Taking the Hiss out of QO-100

I’ve been on the QO-100 satellite for about 7 months now and I have to admit I love it!

Having a “Repeater In The Sky” that covers a third of the world really is a wonderful facility to have access to however, there is one thing that I find tiring and that is the high level of background noise that is always present.

Even though the signals are mostly 59-59+15dB the background “hiss” is very pronounced and gets very tiring after a while, especially if like me you have tinnitus.

Currently I’m using a NooElec Smart SDR for the receiver and GQRX SDR software on my Kubuntu Linux PC. This works great but, there is one short fall, there is no DSP Noise Reduction (NR) in the software or hardware.

To fix this I recently invested in a BHI Dual In-Line Noise Eliminating Module. The unit itself is nicely put together and has a good combination of inputs and outputs making it easy to connect up to my MacBook Pro to record QSOs and connect my headphones at the same time.

M0AWS BHI Dual In-Line Noise Eliminating Module
M0AWS BHI Dual In-Line Noise Eliminating Module

At £189.95 plus postage from BHI direct it’s not cheap but, it is nicely put together and comes complete with a power lead and a couple of cheap audio cables. The quality of the knobs and mechanisms is good apart from the little grey DSP Filter Level knob that feels cheap and is very wobbly on the switch below. I’m not sure how long this is going to last with prolonged use and will most likely need replacing with something a little sturdier at some point in the future.

Overall noise reduction is good but, the audio amplifiers on the Audio Input Level and Line Out Level distort very early on in their range and you cannot get them much above level 5 before distortion starts to appear on the received signal. This is disappointing as my headphones are of reasonable quality and are let down by the distortion creeping in from the audio amplifier in the BHI unit.

I’ve tried altering the levels on the input from the IC-705 and no matter what I cannot get a good audio signal in my headphones without some distortion on the higher frequency ranges.

Overall the device does do what I want, it reduces the background “hash” considerably reducing the fatigue whilst chatting on the satellite. Below is a recording from a conversation on the satellite showing the noise reduction performance of the BHI module.

M0AWS Example BHI DSP NR Recording

The recording starts with the BHI DSP NR off, at 00:07 the DSP NR is switched on, you can clearly hear the difference. At 00:23 the DSP NR is turned off again and at 00:36 the DSP NR is turned on again. The BHI DSP NR Module is set with the DSP Filter Level set at 3 out of 8 which appears to be the best level to use. Switching to level 4 starts to introduce digital artefacts to the audio which only gets worse the higher the DSP Filter Level goes.

With a setting above level 3 there really isn’t much improvement in noise reduction and the audio becomes progressively more affected by the digital artefacts than it does from the background noise.

M0AWS BHI Dual In-Line Noise Eliminating Module with Icom IC-705 QO-100 Ground Station
M0AWS BHI Dual In-Line Noise Eliminating Module with Icom IC-705 QO-100 Ground Station

The only other problem I have with the BHI Dual In-Line Noise Eliminating Module is that is comes in a plastic case. The case itself is solid and of good quality however, it offers no RF shielding whatsoever and the unit is extremely susceptible to RF getting into the audio chain and then being heard during transmit in the headphones and via the line out connections. For the money I would had expected the unit to come in a metal case that provides proper RF shielding. This is a real shame as it lets the unit down considerably.

As setup in the photo above I am using 300mW O/P on 144Mhz from the IC-705 into a perfect 1:1 SWR presented by the DX Patrol 2.4Ghz Upconverter via some very high quality LMR-400 Coaxial cable from Barenco but, I get terrible RF interference via the BHI unit during the transmit cycle. Considering I am only using 300mW I dread to think what it may be like if I was using a 100w HF radio. This is something I need to investigate further as it really is very annoying.

Moving the unit to a different location in the radio room does help a bit but, doesn’t solve the problem completely. At 300mW RF O/P I really didn’t expect there to be a problem with RF getting into the BHI unit.

Having a proper line-out facility on the BHI unit really is nice as it makes it very easy to connect to my MacBook Pro to obtain good quality recordings of signals on the QO-100 satellite as can be listened to above.

Overall I am happy with the BHI Dual In-Line Noise Eliminating Module but, do wish that more care had been taken over using a metal case instead of a plastic case to protect the unit from RF ingress and better audio amplifiers within the unit that don’t distort/clip so early on in their O/P levels.

Is this the perfect noise reduction unit?

No but, overall it is better than nothing and does help to reduce the background noise to a more acceptable level reducing the overall fatigue during prolonged conversations on the QO-100 satellite.

UPDATE: I tried the BHI unit with my FTDX10 on the HF bands and the RF interference is horrendous, even when using QRP power levels! This device clearly hasn’t been designed to work in an RF environment and the total lack of shielding or isolation lets it down terribly. If you are an SWL then this unit is fine but, if like me you like to monitor your transmitted audio whilst on air through headphones then this isn’t the unit for you. To prove the problem isn’t in the radio shack I put the BHI unit in the house some 30m away powered by 12v battery with nothing connected but a pair of headphones and still the unit suffered from RF interference even at QRP levels.

