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 …

Replacement for the Funcube Dongle Pro+

For some time now I’ve been using my Funcube Dongle Pro+ (FCD) as my QO-100 downlink receiver. It’s worked fairly well and has given me the ability to listen to stations on the satellite over the last few months.

During this time I have noticed a couple of things about the FCD that has lead me to the final decision to change to a new SDR device.

The first of these ‘things’ is the fact that the FCD gets seriously overloaded when there are multiple large SSB signals within the receive pass band. The only way to manage this is to constantly keep changing the software based AGC, mix and LNA settings to reduce the levels of the incoming signals so that the overloading stops. This is great except when you tune to a quiet part of the satellite transponder you have to turn all the settings back up again to be able to hear the weaker signals. After a while this becomes tiresome.

The fact that there isn’t a hardware AGC in the FCD is a major drawback when being used for satellite reception especially when it’s on the end of a very high gain LNB and dish antenna.

The second of these ‘things’ is the fact that I can’t see the whole transponder bandwidth at one time with the FCD as it has a very small receive bandwidth capability. This means that I am constantly tuning up and down the transponder to see if there are any stations further up or down in frequency.

Funcube Dongle Pro+
Funcube Dongle Pro+

Talking to more experienced satellite operators in the Matrix Amateur Radio Satellites room they recommended replacing the FCD with a NooElec NESDR SMArt v5 that has hardware AGC and is capable of receiving and displaying a much wider bandwidth.

Looking on Amazon the NooElec NESDR SMArt v5 is only £33 so I decided to place an order for one and give it try.

In typical Amazon style the SDR receiver arrived the next day and I wasted no time getting it plugged in and connected to the QO-100 ground station.

The NESDR SMArt v5 is based on the well known RTL-SDR that came onto the market some time back but, has a number of improvements in it that take it to the next level.

The first thing that I was happy with was the fact that the GQRX SDR software I use recognised it immediately on startup, no configuration or drivers were required it just worked, straight out of the box. Since I use Kubuntu Linux on my radio room PC I did wonder if I would need to get into installing extra libraries etc but, thankfully none of that was required.

Looking at the signals from the QO-100 satellite initially they appeared to be nowhere near as strong as they were on with the FCD. Looking at the settings in GQRX I noticed that the hardware AGC was off and the LNA setting was back to it’s default very low level.

I switched on the AGC and then increased the LNA setting to 38.4dB and found that the signals were now plenty strong enough on the display but, not overloading the receiver.

I then went on to adjust the display so that I could see the whole satellite transponder bandwidth on the screen. This is great as it enables me to see the low, middle and high beacons that mark out the narrow band section of the transponder and at a glance see all the stations using the satellite. This was a massive improvement in itself and one that I am very pleased with.

Using the NooElec NESDR SMArt v5 SDR it very soon became clear that it copes with multiple large signals in the pass band so much better than the FCD did. There’s no more overloading of the receiver, no more ghost signals appearing on the waterfall due to the front end not being able to cope and no more having to constantly keep playing with the settings to get things under control. The hardware AGC built into the SDR device does a great job at keeping it all under control whilst receiving a much wider bandwidth than the FCD ever could.

The satellite beacons are now received at S9+15dB without the receiver being overloaded, the first time I have seen this since starting out on my QO-100 venture.

The other thing that became obvious very quickly is that frequency stability is much better than it was with the FCD, it doesn’t drift up and down the transponder now and stays tuned exactly where I put it. It’s also on frequency whereas, the FCD was always 1.7Khz off frequency.

GQRX showing QO-100 Transponder signals
GQRX showing QO-100 Transponder signals

The NooElec NESDR SMArt v5 is very well put together, it has an aluminium case that acts as a heatsink (it does get warm!) and overall the build quality is much better than the plastic cased FCD. When I think that I paid close to £100 for the FCD and the NooElec NESDR SMArt v5 only cost £33, I am amazed at the build quality.

