Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Insanity of Grid Chasing - A September 2016 Progress Update

I have been busy working on the upcoming AMSAT Symposium so I haven't focused much on blogging.

However, I have continued to make time to chase new maidenhead grid squares via satellite.  Five and a half years into the addiction, I am still having a lot of fun.

My #1 & # 2 goals on satellite are:

1. Work and confirm all 488 grid squares. These are the same 488 grids required for the Fred Fish Memorial Award (FFMA) on 6m.  However, I am trying to do this via satellite.  As of September 21, I am 35 grids away from the goal.

2. Work and confirm 1000 grids.  Why 1000? Well, I thought it would be interesting to see what I would hit first, the 488 goal or the 1000 goal.  It looks like I am going to be hitting the 1000 unless we get some serious rover action in the DN grid field.

Here's my 488 map and statistics (pink are unconfirmed):

I have leads on a few of these unconfirmed grids. It's just a matter of following up with those leads and working on a schedule to make them happen.

453 of 488 total FFMA grids confirmed as of September 21, 2016.

And now for my confirmed grid map, focused on the continental USA:

Here is my world map.  Click for a larger version:

878 total grid squares confirmed via satellite as of September 21, 2016.

And finally, I leave you with a movie I recommend for people who obsess over chasing grids or chasing real birds.  It shows the complete ridiculousness of what what do in pursuit of our hobby goals.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Blind Call

WARNING: Very opinionated post.
(When aren't they?)

No, the Blind Call is not a movie starring Sandra Bullock (that's The Blind Side.)  It an annoying practice over-used by some stations.It's especially obnoxious on FM satellites because the repeated blind calls are taking up pass time when other stations (who are actually there) can make contacts.

The Blind Call is tactic used when you're not sure if someone will be on a satellite pass but you want to work them regardless, so you keep calling over and over.  And over.  And over.  Guess what? They don't answer because they aren't present.  You look like a champ! (a chump, actually)

Here's the scenario:

  • Some operators hear and work a station somewhere rare.  Let's use VE2BMC for example.  He lives in California but was visiting his native land in Quebec, grid square FN38.  That's a rare grid, seldom heard, and to my knowledge not on satellites until Jimmy went home to visit.
  • Word on the street gets out that Jimmy is going to be operating some SO-50 and AO-85 passes. That's a good thing.  We want people to make new contacts with new stations, right?  Instead of relying on secretive list servers, publishing the reports on open Twitter feeds and publicly-accessible email lists (and archives) is a good way to share information.
  • The word is out. People will be listening for VE2BMC when there are mutual footprints with their grid and FN38. 
  • Now comes the fun part.  Some stations want to call "in the blind" to see if they can "fish out" VE2BMC.  That's fine.  Sometimes it works.  I've done it.  Is he on the pass? We don't know, but we will call anyway!  (that's the Blind Call)
  • And now, for the bad part.  After you have blind called once or twice, giving pause in between, you should really "ease off that throttle."  Repeated calling makes you look like a fool.  In fact, it's down right disruptive.  
  • Blind calling repeatedly in between other stations' QSO's is rude.  Yes, I want the grid as much as you do, but I don't sit there and give my call sign over and over.  If the guy is there, he will either (A) answer or (B) throw his call out once or twice. 
It's fine to call someone whom you have a schedule with or who has announced they will be on a certain pass.  Those kind of blind calls (skeds) are fine but should be tempered with self-awareness and a hint of courtesy.  

One of my favorite little characteristics about this phenomenon are the people who say "on schedule" repeatedly as if they are the only person in communication with the rare/remote station.  Sometimes a station has multiple schedules.  You don't own the pass.  Back down.  Be nice!  Get over yourself.

If I get enough interest in this posting, I will probably follow-up with a feature film "The Blind Call: Sat Ops Gone Wild."  No, not really. But I can post some great example recordings.

Again, I'm not saying not to blind call or that it's an awful practice.  It can be useful.  Calling stations who've announced they will be on or even might be on is legit.  Just keep it real, yo!

Friday, July 22, 2016

July 2016 Satellite VUCC Update

I decided it was time to update my Satellite VUCC again.   I did this update via paper cards.  I have some more grids confirmed in LoTW to apply at a later date.  Many thanks to the ARRL awards staff, Scott especially, and to the best card checker in the USA, KK5DO.


