Kind of a newbie needing advice

Discussion in 'Satellite and Space Communications' started by N2SUB, Jan 14, 2019.

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  1. N2SUB

    N2SUB Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I started back in the 90's before the FM sats were launched. I never had much luck working the birds with my modest setup in the days before rig control and auto doppler compensation. Over the years I've thought about trying the FM sats, but for one reason or another, I've always hit a brick wall finding information. Usually, the "For The Beginners" section is out of date. Over the weekend I bought the "Getting started with amateur satellites" from Amsat, and that pointed me in the right direction....finally. Last night I briefly heard a pass of AO-91 with my vertical. I digress....

    Having tried this in the past, I'm familiar with the lingo and general concepts, so I'm not a complete newbie. I do have a few operational questions however....

    • I'm planning on starting with hitting the FM satellites with a pair of HTs. I see the Elk and the Arrow as possible antenna solutions. I'm not really interested in building my own. Which do you use and why?
    • I'm currently using Ham Radio Deluxe for tracking and the Amsat website as a backup/double check. Is that a good way to go, or is there a better alternative.
    • Should I decide to graduate to legacy SSB/CW birds, I have an FT-818 and an old FT-290R. Do you see any equipment pitfalls here?
    • Everything I read talks about recording the pass on a DVR and to wear a headset. If you are using a headset, how do you record the receive side? What do you use for a DVR, your phone or a separate device?
    • I'm kind of clumsy, and tracking the satellite with one hand and holding a mic or HT(s) with the other while trying to log a QSO seems a lot like juggling. Any helpful suggestions.
    I'm sure I have more questions, but that's a start. Wish me luck, and thanks in advance.
     
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  2. K6LCS

    K6LCS XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    The tutorial at http://www.work-sat.com may be of interest to you!
    • I am planning on starting with hitting the FM satellites with a pair of HTs. I see the Elk and the Arrow as possible antenna solutions. I'm not really interested in building my own. Which do you use and why?
    Either are great investments for working the amateur satellites! The Arrow is available with or without a diplexer - so one or two feedlines for one or two radios. The Elk log periodics have only one feedline.
    • I'm currently using Ham Radio Deluxe for tracking and the Amsat website as a backup/double check. Is that a good way to go, or is there a better alternative.

    Just update your Keplerian data every week or two, and you'll be fine.
    • Should I decide to graduate to legacy SSB/CW birds, I have an FT-818 and an old FT-290R. Do you see any equipment pitfalls here?
    Nope. Here are some "Getting started with the SSB birds" citations for you: http://work-sat.com/SSB_CITES.html

    • Everything I read talks about recording the pass on a DVR and to wear a headset. If you are using a headset, how do you record the receive side? What do you use for a DVR, your phone or a separate device?
    I am a fan of keeping it simple. I use my smartphone's voice recorder in my shirt pocket to record. Results are fine. NO WIRING to get what I need!

    Olympus makes an earpiece that has a mic built-in ... some use that into a little digital recorder.

    The use of a headset and working true, full-duplex allows you to hear your downlink as you key your mic. The headset keeps acoustic feedback from occurring.

    • I'm kind of clumsy, and tracking the satellite with one hand and holding a mic or HT(s) with the other while trying to log a QSO seems a lot like juggling. Any helpful suggestions.

    Look at the "mods" I made to my Arrow Antenna, especially the "tray" to hold the HT. It acts as a "counterweight," too, and better balances the setup.

    http://www.k6lcs.com/k6lcs/Photos/Pages/Arrow_Mod.html

    WELCOME to this aspect of our incredible hobby!!!

    Clint K6LCS
    http://www.work-sat.com
     
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  3. K4BAD

    K4BAD Ham Member QRZ Page

    Welcome aboard ! Sats are great fun!

    I use an Elk antenna.Consensus is both Arrow and Elk antennas are about the same performance wise..Arrow might have a slight edge on 70 cm.

    I operate from inside the shack with a outside tripod mounted Elk,Icom 7000 for the uplink and a FT-817ND or Woxun HT for the downlink.I’m using a small TV type rotator with a fixed elevation of 22 and 1/2 degrees.Inability to twist the antenna is a limitation...for me more of an inconvenience than a show stopper.

    The AMSAT book has a picture of my antenna setup.

    Hope this answers some of your questions.You’ll probably get quite a few additional responses.

    Good luck and 73...K4BAD...Harry
     
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  4. N4UFO

    N4UFO Ham Member QRZ Page

    Elk vs Arrow... I have one of each. Arrow seems to have more gain & a slightly better pattern on UHF, so I use it when wanting to operate the birds low to the horizon. But the Arrow doesn't travel as well as the Elk... I have to take apart at least the 2m elements to get it into the car. The Elk, on the other hand, is EZ in - EZ out.