Overall I’m extremely pleased with the purchase of the new SDR, it slotted in perfectly as a replacement for the FCD, works great with GQRX, my QO-100 Node Red Dashboard and performs considerably better than the FCD. Overall money well spent!

You can find the NooElec NESDR SMArt v5 spec sheet here.

More soon …

UPDATE: QO-100 Node Red Dashboard

I’ve been making a few improvements to my QO-100 Node Red Dashboard whilst waiting for the 2.4Ghz hardware to arrive. I’ve added the ability to split the RX and TX VFOs so that I can tune away from the TX frequency for working split stations or for tuning to slightly off frequency stations. I also added a series of tuning buttons to the top of the GQRX side of the dashboard to enable easy tuning using the trackball connected to my Kubuntu PC. This worked well but, I really missed having a real VFO knob like a conventional radio.

As I had a Griffin Powewrmate USB VFO from a previous SDR radio I added it to the flow as well so that I had a physical VFO knob for the SDR receiver. Details on how I got it working using evtest and a simple BASH script are in the Griffin Powermate article.

M0AWS QO-100 Node Red Dashboard Flow
M0AWS QO-100 Node Red Dashboard Flow

The Node Red flow is looking a little busier with the addition of split mode and the Griffin Powermate USB VFO which has really enhanced the useability of the solution. It’s very impressive what can be achieved with Node Red with a little imagination. You really don’t need to be a heavy weight programmer to make things work.

M0AWS QO-100 Node Red Dashboard as of 07/06/23
M0AWS QO-100 Node Red Dashboard as of 07/06/23

I also put together some code to calculate the S Meter reading from the dBFS data the GQRX SDR software generates. It’s not 100% accurate but, it’s close enough to be useful.

On the IC-705 side of the Dashboard I also now display the 2.4Ghz uplink frequency so that it’s available for logging.

So with the QO-100 Dashboard ready to go live I have now started putting together the 2.4Ghz transmit path of the ground station. I have the 2.4Ghz transverter and matching 12w amplifier from DXPatrol, the IceCone Helix 2.4Ghz antenna from Nolle Engineering, some LMR-400-UF and connectors from Barenco and an appropriate water proof enclosure from Screwfix to fit all the kit into however, I’m now being held up by one simple little SMA male to SMA male connector that I need to connect the transverter and amp together.

The SMA connector has been ordered but, is taking a month of Sundays to arrive! Hopefully it’ll arrive soon and I’ll finally get on the QO-100 satellite and start enjoying the fun.

More soon …

Use a Griffin Powermate with SDR via Node Red

I’ve been gradually building my QO-100 ground station over the last few months and have had the receive path working for some time now. One of the things I really miss with the Funcube Dongle Pro+ (FCD) SDR is a real VFO knob for changing frequency.

My QO-100 Node Red dashboard is configured so that I can have the FCD track the uplink frequency from the IC-705 but, sometimes I use the FCD without the IC-705 in the shack and so a physical VFO would be handy.

Many years ago when I lived in France (F5VKM) I had a Flexradio Flex-3000 SDR, a great radio in it’s time and one that gave me many hours of enjoyment. One addition I bought for that station was a Griffin Technology Powermate VFO knob. It worked extremely well with the PowerSDR software for the Flex-3000 and I used it for many years.

Many years later I’m back in the UK and much of my equipment is packed away in the attic, including the Griffin Technology Powermate VFO.

I decided to dig it out and see if I could get it working with GQRX SDR software. Sadly I couldn’t get it working with GQRX however, I did find a way of getting it working with Node Red and thus could add it to my QO-100 Node Red Dashboard and then control GQRX with it via a simple Node Red flow.

Griffin Technology Powermate VFO
Griffin Technology Powermate VFO

Plugging the Powermate VFO into my Kubuntu PC it wasn’t immediately recognised by the Linux O/S. After a little searching I found the driver on Github. I added the PPA to my aptitude sources and installed the driver using apt.


