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The DIY Magic of Amateur Radio

ARRL launches “Do It Yourself” theme.

There are a LOT of similarities between hams and the growing Do It Yourself (DIY), Maker communities.  We can learn from each other and share tools and ideas in our enjoyment of creating things for ourselves and not simply purchasing mass-produced products. 

ARRL's new video, “The DIY Magic of Amateur Radio,” is an 8-minute video that follows some of the innovative, imaginative and fun ways “hams” use radio technology in new and creative ways. The presentation is directed toward the DIY (do it yourself) movement, which is inspiring a new generation of creators, hackers and innovators. The message should be helpful for existing members to shape the ways they understand and talk about ham radio. 

But wait - there's more!

There's a printed flier, powerpoint, speaker notes, buttons and more available for you.  We hope you will use them to find, contact and reach out to the Maker/Hacker/DIY communities in your area. 

Start here by exploring short stories and videos about some of the projects and activities pursued by today’s radio amateurs. From satellite communications to sophisticated wireless digital networks, you’ll quickly find that when it comes to ham radio…WE DO THAT!

Or go directly to the DIY materials page at

DIY Magic video


Hams and Makers have a lot in common. See how Makers are using ham radio as a tool in their creations. For download options, see

We Do That!

  • Not what you thought it was...

    Amateur Radio (often  called "Ham Radio") is really many hobbies and passions under one name.  From studying the stars and creating new computer applications to bouncing signals off meteorite trails, hams enjoy using and creating technologies in new ways.  Here are some of the ones you probably did not expect....


    To find as club or group near you, go to

  • The New Photonic Communications

    Posted on January 5, 2010 by apitts


    by Raymond “Woody” Woodward K3VSA

    North Carolina ARRL Public Information Officer

    A directed beam of light from a 3 Watt red Luxeon LED at a distance of almost fifteen miles, easily stands out against the lights of Salt Lake City, Utah.   (Credit Photo: Clint Turner KA7OEI, copyright, used with permission) copyright_ka7oei1.jpg  

    Since the beginning of wireless, Amateur Radio operators have shown an insatiable curiosity to explore and populate the high frontiers of the electromagnetic spectrum.  Many years ago, hams were relegated to the “shortwaves,” thought to be worthless, and they discovered that those frequencies allowed for worldwide contacts. A few years later, hams colonized the VHF and UHF frequencies and found them to be ideal for reliable local communication.

    This technological wanderlust of ours may be happening again, perhaps encouraged by the Federal Communications Commission in the US, which, along with many other members of the International Telecommunications Union, has opened the frequencies above 300GHz to licensed Amateur Radio use. Small groups of hams, some in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania and France, as well as here in the US, are experimenting with lightwaves as a communications medium.

    There is some historical precedent for this. The first “wireless” electronic communication of the human voice was done in 1880, not by radio, but over Alexander Graham Bell’s “Photophone.” This device used a mirror vibrating in accord with the sender’s speech to modulate a beam of sunlight, which was detected at the other end by a selenium cell attached to a battery and an earphone.

    Obviously, Bell’s invention wouldn’t help much if someone had to make a call at night, but the recent blossoming of Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology is enabling hams today to shoot a beam of concentrated light over many miles of “line of sight” territory.  Because the thin beam of laser light is degraded by scintillation (“twinkling”) when propagated through a lot of atmosphere, LEDs are actually a superior transmitting tool.

    Sensitive photodiode circuits behind inexpensive Fresnel lens concentrators or off-theshelf telescopes serve to receive the light and retrieve the message. How sensitive can they be? Yves Garnier, F1AVY, detected harmonics of power line frequencies in terrestrial street lighting reflected from the surface of the moon during a recent lunar eclipse. Rye Gewalt, K9LCJ, reported that output “spikes” from a photodiode receiver board he was working on were the result of the board seeing lightning strikes from a thunderstorm many miles away. Neither of these events was producing enough light to be visible to the naked eye.

    For a good look at some actual hardware being used right now, Clint Turner’s (KA7OEI) website, “Optical Through-The-Air Communications” …   (, offers about the best introduction to the subject that can be found on the ‘net.

  • A new satellite for Radio Amateurs

    Posted on January 4, 2010 by apitts

    December of 2009 brought a nice present to radio amateurs around the world. The Chinese “Hope-1″ satellite carries a series of interesting and easy to use VHF/UHF transponders.
    AMSAT-NA formally designated the new satellite as Hope OSCAR 68, or HO-68.
    Hope-1 (or Xi Wang-1) is developed by CANSAT and is a so-called micro-satellite with educational purposes. It includes both a linear (SSB) transponder as well as a strong and sensitive FM repeater. This repeater can be used for regular voice contacts as well as digital communication with the
    on-board BBS. Status of the satellite is continuously transmitted via a CW beacon at 435.790 MHz.
    All uplinks to the satellite are in the 145 MHz band, and all downlinks in the 435 MHz band.

    Satellite operators around the world got immediately enthusiastic as the satellite proved to be easy to operate. Due to its relative high orbit the ‘footprint’ is larger as for most other amateur radio satellites. Already in the first days after launch reports of contacts across the oceans became available.

    This 2 minute video features the launch of the satellite and its various modes of operation, including its CW beacon, the FM repeater and the linear (SSB) transponder.


    More information (including status) can be found at the CAMSAT (AMSAT China) Hope-1 Web site:


  • ANDE-2 Experiments and Amateur Radio

    Posted on November 2, 2009 by apitts

    by Henk Hamoen, PA3GUO, The Netherlands


    Very often I find it difficult to explain to ‘outsiders’ what “HAM” radio is all about. Therefore I have released a short video on YouTube about the recent ANDE-2 experiments and how Radio Amateurs world-wide contributed to this mission;


    When I was a young kid I watched the first Space Shuttle flight on TV, a fantastic, scientific event, happening far away, on the other side of the world. Many years later, licensed Radio Amateurs are given opportunities to engage directly in space-experiments. It’s a thrill to be involved!


    Atmospheric Neutral Density Experiment – 2 (ANDE-2) consists of two micro satellites launched from the Shuttle payload bay on July 30th 2009, that will measure the density and composition of the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) atmosphere while being tracked from the ground.  Data will be used to better predict the movements and decay of objects in orbit.


    Originally designed as passive payloads, both satellites were turned into research projects of various participating high schools and universities.  Radio Amateurs participated in the program as they acquired all satellite data transmitted via radio.


    Featured in the ANDE-2 video are the launch and deploy from STS-127, as well as reception and decoding of the satellite’s radio signals (‘telemetry’) received from space by a team of licensed Radio Amateurs around the world.

    Henk Hamoen, PA3GUO, The Netherlands




  • Compass-1

    posted on November 2, 2009 by apitts

    by Henk Hamoen, PA3GUO, The Netherlands


    COMPASS-1 is the first CubeSat of the Aachen University of Applied Sciences in Germany. It is a 10x10x10 cm³ cubic satellite with a mass of less than 1 kilogram! The original mission purpose was to let everyone take and download pictures of the earth from the unique view of a satellite in orbit.

    Daily download of satellite data is delegated to a team of licensed radio amateurs around the world, and is coordinated by Mike Rupprecht, DK3WN. Satellites systems information, like battery condition and temperatures, are monitored and provided to the University of Aachen. This includes downloading of pictures from the experimental camera system.

    In this video, it’s demonstrated how satellite data (telemetry) is downloaded using 1k2 AFSK modulation. Radio amateurs use computer controlled antenna systems to ‘follow’ the satellite while it travels through space. Computers compensate for ‘Doppler’ effect on the transmit (command) and receive (telemetry) frequencies. Data decoding and telemetry processing is also fully automated by software developed by radio amateurs.

    University of Aachen, Germany, Compass-1 project: 

  • Sounds from Space: APRS via the ISS

    Posted on November 2, 2009 by apitts


    by Henk Hamoen, PA3GUO, The Netherlands


    Did you know you can actually see with your naked eye the International Space Station (ISS) when it passes over your home? During passes when it is dark outside, early morning or late in the evening, the ISS itself is still in sunlight, and you can see it in the sky as a moving star.


    It’s really fascinating to watch the ISS. But there’s even more. You can listen to the ISS as well. At a frequency of 145.825 MHz FM, licensed radio amateurs use dedicated equipment onboard the ISS for short message services, also called APRS. In very short packets of around 2 seconds (it’s digital communication), they can broadcast a message via the ISS to everyone in the ‘footprint’ (that is everyone that could ‘see’ the ISS at that very moment).


    This same radio equipment is also used for voice contacts between astronauts and radio amateurs, as well as for daily for school contacts, when students ask astronauts onboard the ISS questions about their stay in space.


    This video shows the ISS passing over the Netherlands (Europe) as a bright, moving star. You hear the bursts of digital communication and see them decoded on screen. LA4FPA (Norway), G6HMS (United Kingdom), IW9FRA (Italy), ON7DS (Belgium), YO8RBY (Romania), PA3GUO (Netherlands), OE1CWJ (Austria), UA1CAS (Russia) and SP9TTX (Poland) were active during this pass with their stations.

    For NASA information on the amateur radio equipment, go to:



    Henk Hamoen, PA3GUO, The Netherlands


  • Want to bone up on wireless tech? Try ham radio

    Posted on October 30, 2009 by apitts


    For 40 years, Computerworld has been the leading source of technology news and information for IT influencers worldwide. Computerworld’s award-winning Web site (, weekly publication, focused conference series and custom research form the hub of the world’s largest global IT media network.  So it is quite a commendation when they published the October 2009 article

    Want to bone up on wireless tech?

    Try ham radio

    Abundant spectrum resources and an engaged research community are drawing wireless experimenters back into a hobby that many had forgotten.


    By John Edwards

    October 29, 2009


    See the article at

  • Amateur Radio and Computers – a natural match.

    Posted on October 16, 2009 by apitts

    HP website story at:



    “VE2DXY” is an Amateur Radio contesting team.   2009 “core team” members are Bill Ballantine K3FMQ, Andy Vavra KD3RF/VE2DXY, Irwin Darack KD3TB, Sebastien Jean VE2GTZ and Ken Nicely N3PSJ.  Information about them and past DXpeditions (taking Amateur Radio into unusual and often wilderness areas) is available at

    They have done mini-DXpeditions into Canada for 6 years as a “Field Day” type exercise and go beyond the 50 degrees north parallel.  They carry all of their equipment 1,000 miles to set-up and operate radio stations for the duration of the contest, then dismantle and return home. 

