Deep Dive – Node-RED QO-100 Satellite Ground Station Dashboard

Following on from my article about my QO-100 Satellite Ground Station Complete Build, this article goes into some detail on the Node-RED section of the build and how I put together my QO-100 Satellite Ground Station Dashboard web app.

The Node-RED project has grown organically as I used the QO-100 satellite over time. Initially this started out as a simple project to synchronise the transmit and receive VFO’s so that the SDR receiver always tracked the IC-705 transmitter.

Over time I added more and more functionality until the QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard became the beast it is today.

M0AWS QO-100 ground Station Control Dashboard built using Node-RED.
M0AWS QO-100 Ground Station Control Dashboard built using Node-RED.

Looking at the dashboard web app it looks relatively simple in that it reflects a lot of the functionality that the two radio devices already have in their own rights however, bringing this together is actually more complicated than it first appears.

Starting at the beginning I use FLRig to connect to the IC-705. The connection can be via USB or LAN/Wifi, it makes no difference. Node-RED gains CAT control of the IC-705 via XMLRPC on port 12345 to FLRig.

To control the SDR receiver I use GQRX SDR software and connect to it using RIGCTL on GQRX port 7356 from Node-RED. These two methods of connectivity work well and enables full control of the two radios.

M0AWS Node-RED QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard - 12/06/24
M0AWS Node-RED QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard Flow as of 12/06/24

The complete flow above looks rather daunting initially however, breaking it down into its constituent parts makes it much easier to understand.

There are two sections to the flow, the GQRX control which is the more complex of the two flows and the comparatively simple IC-705 section of the flow. These two flows could be broken down further into smaller flows and spread across multiple projects using inter-flow links however, I found it much easier from a debug point of view to have the entire flow in one Node-RED project.

Breaking down the flow further the GQRX startup section (shown below) establishes communication with the GQRX SDR software via TCP/IP and gets the initial mode and filter settings from the SDR software. This information is then used to populate the dashboard web app.

M0AWS - Node-RED QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard - GQRX Startup
M0AWS Node-RED QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard – GQRX Startup Flow

The startup triggers fire just once at initial startup of Node-RED so it’s important that the SDR device is plugged into the PC at boot time.

All the startup triggers feed information into the RIGCTL section of the GQRX flow. This section of the flow (shown below) passes all the commands onto the GQRX SDR software to control the SDR receiver.

M0AWS - QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard - GQRX RIGCTL flow
M0AWS Node-RED QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard – GQRX RIGCTL Flow

The TCP RIGCTL -> GQRX node is a standard TCP Request node that is configured to talk to the GQRX software on the defined IP Address and Port as configured in the GQRX setup. The output from this node then goes into the Filter RIGCTL Response node that processes the corresponding reply from GQRX for each message sent to it. Errors are trapped in the green Debug node and can be used for debugging.

The receive S Meter is also driven from the the output of the Filter RIGCTL Response node and passed onto the S Meter function for formatting before being passed through to the actual gauge on the dashboard.

Continuing down the left hand side of the flow we move into the section where all the GQRX controls are defined.

M0AWS - QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard - GQRX Controls
M0AWS Node-RED QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard – GQRX Controls Flow

In this section we have the VFO step buttons that move the VFO up/down in steps of 10Hz to 10Khz. Each button press generates a value that is passed onto the Set DeltaFreq change node and then on to the Calc new VFO Freq function. From here the new VFO frequency is stored and passed onto the communications channel to send the new VFO frequency to the GQRX software.

The Mode and Filter nodes are simple drop down menus with predefined values that are used to change the mode and receive filter width of the SDR receiver.

Below are the HAM band selector buttons, each of these will use a similar process as detailed above to change the VFO frequency to a preset value on each of the HAM HF Bands.

The QO-100 button puts the transmit and receive VFO’s into synchro-mode so that the receive VFO follows the transmit VFO. It also sets the correct frequency in the 739Mhz band for the downlink from the LNB in GQRX SDR software and sets the IC-705 to the correct frequency in the 2m VHF HAM band to drive the 2.4Ghz up-converter.

The Split button allows the receive VFO to be moved away from the transmit VFO for split operation when in QO-100 mode. This allows for the receive VFO to be moved away so that you can RIT into slightly off frequency stations or to work split when working DXpedition stations.

The bottom two Memory buttons allow you to store the current receive frequency into a memory for later recall.

At the top right of this section of the flow there is a Display Band Plan Info function, this displays the band plan information for the QO-100 satellite in a small display field on the Dashboard as you tune across the transponder. Currently it only displays information for the satellite, at some point in the future I will add the necessary code to display band plan information for the HF bands too.