More soon …

Retevis RT85 antenna SWR

Since purchasing my Retevis RT85 2m/70cm handheld radio I’ve noticed that it seems rather deaf when using the antenna that came with the radio and isn’t as strong into the local repeaters as I imagined it would be.

Considering the local 2m and 70cm repeater isn’t that far from my QTH and there is pretty much a clear line of site view in the direction of the repeater I was somewhat surprised that on 70cm the repeater never breaks the squelch, even if it is set on it’s lowest setting of zero.

M0AWS Retevis RT85 dual band VHF/UHF Handheld Radio
M0AWS Retevis RT85 dual band VHF/UHF Handheld Radio

Connecting my home made end fed dual band vertical dipole at 10m above ground the performance of the radio improves drastically as one would expect.

Having recently purchased a JNCRadio VNA 3G antenna analyser I decided to connect the Retevis supplied antenna to the analyser and see what the resonance was like on the two bands.

The antenna is labelled as 136-174Mhz and 400-470Mhz. This is an extremely wide frequency range for such a small antenna and clearly isn’t going to perform that well over such a wide bandwidth.

Connecting the antenna to the VNA and setting the stimulus frequency range to 144-148Mhz I found that the SWR curve of the antenna wasn’t particularly good.

M0AWS Retevis RT85 Antenna SWR Curve 2m
M0AWS Retevis RT85 Antenna SWR Curve 2m

As shown above the SWR curve on the 2m Band is pretty poor. At 144.0Mhz it’s just over 3:1, at 145.496 (closest I could get to the 145.500 calling channel) the SWR is still 2.1:1. The antenna doesn’t really get close to resonance until 148Mhz where the SWR is 1.46:1.

With an SWR this high the radio will almost certainly be reducing the O/P power considerably to protect the PA stage from over heating due to so much power be reflected back into the transmitter. This explains the poor performance when using 2m repeaters locally and the somewhat limited range when using the OEM supplied antenna.

Looking at the SWR curve on the 70cm band, the antenna is much closer to resonance than it is on the 2m band but, it’s still not perfect.

M0AWS Retevis RT85 Antenna SWR Curve 70cm
M0AWS Retevis RT85 Antenna SWR Curve 70cm

At 430Mhz the SWR is 1.56:1, at 435Mhz 1.63:1 and 440Mhz 1.72:1. Since the antenna is much closer to resonance on the 70cm band I would expect it to perform better than it does.

Looking at the SWR curves over the entire supported frequency range of 136-174Mhz and 400-470Mhz, there is only one point of resonance on VHF around 148Mhz and on UHF around 400Mhz.

With such disappointing performance on both VHF and UHF I’ve decided to investigate making my own 2m/70cm antenna for the handheld to see if I can improve both the SWR on each band and the overall performance of the radio.

More soon …

2m Band Eggbeater Satellite Antenna

I’ve been chatting a lot recently on Matrix about antennas for the amateur satellites.

Since I’m currently working on building a ground station for the QO-100 satellite a group of satellite enthusiasts having been talking about the other satellites that are in orbit around this little planet of ours.

The ISS FM voice repeater on 145.990Mhz is very popular and is one of the easiest satellite stations to get into apparently. Many are using Eggbeater antennas to get an all round radiation pattern.

I’ve never looked into building or modelling such antennas and so I decided to have a go at modelling one and use it as an opportunity to see how it works.

All the modelling has been done with the antenna at 5m above ground level.

2m Band Eggbeater satellite Antenna with 8 Radials

Each loop has a circumference of 2.17m and each of the 8 radials is 0.5425m long and 5cm below the eggbeater elements. I’ve modelled the antenna using 5mm diameter conductors as this should make them resistant to wind etc. I am planning on using 5mm copper tubing for the build.

2m Band Eggbeater Satellite Antenna 3D Far Field Plot

The 3D far field plot shows a typical radiation pattern for such an antenna with a very good low angle gain for working satellites on the horizon and multiple high gain lobes as the radiation angle increases. At 5 degrees the RF is horizontally polarised, ideal for shooting directly out at the horizon. This is mainly due to the phasing of the two elements. At the higher angles the RF is vertically polarised thus giving the ability to receive both horizontal, vertical and some circular radiation at a good range of angles. There is however, a very slight null directly above the antenna and so signals to satellites directly above will be attenuated slightly compared to the other two high angle high gain lobes. This will also be the case on receive.

2m Band Eggbeater Satellite Antenna 2D Far Field Elevation Plot

With 5.42dBi gain at 5 Deg this antenna has a real good shot at the horizon with the maximum gain of 6.65dBi being at the much higher angle of 65 Deg. Overall this antenna should work well for all satellites from the horizon up to almost directly above the antenna.

2m Band Eggbeater satellite Antenna SWR Curve

With an SWR of 1.5:1 across most of the 2m band this antenna will match perfectly to 50 Ohm coax feed. It’s really important to remember that when building this antenna the loops must be fed with a phase angle difference of exactly 90 degrees. If this isn’t accurate then the radiation pattern is affected quite drastically and spoils the overall performance of the antenna.