    In 2009, their ham radio efforts were selected by HP for a feature on the “HP in Real Life” website highlighting the real-life integration of Amateur Radio technology and HP computers. The VE2DXY team’s use of HP products in Amateur Radio applications was a key factor to the story at

    Radio amateurs have been mixing the capabilities of computers and radios into new applications and technologies for decades.  In the rapid fire exchanges of radio contesting, computers are used to record contacts made, information about radio propagation and find frequencies which will give the best chances of contacting other rare stations.  Blending GPS systems, computers and Amateur Radio allows remote tracking and position reporting. 

    Video from a past DXpedition is at

  • Rock & Roll meets Ham and Radio

    Posted on March 12, 2009 by apitts

    Bob Heil is a ham, K9EID.  He’s also the premier person in sounding good for many musicians.   His Amateur Radio experience has taken him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 


    Well….watch this!

  • An Asteroid Named "ARRL"


    Posted on August 2, 2010 by apitts



    Observations of Minor Planet (31531) ARRL by Prof. Jeffrey A. Larsen for the Spacewatch Project of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, funded in 1999 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U. S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Steven and Michele Kirsch Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.  Copyright (c) 1999 by the Arizona Board of Regents.

    We have formally and officially named a solar system object for ARRL: Minor Planet “(31531) ARRL.”

    As a Planetary Astronomer and a newly licensed amateur radio operator (and long-time SWL), through my work with the Spacewatch Project in discovering and observing Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) at the Lunar and Planetary Lab at The University of Arizona, we have just named an asteroid for the ARRL.

    The naming was proposed to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Committee on Small Bodies Nomenclature (CSBN), and was accepted by the CSBN and published to the world, 2010 Jul 27.

    The full name of the object is: “(31531) ARRL”.

    The number in parenthesis is the so-called “permanent number” that an asteroid receives after its orbit is sufficiently accurately determined so that it can never become “lost”.  “ARRL” is of course the acronym of the American Radio Relay League.

    Prior to the object receiving its permanent number, it was known by its so-called permanent designation: “1999 CQ137.″  I selected this object for naming from among the many thousands discovered by Spacewatch.  It seemed fitting to me that “CQ” should be in the designation.  In addition, the number “137″ is also significant to  physicists and engineers and perhaps to radio amateurs: it is the reciprocal of the “fine-structure constant," which depends on the square of the charge on the electron, the speed of light, Planck’s constant, and the permittivity of free space.  This object seemed to have it all, for us!

    Minor Planet ARRL is in the main-belt of asteroids.  It is not an NEA.  Its orbit is nearly circular, and has an eccentricity of only 0.08 (Earth’s is 0.02), and an orbital period about the Sun of 4.95 years.  The orbit is inclined only 2.4 degrees to the Ecliptic, and its semi-major axis is 2.90 Astronomical Units.  Its physical size is between 3 km and 7 km (not well determined), possibly about the size of a major peak in the Rocky Mountains.

    Joe Montani / W7DXW

    Senior Research Specialist

    Spacewatch Project

    Lunar and Planetary Lab

    The University of Arizona

    Tucson, AZ  85721-0092

  • Discrete-Method Signal Analysis

    Posted on December 22, 2008 by apitts

    An Introduction to the The Fifth Pillar for Amateur Radio 

    William E. Sabin, WØIYH

    At the Dayton Hamvention in May 2008, ARRL President Joel Harrison, W5ZN, announced the formation of a Fifth Pillar for amateur radio, combined with the in-existence Four Pillars (Public Service, Advocacy, Education and Membership). The purpose of the new Pillar is to encourage and enhance math, science and engineering appreciation and skills. Individuals who are interested in and involved with, at various levels, the rapidly expanding modern-age technology developments in electronic hardware and software are the intended audience. This applies in particular for us as it pertains to the art and science of Amateur radio communications, not only at the “black box” and “operating” levels, all of which are very important, but equally important at the math, science, analysis and design levels.

    This concept was encouraged by Dave Sumner, K1ZZ, in the August 2008 QST Editorial. QEX and other ARRL Technical staff members are very active in advancing the Fifth Pillar ideas. The new ARRL Web site is dedicated to this effort. Traditional (“legacy”) methods are also respected, as they should be.

    Many national governments, including the USA, are deeply concerned with inadequate awareness and education by the general public in the fields of math and science. Many nations are ahead in this respect. The Fifth Pillar effort is dedicated to adding to the improvements in deficiencies of this kind. This brief and simple example article is also dedicated to this effort.

    A Modern Discrete-Method for Signal Analysis and Design

    The modern personal home computer, in conjunction with an elegant and sophisticated mathematics calculation program, Mathcad Version 14.0 [Ref. 1], is employed in this brief article at an introductory level that is very user-friendly. This program is used to calculate, process and graph-plot a variety of signal-processing and very many other kinds of math problems. The so-called symbolic math methods {see the Mathcad User Guide, Chapter 13} are also used in modern math computing. This software is an outstanding tutorial tool for the advancement of the engineer’s and student’s math skills, which is considered to be an important goal in today’s advanced technology environment.

    The signals and their analyses can be in the time domain or the frequency domain, and they can be linear in nature or non-linear. Signals, before and after processing, can be switched back and forth easily between time domain and frequency domain. A complete Mathcad 14.0 program, with perpetual usage, is attached to the new book Discrete-Signal Analysis and Design [Ref. 2].  This is a special and very generous Mathcad promotional offer by the PTC company.  The User Guide that is on the compact disk can be placed on the Desktop as an icon.

    Example: A three-tone distortion simulation. [Ref 3.]

    A typical discrete-signal processing example will help to illustrate just a few of the basic ideas of Mathcad usage in the practical world of electronic design. This and similar examples can also be further explored with circuit simulation programs such as Multisim (student edition) by National Instruments using accurate models of I.C.’s, transistors, diodes, tubes and many kinds of passive components. In addition to the three desired tones, a large undesired “out-of-band” signal that contributes to distortion products will be examined.

    Time domain information can be converted to spectrum results. After modifying the frequency spectrum, for example by introducing a filter or a signal interference or random noise (additive or multiplicative), the modified time domain results can then be obtained. We can also begin with various spectrum shapes that achieve certain desired time-domain results.

    Certain communications waveforms use methods similar to this example, and laboratory test equipment is used to perform discrete-time and discrete-frequency tests automatically. Pseudorandom data error rates can be evaluated.


    Analysis of the Example (see Ref 3).

    (Click on the images to make them larger.)


    Illustration A & B

    Part (A) shows the time-domain input Vsig(n) and part (B) the time-domain output Vout(n) of an amplifying device that is perfectly linear. The device delivers only output signals that are proportional to those at the input, i.e.,Vout(n) = Vsig(n)1.0 times a voltage gain constant Gv. The signals in Part (A) are at frequencies 4, 7 and 9. Another much smaller input at frequency 29 will be considered a little later. Observe also the DC bias Vdc on the device. This is called the “operating point.”


    Part (C) is the two-sided (positive-frequency and negative frequency) phasor spectrum of the output as calculated by the Discrete Fourier Transform (DFT) of the time-domain output (part B) of the device. Part (D) shows the same actual positive-frequency signals as the input. We get these positive-frequency signals by combining the positive-frequency phasors and the negative-frequency phasors. Chapter 2 of the Sabin book explains how this is done. Also, Chapter 1 discusses phasors vs signals.


    Part (E) introduces a nonlinearity, the exponent 1.5, which is often used in text books [see Sabin ch. 2], in the transfer function of the device. This creates distortion products in the form of new frequencies at the output Vout(n) that are not present in the input Vsig(n). In the signal spectrum Vout(k) of part (F) many, but not all, of the nonlinear output products are identified. For example, the term at (k) = 3 is due to the term at (k) = 4 interacting with the term at (k) = 7. The 1.5 exponent also increases the voltage gain, in this particular example, to Gv1.5. Gv can also be a more complicated time-varying function of (n) such as [Gv(n)]1.5.

    Another consequence of the nonlinearity is that the spectrum phasors, therefore also the signals, are “complex” and may possibly display items that have a real (Re) part, an imaginary (± j Im) part, a magnitude ( |  | ) and phase angle (Θ) with respect to some “reference” phase such as zero. The graphs of parts (F) and (G) would identify these. Mathcad can be instructed to calculate and plot all of these results.

    In part (G) the interfering “out-of-band” signal at (k) = 29 is greatly increased in amplitude so that distortion terms are emphasized. The ability of a strong out-of-band interferer to corrupt a desired signal spectrum is illustrated. In particular, the spurious product at (k) = 6 stands out. In addition to this large distortion term, there are many smaller distortion products that can degrade the desired weaker signals. Also 4, 7 and 9 are degraded slightly. This is very serious interference that can be difficult and expensive to repair, especially in wideband high-level systems where filtering of strong interfering signals is expensive. A tunable notch filter is sometimes possible for constant interferers, but costly high dynamic range equipment is often indicated. We see this effect in practical environments, for example in HF/VHF/UHF radio. We now see it also mathematically.

    Beyond this simplified introduction, a much more complete study would be well-justified. For a closer look at the various related technologies for this and many other topics, visit the new ARRL website

    Ref 1.

    Mathcad, version 14.0, PTC company, Needham, MA.(  The Mathcad program is very mature and has a history of fourteen versions in more than 25 years.

     Ref 2.

    Discrete-Signal Analysis and Design, by William E. Sabin, published in January 2008 by Interscience Division, available from the ARRL Bookstore, item #0140 at, search: Sabin.

     Ref 3.

    Sabin, W0IYH. QEX, Nov/Dec 2008 “A Modern Discrete-Method for Signal Analysis and Design” pp 36-38.

    w0iyh4.jpgBill Sabin, W0IYH

    About the author:

    Bill Sabin received the call Sign W9YFA in 1941 in Covington, KY at age 15. This changed to W4YFA in 1946, and to W0IYH in Iowa (Collins Radio Company) in 1964. He holds BSEE and MSEE degrees from the U of Iowa. He retired from the Rockwell Collins Company in Cedar Rapids IA in 1990. He is co-editor of and contributor to, with E.O. Schoenike, three books on Single-Sideband and HF Radio. He is the author of more than 40 technical articles and portions of the ARRL Handbook (1995 to 2009 editions). In 1983 he received the annual ARRL Technical Excellence Award. He is a member of ARRL, Life Senior Member of IEEE, and member of the ARRL DXCC Honor Roll.