    NEXT consideration... the Elk has ONE feedpoint and the Arrow has TWO. SO, with the Elk, one needs a diplexer to split to two HTs (I recommend the MFJ-916B if you go this route). With the Arrow you can run two cables to two HTs. OR if you got the version with the built in diplexer you will need to 'bypass' one of the connections to hook a cable to the second HT. - In MY case, I have a full duplex HT and a set of FT-817s with an MFJ diplexer... that way I can use either my Elk or my Arrow with built in diplexer.

    Tracking... I use Amsat droid app on my tablet; I've also heard that Heaven's above is good too, and very 'feature rich'. For 'backup' there is the website N2YO.com and you can save different links for different combinations. (N2YO doesn't show passes that peak below 10 degrees though.) I also have Orbitron on my PC. For portable operating... I recommend one of the apps on your phone or tablet.

    Linear rigs... I know of a ham that used an 817 and a 290R, W4FS. I'm sure you can contact him and ask about any problems. I know he moved on to an Icom 821 or similar. Seems like there are a couple, one being that you have to swap TX and RX connections if/when you go from mode U/v to mode V/u and vice versa. Personally, I would look for a second 817/818 to go with the one you have. I just saw an 817 for sale for ~$400 so they can be found at a (relatively) reasonable price. That said, I'm SURE you can make the 818/290 combo work... Might just be a little cumbersome with the size of the 290 radio. For pics of my gear, scroll down to the bottom of my rover profile: https://www.qrz.com/db/N4UFO/P

    PASS recording... I have a small handheld digital recorder and I use a 'Y' splitter on the headphone jack of the receive radio, with one going to the headphones and the other to the recorder. BUT, I also had to make a special cable to go to the digital recorder because headphone level was just too loud for the mic input. Plus it needed a choke to knock out some RF issues. What I've heard some people do is just not bother with the receive side... they just make sure they always say the other person's callsign when they talk. In some ways this has advantages over my method because I only hear what 'I' say when it comes through the satellite. But overall, I prefer hearing what comes over the sat and it was worth fooling with the cables, etc. Because what if you heard/said the callsign wring? Not to mention you can go back and hear things in the recording that you missed in real time.

    Extra hands... antenna in one hand, mic/HT/PTT in the other... wear a 'radio bag' or set the radio on a table, car hood etc. Listen back to the recording AFTER the pass and THEN do your logging. When I was operating in the Nevada desert, listening to passes and logging was how I passed the time between passes... that and looking at the beautiful scenery.

    Keep'em coming... we love to elmer on sats in this forum. :D

    73, Kevin


    EDIT: I was also on sats back 'when'... well, one. I worked a lot of RS-12/13 on HF. From the late 90s until it went 'end of mission' in 2002. I didn't even attempt an FM sat until 2013... so understand where you are coming from, no worries!
     
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  5. WD9EWK

    WD9EWK Ham Member QRZ Page

    Great! Welcome to this corner of ham radio. The AMSAT Getting Started book is a great reference. AMSAT also has good information on its web site www.amsat.org - including a listing of "communications satellites" (the ones we can talk through) and a Station and Operating Hints page with lots of helpful links.

    A two-radio setup is a good starting point. Then you should be able to hear yourself through the satellite while transmitting, and won't have to rely on others to let you know you're getting through.

    Arrow vs. Elk... I have used both, but have gone with the Elk for the past 10 years. An Arrow is nice for a two-radio setup (run coax from each feedpoint to the two radios), but you can use a diplexer in between an Elk and your two-radio setup. Many 2m/70cm diplexers work fine here; I use MFJ's MFJ-916B - its performance is on par with Comet and Diamond diplexers, at roughly half the price of Comet or Diamond diplexers.

    FT-818/FT-290R combination... workable, but you'll have to do everything related to 2m with the 290R since it is a monoband radio. You'll have to move your mic and speaker connections around, depending on which satellites you work. If you had a second 818, or an older 817, or even an all-mode receiver that covers up to 2m and 70cm to go with the 818 you already have, that might be easier to manage. I normally use two FT-817s for SSB/CW work, but sometimes replace one 817 with either an SDR receiver and small Windows tablet for the downlink receiver, or I will use the all-mode receiver in my Kenwood TH-D74 (it is a decent receiver for our SSB/CW satellites).

    My YouTube channel has some videos where I'm working FM and SSB/CW satellites. One example where I worked AO-7 with my two FT-817s and Elk log periodic was at the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford back in 2014:



    Another video from 2014's AMSAT Symposium in Baltimore, where I was working AO-73 with the two FT-817s and Elk antenna:



    And working FO-29 from the 2015 ARRL Southwestern Division Convention in Torrance CA:



    By the way, the picture on the back cover (last page of the PDF) of the AMSAT Getting Started book is also from that convention in 2014, where I was working a different pass using my two FT-817s and Elk log periodic.

    If you have a smartphone or tablet, put a tracking app on it. Use the device's GPS to set your location in the app, and then you'll have another way to check for upcoming passes. Use the AMSAT web site as you mentioned to confirm the information is correct, but remember to set your location on the AMSAT web site and that the AMSAT site uses UTC time.