The final section of the GQRX flow (shown below) sets the initial button colours and starts the Powermate USB VFO knob flow. I’ve already written a detailed article on how this works here but, for completeness it is triggered a few seconds after startup (to allow the USB device to be found) and then starts the BASH script that is used to communicate with the USB device. The output of this is processed and passed back into the VFO control part of the flow so that the receive VFO can be manually altered when in split mode or in non-QO-100 mode.

M0AWS - QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard - Powermate VFO section
M0AWS Node-RED QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard – Powermate VFO Flow

The bottom flows in the image above set some flow variables that are used throughout the flow and then calculates and sets the RIT value on the dashboard display.

The final section of the flow is the IC-705 control flow. This is a relatively simple flow that is used to both send and receive data to/from the IC-705, process it and pass it on to the other parts of the flow as required.

M0AWS - QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard - IC-705 control flow
M0AWS Node-RED QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard – IC-705 Control Flow

The IC-705 flow is started via the timestamp trigger at the top left. This node is nothing more than a trigger that fires every 0.5 seconds so that the dashboard display is updated in near realtime. The flow is pretty self explanatory, in that it collects the current frequency, transmit power, SWR reading, PTT on/off status and S Meter reading each time it is triggered. This information is then processed and used to keep the dashboard display up to date and to provide VFO tracking information to the GQRX receive flow.

On the left are the buttons to change band on the IC-705 along with a button to tune to the VOLEMT on the 60m band. Once again there two memory buttons to save and recall the IC-705 VFO frequency.

The Startup PTT Colour trigger node sets the PTT button to green on startup. The PTT button changes to red during transmit and is controlled via the Toggle PTT function.

At the very bottom of the flow is the set transverter IF Freq function, this sets the IC-705 to a preselected frequency in the 2m HAM band when the dashboard is switched into QO-100 mode by pressing the QO-100 button.

On the right of the flow there is a standard file write node that writes the 2.4Ghz QO-100 uplink frequency each time it changes into a file that is used by my own logging software to add the uplink frequency into my log entries automatically. (Yes I wrote my own logging software!)

The RX Audio Mute Control filter node is used to reduce the receive volume during transmit when in QO-100 full duplex mode otherwise, the operator can get tongue tied hearing their own voice 250ms after they’ve spoken coming back from the satellite. This uses the pulse audio system found on the Linux platform. The audio is reduced to a level whereby it makes it much easier to talk but, you can still hear enough of your audio to ensure that you have a good, clean signal on the satellite.

As I said at the beginning of this article, this flow has grown organically over the last 12 months and has been a fun project to put together. I’ve had many people ask me how I have created the dashboard and whether they could do the same for their ground station. The simple answer is yes, you can use this flow with any kind of radio as long as it has the ability to be controlled via CAT/USB or TCP/IP using XMLRPC or RIGCTL.

To this end I include below an export of the complete flow that can be imported into your own Node-RED flow editor. You may need to make changes to it for it to work with your radio/SDR but, it shouldn’t take too much to complete. If like me you are using an IC-705 and any kind of SDR controlled by GQRX SDR software then it’s ready to go without any changes at all.

More soon …

QO-100 Satellite Ground Station Complete Build

I get quite a few emails from readers of my blog asking how my QO-100 satellite station is put together and so, I thought perhaps now is a good time to put together an article detailing the complete build.

My QO-100 satellite ground station is built around my little Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver, it’s a great little rig and is ideal for the purpose of driving a 2.4Ghz transverter/up-converter.

Of course all the software used for the project is Opensource and freely available on the internet.

M0AWS QO-100 Ground Station Build Visual
M0AWS QO-100 Ground Station Build Visual (Click to Enlarge)

The station comprises of the following building blocks:

  • Icom IC-705 Transceiver
  • DXPatrol 28/144/433Mhz to 2.4Ghz Up-Converter
  • DXPatrol GPSDO Reference Oscillator
  • DXPatrol 2.4Ghz 5/12w Amplifier
  • Nolle Engineering 2.2 turn 2.4Ghz IceCone Helix Antenna
  • 1.1m (110cm) Off-set Dish
  • Bullseye 10Ghz LNB
  • Bias-T to feed 12v to LNB
  • NooElec SmartSDR Receiver
  • PC Running Kubuntu Linux Operating System
  • GQRX SDR Opensource Software
  • Griffin Powermate USB VFO Knob
  • QO-100 Ground Station Dashboard developed using Node-RED
  • LMR400-UF/RG58 Coax Cable
M0AWS QO-100 1.1m off-set Dish and IceCone Helix antenna ground station
M0AWS QO-100 1.1m (110cm) off-set Dish with IceCone Helix antenna and Bullseye LNB.