    Bill Sabin, W0IYH,

  • Who ya gonna call? Hams!

    Posted on December 2, 2008 by apitts

    Back in the early-mid 1900′s, hams were often accused of being the source of interference.  With the coming of better radios and TVs, complaints now are far more likely to actually be a CB radio, not a ham radio (they are very different things!) .  But when there is something happening that’s really wierd and nobody knows what to do, who are you going to call? 

    One local TV station knew the answer – call in the hams!

  • VoIP

    Posted on October 17, 2008 by apitts

    VoIP: Internet Linking for Radio Amateurs


    Growing numbers of hams are using VoIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, in combination with their radios for long-distance communication spanning hundreds or thousands of miles. They’re using the Internet as the relay between their base stations, handhelds and mobile transceivers.

    There are four primary VoIP systems used by hams: EchoLink, IRLP, eQSO and WIRES-II. Getting started can vary in complexity from beginners who just want to set up and try using these systems, to arrangements with plenty of technical “meat” for those who want to dig deeper and explore how the systems actually work.
    VoIP possibilities, using Amateur Radio to provide communications across expanses where normal phone services are damaged in storms, has been extensively  used in the recent past following several hurricanes.  There is an ARRL book published to help hams get involved in this new area.  This may be the first book ever written about the developing ham radio applications of VoIP. Author Jonathan Taylor, K1RFD, is the creator of EchoLink and one of the top experts in Amateur Radio Voice Over Internet Protocol. (ISBN: 0-87259-926-4)


  • Radio Sport by John Donovan, K6YLG

    Posted on August 18, 2008 by apitts  

    Radio Sport


    By John Donovan  K6YLG



    johnd.jpgJohn at his radio. You know you’re a true tech geek when you play at what they pay you to do at work—or in my case, write about.

    In Portable Design magazine I spend a lot of time covering low-power wireless issues—from exploring evolving air interfaces to explaining how to design them into the next portable gadget. In my spare time I design and build low-power wireless transceivers that operate in the amateur radio (‘ham’) bands. Working exclusively below 30 MHz, I don’t worry whether my 5 GHz UWB signal can reach from my living room to my bedroom TV. I’m more concerned about whether Serge can hear my 5W 14 MHz signal in Tahiti or Joao in Brazil. Since local deed restrictions relegate me to using an attic dipole, that’s a neat trick.


    “Daddy listens to static.” What’s that about? In an age when cell phones have made people blasé about international wireless communications, ham radio seems like a relic—and in some ways it is. Why would you spend time analyzing sunspot cycles, atmospheric ionization and the maximum usable frequency (MUF) for wireless communication between your home and Brazil when you can just pick up your phone can call someone there?


    Cell phones are fine for point-to-point communications when you know who you’re calling. Ham radio is fun precisely because you never know who you’ll wind up meeting. It’s a mixture of science and serendipity—like sailing. Sure, you could fire up an engine and get somewhere faster and more predictably. But as in sailing you’re harnessing a force of nature—in this case the ionosphere—and working with it for the sheer joy of the adventure. The Germans refer to ham radio as “radio sport,” which seems a fitting term.


    Still, there is a lot of science involved, and not just in analyzing propagation. Hams have long experimented with different data communications modes, inventing more than a few. I was only able to contact Serge and Joao with my tiny transmitter because I was using PSK31, a type of binary phase shift keying invented by Pete Martinez, G3PLX. PSK31 transmits 31.25 bits per second, using a binary code whose length varies with the popularity of the letter (‘e’ is two bits, ‘z’ is nine). This makes for a very efficient modulation protocol, well suited to low power stations.


    If band conditions permit, you can switch to QPSK31—quaternary phase shift keying—which adds a second BPSK carrier that is 90 degrees out of phase with the first. The second channel carries redundant bits, so QPSK adds a convolutional encoder to generate one of four different phase shifts that correspond to patterns of five consecutive data bits. On the receiving end a Viterbi decoder sorts it all out. All of this magic is done using your computer’s sound card and Pete’s software. Plug your computer into a 5W transmitter, add a decent antenna, and you can get a lot farther than the nearest cell tower.


    Hams have invented and are using a number of other interesting air interfaces. Whereas PSK31 uses anywhere from 2-12 symbols per text character, MFSK (multi-tone frequency shift keying) uses only one—but modulates an RF carrier with as many as 16 different tones; while slower than PSK31, MFSK signals are less affected by multipath errors. MT-63 uses 64 different tones, plus forward error correction; MT-63 is robust against selective fading. Olivia uses a two-layer code and Walsh Functions, making it readable even when the signal is 10 dB below the noise floor (“Can you hear me now?”). JT65 is a digital protocol optimized for the extremely weak signals found in earth-moon-earth (EME) communications on the VHF bands. When not bouncing signals off the moon, hams can communicate via one of several satellites—called OSCARs (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio)—that support VHF and UHF communications.


    Ham radio has come a long way since I got started. I got my novice license just after my 11th birthday. I got on the air using a WWII surplus BC-654 transceiver (AM and CW) that ran off a battery and dynamotor. One of my first contacts was the postmistress of Vladivostok. I ran out and bought a world map and started sticking colored pushpins into places I worked, reading up about them in the encyclopedia at the local library. Ham radio really opened up the world for me. Now my kids can read all about Vladivostok on Wikipedia and call there on their cell phones. Still, all the instant information available on the Internet doesn’t begin to substitute for the thrill of the hunt and the unplanned meeting with a stranger.


    While I enjoy experimenting with digital RF designs, I’m basically into ham radio for one reason—because it’s fun.


    This article originally appeared as an editorial in Portable Design magazine ( in July, 2008


    John Donovan, K6YLG, has been a licensed amateur radio operator for over 50 years. When not writing for Portable Design magazine or skulking about trade shows, he can often be found on the digital portions of the 20-, 30- and  40-meter ham bands. He’s also active in the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) in Williamson County, Texas.

  • ARRL Teachers Institute on Technology

    Posted on August 8, 2008 by apitts

    The Teachers Institute on Wireless Technology (TI) is a week long, in-residence learning opportunity designed for motivated teachers and other school staff who want to learn more about wireless technology and bring that knowledge to their students. A variety of topics are covered during the 4 days of the TI including basic wireless technology literacy, electronics, and the science of radio; bringing space into the classroom; ham radio operation; introduction to micro controllers; and basic robotics.

    The Teachers Institute is only the beginning of a participant’s exploration with wireless technology. The goal of the TI program is to equip each teacher with necessary foundational knowledge, and through hands-on learning, generate the inspiration for teachers to continue to explore wireless technology and adapt relevant content into their classroom instruction.

    Just a few examples of some of the activities teachers who have participated in the Teachers Institute have initiated upon return to their classrooms include:

    • Using weather imagery gathered by the students for environmental studies.
    • Using TV remotes to control simulated “smart homes.”
    • Radio Direction Finding (RDF) activities to study how naturalist track wildlife.
    • School competitions during the School Club Round-up, a nation wide ham radio contest for schools.
    • Geography lessons using QSL card (postcards collected from ham contacts around the world).
    • A school wide space exploration curriculum including radio stations to receive signals from space and participation in the NASA Explorer School Program.
    • Radio contacts between participating schools.
    • Using radio in ESL classrooms to listen to live broadcasts from countries that use the languages as their native tongue.

    Find more information about the Teacher's Institute, including how teachers may apply for scholarships.

    Teachers also have a final exam!

    As part of their activities, the teachers construct their own robotic vehicles which must navigate a maize, trail each other and even perform “synchronized carpet swimming.” Watch a video of the results.

  • EETimes – Great SuitSat Article

    Posted on July 10, 2008 by apitts

    Extreme design: SuitSat pushes engineers’ limits

    By Patrick Mannion, TechOnline

    An excellent feature article on the design and creation of SuitSat and Amateur Radio technology in space.

    (This is definitely not your grandfather's radio!) 

  • Project Blue Horizon Sets Record

    Posted on July 2, 2008 by apitts

    2008 – A group of graduate students has broken the world amateur high-altitude balloon record in a recent near-space flight that exceeded 125,000 feet. The balloon launch was the capstone effort of Project Blue Horizon (PBH), an educational component of a three-year program known as Lockheed Martin’s Engineering Leadership Development Program.   PBH is a space-flight program that incorporates amateur radio (also known as ham radio) technologies. Onboard global positioning systems and amateur radio technology allow for monitoring of launch, ascent, descent and recovery, with high-resolution images 20 miles above the earth’s surface recorded.

    Read more about it.

  • Ham Satellites

    Posted on April 17, 2008 by apitts


    Amateur Satellites?

    Yes, We Do That Too !

    Satellite-active hams compose a relatively small but growing segment of our hobby, primarily because of an unfortunate fiction that has been circulating for many years—the myth that operating through amateur satellites is overly difficult and expensive. Like any other facet of Amateur Radio,satellite hamming is as expensive as you allow it to become. If you want to equip your home with a satellite communication station that would make a NASA engineer blush, it will be expensive. If you want to simply communicate with a few low-Earth-orbiting birds using less-than-state-of-the-art gear, a satellite station is no more expensive than a typical HF or VHF setup. In many cases hams can communicate with satellites using present station equipment—no additional purchases are necessary.

    Does satellite hamming impose a steep learning curve? Not really. You have to do a bit of work and invest some brain power to be successful, but the same can be said of DXing, contesting, traffic handling, digital operating or any other specialized endeavor. You are, after all, communicating with a spacecraft!

    The rewards for the efforts are substantial, making satellite operating one of the most exciting pursuits in Amateur Radio. There is nothing like the thrill of hearing someone responding to your call from a thousand miles away and knowing that he heard you through a satellite. (The same goes for the spooky, spellbinding effect of hearing your own voice echoing through a spacecraft as it streaks through the blackness of space.)
    No doubt this is beginning to sound like an impassioned Captain Kirk delivery. (“Answers! I need answers, Mr Spock!”) Let’s cut to the chase.