Friday, July 15, 2016

My AMSAT Field Day Report 2016 "from the road"

There is Field Day and then there is AMSAT Field Day.  Both events occur on the same day with very similar rules with one notable exception: AMSAT Field Day is entirely done via Orbital Satellites Carrying Amateur Radio (OSCAR's.)

In the past, I have mostly participated in AMSAT Field Day from home but I have also known to be on the road.  In 2012, I was traveling with my family to New England and only stopped to listen to a few FM Satellites. That was quite interesting.  From Skyline Drive in Northern Virginia, I was able to hear stations trying to use AO-27 before the transponder had even been activated. There was a telemetry period before the transponder would activate.  During that telemetry period, I was hearing dozens of stations hollering "CQ Field Day" on the uplink frequency.  That was eye-opening.

This year we were heading to Amarillo, Texas on the Saturday of Field Day.  I didn't arrive at camp until late afternoon.  However, there was plenty of time to setup my station and work a few passes.  I hadn't planned on really making a strong attempt at FD this year being that we were away.  However, it is always fun to work some friends via satellite and listen to some of the FD madness.

As I predicted, SO-50 was total garbage.  Too many stations transmitting and few were able to hear. Absolutely pathetic!  It is selfish individuals who don't operate satellites EVER but decide to try once a year that really ruin it for everyone.  Some are overconfident jerks who have made a couple of contacts in the past but think they have it all figured out when it comes time for Field Day so they don't need any practice.

FO-29 was sad this year.  Many stations that were running excess power and couldn't hear. This is evident by all the CQ'ing, HOLA, and 1-2-3 on top of other stations.

It is amazing to me that so many stations overlook the simple fact that you can make satellites contacts (on all current LEO birds) with 5 watts and an Arrow antenna.  Why run 100 watts into a giant array? Are you trying to look like a tough guy?  Are you compensating for something?

I did a fair job with my short Arrow and 20 watts.  I was using my 35ah battery to supply the Icom IC-821.  I worked LilacSat-2, XW-2C, XW-2F, and FO-29.  Not counting a few extra stations that called and worked me on LilacSat-2, I made 7 unique contacts that count for the AMSAT Field Day score.  Not bad for just a handful of passes in a mediocre operating location.

My normal "heavy" /P station.  IC-821 & Arrow.

View to East from my campsite in Amarillo, Texas

Friday, July 8, 2016

Keepin' it Simple: Aiming your antennas when satellite portable

A lot of folks really over-think the "aiming" aspect of operating satellites portable.  There's really just two parts that matter to me:

1. Where the pass will start (AOS)
2. Where the pass will end (LOS)

Beyond that, I don't really spend much time worrying about aim because the computer program that handles antenna positioning is an interface between my brain and my ears.

If the bird starts to get noisy, I move the antenna.  If I'm not as strong as I need to be, I move the antenna.  Simple as that.  Sometimes I get lazy and don't move as much as I might need to move.  Sometimes I move too much.  Simple as that.  The bottom line is, you can aim just based on what signal you are getting back from the satellite. That is the best indicator.  Keep it Simple!!!

Silva "Starter" 1-2-3 Compass

I own about 3 of these.  I keep one in most of the different portable kits for my traveling operations.  They are a simple way to know your headings on a cloudy day or when you are having trouble getting your bearings.  Even an Eagle Scout like me needs a little help.

Working a pass from EM24 at Queen Wilhelmina State Park in Arkansas.

Friday, July 1, 2016

My SatPC32 DOPPLER.SQF as of July 1, 2016

I receive a lot of email asking for my DOPPLER.SQF file used to control a radio's frequencies by SatPC32 & CAT.

Below is my current DOPPLER.SQF for all active satellites.  This particular file is used with my Icom IC-9100 and SatPC32 12.8c.