To get a good clear view of the QO-100 satellite I have the dish mount 3.2m above the ground. This keeps it well clear of anyone walking past in the garden and beams the signal up at an angle of 26.2 degrees keeping well clear of neighbouring gardens.

The waterproof enclosure below the dish houses all the 2.4Ghz equipment so that the distance between the feed point and the amplifier are kept to a minimum.

The DXPatrol amplifier is spec’d to run at 28v/12w or 12v/5w, I found that running it at 28v produced too much output for the satellite and would cause the LEILA alarm on the satellite to trip constantly. Running the amp at 12v with a maximum of 5w output (average 2.5-3.5w) is more than enough for me to have a 5/9+10 signal on the transponder.

The large 1.1m dish gives me quite an advantage on receive enabling me to hear the very weak stations with ease compared to other stations.

2.4Ghz ground station enclosure ready for testing
2.4Ghz ground station enclosure ready for testing

The photo above shows the 2.4Ghz equipment mounted in the waterproof enclosure below the dish. This photo was taken during the initial build phase before I rewired it so, the amplifier is shown connected to the 28v feed. To rewire the amp to 12v was just a matter of removing the 28v converter and connecting the amp directly to the 12v feed instead. This reduced the output from a maximum of 12w down to a maximum of 5w giving a much better (considerate) level on the satellite.

It’s important to keep all interconnects as short as possible as at 2.4Ghz it is very easy to build up a lot of loss between devices.

For the connection from the IC-705 to the 2.4Ghz Up-Converter I used a 7m run of
LMR-400 coax cable. The IC-705 is set to put out just 300mW on 144Mhz up to the 2.4Ghz converter and so it’s important to use a good quality coax cable.

Once again the output from the 2.4Ghz amplifier uses 1.5m of LMR-400-UF coax cable to feed up to the 2.2 turn Icecone Helix Antenna mounted on the dish. This keeps loss to a minimum and is well worth the investment.

Bullseye 10Khz High Stability Unversal Single LNB for 10.489-12.750Ghz
Bullseye 10Khz High Stability Unversal Single LNB for 10.489-12.750Ghz

The receive path starts with a Bullseye LNB, this is a high gain LNB that is probably one of the best you could use for QO-100 operations. It’s fairly stable frequency wise but, does drift a little in the summer months with the high temperature changes but, overall it really is a very good LNB.

The 12v feed to the LNB is via the coax and is injected by the Bias-T device that is in the radio shack. This 12v feed powers the LNA and associated electronics in the LNB to provide a gain of 50-60dB.

Bias-T to inject 12v feed into the coax for the Bullseye LNB
Bias-T to inject 12v feed into the coax for the Bullseye LNB

From the Bias-T the coax comes down to the NooElec SmartSDR receiver. This is a really cheap SDR device (<£35 on Amazon) based on the RTL-SDR device but, it works incredibly well. I originally used a Funcube Dongle Pro+ for the receive side however, it really didn’t handle large signals very well and there was a lot of signal ghosting so, I swapped it out for the NooElec SDR and haven’t looked back since.

The NooElec SmartSDR is controlled via the excellent Opensource software GQRX SDR. I’ve been using GQRX SDR for some years now and it’s proven itself to be extremely stable and reliable with support for a good number of SDR devices.

To enhance the operation of the SDR device I have added a Griffin Powermate VFO knob to the build. This is an old USB device that I originally purchased to control my Flex3000 transceiver but, since I sold that many moons ago I decided to use it as a VFO knob in my QO-100 ground station. Details on how I got it working with the station are detailed in this blog article.

Having the need for full duplex operation on the satellite this complicates things when it comes to VFO tracking and general control of the two radios involved in the solution and so I set about creating a QO-100 Dashboard using the great Node-RED graphical programming environment to create a web app that simplifies the management of the entire setup.

M0AWS QO-100 ground Station Control Dashboard built using Node-RED.
M0AWS QO-100 ground Station Control Dashboard built using Node-RED.

The QO-100 Dashboard synchronises the transmit and receive VFO’s, enables split operation so that you can transmit and receive on different frequencies at the same time and a whole host of other things using very little code. Most of the functionality is created using standard Node-RED nodes. More info on Node-RED can be found on the Wiki or from the menu’s above.

I’ll be publishing an article all about the QO-100 Dashboard in the very near future along with a downloadable flow file.