    Recording... N4UFO described my setup. An audio splitter on the receive radio's speaker jack, feeding the recorder and headset/earphone/etc., lets you capture what came from the satellite. At a minimum, you can record your voice, and not worry about the downlink audio, provided you are saying the call sign of each station you work. Then that recording, which should have a timestamp on it from the recorder, can be played back for logging later.

    Two hands... for the FT-817s, I hold the antenna in one hand, and the other hand holds the headset cable (it has a PTT button on it) and can adjust the VFOs. You can hold the HT used to transmit when you are working FM satellites. The second HT could be mounted on the antenna, hooked somewhere on you... you have some options there.

    Keep the questions coming. Good luck, and 73!
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2019
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  6. KS1G

    KS1G Ham Member QRZ Page

    Expanding on Clint's suggestions:
    Antennas: I have both. A very old Arrow (no diplexer) I use with 2 radios. May have to "twist" to align tx side when transmitting vs optimizing downlink. (YMMV). Elk simpler with a single full duplex radio and lays flat when fully assembled. Both antennas "just work" and matter of personal preference IMO. WA5VJB "Cheap yagi" very easy to build and can be done "Arrow" style. Many ideas on amsat.org and online.

    Software: I use SatPC3 for tracking. GPredict is also excellent and runs on Linux as well as Windows. Also free and paid Iphone/Pad and Android programs (I use ISS Detector paid on Android). amsat website for tracking (remember to adjust between local and UTC) and current status (esp if AO85 comes back, and when 92 is in L/V mode); . Keps can be as much as several weeks old and still OK for manual tracking. I update regularly because I can (and helps computer control).

    Linear birds: FT818 should work well (plenty of folks using 2xFT817 = "FT1634"), guessing 290 ("FT1108"?) should be fine. Certainly worth trying. May need a diplexer as a "Mode J filter" on FO29 and SO50. (See Amsat.org website). Can use on FM, just bulkier than HTs. WD9EWK has published a lot of reviews of various HTs in this forum (esp. around when AO-85 was launched) and on his dropbox site. Recommended.

    I use a separate DVR; check online or local big box stores for Sony & Olympus. I plug earphones into the recorder output; if I don't hear anything, I know the recorder isn't on or a plug came loose! You can also use a splitter.

    I use a headset/boom mike with PTT button. Am considering adding a weather-resistant footswitch for linear birds (or grow a 3rd hand - one for antenna, one to tune, one for PTT!). People have come up with very creative rigs for holding antenna and gear, search pics here, posts on amsat-bb, twitter (#AMSAT) and Facebook. I put camera bag neck straps on a medium size clipboard, and mounted 2 HTs, the DVR, and an old Android phone on it as a chest pack. Another option - use a tripod or stable music stand to hold the radios and any cheat sheets and support gear, hold the antenna.

    You probably do not need a preamp for downlink (your feedlines are short and the AO91 and 92 downlinks are strong). Use good coax (I like LMR240-UF or similar, non-flexible is too stiff for my taste), but use what you have and make incremental improvements.

    Logging: LOTW is not finicky about precise time of QSO; when operating backyard portable, I try to put an audio time stamp on the recording so I remember which satellite and time. LOTW needs Prop mode Satellite and correct satellite entered. Callsigns have to match, of course!

    Practice: Monitor a few passes to get a feel for the rhythm, recognizing calls, etc. Less busy passes (e.g. not daytime weekends!) will be easier for 1st QSOs. As you're on East Coast, passes out over the Atlantic will be less congested.

    Welcome to the birds. Good luck!
     
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  7. N2SUB

    N2SUB Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Very cool video. It helped me to listen to the K8YSE website recording to identify an FM sat pass when I heard it. Now I'll be able to listen for a SSB pass as well. I've also subscribed to your channel...looks like there's a lot of helpful stuff there as well.

    Thank you ALL for your help. It seems like this is one aspect of the hobby where it's nearly impossible to go it alone. :)
     
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  8. WD9EWK

    WD9EWK Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thank you!

    I have a lot of audio from different satellites in my Dropbox space:

    http://dropbox.wd9ewk.net/

    Look in the folders that have names starting with "Satellite_Audio". File names in those folders have the date (YYYYMMDD), time (UTC), satellite name, and the location where the recording was made. Almost all of the recordings were made by me; for those made by others, I include the creator's call sign near the end of the file name. For some of my YouTube videos, I combine an MP3 recording of a satellite pass with a slideshow related to that pass.

    73!
     
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  9. N2SUB

    N2SUB Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    This is both interesting and confusing. Does your recorder allow you to listen to what's being recorded in real-time like a monitor? If so, what kind is it?
     
  10. WE4B

    WE4B Ham Member QRZ Page

    Yes, some of the Olympus (and others) allow you to listen to what's being recorded and produce some really excellent audio files. W4AQT and I are cheap and just use our iPhones to record our side of the audio to transcribe passes. There's lots of options for recording passes.
     
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