    Satellites: Orbiting Relay Stations
    While a repeater antenna may be as much as a few thousand meters above the surrounding terrain, the satellite is hundreds or thousands of kilometers above the surface of the Earth. The area of the Earth that the satellite’s signals can reach is therefore much larger than the coverage area of even the best Earthbound repeaters. It is this characteristic of satellites that makes them attractive for communication. Most amateur satellites act either as analog repeaters, retransmitting signals exactly as they are received, or as packet store-and-forward systems that receive whole messages from ground stations for later relay.

    There is much more to learn and enjoy. I suggest that you spend some time on the AMSAT Web site. You’ll pick up a wealth of information there. Speaking of “picking up,” grab a copy of the ARRL Satellite Handbook (buy the book online, or see your favorite dealer). Between these two resources you’ll be able to tap just about all the amateur satellite knowledge you’re likely to need.

    New Amateur Radio Satellite Receives OSCAR Designation

    Late May 2008, Bill Tynan, W3XO, announced that Amateur Radio satellite Delfi C-3 has been issued an OSCAR number: Delfi-C3 OSCAR-64 or Dutch OSCAR-64. The shortened version of either of these two designations is DO-64.

    Delfi C-3 was successfully launched April, 28, 2008 from India aboard a Polar launch vehicle and was successfully commissioned, currently transmitting telemetry on the 2 meter amateur band. In addition to its 2 meter downlink, Delfi C-3 has an uplink on the 70 cm band. This newest amateur satellite was developed by a team of some 60 students and facility members from various polytechnic schools in The Netherlands. Delfi C-3 carries two experiments: one involving thin film solar cells developed by Dutch Space, and an autonomous wireless Sun sensor from the Dutch Government Research Institute (TNO).

    According to Delfi C-3 Project Manager Wolter Jan Ubbels, Delfi C-3 has been duly coordinated through Region 1 IARU representative Graham Shirville, G3VZV, and that the satellite “meets all of the criteria necessary to be issued an OSCAR number.”

    AMSAT-NA is pleased to welcome DO-64 into the family of Amateur Radio satellites,” Tynan said. “We are hopeful that it will fulfill its intended mission of furthering education and increasing interest in the Amateur Radio space program. We congratulate all of those responsible for designing, building, testing and launching this new Amateur Radio satellite and look forward to its long and productive life.”
     . . . see you in orbit!

  • Meteors and the Moon – WSJT

    Posted on April 16, 2008 by apitts

    WSJT is a computer program for VHF/UHF communication using state of the art digital techniques.  It can decode fraction-of-a-second signals reflected from ionized meteor trails, as well as steady signals more than 10 dB weaker than those required for conventional CW.  One of its operating modes, JT65, is particularly optimized for amateur EME (Earth-Moon-Earth) communications.  WSJT is open source software and is licensed under the GNU General Public License.  WSJT has an active development group.

    MAP65 is a new (July 2007) computer program designed to provide the “back end” of a semi-automated, wideband, polarization-matching receiver for JT65 signals.  In works together with Linrad (by SM5BSZ) and suitable RF hardware to receive and decode all detectable JT65 signals in a 90 kHz passband.  MAP65 runs under Windows or Linux.  Its principal intended application is EME or “moonbounce” on the amateur VHF and UHF bands.  A MAP65 status report is available, as well as a MAP65 Quick Start Guide.

  • D-Star

    Posted on April 15, 2008 by apitts

    What is D-STAR?
    D-STAR is a new ham radio standard which, when made into a system, offers both digital voice and data communication. It connects repeater sites over microwave links and the Internet and forms a wide area ham radio network. The DSTAR system provides a new capability and functionality to the ham radio world and increases the efficiency of emergency communications.

    What can the D-STAR system do?
    128kbps digital data and 4.8kbps digital voice communication!
    The D-STAR system provides not only digital voice (DV mode) communication but also digital data transmission (DD mode). It can exchange various data files such as graphics, images, etc, at 128kbps.  Multiple repeater links by radio and the Internet provide long distance communication to virtually anywhere.

    Many Internet applications are available
    The D-STAR system uses the TCP/IP protocol, so when it is connected with a PC, web, e-mail and other Internet applications are available.

    Wireless Internet Access
    No matter where you travel with the DSTAR network, you can access the web, e-mail, text messages and multimedia messages.  It works even when “the net is down” and normal Internet communications are not working.
    The D-Star standard, first published four years ago, resulted from government-funded research in Japan administered by the Japan Amateur Radio League (JARL) to investigate Amateur Radio digital technologies. D-Star is an open protocol that’s available for implementation by anyone.

    “Amateur Radio is again out there in the forefront of technology,” saiys Ray Novak of Icom America, one of the companies manufacturing D-Star equipment. Although he concedes there’s a steep learning curve ahead, he predicts Amateur Radio users will invent new ways to put D-Star technology to work as they get better acquainted with its possibilities.

    At this stage, the ARRL HQ in Newington, CT has a D-Star 23-cm repeater is up and running in digital voice mode, and W1AW Station Manager Joe Carcia, NJ1Q, and ARRL Web and Software Development Manager Jon Bloom, KE3Z, have enjoyed contacts through the repeater. In the meantime, Bloom has been working to interface the D-Star system with a Linux server, which will serve as an Internet gateway, to check out that aspect of the system.  It is a new technology and still being created.

    The digital voice stream can simultaneously handle voice at 3600 bps with error correction and data at up to 1200 bps. Since a D-Star voice signal occupies only 6.25 kHz the potential is there to make more efficient use of available spectrum on 2 meters by squeezing up to four D-Star repeaters into the same space as two analog channels.
    Working through a D-Star repeater is a bit different than using an analog repeater. While the basic “repeater” concept is the same, some aspects are altogether new. Your call sign is the key to a D-Star system since it’s incorporated into every transmission you make. Because of D-Star’s call sign-routed system, registered users are able to cross-communicate with stations registered on another network’s D-Star repeater, wherever it may be.
    This means that if a user calls a station registered elsewhere, the voice transmission would be routed to the appropriate repeater where it would be heard just as though both stations were using the same repeater.

    The 1.2 GHz D-Star system’s high-speed data capability is another exciting feature. The high-speed data stream has a data rate of 128 kbps and a maximum occupied bandwidth of 130 kHz. With the Ethernet jack on the transceiver, you now have the functionality of an ISDN (integrated services digital network) line available in your vehicle.
    “We’ll have to find new ways of using this technology,” Novak said. “That will be where ham radio changes. This opens up an unbelievable array of features for repeater systems–including graphics, schedules, tables, photos, you name it!”

    The D-Star discussion forum at is the place where the latest developments, applications and uses are appearing almost daily with this new technology.

    Watch John Webb of Whiskey 7 Media interview some Washington State hams about it.

  • APRS

    Posted on April 14, 2008 by apitts


    Sure your dashboard GPS might tell you where you are. But how about seeing and tracking where other people are located in real time?
    Long-time packeteer Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, developed the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS), which allows packet radio to track real-time events. It deviates markedly from the usual message- and text-transfer activity. Instead, APRS concentrates on the graphic display of station and object locations and movements.

    For example, if you know the latitude and longitude of your station, you can add this information to the beacon transmissions sent by your packet TNC. Any monitoring station that’s equipped with APRS software will translate the data and display your location on a computer-generated map.

    Taking this idea a step further, if you own a portable Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, you have precise position information at your fingertips. Connect the GPS receiver to your TNC and you can transmit your location information even as you’re moving!

    When any person in an APRS network determines where you’re located, he can move his cursor and mark your position on his map screen. This action is then transmitted to all screens in the network, so everyone gains, at a glance, the combined knowledge of all network participants. In other words, everyone knows where you are. The map screen retains this information for future reference. This means that moving objects can be dead reckoned to their current locations with one keystroke–based on their previous positions.

    With a small GPS receiver, a TNC and a hand-held transceiver stuffed in a cigar box, almost any object can be tracked by packet stations running APRS software. You can place these boxes on bicycles for a marathon event, and, of course, in automobiles. This system is an excellent too for triangulating the location of a hidden transmitter or jammer.

    The article Position Reporting with APRS below is a good tutorial for the APRS beginner. See also the list of other APRS articles.

    A lot has happened to APRS since its humble beginnings. I think even Bob Bruninga is surprised at what has become of his idea. New applications and uses are being developed constantly.


    Posted on April 14, 2008 by apitts

    Having realized the shortcomings of current emergency messaging systems, including those that utilize voice, CW, or email robots, a ham operator, Skip Teller, KH6TY, saw the need for fast, reliable, emergency message transfer that would not be subject to any errors in translation from the spoken word to the written word, or from Morse Code to the written word, or wind up in an email inbox that nobody notices until it may be too late. The primary critera that needed to be satified is that any message that was sent must be without any errors. If a single number within a phone number to be called is in error, the entire message is undeliverable. So, more than anything else, the delivered message must be an exact duplicate of the original. To accomplish this, a verification approach, called “ARQ” for Automatic ReQest, must be utilized, and the system needed to be staffed with live amateur operators, who can verify message delivery to the intended recipient, and not depend upon any email “robots” which cannot obtain such verification in a timely manner. In addition, the system had to be capable of using very little of the radio spectrum so that there was more space left for other emergency communications activities, along with other ham radio hobby activities. The “Narrow Band” part of NBEMS refers to the NBEMS spectrum-conservative approach.

    KH6TY then contacted a radio amateur friend in the Netherlands who had developed a spectrum-conservative email message system and they worked together to try an adapt that system, but in the end, it wound up being too complicated for the average radio amateur operator to operate. It was at this point that Dave, W1HKJ, a greatly experienced computer programmer as well as a radio amateur, offered to work with KH6TY and create a program that would send and receive messages without any errors. KH6TY and W1HKJ then worked together full time for the next year to bring NBEMS to fruition. 

    We all know what happens when there is a widescale disaster like Katrina. Phones don’t work, cell phones don’t work, the Internet is not accessible, and electric power may be out also.

    We huddle together in a shelter, wondering how to tell our friends and family that we are OK, but with no traditional communications available, what are we going to do?