I’m extremely pleased with how well the ground station works and have had well in excess of 500 QSO’s on the QO-100 satellite over the last last year.

More soon …

Update to my NodeRed QO-100 Dashboard

Ever since my QO-100 ground station has been operational I’ve been using my NodeRed QO-100 Dashboard to control my IC-705 and GQRX SDR software to drive my NooElec SmartSDR receiver. This gives me a full duplex ground station with both transmit and receive VFO’s synchronised.

This solution has worked incredibly well from the outset and over time I’ve added extra functionality that I’ve found to be useful to enhance the overall setup.

The latest addition to the ground station solution is a Sennheiser Headset that I picked up for just £56 on Amazon (Much cheaper than the Heil equivalents at the HAM stores!) and have found it to be excellent. The audio quality from both the mic and the headphones is extremely good whilst being light and comfortable to wear for extended periods.

M0AWS - Sennheiser SC 165
M0AWS – Sennheiser SC 165 Headset

To incorporate this into the ground station the headset is connected to my Kubuntu PC and the audio chain to the IC-705 is sent wirelessly using the latest version of WFView. This works extremely well. The receive audio comes directly from the GQRX SDR software to the headphones so that I have a full duplex headset combination.

Audio routing is done via pulse audio on the Kubuntu PC and is very easy to setup.

Since I no longer have a mic connected to the IC-705 directly I found that I needed a way to operate the PTT wirelessly and this is where the latest addition to my NodeRed QO-100 Dashboard comes in.

Adding a little functionality to the NodeRed flow I was able to create a button that toggles the IC-705 PTT state on and off giving me the ability to easily switch between receive and transmit using a simple XMLRPC node without the need for a physical PTT button.

M0AWS - Additional NodeRed PTT Flow
M0AWS – Additional NodeRed PTT Flow

The PTT state and PTT button colour change is handled by the Toggle PTT function node shown in the above flow. The code to do this is relatively simple as shown below.

M0AWS - NodeRed Toggle PTT Function to change button colour
M0AWS – NodeRed Toggle PTT Function to change button colour

The entire QO-100 Dashboard flow has grown somewhat from it’s initial conception but, it provides all the functionality that I require to operate a full duplex station on the QO-100 satellite.

M0AWS - NodeRed QO-100 Dashboard complete flow
M0AWS – NodeRed QO-100 Dashboard complete flow

This simple but, effective PTT solution works great and leaves me hands free whilst talking on the satellite or the HF bands when using the IC-705. This also means that when using my IC-705 it only requires the coax to be connected, everything else is done via Wifi keeping things nice and tidy in the radio shack.

M0AWS - Updated NodeRed QO-100 Dashboard with PTT button
M0AWS – Updated NodeRed QO-100 Dashboard with PTT button

The image above shows the QO-100 ground station in receive cycle with the RX/TX VFO’s in split mode as the DX station was slightly off frequency to me. The PTT button goes red when in TX mode just like the split button shown above for visual reference.

As you can probably tell, I’m a huge fan of NodeRed and have put together quite a few projects using it, including my HF Bands Live Monitoring web page.

More soon …

Building HAM Clock on an old RaspberryPi

I’ve got a couple of old RaspberryPi computers on the shelf in the shack and so decided it was time for me to put one of them to good use. The first model on the shelf is the oldest and is one of the very first RaspberryPi 1 computers that was released. (It’s the one with the yellow analog video signal output on the board!). This particular model is extremely slow but, I hang onto it just as a reminder of the first SBC in the line.

The second one is a RaspberryPi 2, a quad core machine that is only slightly faster than the first model but, it’s powerful enough to run HAM Clock.

It didn’t take long to install a vanilla Raspbian Desktop O/S and get it configured on the local LAN. I installed a few packages that I like to have available on all my Linux machines and then started on the HAM Clock install.

The first thing I needed to do was install the X11 development library that is required to compile the HAM Clock binary. To do this, open a terminal and enter the command below to install the package.

sudo apt install libx11-dev

You will need to type in your password to obtain root privileges to complete the installation process and then wait for the package to be installed.

The HAM Clock source code is available from the HAM Clock Website under the Download tab in .zip format. Once downloaded unzip the file and change directory into the ESPHamClock folder ready to compile the code.

cd ~/Downloads/ESPHamClock

Once in the ESPHamClock directory you can run a command to get details on how to compile the source code.

make help

This will check your system to see what screen resolutions are available and then list out the options available to you for compiling the code as shown below.