Once installed the default config for the Powermate device is to control the default audio device volume. To make the device available for use as a VFO knob you need to change the configuration so that the default setting is disabled. To do this is relatively easy, just edit the config file using your favourite command line editor (Vi/Vim in my case) and add the following entry.

vi /etc/powermate.toml

# Entry to control HDMI volume with Powermate
#sink_name = "alsa_output.pci-0000_01_00.1.hdmi-stereo"

# Set powermate not to work with volume control
sink_name = ""

As shown above, comment out the default “sink_name” entry (Yours may be different depending on audio device in your PC) and add in the Powermate “sink_name” entry that effectively assigns it to nothing.

Once this is done, save the file and exit your editor and then reboot the PC.

Next you’ll need to install a small program called evtest.

sudo apt install evtest

To check the evtest program has installed correctly, plugin your Powermate VFO to any available USB port and run the following command in a terminal.

evtest /dev/input/powermate

Turning the Powermate knob you should see output on the screen showing the input from the device. You should also see BTN events for each press of the Powermate device.

Input driver version is 1.0.1
Input device ID: bus 0x3 vendor 0x77d product 0x410 version 0x400
Input device name: "Griffin PowerMate"
Supported events:
  Event type 0 (EV_SYN)
  Event type 1 (EV_KEY)
    Event code 256 (BTN_0)
  Event type 2 (EV_REL)
    Event code 7 (REL_DIAL)
  Event type 4 (EV_MSC)
    Event code 1 (MSC_PULSELED)
Testing ... (interrupt to exit)
Event: time 1685816662.086666, type 2 (EV_REL), code 7 (REL_DIAL), value -1
Event: time 1685816662.086666, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 1685816662.318638, type 2 (EV_REL), code 7 (REL_DIAL), value -1
Event: time 1685816662.318638, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 1685816662.574615, type 2 (EV_REL), code 7 (REL_DIAL), value -1
Event: time 1685816662.574615, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 1685816663.670461, type 2 (EV_REL), code 7 (REL_DIAL), value 1
Event: time 1685816663.670461, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 1685816664.030421, type 2 (EV_REL), code 7 (REL_DIAL), value 1
Event: time 1685816664.030421, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 1685816664.334389, type 2 (EV_REL), code 7 (REL_DIAL), value 1
Event: time 1685816664.334389, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 1685816665.334255, type 1 (EV_KEY), code 256 (BTN_0), value 1
Event: time 1685816665.334255, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 1685816665.558230, type 1 (EV_KEY), code 256 (BTN_0), value 0
Event: time 1685816665.558230, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 1685816666.030161, type 1 (EV_KEY), code 256 (BTN_0), value 1
Event: time 1685816666.030161, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
Event: time 1685816666.182151, type 1 (EV_KEY), code 256 (BTN_0), value 0
Event: time 1685816666.182151, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------

At this point you’re ready to stop evtest (CTRL-C) and then create the following little BASH shell script that Node Red will run to collect the O/P from the Powermate USB device.


# Griffin Technology Powermate control script #
# for Node Red.                               #
#                                             #
# 04/06/23 - M0AWS - v0.1                     #
#                                             #

echo "STEP-1Hz"

/usr/bin/evtest /dev/input/powermate | while read LINE 
   case $LINE in

      *"(REL_DIAL), value 1") echo "$VAL"

      *"(REL_DIAL), value -1") echo "-$VAL"

      *"(BTN_0), value 1") case $VAL in

                              "1") VAL="10"
                                   echo "STEP-10Hz"

                             "10") VAL="100"
                                   echo "STEP-100Hz"

                             "100") VAL="1000"
                                    echo "STEP-1Khz"

                             "1000") VAL="10000"
                                     echo "STEP-10Khz"

                             "10000") VAL="1"
                                       echo "STEP-1Hz"

Once the BASH script is copied and pasted into a file called powermate.sh you need to make it executable by using the following command.

chmod 700 ./powermate.sh

If you now run the shell script in a terminal you’ll see a similar output to that shown below from the device when used.