    Well, in such situations, individual radio amateurs provide a way to connect to the outside world to request medical help or let friends and family know you are OK.

    Radio amateurs often have radios in their cars or homes that can run off batteries, or the car electrical system, and are portable or mobile enough to come to that shelter and send messages to the outside world – even up to 100 miles away.

    A new system to do that has recently been developed that utilizes no centralized communications points, but lets every available radio amateur send emergency messages from a disaster area, or receive them outside the disaster area, and deliver them by phone, cell phone, SMS, or Internet email.

    That system is called NBEMS, for NarrowBand Emergency Messaging System, and is a set of software programs that allows the ham operator to take your message and send it, perfectly error-free, to another station outside the disaster area.

    How it Works

    The radio amateur operator will have with him, a personal computer, NBEMS software, a communications radio, and an antenna. He can operate from his car if necessary, or inside a shelter, using battery power or electricity from a generator. Persons needing to send messages to friends and family, or request medical attention, or perhaps request supplies such as water or food for the shelter occupants give the message to the radio amateur, who then types it into his computer. When a quantity of such messages have been received, the radio amateur will broadcast a “CQ Emergency NBEMS”, which is a general call for anyone hearing him that has the NBEMS software to contact his station. The two then link together and the messages are transferred to the computer of the radio amateur that is outside the disaster area and has Internet, telephone, cell phone or text-messaging capability.

    The radio amateur outside then forwards the messages on the Internet, if they are emails, or delivers the messages by telephone, cell-phone or text-messaging, confirming that the message is given to the intended recipient. If the message is delivered by email, he advises the recipient by telephone, cell phone, or text-messaging that an email is waiting. When the confirmation is by text messaging, he requests a short confirmation by return text-messaging that the message was received.

    Why it was Developed

    The system was developed to solve a several problems:

    1. Current emergency messaging systems require that outgoing messages be delivered to one of a few radio amateurs located at some central point in a disaster area.

    Solution: NBEMS utilizes any NBEMS-equipped radio amateur, who might happen to be on the spot or available, to transmit messages to the outside of the disaster zone.

    2. Current emergency messaging systems have only a few, unattended, email robots (similar to telephone answering machines) that can receive messages, and can be easily overloaded in a real emergency with radio amateur operators trying to contact them andthen having to wait in line to send messages.

    Solution: NBEMS is able to use as many radio amateurs as are available at the time to forward messages by Internet, phone, cell phone, or text-messaging. There is no need to wait in line to send a message. The “NarrowBand” aspect and non-reliance on a handful of email robots makes this possible.

    3. Because current emergency messaging systems utilize email robots to forward messages, emails can lie unnoticed for minutes, or hours, before the recipient checks his inbox.

    Solution: NBEMS uses no email robots, but live radio amateur operators who can personally contact the recipient and be sure he gets the message. He can also immediately accept any return message for sending back to the station in the disaster zone the next time he contacts that station. NBEMS messaging is two-way.


    The NBEMS is currently undergoing rigorous testing to be sure it is easy to operate and reliable in order to be ready for use in the coming 2008 hurricane system. Various radio amateur emergency communications groups are already evaluating the system for organized emergency communications needs, such as connecting Emergency Operation Centers with units in the field, or providing backup communications with hospitals in the event that normal communications are disrupted.

    The NBEMS system is free for radio amateur use and is available on the Web for every radio amateur to download and use. The system is also usable for daily casual communications by radio, providing a continuing test of the readiness of the system for actual emergency use. Get more information.

    kh6tysmall.jpg KH6TY  Skip Teller

Orbital Angular Momentum


Italian hams find ways to put 2 distinct messages onto one frequency

  • But Wait - There's MORE...

    The Do It Yourself or “DIY” movement is nothing new to Amateur Radio.  For just over a century, “hams” have been working in basements and attics, taking things apart and putting them back together in new ways for the fun of it.  The enjoyment of seeing your own creation work –or even if it fails- always surpasses being a mere user of corporate products.  The joys of making and modifying things for themselves run deep in the ham community.  Today’s hams continue to use technologies in new and creative ways that can become the consumer products of tomorrow and, in the meantime, they have FUN doing it!


    Hams were the original Makers and Hackers, using new, used and scavenged parts to make transmitters, receivers, and antennas capable of communicating with other hams anywhere on Earth, and beyond.  In this hobby, communicating is the keyword.  And, when computers came along, they fit right in to the ham's wide world.  Using their technical skills and imagination, hams put together advanced communication networks connected by radio waves instead of wires.  


    From microchips and robotics to time and space itself, the Makers within the Amateur Radio ranks build and explore new ways to play with the radio spectrum such as bouncing UHF signals off a meteorite trail or sending email without the Internet – just for fun.  They can contact astronaut hams on the International Space Station or set world distance records for communications using microwaves. Hams are even developing whole new systems where a computer IS the radio.  If you want a new radio, you’ll be able to download it!

  • MiMo & Mike Kassner

    Posted on April 10, 2008 by apitts

    What’s MiMo ?

    Multiple Input/Multiple Output - Pronounced “my-mo,”

    it is the use of multiple transmitters and receivers (multiple antennas) on wireless devices for improved performance. When two transmitters and two or more receivers are used, two simultaneous data streams can be sent, which double the data rate. Multiple receivers alone allow greater distances between devices. The IEEE 802.11n wireless standard, expected in 2009, uses MIMO to increase maximum speed to 100 Mbps and beyond, double the 802.11a and 11g wireless standards.

    iMAT: MIMO without multiple antennas
    -by Mike Kassner
    Courtesy of

    Antenna systems are not normally a preeminent topic when it comes to discussions about wireless equipment. That attitude is completely understandable; antennas are just not that interesting to most people. To some, including myself, RF propagation and antenna technology are very worthy discussion topics. My fascination started 40 years ago when I earned my first amateur radio operator’s license. I still remember the excitement of talking to as many fellow amateurs as I could on an old home built CW transmitter. Not having a great deal of money for new equipment, I focused on improving my antenna farm. It did not take long for me to notice the difference a good antenna made. Poorly designed or poorly built antennas—I learned the hard way—can literally destroy transmitter RF circuits. Whereas a well built antenna afforded me the opportunity to communicate with other amateurs anywhere in the world.

    Antenna systems finally get some respect
    Wireless equipment manufacturers will always have the challenge of trying to equal or surpass the capabilities of wired voice or data networks. Helping to close that gap are recent innovations using multiple—same frequency—antenna systems. Researchers and equipment manufacturers now understand that using MIMO antenna technology means greater receiver gain, increased data rates, larger network throughput, and improved reliability through antenna diversity. It all sounds good, but as that saying goes “nothing’s ever free” applies here as certain challenges surface when using MIMO antenna systems.

  • SDR – Download a new radio? Sure!

    Posted on April 10, 2008 by apitts

    Download a new radio?  Yes, we do that!


    Since the beginning of radio itself, signals arrived at antennas and were processed by bits of hardware so that the information they carried could be understood by human beings. A century ago, the hardware amounted to little more than crystals and coils of wire. Vacuum tubes followed, which were eventually superceded by transistors and integrated circuits. Regardless of the design, the common element of every radio was hardware—a technology locked into place and difficult to change.

    Today’s amateurs have entered a new era. They’ve surpassed many of the limitations of hardware by using software instead. They’re still sending and receiving signals, but now they’re using computers to create “virtual” radios that can change in an instant, operating with any type of signal at the click of a mouse button. This incredible technology is known as Software Defined Radio and it promises a future that those early experimenters would never have dreamed possible.”   –Steve Ford, WB8IMY

    Many promising amateur radio developments have now begun under the general topic heading of software defined radio. In the last six months, most of these promising developments have begun to be delivered to radio amateurs’ shacks. We are going to see a new transceiver from Flex Radio. HPSDR has begun to deliver software and hardware to its followers through the efforts TAPR with aid from AMSAT. Linrad has begun a serious experiment in delivery of highly capable network based, distributed software defined radio systems. uwSDR has delivered functional software and though its hardware efforts for VHF, UHF, and above are still under development, the early results show great promise. GnuRadio continues to move forward. Ettus Research, Inc. is close to delivering its first articles of the USRP2. A functional OFDM modem has now been implemented in GnuRadio and development on it continues with great promise for future amateur radio use. Radio manufacturers outside of Flex Radio have begun to pay attention to some of its developments and are now shifting their marketing to include claims of being software defined radio and many are now showing live, very sensitive panadapters of the type pioneered by Linrad and Flex Radio in the PowerSDR software.

    There is amazing development going on now with better hardware becoming available for the RF front ends to radios and with much faster computing equipment becoming inexpensive enough for all to afford. SDR is really mainstream now. It should continue to be highlighted as it is here that lots of amateur radio’s most exciting action is occurring.

  • SETI – Project ARGUS

    Project Argus is still going strong after a decade, and hams are
    driving the technical developments. 135 Project Argus stations are
    operating in 26 countries around the world.


    What Is Project Argus?


    Perhaps the most ambitious microwave SETI project ever undertaken without Government equipment or funding, Project Argus is an effort to deploy and coordinate roughly 5,000 small radio telescopes around the world, in an all-sky survey for microwave signals of possible intelligent extra-terrestrial origin. When fully operational, Project Argus will provide the first ever continuous monitoring of the entire sky, in all directions in real time.
    The SETI League was established in 1994 to help privatize the scientific Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), formerly conducted by NASA. SETI League members have developed the necessary hardware, software, protocols and procedures for distribution worldwide. The name Argus derives from a 100-eyed being in Greek mythology. The search phase of Project Argus began on Earth Day, April 21, 1996, with just five operational radio telescopes. By November, 2000, the scope of our Argus equalled that of its namesake, with our 100th station actively participating.

    Traditional research grade radio telescopes (the type which NASA used) can view only a small fraction of the sky at a given time, typically on the order of one part in a million. All-sky coverage with these instruments would thus require a million telescopes, properly aimed. At a cost of perhaps one hundred million US dollars apiece, such a network would exceed the Gross Planetary Product. Fortunately, there is another way.

    Project Argus employs much smaller, quite inexpensive amateur radio telescopes, built and operated by SETI League members at their individual expense.  Only five thousand of these smaller instruments, properly coordinated, are necessary to see in all directions at once. The equipment, although of modest sensitivity, is still believed capable of detecting microwave radiation from technologically advanced civilizations out to a distance of several hundred light years.