The following targets are available (as appropriate for your system)

    hamclock-800x480          X11 GUI desktop version, AKA hamclock
    hamclock-1600x960         X11 GUI desktop version, larger, AKA hamclock-big
    hamclock-2400x1440        X11 GUI desktop version, larger yet
    hamclock-3200x1920        X11 GUI desktop version, huge

    hamclock-web-800x480      web server only (no display)
    hamclock-web-1600x960     web server only (no display), larger
    hamclock-web-2400x1440    web server only (no display), larger yet
    hamclock-web-3200x1920    web server only (no display), huge

    hamclock-fb0-800x480      RPi stand-alone /dev/fb0, AKA hamclock-fb0-small
    hamclock-fb0-1600x960     RPi stand-alone /dev/fb0, larger, AKA hamclock-fb0
    hamclock-fb0-2400x1440    RPi stand-alone /dev/fb0, larger yet
    hamclock-fb0-3200x1920    RPi stand-alone /dev/fb0, huge

For my system 1600×960 was the best option and so I compiled the code using the command as follows.

make hamclock-1600x960

It’s no surprise that it takes a while to compile the code on such a low powered device. I can’t tell you how long exactly as I went and made a brew and did a few other things whilst it was running but, it took a while!

Once the compilation was complete you then need to install the application to your desktop environment and move the binary to the correct directory.

make install

Once the install is complete there should be an icon on the GUI desktop to start the app. If like mine it didn’t create the icon then you can start the HAM Clock by using the following command in the terminal.

/usr/local/bin/hamclock &

The first time you start the app you’ll need to enter your station information, callsign, location etc and then select the settings you want to use. There are 4 pages of options for configuring the app all of which are described in the user documentation.

M0AWS - HAM Clock running on RaspberryPi Computer
M0AWS – HAM Clock running on RaspberryPi Computer

Once the configuration is complete the map will populate with the default panels and data. I tailored my panels to show the items of interest to me namely, POTA, SOTA, International Beacon Project and the ISS space station track. I was hoping to be able to display more than one satellite at a time on the map however, the interface only allows for one bird to be tracked at a time.

You can access the HAM Clock from another computer using a web browser pointed at your RaspberryPi on your local LAN using either the IP address or the hostname of the device.




You can also control the HAM Clock remotely via web browser using a set of web commands that are detailed on port 8080 of the device.

http://<hostname or ip-address>:8080/

M0AWS - HAM Clock remote command set
M0AWS – HAM Clock remote command set

This is a great addition to any HAM shack especially if, like me you have an old HDTV on the wall of the shack that is crying out to display something useful.

More soon …

Home-Brew 12v DC Distribution Box

I’ve been wanting to tidy up the cabling to the 12v DC PSU for some time in the radio shack as like many HAMs I have a number of radios/devices that all need a 12v feed but, only two connectors on the front of the PSU. The net result was a birds nest of wires all connected to the PSU making it impossible to disconnect one device without others getting disconnected at the same time.

Looking online I found that many of the HAM outlets stores sell nice little 12v DC distribution boxes that would be ideal however, they’re all priced somewhat high for what they are so, I decided to purchase the parts and make one myself.

Searching on Amazon I found all the necessary parts for less than a quarter of the cost of commercially made units. A couple of days later the parts arrived and sat on my desk in the shack for a few weeks. Yesterday I finally found the time to make a start on the project.

M0AWS home-brew 12v DC Distribution Box
M0AWS home-brew 12v DC Distribution Box

After much drilling and filing I had the necessary holes/slots cut in the plastic box for the 4mm connectors and fuse holders and started wiring them up. Part way through my 30 year old soldering iron decided to die and so I had to stop and wait for a replacement to arrive.

M0AWS completed 12v DC Distribution Box
M0AWS completed 12v DC Distribution Box

With the new soldering iron in hand it only took 30mins or so to complete all the joints and I soon had the box together ready to test with my multimeter to ensure I didn’t have any shorts or crossed wires.

With testing complete and fuses in place I connected it up to the PSU and then connected all the devices one by one checking for voltage drops as I went.

M0AWS 12v DC Distribution Box
M0AWS 12v DC Distribution Box

I now have my CG3000 remote auto ATU, GPSDO, QO-100 ground station and IC-705 all nicely connected in a much tidier fashion than before, all for considerably less than the commercially available alternatives.

More soon …

Modelling my Inverted-L Antenna

Since I put together my Inverted-L antenna and Pi-Network ATU I’ve been having a lot of fun on the low bands.

Getting back onto 160m has been most enjoyable and I’ve now had over 100 ‘Top Band’ contacts with distances covered as far as 3453 Miles into Sosnovoborsk Asiatic Russia.