As you can see above the shell script outputs a positive or negative number for VFO tuning and changes the VFO step size each time the Powermate is depressed.

Getting this output from the BASH shell script into Node Red is really simple to achieve using just 3 or 4 nodes.

In the Node Red development UI create the following nodes.

Griffin Powermate Node Red Nodes
Griffin Powermate Node Red Nodes

The first node in the flow is a simple inject node, here I called it trigger. This sends a timestamp into the next node in the flow at startup to set the flow running.

The Griffin Powermate node is a simple exec node that runs the script we created above.

M0AWS Powermate exec node
M0AWS Powermate exec node

Configure the node as shown above and connect it to the inject node that’s used as a trigger. Note: Change “user” in the Command field shown above to that of your username on your Linux PC)

Once done create the third node in the flow, a simple switch node and configure as shown below.

Switch Node for Powermate
Switch Node for Powermate

The switch node has two outputs, the top one is a text output that is fed into a text field to show the current step size of the Powermate device and the lower output is the numeric output that must be fed into your VFO control flow so that the VFO value is incremented/decremented by the amount output by the Powermate device.

I’ve found the Griffin Technology Powermate USB device works extremely well with Node Red and GQRX that I use for controlling the FCD SDR radio and it’s now part of my QO-100 ground station build.

M0AWS QO-100 Dashboard with Powermate Step Display at bottom
M0AWS QO-100 Dashboard with Powermate Step Display at bottom

As shown above you can see the Powermate Step size at the bottom of the dashboard, this text changes each time the Powermate device is depressed and will set a step size of 1Hz, 10Hz, 100Hz, 1Khz, 10Khz in a round-robin fashion.

The next stage of the build is the 2.4Ghz transmit path. I now have all the necessary hardware and so this part of the build can finally commence.

More soon …

QO-100 Satellite Node Red Dashboard

Whilst I’ve been waiting for the weather to improve so that I can get my QO-100 dish antenna up I’ve been working on my QO-100 Node Red dashboard.

The idea of the dash board is to bring together the operating of the receiver and transmitter into one control centre so that the two separate devices are able to communicate and behave as if they were actually one device, like a transceiver rather than being individual components.

Ideally I would like to have the transmitter and receiver talking to each other such that when the VFO on the transmitter is incremented/decremented the receiver VFO also moves by the same amount.

By doing this the receiver VFO should always be in the right place on the 10Ghz band to hear my 2.4Ghz uplink signal and of course, any station coming back to my CQ calls.

So far I’ve only been working on the receive part of the Node Red flow, it’s certainly been a lot of fun getting it put together.

I control my Funcube Dongle Pro+ (FCD) using GQRX SDR on my Kubuntu PC. This software is working extremely well with the FCD and I’m happy with the level of functionality it offers.

GQRX SDR has the ability built in to control the SDR via remote TCP connection using RIGCTL protocol. Currently there isn’t a RIGCTL node available for Node Red so I have written a number of Javascript function nodes that provide the appropriate functionality in conjunction with a standard Node Red TCP node. This is working extremely well on the local LAN in the radio room and is proving to be very stable and responsive.

M0AWS QO-100 Node Red Flow – Receive Section

The flow for the receive section of the dashboard looks fairly complicated but, in reality it’s really not too difficult to get to grips with. The receive flow provides the facility to switch bands, switch modes, change receiver filter band width, display a realtime signal strength meter, receive +/- clarifier in 10/100/1000Hz increments and put the receiver into QO-100 mode where the SDR VFO is tuned to 739.550Mhz whilst the dashboard VFO shows the QO-100 downlink frequency in the 10Ghz band. This is all working very well and I’m happy with the initial result.

M0AWS QO-100 Receive Dashboard in QO-100 mode

I now need to start work on the transmit side of the QO-100 dashboard and get communications between my IC-705 transceiver and the FCD SDR working via Node Red. This could be a little more challenging as it will involve communicating with the IC-705 via WFView over wifi.

