarterly (http://www.qrparci.org/) but Gary asked if I would provide a summary for the club blogsite so here it is.

The idea behind RaDAR is to setup, make some contacts, and move to do it all again.  The details are at the RaDAR website.  We decided to try at least 3 locations around MSFC, mostly with photogenic, rocket-themed backgrounds.  Craig and I began the day with a portable station outside the club station (not so photogenic).  I was running JT65 on a modified Ten Tec Rebel Open Source QRP rig to my new AlexLoop.  Craig was running SSB on his Elecraft KX3 and 2 different End-Fedz antennas he quickly erected on nice tripod-mounted, guyed, extension poles.  I tried his tri-band End-Fedz and it worked great.  A remarkable fact is that we had the rigs on the same tiny portable table and they didn’t interfere a bit.  I knew the KX3 had a fantastic receiver but the humble little Rebel did great too.  A max of 5 – 10w out helped in this respect.  I powered the Rebel from a used UPS battery and Craig was using a very cool Goal Zero Yeti-400 power pack with solar panels.  With the nice sunshine that day he had plenty of power supply capacity.  We were joined by Mike/KG4OZK and Malcolm/K4MLP.  Both got some mic time on the sweet KX3 and participated the rest of the day making contacts and answering questions from a few passers-by.  Mike hung his J-pole and got on the air with 2m FM.

We then moved our operation to the MSFC rocket park.  Rather than string antennas on the Saturn I we decided to use our AlexLoops which deploy really fast and work amazingly well.  After a few QSOs there we moved to the “rocket engine park” in front of the Propulsion Research Center and went with Rebel, KX3, and 2 AlexLoops once again.

The practical use of this kind of operation is that you demonstrate that your “go kit” is complete and your equipment is working in case you are called on to provide emergency communications.  After trying various antennas and power supplies you get a good feel for the balance of what works best and what is easiest to deploy.  With the modern radios and portable computers digital modes with their communications efficiencies are a great way to make some Qs with low power and compromise antennas.  All this operating fun while enjoying the great outdoors, nice weather, and good fellowship make an unbeatable combination.

Rob KB5EZ

NM4T and his 10-20-40m EndFedz support

KB5EZ's JT65 station

KG4OZK ready for some VHF action on a J-pole

K4MLP and NM4T with the KX3 and AlexLoop

NM4T working JT65 surrounded by a Saturn V engine and Shuttle solid rocket booster