I must admit I am amazed at the distances achieved on the 160m band as the antenna isn’t very high above ground level when compared to a single wave length on 160m.

M0AWS Inverted-L Antenna View
M0AWS Inverted-L Antenna View

The Inverted-L antenna at the M0AWS QTH was designed purely around the size of the back garden. Using a couple of 10m Spiderpoles the vertical section of the antenna is 10m tall and the horizontal section is 28m long. Naturally the antenna resonates around 2.53Mhz but, can be tuned to resonate anywhere on any band using the Pi-Network ATU I built that is situated at the base of the vertical section of the antenna.

Looking at the far field plots for the antenna on each band we see that as we move higher in frequency the radiation pattern becomes more complex and the radiation angle gets lower, exactly what we would expect from such an antenna. The antenna runs pretty much North/South in the garden ( X axis on the diagram above) and so we would expect the antenna to radiate East/West (Y axis on the diagram above) however, this isn’t always the case.

(Click Far Field Plots for full screen view)

On 160m the antenna favours the South (-X Axis) and presents some usable high angle gain although, from using the antenna you would never know this to be the case as it seems to have pretty good all round coverage. With the best distance of 3453 Miles being covered to the East into Asiatic Russia the antenna performs well even though the far field plot is slightly biased to the South.

On the 80m band the Inverted-L antenna becomes a cloud warmer and exhibits very high angle radiation. On 80m the antenna is ideal for NVIS Inter-G propagation and is great for rag chewing with other UK/Near EU stations.

Looking at the far field plots for the 60m band once again the antenna provides lots of high angle gain however, there is also some very useable lower angle gain that has proven to be excellent for working long hauls into North America and east into Central Asia. On the 60m band during the day the antenna is excellent for Inter-G chatting, using just 20w-40w I can very easily chat with other UK HAMs even when the band is noisy.

Moving on up to the 40m band we find the far field plot starts to get a little more complex. Looking at the 3D plot you’d think that the antenna favoured the South (-X Axis) however, in reality it favours the NorthWest with both some high and low angle gain. This antenna has proven to be excellent for DXing into North America on 40m but, has also been great for DXing into South America getting great signal reports from stations in Panama at a distance of 5415 Miles. During the day NVIS propagation is excellent and I find I can chat with other UK and near EU stations with ease using just 25w.

M0AWS Inverted-L Antenna 60m/40m Global Coverage
M0AWS Inverted-L Antenna 60m/40m Global Coverage

Above is a screen shot from PSKReporter showing stations that have heard me on the 40m and 60m bands. As you can see, global coverage is excellent with stations as far as Australia and New Zealand hearing me on the 40m band and stations on the West Coast USA hearing me on the 60m band. I was also pleased to see I was heard in Africa on both bands, a region of the world I would like to get more contacts from.

On the 30m band the Inverted-L antenna starts to exhibit two lobes with gain to the NorthEast and NorthWest. This makes the antenna ideal for working into the USA and Australia/New Zealand over the North Pole. Working US stations is a breeze with relatively low power and I almost got a contact with New Zealand during the evening greyline but, unfortunately the DX station dropped out before I managed to get my signal report back to him. As time goes on I’m sure the antenna will more than prove itself on the 30m band.

So far I’ve not ventured above the 30m band with the Inverted-L antenna as I’ve really been enjoying access to Inter-G chats on 80m, 40m and 60m and chasing DX on 160m, 60m, 40m and 30m. I need to venture up onto the higher bands before the long winter nights settle in and the higher HF bands close for the winter season.

Looking at the far field plots on the higher HF bands the antenna has huge potential as it provides some nice low angle radiation in useful directions.

On the 20m band the far field plot starts to get much more complex with lobes at many different angles. The main gain lobe is to the NorthEast towards the USA and is at a fairly low angle and so this antenna should be great for working stateside on the 20m band. There are also lobes to the NorthEast and so hopefully working VK/ZL over the pole should also be possible. As I said above I’ve not yet used the antenna above the 30m band and so at this time cannot confirm performance but, it looks promising.

The 17m band also looks promising with a similar far field plot as the 20m band but, with lower angle of maximum radiation and more gain. It will be very interesting to test this antenna on 17m especially since the noise level is below S0 and I can very easily hear the weakest of stations on this band.

Once again the 15m band looks very similar to the 17m band, low angle radiation but, with a slightly more complex far field plot.

The 12m band far field plots continue the theme with the angle of maximum radiation slightly lower than on the 15m band and slightly more gain. This antenna should be great for chasing the DX on the very quiet 12m band.