; For Hints look at the end of this file.
; Do not remove or modify these first
; 3 lines of the file, starting with ‘;’!
AO-07,145950,432149.81,USB,LSB,REV,0,0,Mode B
AO-07,29450,145900,USB,USB,NOR,0,0,Mode A
ISS,145800,144490,FM,FM,NOR,0,0,Voice Americas
ISS,145825,145825,FM,FM,NOR,0,0,Packet VHF
ISS,437550,437550,FM,FM,NOR,0,0,Packet UHF
NO-44,145825,145825,FM,FM,NOR,0,0,1k2 AFSK
;For the latest information on the Doppler.Sqf file check the SatPC32 manual
;For the latest version of SatPC32

Bear in mind that you may still need to adjust for Doppler by 100-500 Hz depending upon your radio. It is imperative that you use the latest Two-line Elements (TLE) or Keplerian elements.  I use nasa.all coming from AMSAT via SatPC32 directly.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Satellite Picks for Field Day 2016

In May and June 2013, I posted about Field Day on the satellites:
My Plans for 2013 & "Surviving" Field Day 2013, a postmortem

In June 2014 I posted about my "top picks," satellites to work.  Since the landscape has changed slightly, I decided to create a new post for 2016.

My recommendations for satellites during Field Day 2016:

1. FO-29 - Has the largest passband and large footprint.  Doppler easy to manage.   Don't go overboard with big yagis.  An Arrow is sufficient for Field Day.  FO-29 should be easily heard with 3-7 elements on UHF.  Good coax and a preamp make it even better.  If you are running an amplifier, you should probably be taken out back and beaten with a rubber hose.

2. Chinese XW-2 linear satellites: XW-2A, XW-2C, XW-2F.  If you can't hear them, you should probably give up satellites permanently.  Because they are mode B (U/V) birds, they are easy to hear and should work even on mediocre antennas with bad coax.  However, because they are mode B that means adjusting for Doppler is more challenging for some people.  Remember, tune the higher band (in this case, the UPLINK - 70cm.)

3. AO-73 - Easy to hear as the XW-2's.  Can be difficult to adjust for Doppler for those who are new.  Normally just active when transponder is in darkness.   It should be in transponder mode even in full sun, but very likely will be put there by AMSAT-UK by Friday night.  A solid bird.  Don't try using computer control.

4. UKube-1 - Recently active, we don't know if it will be in transponder mode during Field Day, but you should give it a try if you've made it this far.  It is comparable to the XW-2's and AO-73 but with a quirk: When the primary beacon comes on, everyone is basically shut out of the satellite for a brief period.  Expect this 2-3 times during a pass.  Another easy one to hear and also avoid computer control.

5. AO-85 - FM, likely a zoo.  This will be your best bet for an FM contact.  I'd try a descending pass (coming from North to South.)  Don't expect to use an HT and Arrow, but it could work.  It should be easy to hear with an Arrow, but hard to get in with 5 watts.

6. AO-7 - Easily forced into Mode A during eclipse cycle by Alligators.  Difficult to use when there are several high-powered stations using CW or SSB.  Generally, I'd only recommend this one on very late night passes.  The old bird is especially weak right now and has been known to shift modes unexpectedly due to QRO stations.  My advice: avoid unless you really know what you're doing or you have plenty of time to play and be shut-out.

7. SO-50 - FM. Say no more.  I'd recommend it only for middle-of-the-night (graveyard shift) attempts.  During the day it will likely be a zoo.  Don't bother even trying to make a contact if you are not actually participating in Field Day. Give the other suckers a chance.  And please, don't call CQ.  If you do work SO-50, please make one contact and then remain silent.  Even if others call you, you've made your one QSO.  Let someone else have their turn.

8. AO-51 - FM.  If this satellite is still on your Field Day list, you are a moron and should surrender your license, throw your radios in the garbage, and probably give up driving automobiles, too.

PS: Don't rule out the ISS (packet) and NO-84 (PSK31 transponder.)  This blog post focuses on voice.

I have no bias against FM transponders. In fact, I love them.  I just think they are a poor choice for Field Day.  If it's all you have, good luck to you.  Try AO-85 and possible SO-50.  We will be lucky if LilacSat-2 is turned on for us.

Finally, don't be a turd and run QRO CW on a bird.
If you need to send more than a few dits to find yourself, slow down and look at everything. Chances are, you're doing something wrong!!!