  • QEX -the journal of Ham Radio creativity

    Posted on March 31, 2008 by apitts


    QEX is the ARRL “Forum for Communications Experimenters.” Published bimonthly, it features technical articles, columns, and other items of interest to radio amateurs and communications professionals. The mission of QEX is to:

    • Provide a medium for the exchange of ideas and information among Amateur Radio experimenters,
    • Document advanced technical work in the Amateur Radio field, and
    • Support efforts to advance the state of the Amateur Radio art.

    Each issue delivers up to four times the technical material found in each QST. Our 64 pages usually accommodate seven to ten articles, plus letters and other interesting items. We strive to maintain a balance between theoretical and practical content. Articles range from simple construction projects to progress in radio theory. Virtually every part of the magazine is devoted to useful techniques for the technically savvy. You are invited to download examples of outstanding QEX articles below, and see for yourself.

  • Reach for the Heavens

    Posted on March 31, 2008 by apitts   p7060053.thumbnail.jpg

    Near Space Ventures and CAPnSPACE are not-for-profit Missouri Corporations dedicated to the advancement of Aerospace Education, with an emphasis on low cost access to Near Space, using high-altitude balloons and amateur radio.

    Stratofox is a team of Amateur Radio operators mostly in or near Silicon Valley who perform or participate in tracking and recovery operations for amateur, entrepreneurial and research rocketry and high-altitude balloon flights. The team also organizes training, trips and practice related to aerospace tracking in order to maintain demand for our team’s expertise. Stratofox became the first amateur group to recover a rocket which has re-entered the atmosphere after a space flight (defined as reaching 100km+ altitude.)


    Stratofox has also become the only non-government group which has performed Space-Launch Range Safety operations, clearing the downrange area prior to launch

  • 13.56 as a Cancer Cure?

    Posted on March 31, 2008 by apitts


    John Kanzius, K3TUP, had an idea – killing cancer cells with radio waves.  This had been tried before with poor results.  John’s experience in ham radio had taught him that radio energy (RF) can heat objects.  But his idea went further. What if the cancer cells were tricked into taking a metal target inside just the tumor cells?   John was aware of “nanoparticles.”  If the tumor cells, and ONLY the tumor cells,  could be made to take in these metallic bits, and if they could then be heated up with RF, would that kill off the tumor or the patient?   Recent university animal testing gave the answer – the tumor was destroyed.  Now researchers are following John’s lead in exploring a host of life-saving applications.

    13.56 MHz as a Cancer Cure?  It just might be! 

    From QST - a magazine of the ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio in the US 

    In the past months there has been a lot of publicity about John Kanzius and a possible method of destroying cancerous tumors in humans using RF energy and nanoparticles.  Animal tests look very good and human testing is on the fast track.  But who is this and how does radio fit in? 




    John Kanzius is a ham, K3TUP, and a cancer survivor.  He loves to build what he calls “exotic antennas” at his station.  Stacked rotating beams or a rotating tower with multiple beams was a common K3TUP antenna farm.   According to John, many well known contesters won world wide contests from his Western Pennsylvania site as guest op’s.


    John also is a broadcast engineer who acquired ownership of several radio and TV stations, then sold them as a group and retired to a life of leisure on Sanibel Island – or so he thought.   That dream was destroyed in 2002 when he was diagnosed with leukemia.


    In between trips to the doctors, he saw the devastation cancers have on human beings and the horrors of chemotherapy’s side effects.  Despite the advances in pharmacology and surgery, “cancer” was still a terrifying word.  The slow downward spiral that engulfed many lives, let alone his own situation, was summarized by John as, “…hoping we kill the cancer before we kill the person.”


    In October 2003 John had an idea – kill cancer cells with radio waves.  As every ham knows, radio energy (RF) can heat objects.  This was not a new idea and had been tried before with poor results.  Previous attempts, called “ablation,” used needles inserted into the patient as the targets for the RF energy.  The energy would heat up the needles and cook the tissue surrounding the needle.  The problem was that it (a) used needles and (b) cooked everything, both good and bad cells.  But John’s idea went further – and this is where the inspiration came.  What if, instead of needles, the cancer cells were tricked into taking a metal target inside just the tumor cells?  


    Like many of us who have great ideas in the middle of the night, it sounded good to him.  But unlike most of us, he did not wait until morning.  Rather than run the risk of losing the concept in his sleep, John immediately got up in the dark and began work on possible antenna designs by cutting up his wife’s pie pans. Hearing the strange noises in the night his wife, Marianne, investigated.  “What the hell are you doing?”  


    John’s first attempts used copper sulfate, and his first “patient” was a hot dog.  But it worked and gave him the confidence to start asking questions of doctors in the field.  The next steps were to interest scientific researchers in the concept, build a special transmitter that could safely focus the RF energy, test it out on real tumors, find ways to trick cancerous cells into absorbing the RF target and see if it really was “too good to be true.”


    A much better RF target was presented in 2005 when his own personal doctor brought him into contact with Dr. Steven Curley, M.D., a professor at the M.D. Anderson Department of Surgical Oncology at the University of Texas.  Dr. Curley found the process promising and brought a present – “nanoparticles.”


    Nanoparticles are incredibly small objects, usually metallic, measured in billionths of an inch.  If the tumor cells could be made to take these particles internally, and if they could then be heated up with RF, would that kill off the tumor or the patient?


    John built a special RF generator for the project.  As John says, “Trying to build an array that would heat particles one billionth of a meter in length was challenging.  But building equipment all of my life was inspired by my dad, W3NRE, who was licensed in 1934.”


    As for attracting serious researchers, John got the interest of Dr. David Geller, a co-director at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in their liver cancer program. 

    In 2005, John, Marianne, Curley and Geller put it all together for the first time in a lab at the University of Pittsburg.  John’s special RF generator targeted a tube of carbon nanoparticles in a solution.  John had the honor of pressing the switch, and within seconds the solution began to boil.

    Dr. Curley knew they were on to a major event in medicine.  “We could target specific abnormal proteins, put a polar charge on the nanoparticles and use magnets to focus them on those areas of the tumor.” 


     Dr. Richard Smalley (SK), a Nobel laureate and also a cancer victim, was Rice University’s expert in nanoparticles and especially “fullerenes,” which are made of carbon and include tube shaped particles called “nanotubes.”  When Dr. Curley first reported to Dr. Smalley that he actually had seen carbon nanoparticles get very hot when in the beam of John’s RF generator, Smalley is reported to have grasped the importance immediately and exclaimed, “Holy God!” 


    John is more modest about it and simply writes, “The research scientists at Rice were stunned to see that my device could heat nanoparticles at the 13.56 MHz frequency.”


    Dr. Smalley spent the rest of his working days on the project because he believed that this is indeed the breakthrough that had been hoped for by so many millions.  Dr. Boris Yakobson, Ph.D., continues the work at Rice.   


    The rabbit didn’t die


    Initial animal testing done at Rice University used rabbits.  Being careful that all scientific methods were complete with several control groups, a solution containing carbon nanotubes was injected into cancerous tumors in rabbits.  The rabbits had either pancreatic cancer or liver cancers.  Four rabbits were the primary test animals for the experiment.  After the injection, they were put into the special RF field created by John’s RF generator for two minutes.   48 hours later the results were checked.  The tumors in all four had been destroyed by heat, but there was very little damage to neighboring tissues as close as 2-5 mm away.


    Science is an exacting discipline.  Every aspect of a clinical trial, let alone a revolutionary finding like this one, must withstand extensive peer review and be published for others to test and duplicate.  In September 2007 John learned that the paper he co-authored1 had been accepted and would be printed in no less than Cancer, a major oncology medical journal published on behalf of the American Cancer Society in December. 


    The Future


    Unfortunately, even though in vivo animal tests and human cancer cells on Petri dishes have been destroyed by this method and the technology is on “fast track,” actual experiments with living human cancer victims still may be three years away.  Meanwhile he has been bombarded with offers and people wanting to make a deal for his invention. 


    Work continues to progress on the procedure at the world’s largest cancer research center.  John wisely patented his RF generator and formed Therm Med, LLC.  He now has his RF generators being made in a factory, so his wife’s pie pans are safe again.  John is obviously optimistic about it all and credits his Amateur Radio experiences as a fundamental part of the invention process.


    “If it were not for my ham radio and all the days of experimentation to improve my station, this new procedure for treating cancer, which continues to show such promising results, would probably not be on the cutting edge at the largest cancer center in the world.”


    In the past months others have also become excited as positive results pile up.  



    Carbon nanotube-enhanced thermal destruction of cancer cells in a noninvasive radiofrequency field


    While the full scientific paper is quite complex, here’s a brief “translation.”


    John Kanzius, K3TUP, invented the experimental radiofrequency generator and the concept of using it with nanoparticles serving as targets for RF to “cook” tumor cells internally.  John is a cancer survivor, active ham and former radio station owner whose knowledge of the potential effects of targeted radio waves triggered his search for alternatives to chemotherapy.

    There have been past attempts to treat cancers and related tumors using RF energy.   Most of these past attempts involved inserting needles into the tumors and using RF to heat the needles which then killed any cells in proximity to the needle, both good and bad. 


    The excitement in John Kanzius’ work is the demonstrated ability to target the RF energy to specific locations by use of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes that release heat energy in an RF field.  SWNT’s are incredibly small cylinders with walls one atom thick.  Using water-soluble SWNT’s and injecting them into the tumor, the nanotubes are taken up by the tumor cells.  Then, using a 13.56 MHz RF field and between 400 and 1000 watts, researchers were able to heat the nanotubes, killing the tumor cells while not harming normal cells. 


    The RF generator is connected to a high Q coupling system with transmitter and receiver heads which can be swiveled as needed to orient the RF direction.  The distance between the Tx and Rx heads is adjustable which changes the field size, shape and density.  They usually use an RF field diameter of about 30 cm.


    The animal studies that have been completed used carbon SWNT’s injected into rabbit tumors.  The results were that there was “total cell necrosis of the tumors” while the animals has no side effects.  Current research is looking into ways to use gold SWNT’s coupled to other chemical agents that will only be absorbed by cancerous cells, allowing many more delivery options.  There are several agents possible for this and hopes are high that it can be done.