Finally the 10m band is very similar to the 12m band in that the far field plots show low angle gain albeit with an even more complex radiation pattern.

I originally put this antenna up so that I could work Inter-G on the low bands but, it has proven to be a much more worthy antenna than I originally thought it would be. I need to spend more time with this antenna on the bands above 30m to really see how it performs on the higher HF bands but, so far I’m really pleased with it’s overall performance on all the bands tested to date.

I can highly recommend using FT8 to test new antennas. With PSKReporter and my own NodeRed World Map WSJT-X interface I can see realtime the antenna performance on each band. FT8 is an extremely useful tool when it comes to testing antennas to see if they perform as per the modelling and can often provide some performance surprises!

More soon …

Making my 160m Inverted-L into a Multi band Antenna

I recently put up a 38m Inverted-L antenna (10m vertical/28m horizontal) and tuned it on the 160m band using a home-brew Pi-Network ATU. It’s working great on top band and I’m really pleased with performance so far.

I decided today that it would be good to try the inverted-L out on some of the other low bands too. Since my other HF antenna is a large vertical that’s great for DXing but, terrible for Inter-G I thought perhaps the Inverted-L would fill the inter-G gap.

M0AWS Pi-Network ATU using my JNCRadio VNA to find the ATU setting for each band
M0AWS Pi-Network ATU using my JNCRadio VNA to find the ATU setting for each band

Having recently purchased a JNCRadio VNA from Martin Lynch and Sons it made tuning the ATU for each band really easy. When it comes to antenna resonance I like my antennas to have an SWR of less than 1.2:1. With the VNA connected it is really easy to tune the antenna for a 1:1 SWR on a particular frequency, make a note of the tune information and then move to the next frequency and start again.

I marked up each turn on the large copper inductor so I could record the position of the input wire onto the inductor. I then added some markings on the two capacitors of the Pi-Network ATU for the resonance points on each band/frequency I wanted to resonate the antenna on.

M0AWS Pi-Network ATU settings noted for each band
M0AWS Pi-Network ATU settings noted for each band

After about 40mins I had all the settings recorded on a pad ready for testing from the shack end of the coax run. Connecting my Yaesu FTDX10 to the coax I ran through each band setting checking the SWR as I went. All bands tuned up perfectly 160m through 30m and receiving of Inter-G on the bands that were active was excellent.

Wanting to test the antenna on 40m for the first time I found Nick, M7NHC calling CQ and gave him a call using just 5w output. He came straight back to me and we had a quick chat.

Nick was using an Icom IC-7300 using just 10w into an end-fed long wire from Eastbourne down on the south coast so, we were both QRP. Nick was a 5/7 with QSB and he gave me a 5/8 with QSB, not bad at all consider how much power we were using.

I’m hoping to have a chat with some of the guys from the Matrix this evening on 60m SSB so, it will be interesting to see how the antenna performs on 5Mhz.

More soon …

Getting back onto 160m “Top Band”

Since setting up the new HAM station here in the UK the one band I’ve not yet got back onto is 160m, one of my most favourite bands in the HF spectrum and one that I was addicted to when I live in France (F5VKM).

Having such a small garden here in the UK there is no way I can get any type of guyed vertical for 160m erected and so I needed to come up with some sort of compromise antenna for the band.

Only being interested in the FT4/8 and CW sections of the 160m band I calculated that I could get an inverted-L antenna up that would be reasonably close to resonant. It would require some additional inductance to get the electrical length required and some impedance matching to provide a 50 Ohm impedance to the transceiver.

Measuring the garden I found I could get a 28m horizontal section in place and a 10m vertical section using one of my 10m spiderpoles. This would give me a total of 38m of wire that would get me fairly close to the quarter wave length.

For impedance matching I decided to make a Pi-Network ATU. I’ve made these in the past and found them to be excellent at matching a very wide range of impedances to 50 Ohm.

M0AWS Homebrew Pi-Network ATU
M0AWS Homebrew Pi-Network ATU

Since I still had the components of the Pi-Network ATU that I built when I lived in France I decided to reuse them as it saved a lot of work. The inductor was made from some copper tubing I had left over after doing all the plumbing in the house in France and so it got repurposed and formed into a very large inductor. The 2 x capacitors I also built many years ago and fortunately I’d kept locked away as they are very expensive to purchase today and a lot of work to make.

Getting the Inverted-L antenna up was easy enough and I soon had it connected to the Pi-Network ATU. I ran a few radials out around the garden to give it something to tune against and wound a 1:1 choke balun at the end of the coax run to stop any common mode currents that may have appeared on the coax braid.