More soon …

Funcube Dongle Pro+ / GQRX / Kubuntu

Many years ago I purchased a Funcube Dongle Pro+ (FCD) SDR. Since it’s arrival it has just been stored in my “Get round too it” drawer.

It’s been many years but, today is the day it comes out into the light and finally gets powered up.

Funcube Dongle Pro+ USB SDR

I’m hoping to be able to use the FCD as the receiver in my QO-100 satellite ground station setup.

The output from the 10Ghz dish mounted LNB is around 739Mhz, well within the FCD receiver range of 150khz to 2Ghz. This will save me from having to transvert from 739Mhz to 430Mhz (70cm band) on the receive path.

This will also give me full duplex operation as I will use my Icom IC-705 on the 2m band (144-146Mhz) to drive the 2.4Ghz transverter for the satellite uplink whilst listening to my own signal via the 10Ghz downlink fed into the FCD.

Before I can even start to build the QO-100 satellite ground station I need to get to grips with the FCD, get the software installed, configured, resolve audio routing via virtual audio cables and get it decoding FT8/JS8/WSPR etc.

Talking to G0DUB in the General Amateur Radio Chat room on Matrix he recommended trying the GQRX software to drive the FCD. GQRX is open source which fits perfectly as I want to control the FCD from my Kubuntu PC.

Checking the Ubuntu repo’s I found that GQRX v2.12 is available for installation.

sudo apt install gqrx-sdr

Once installed I fired up GQRX and set about configuring it. Initially it appeared to have automatically detected and configured the FCD however, when I started the FCD the software ran for 5 seconds and then just hung.

Diving into the configuration settings I found that the FCD actually appears twice in the list of available devices and all I had to do was select the other one in the list and start the software again and all was well.

I connected my 20m Band EFHW Vertical antenna and trawled up and down the band. The receiver performed well even with fairly strong signals so, I spent some time listening to a few of the stations coming in from the USA.

Next I wanted to sort out the configuration for digital modes. I already have a couple of virtual audio cables in the form of loopback audio devices configured on my Kubuntu PC as this is how I connect the audio between WFView for the IC-705 and WSJT-X/JS8CALL.

Sadly, GQRX doesn’t recognise the loopback audio devices that already exist and so I had to do a little further research to get to the bottom of the issue.

Digging deeper I discovered that GQRX requires loopback audio devices created using Pulse Audio and not the kind I had already created at the O/S level. A quick read of the pactl man page and some further searching online I found all the info I needed to create the correct kind of loopback audio devices.

Two commands are required to create the pulse audio server audio loopback devices:

pactl load-module module-null-sink sink_name=gq2jt sink_properties=device.description="gq2jt"

pactl load-module module-loopback latency_msec=1

Once I’d created the loopback audio devices I was able to select the gq2jt devices in both GQRX and WSJT-X/JS8CALL so that the audio was routed correctly.

GQRX SDR and WSJT-X working with the Funcube Dongle Pro+

The overall solution works well and doesn’t put much load on the CPU of my Kubuntu PC, leaving plenty of horse power for me to do other things at the same time.

So I now have the Funcube Dongle Pro+ working perfectly on my Kubuntu PC, all I need now is a 1.2m dish, a 10Ghz LNB and some high quality coax cable.

UPDATE: I decided to leave the FCD connected to the 20m Band EFHW Vertical overnight and monitor FT8 on the 40m band. The EFHW antenna isn’t anywhere near resonant on the 40m band and so I thought it would be interesting to see how well the FCD performed on a completely non-resonant antenna.

To my surprise it did exceptionally well, stations from all over the world were heard with ease, the FCD really is an excellent little SDR receiver.

Map showing stations heard on 40m Band FT8 over night 16/17 Jan 2023

If you’re looking for a relatively cheap but, effective receiver for FT8/WSPR monitoring then I can highly recommend the FCD. If paired with a RaspberryPi then it would be a really cheap to purchase/operate solution for any HAM operator or short wave listener (SWL).

More soon …