    Hams will note that the nanotubes are very small.  The carbon ones are about 20 nm (that’s 20 billionths of a meter) and the new gold ones are only 3-5 nm.  Meanwhile the wavelength of 13.56 MHz is even longer than our 20 meter band.  John reports that he has devices on multiple frequencies of 13.56 MHz. and chose that because it and it’s harmonics are industrial assigned frequencies by the FCC. He was assured not to be interfering with other services and his preliminary tests showed the human body to be transparent to that frequency.


    There are currently several theories for the resonance of the nanotubes despite the disparity between size and wavelength.  The most supported one is that in an RF field the nanotubes organize themselves in some way, much like iron filings in a magnetic field.  They form chains which hit upon a frequency multiple and achieve resonance and heat up – In short, a “self-assembling antenna!”


    The next steps are human studies and using agents that will deliver the nanotubes to tumor cells but not healthy cells.   For this step they will shift to the use of gold nanotubes instead of carbon because gold nanotubes have already been approved by the FDA for human use.  All in all, if it proves out, this could be an easy golden pill to swallow and sure beats chemotherapy!  





    1   The primary scientific paper, Carbon nanotube-enhanced thermal destruction of cancer cells in a noninvasive radiofrequency field, was published online on October 24, 2007 and copyrighted by The American Cancer Society.  It is to appear in the December issue of their Cancer magazine.  It was written by:

    Christopher J. Gannon, M.D.  (University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center)

    Paul Cherukuri, Ph.D. (University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center)

    Boris Yakobson, Ph.D. (Rice University, Dept of Chemistry)

    Laurent Cognet, Ph.D.  (Rice University, Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology)

    John S. Kanzius, K3TUP

    Carter Kittrell, Ph.D. (Rice University, Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory)

    R. Bruce Weisman, Ph.D. (Rice University, Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology)

    Matteo Pasquali, Ph.D. (Rice University, Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory)

    Howard K. Schmidt, Ph.D. (Rice University, Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology)

    Richard E. Smalley, Ph.D. (Rice University, Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory)

  • What is A.L.E. ???

    Posted on March 31, 2008 by apitts


    What is ALE?
    is the acronym for Automatic Link Establishment.
    Automatic Link Establishment is the de-facto worldwide standard for initiating and sustaining communications using High Frequency radio. HF radio conveys signals via ionospheric propagation, which is a constantly changing medium. With the capability to call up a specific HF station, a group of stations, a net, or a networked station, Automatic Link Establishment is a versatile system for connecting radio operators for voice, data, text, instant messaging, internet messaging, or image communications. A radio operator initiating a call, can within minutes have the ALE automatically pick the best frequency that both stations have. It signals the operators on both ends, so they can begin communicating with each other immediately. In this respect, it can eliminate the longstanding need for repetitive calling on pre-determined time schedules and monitoring static on HF radios.



    How ALE Works
    Each radio ALE station uses a callsign or address in the ALE controller.When not actively in communication with another station, each HF SSB transceiver constantly scans through a list of frequencies, listening for its callsign. To reach a specific station, the caller simply enters the callsign just like dialing a phone number. The ALE controller selects the best available frequency and sends out brief digital selective calling signals containing the callsigns. When the distant scanning station detects the first few characters of its callsign, it stops scanning and stays on that frequency. The two stations’ ALE controllers automatically handshake to confirm that a link is established and they are ready to communicate.  The receiving station, which was muted up until now, will typically emit an audible alarm and visual alert for the receiving operator of the incoming call. It also indicates the callsign of the linked station. The operators then can talk in a regular conversation. At the conclusion of the QSO, one of the stations sends a disconnect signal to the other station, and they each return their ALE stations to the scanning mode. Some military / commercial HF transceivers are available with ALE options. Amateur radio operators commonly use the PCALE soundcard software ALE controller, interfaced to a ham transceiver via RS-232 CAT port, multi-frequency antenna.

     Automatic Link Establishment is a great tool for the purpose of communicating between stations in real-time, while avoiding guesswork, beacon listening, and complicated HF prediction charts altogether. ALE is most commonly used for hooking up operators for voice communications on SSB and for internet messaging, but there are many other useful features. —Bonnie Crystal, KQ6XA  

    To learn more about ALE go to

  • Amateur Radio in Space

    Posted on March 31, 2008 by apitts suitsat1big.jpg


    Amateur Radio on the International Space Station

    Ham Radio on the ISS, NASA

    When astronauts, cosmonauts and mission specialists from many nations fly on the international space station, they will have amateur, or ham, radio as a constant companion. Since its first flight in 1983, ham radio has flown on more than two-dozen space shuttle missions. Dozens of astronauts have used the Space Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment, or SAREX, to talk to thousands of kids in school and to their families on Earth while they were in orbit. They have pioneered space radio experimentation, including television and text messaging as well as voice communication. The Russians have had a similar program for the cosmonauts aboard the Russian Space Station Mir. When U.S. astronauts were aboard Mir in preparation for the long duration missions of the international space station, they used amateur radio for communication, including emergency messaging while Mir was in distress. As human space flight moves into a new uncharted era, an organization called ARISS, which stands for Amateur Radio on international space station, has been formed to design, build and operate equipment. In 1996, delegates from major national radio organizations and from AMSAT, which stands for the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, in eight nations involved with the international space station signed a Memorandum of Understanding to form ARISS. NASA and the Russian space organization Energia have signed agreements that spell out the place of amateur radio on the station. A technical team, called ISS Ham, has been officially established to serve as the interface to support hardware development, crew training and on-orbit operations. In the United States, the American Radio Relay League, which is also known as ARRL, and AMSAT provide leadership and consultation. They also donate and build hardware as well as making sure safety and qualification tests are successfully completed so the equipment can fly. The Russians have provided ports so that antennas can be mounted on the station’s Zvezda Service Module — the space station unit that provides living quarters for the astronauts and cosmonauts. United States and Russian teams have trained the astronauts and cosmonauts to operate the equipment. The Italian team has designed and built antennas. The German team has built sophisticated repeater stations that will allow crews to make recorded reports on their daily activities and permit hams on Earth better contacts with men and women aboard the station. The first initial radio station was flown onboard the space shuttle Atlantis on STS-106. The crew transferred the ham radio gear into the space station for future use by the Expedition One crew. The astronauts and cosmonauts will work hard on these missions, but they plan to take some time off for educational outreach contacts with schools. NASA’s Division of Education is a major supporter of the amateur radio activity. The sponsoring agencies have stated that they consider access to a ham radio system a requirement for psychological support of the crews, by providing family and general contacts for people who will be in space many weeks at a time. As the international space station takes its place in the heavens, the amateur radio community is prepared to do its part by helping to enrich the experience of those visiting and living on the station.



    SuitSat was an Amateur Radio installed inside a surplus Russian space suit and tossed out into space.  It became an independently orbiting ham radio satellite deployed by the crew of the International Space Station.  It was so much fun, hams plan to do it again!  

    Do you want to be part of the international network of ground stations that help support Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) operations? ARISS is looking to add numerous ground stations capable of relaying ISS amateur radio sessions with schools and also serve as back up communications relays should they be needed. If you are already a licensed Amateur Radio Operator and would like to be considered for selection as one of the new ARISS telebridge stations, then send an email with details about your station and contact information to ARISS-telebridge@amsat.orgFrank Bauer, KA3HDO
    ARISS International Chairman,  AMSAT V.P. for Human Spaceflight Programs


  • What is Ham Radio?

    Posted on March 31, 2008 by apitts



    What is Ham Radio? A housewife in North Carolina makes friends over the radio with another ham in Lithuania. An Ohio teenager uses his computer to upload a digital chess move to an orbiting space satellite, where it’s retrieved by a fellow chess enthusiast in Japan. An aircraft engineer in Florida participating in a “DX contest” swaps his call sign and talks to hams in 100 different countries during a single weekend. In California, volunteers save lives as part of their involvement in an emergency response. And from his room in Chicago, a ham’s pocket-sized hand-held radio allows him to talk to friends in the Carolinas. This unique mix of fun, public service and convenience is the distinguishing characteristic of Amateur Radio. Although hams get involved for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and pass an examination for the FCC license to operate on radio frequencies known as the “Amateur Bands.” These bands are radio frequencies reserved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by hams at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band all the way up into extremely high microwave frequencies.

    Who’s the Typical Ham? Amateur Radio operators come from all walks of life — movie stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck drivers and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes, income levels and nationalities. They say Hello to the world in many languages and many ways. But whether they prefer Morse code on an old brass telegraph key, voice communication on a hand-held radio, or computerized messages transmitted via satellite, they all have an interest in what’s happening in the world, and they use radio to reach out.   What’s the Appeal of Ham Radio?
    Some hams are attracted by the ability to communicate across the country, around the globe, or even with astronauts on space missions. Others may like to build and experiment with electronics. Computer hobbyists enjoy using Amateur Radio’s digital communications opportunities. Those with a competitive streak enjoy “DX contests,” where the object is to see how many hams in distant locations they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology that gives them portable communication. Mostly we use it to open the door to new friendships over the air or through participation in one of more than 2000 Amateur Radio clubs throughout the country.
      Why Do You Need a License?
    Although the main purpose of Amateur Radio is fun, it is called the “Amateur Radio Service” because it also has a serious face. The FCC created this “Service” to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide backup during emergencies. In addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability of the hobby to advance the communication and technical skills of radio, and to enhance international goodwill. This philosophy has paid off. Countless lives have been saved where skilled hobbyists act as emergency communicators to render aid, whether it’s during an earthquake in Italy or a hurricane in the U.S.

    Why Do They Call Themselves “Hams”?