Connecting my JNCRadio VNA I found that the Inverted-L was naturally resonant at 2.53Mhz, not too far off the 1.84Mhz that I needed. Adding a little extra inductance and capacitance via the ATU I soon had the antenna resonant where I wanted it at the bottom of the 160m band.

M0AWS 160m Inverted L Antenna SWR Curve
M0AWS 160m Inverted L Antenna SWR Curve

With the SWR being <1.5:1 across the CW and FT8 section of the band I was ready to get on 160m for the first time in a long.

Since it’s still summer in the UK I wasn’t expecting to find the band in very good shape but, was pleasantly surprised. Switching the radio on before full sunset I was hearing stations all around Europe with ease. In no time at all I was working stations and getting good reports using just 22w of FT8. FT8 is such a good mode for testing new antennas.

As the sky got darker the distance achieved got greater and over time I was able to work into Russia with the longest distance recorded being 2445 Miles, R9LE in Tyumen Asiatic Russia.

In no time at all I’d worked 32 stations taking my total 160m QSOs from 16 to 48. I can’t wait for the long, dark winter nights to see how well this antenna really performs.

M0AWS Map showing stations worked on 160m using Inverted L Antenna
M0AWS Map showing stations worked on 160m using Inverted L Antenna

The map above shows the locations of the stations worked on the first evening using the 160m Inverted-L antenna. As the year moves on and we slowly progress into winter it will be fun to start chasing the DX again on the 160m band..

UPDATE 6th October 2023.
Been using the antenna for some time now with over 100 contacts on 160m. Best 160m DX so far is RV0AR in Sosnovoborsk Asiatic Russia, 3453 Miles using just 22w. Pretty impressive for such a low antenna on Top Band.

More soon …

My old valve radio station

Going through some old photos today I found a few great memories from the past of my old valve radio stations that I’d restored over the years.

These old radios gave me some wonderful moments over the years and a fair few hours of restoration to get them into operational condition. They sounded great on air and I often got comments from other amateur stations about how warm the audio sounded. Some did also mention the drift of the transmitter with temperature changes but, you just have to accept that when using vintage radio equipment.

M0AWS FT101E Transceiver, FL101 Transmitter, FR101B Receiver and TS520S Transceiver.
M0AWS FT101E Transceiver, FL101 Transmitter, FR101B Receiver and TS520S Transceiver.

Above is my old FT101 line up. It consisted of the great FT101E transceiver, a complete standalone solution that was extremely popular in its day. Below it is the FT101 line up made up of the FT101 transmitter, FR101B receiver and matching speaker.

Top right is the lovely Trio TS520S with the matching digital frequency display which is incredibly rare and very sought after today.

These radios gave me a lot of pleasure for many years and I wish I still had them today.

My second Yaesu valve line up took a lot more restoration than the 101 series and was quite challenging at times but, with a lot patience and time spent sourcing parts I got them back to as close to new operational condition as was possible.

M0AWS FLDX400 Transmitter, FRDX400 Receiver, FL2000B Amplifier and FTDX501 Transceiver.
M0AWS FLDX400 Transmitter, FRDX400 Receiver, FL2000B Amplifier and FTDX501 Transceiver.

The Yaesu 400 series line up consisted of the FLDX400 transmitter, FRDX400 receiver and was finished off with the FL2000B amplifier. These 3 pieces of radio equipment looked beautiful in the flesh and were wonderful to operate. Taking a good 15mins to warm up and become stable you couldn’t rush getting on air. This line up was my favourite by far even though they weren’t as good as the 101 line up.

Above the 400 series is the later FTDX501 transceiver with matching speaker. This was a great radio in its own right but, not as much fun to operate as the 400 line up. To the right of the FTDX501 is the matching Yaesu Microphone for the 400/500 series. This mic is incredibly rare and I had to visit many radio swap rallies to find it, worth the effort though.

Top right you can see my old SWL receiver, the great Drake SW4A. I never had a Drake line up as they are quite rare in the UK but, it certainly would had made a great addition to the station.

M0AWS FLDX400, FRDX400 & FL2000B Station being operated by M1ACB and G6ALB
M0AWS FLDX400, FRDX400 & FL2000B Station being operated by M1ACB and G6ALB

Finally this is a photo of two friends of mine, Steve Thomas M1ACB (Current General Manager of the RSGB) on the right and Andy, G6ALB with whom I spent many hours sending and receiving morse with to get our Class A licences. We had a fun day together operating the old radios and taking it in turns to handle the pile ups!

More soon …