Details on how to create the 90 Degree phase shift between the two elements using 2 pieces of 50 Ohm coax can be found in the excellent article by ON6WG.

More soon …

Dual Band VHF/UHF End Fed Vertical Dipole

Since purchasing my Icom IC-705 radio I’ve only used it on the HF bands. Since the IC-705 is a “shack-in-a-box” I thought it was about time I ventured up onto the VHF/UHF bands and add another string to my bow.

Since I don’t have an antenna for these two bands I’d need to build something. I’m not really interested in DXing on the VHF/UHF bands as I’d need a yagi or two, a rotator and would need to get the entire setup up high on the chimney on the house.

We’re very fortunate in that there are a good many repeaters on VHF/UHF in East Anglia with quite a few being well within range of my QTH.

So I decided to go with a simple vertical antenna of some sort that I could easily attach to the top of a 10m spider pole and pop up in the garden without too much hassle.

The simplest of all antennas to build for any band is an end fed vertical dipole. It’s made purely from a piece of coax cable, you can’t get much simpler.

Using some dimensions I found online I unrolled a length of RG58U and set about cutting it to resonance for the two bands.

To start I measured out 910mm of RG58U and put a piece of tape around the cable at the 910mm point. I then stripped the top 460mm of the outer and braid from the coax so that the inner wire and plastic insulation was exposed. This then left 450mm of coax with the braid still in place to make up the 2nd half of the vertical dipole.

At the 910mm marker I wound the coax 9 times around a 27mm former to create a choke balun. I taped the coil up to ensure it kept it’s shape, removed it from the former and then used a few zip ties to hold it in place.

VHF/UHF End Fed Vertical Dipole Diagram

The diagram above aids in visualisation of the make up of the antenna that is made from a single piece of RG58U coax cable.

Choke Balun made from 9 turns of RG58U on a 27mm former

I next wound some electrical tape around the point on the antenna where the outer insulation and braid ended so that it would stop moisture getting into the rest of the coax and causing problems in the future. I also put a bit of electrical tape across the top of the end of the wire to stop moisture getting into the inner wire and then a piece of electrical tape around the wire to ensure it was fully sealed.

Electrical tape wound around the point where the outer braid finishes

At this point the antenna was complete! It literally took a few minutes to make. I could now either cut the coax a few centimetres from the bottom of the coil and fit a PL259 or just continue the coaxial cable back into the shack and fit a PL259 on the end. I decided to go with the latter as it’s one less connection to make.

VHF/UHF End Fed Vertical Dipole taped to the top of a 10m spiderpole

Once complete, I taped the antenna to the top of a 10m spider pole and then ran the rest of the coax back into the shack and soldered on a PL259 connector.

Raising the spider pole up to its maximum length put the antenna some 10m up above the ground. Hopefully this will give me a relatively clear path to the local repeaters.

Plugging the antenna into the IC-705 and checking the SWR I found it was <1.2:1 across the entire 2m band and <1.5:1 across most of the 70cm band. It was perfect for what I wanted!

VHF/UHF End Fed Vertical Dipole up 10m on a Spiderpole

I configured the local repeaters into the the IC-705 memories so that I could easily switch from one repeater to the next with all the appropriate tone and duplex frequency shifts set at the touch of a button.

My local 2m repeater GB3PO comes in at 5/9+10dB without any preamp and the local 70cm repeater GB3IH comes in at 5/9+5dB without any preamp. I was really pleased with the results and set about having a chat with other local HAMs on the local repeaters. It’s been a while since I’ve used the mic on this radio and it made a nice change!

To my surprise I found I could get into far more repeaters than I ever imagined. GB3NB in Norwich is 5/8 as are a number of repeaters down in Essex. This gives me quite a scope for chatting on the VHF/UHF bands via the repeater network.

To my surprise I can also hear ON0WV in Brugge Belgium, unfortunately it’s on the same frequency as the local 2m GB3PO repeater and so often gets drowned out completely but, it’s good to know that when there’s a lift in propagation I should be able to get into the near continent without too much hassle.

If you’re looking to build a simple but, effective 2m/70cm vertical for local repeater access then I highly recommend making an end fed vertical dipole. It only takes a few minutes to cut the cable to length, remove the outer sheath and braid and wind the choke balun, it really couldn’t be any easier.

More soon …

New Icom IC-905 VHF/UHF/SHF Radio

This new radio from Icom looks like it’ll make the SHF bands much more accessible to the average Amateur Radio enthusiast. Prices wise I can’t see it being cheap, it’s going to be a top shelf device for sure, especially if you purchase the optional 10Ghz transverter as well.

With the optional 10Ghz transverter it’ll certainly be an impressive piece of kit for any HAM radio station.

It will be interesting to see if it has enough output power to be able to get into the QO-100 geostationary satellite that sits over Africa. If so, this could really open up the QO-100 service to many more radio enthusiasts within the footprint of the bird.

More soon …