    “Ham: a poor operator. A ‘plug.’”
    That’s the definition of the word given in G. M. Dodge’s “The Telegraph Instructor” even before there was radio. The definition has never changed in wire telegraphy. The first wireless operators were landline telegraphers who left their offices to go to sea or to man the coastal stations. They brought with them their language and much of the tradition of their older profession. In those early days, every station occupied the same wavelength-or, more accurately perhaps, every station occupied the whole spectrum with its broad spark signal. Government stations, ships, coastal stations and the increasingly numerous amateur operators all competed for time and signal supremacy in each other’s receivers. Many of the amateur stations were very powerful. Two amateurs, working each other across town, could effectively jam all the other operations in the area. Frustrated commercial operators would refer to the ham radio interference by calling them “hams.” Amateurs, possibly unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term, picked it up and applied it to themselves in true “Yankee Doodle” fashion and wore it with pride. As the years advanced, the original meaning has completely disappeared.   Do I Have to Learn Morse Code? Not any more! While many hams LIKE to use Morse code, it is not required.

    What are some of the other ways radio hams communicate? What do they sound like?

    There is a great variety of ways that Amateur Radio operators are able to communicate. Using voice is just one. Morse code is still widely used. Here is what “hello” sounds like in Morse code. Packet, Radio Teletype (often called Ritty) and PSK are three more. Even faster transmissions are being developed using methods which can send almost any form of digital data. Hams also use television to send pictures over the air.

    What are the Amateur Radio Bands?
    Look at the dial on an old AM radio and you’ll see frequencies marked from 535 to 1605 kilohertz. This is one radio “band.” There are other bands of radio spectrum for amateur, government, military and commercial radio uses. If you could hear the many different bands, you would find aircraft, ship, fire and police communication, as well as the so-called “shortwave” stations, which are worldwide commercial and government broadcast stations from the U.S. and overseas. Amateurs are allocated 26 bands (i.e., specific groups of frequencies) spaced from 1.8 Megahertz, which is just above the broadcast radio frequencies, all the way up to 275 Gigahertz! Depending on which band we use, we can talk across town, around the world, or out to satellites in space. Hams can even bounce signals off the moon!

    How Much Does it Cost? Basic study materials for passing the FCC test and getting your initial license usually cost less than $40. There are also classes held by many local groups for people who want more interaction. If possible, taking part in one of these classes is the best way to go, but there’s even an online course you can take if your personal schedule is too hectic. Once you have your first license, most hams find it best to start with simple equipment and grow over time. It usually costs less than $200 to get your own first radio and start saying Hello. Many ham radio flea markets are held all over the country that sell good used equipment for even less.   What is the ARRL?
    Founded in 1914, the 150,000-member ARRL – The National Association for Amateur Radio is the national association for Amateur Radio in the USA. Other countries also have their own national associations. The ARRL not only reflects the commitment and many enthusiasms of American hams, but also provides leadership as the voice of Amateur Radio in the USA, whether in dealings with the Federal Communications Commission, the World Administrative Radio Conference, the International Amateur Radio Union, or with the general public. The ARRL is the primary source of information about what is going on in the ham radio world. It provides books, news, support and information for individuals and clubs, special operating events, all sorts of continuing education classes and other benefits for its members. Being a member of the ARRL is important for hams!
      Where Do I Get More Information? The best way to get information is to contact the hams in your local area.

  • SDR – downloading a radio?

    Posted on March 25, 2008 by apitts


     Download a new radio?  Yes, we do that!

    Since the beginning of radio itself, signals arrived at antennas and were processed by bits of hardware so that the information they carried could be understood by human beings. A century ago, the hardware amounted to little more than crystals and coils of wire. Vacuum tubes followed, which were eventually superceded by transistors and integrated circuits. Regardless of the design, the common element of every radio was hardware—a technology locked into place and difficult to change.

    Today’s amateurs have entered a new era. They’ve surpassed many of the limitations of hardware by using software instead. They’re still sending and receiving signals, but now they’re using computers to create “virtual” radios that can change in an instant, operating with any type of signal at the click of a mouse button. This incredible technology is known as Software Defined Radio and it promises a future that those early experimenters would never have dreamed possible.   –Steve Ford, WB8IMY


    Many promising amateur radio developments have now begun under the general topic heading of software defined radio. In the last six months, most of these promising developments have begun to be delivered to radio amateurs’ shacks. We are going to see a new transceiver from Flex Radio. HPSDR has begun to deliver software and hardware to its followers through the efforts TAPR with aid from AMSAT. Linrad has begun a serious experiment in delivery of highly capable network based, distributed software defined radio systems. uwSDR has delivered functional software and though its hardware efforts for VHF, UHF, and above are still under development, the early results show great promise. GnuRadio continues to move forward. Ettus Research, Inc. is close to delivering its first articles of the USRP2. A functional OFDM modem has now been implemented in GnuRadio and development on it continues with great promise for future amateur radio use. Radio manufacturers outside of Flex Radio have begun to pay attention to some of its developments and are now shifting their marketing to include claims of being software defined radio and many are now showing live, very sensitive panadapters of the type pioneered by Linrad and Flex Radio in the PowerSDR software.


    There is amazing development going on now with better hardware becoming available for the RF front ends to radios and with much faster computing equipment becoming inexpensive enough for all to afford. SDR is really mainstream now. It should continue to be highlighted as it is here that lots of amateur radio’s most exciting action is occurring. 

  • Take one used Spacesuit….

    Posted on March 24, 2008 by apitts


    Take one used spacesuit.  Insert Amateur Radios into the helment and toss it overboard in space.  You’ve now made a “Suit-Sat” !!!

    Hams had so much fun with the first one, that they are going to do it again.

    Plans to launch a second “SuitSat” spacesuit-turned-satellite are the
    subject of discussions and presentations at the AMSAT Space Symposium and Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). Despite a weaker-than-anticipated 2-meter signal, SuitSat-1 — a surplus Russian Orlan spacesuit fitted with an Amateur Radio transmitter — sparked the imagination of students and the general public and turned into a public relations bonanza for Amateur Radio. ARISS now hopes to capitalize on the concept by building an even better SuitSat that will include ham radio transponders.

    “The whole science fiction aspect” of SuitSat-1 made it attractive, ARISS International Chairman Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, told the AMSAT Space Symposium in October. “From our perspective it was a tremendous success.” Bauer said the experience gained through SuitSat-1 “will provide the stepping stone to get to the next level.” The next-generation SuitSat also will re-use another surplus Orlan spacesuit.

    The ISS Expedition 12 crew of Bill McArthur, KC5ACR — who was the AMSAT Space Symposium’s banquet speaker — and Valery Tokarev released SuitSat-1 into orbit. SuitSat-1 transmitted its voice message — “This is SuitSat-1 RS0RS!” — in several languages plus telemetry and an SSTV image on an eight-minute cycle as it orbited Earth. The unusual spacecraft’s radio signal was heard around the globe, although only the best-equipped Earth stations could copy it. Designated by AMSAT as AO-54, SuitSat-1 remained in operation for more than two weeks. It re-entered Earth’s atmosphere September 7.

    Lou McFadin, W5DID, who headed the SuitSat-1 hardware team, told the AMSAT Space Symposium that SuitSat-2 will incorporate some features his team didn’t have the chance to accomplish the first time around. For starters, the second SuitSat will have an onboard Amateur Radio transponder using digital signal processing (DSP) techniques. McFadin says the team is looking at SuitSat-2 as a test bed for the hardware that AMSAT plans to launch on its Phase 3E “Eagle Project” satellite, which will employ software defined radio (SDR) technology.

    “With DSP, we can do more than one thing at once,” he said. Among them are an SSB Mode U/V transponder, an FM crossband transponder, a CW ID that offers a contest for listeners to copy as many of the call signs as possible, a digipeater and four slow-scan TV (SSTV) cameras. Other
    experiments are yet to be determined. Solar panels — something SuitSat-1 did not have — will energize the hardware and recharge SuitSat-2′s batteries.

    An ISS crew could launch SuitSat-2 during a spacewalk as early as next fall. It could have an operational lifetime of six months or longer.

    “We’re going to have so much fun with this,” McFadin predicted, adding that one goal of SuitSat-2 will be to attract newcomers to Amateur Radio.

  • Time is a frequency

    Posted on March 24, 2008 by apitts


    How I Became A Time-Nut

    John Ackermann   N8UR  

    Everyone knows that time is money.  But did you know that it’s also frequency?  Time and frequency are different ways to look at one of the fundamental dimensions of the universe (to be more precise, the ferquency of a radio wave is defined by the number of its cycles per second, and the second is defined by the frequency of a specific atomic interaction – mathematically, time and frequency are inverse measurements of the same thing).


    Ham radio is all about frequencies – we need to know where to tune our radios in order to find each other’s signals, and to stay within the bands where we are allowed to transmit.


    From my earliest days as a ham, I was always interested in frequency measurement.  I remember that one of the hams in our club had an “Eldorado” frequency counter with orange nixie tubes for its display.  I was fascinated by that box.  A little later, I built a much less fancy counter from a kit, and then started bringing home piles of test gear from hamfests.  I still have the first “frequency standard” (very accurate crystal oscillator, with ovens to keep the workings at a constant temperature) that I found back in about 1985.  I used it with a military surplus counter, that like the Eldorado had nixie tubes, but had even more knobs and buttons (and its fan made a lot more noise).


    Once you have a frequency standard, you need a way to calibrate it.  This is where radio comes in.  Of all the fundamental quantities (like length, mass, etc.), frequency is the only one that can be measured at a distance, via radio.  In the US, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) broadcasts standard frequency and time signals with a very high degree of accuracy.  By receiving these signals you can calibrate your own equipment.


    So, my flea market searches expanded.  I already had my ham radios that would receive the WWV time and frequency signals, but NIST has another station that transmits on a much lower frequency; for various reasons, that can be measured several times more accurately than the WWV signals.  So I dragged home a 40 pound box that contained a WWVB receiver.  It plotted the difference between my frequency standard and the NIST on a mechanical chart recorder that made a resounding “clank” every 10 seconds.  My wife loved it…


    My second flea-market frequency standard had a beautiful electric clock attached.  Now, I could directly see how time was related to frequency (frequency is defined as the number of radio cycles per second), and I started figuring out how to set my clock as accurately as possible, as well as keeping it running at the right speed.


    It would be boring to relate all the buys, sells, and swaps from that point on.  I’ll just say that eBay significantly contributed to the filling of my basement!


    While my interest in time and frequency started with the simple desire to be able to measure my ham transmitter’s frequency, it led me into nooks and crannies of precise measurement as a hobby in and of itself.  I’ve become a “time-nut,” one of those people for whom measuring to trillionths of a second is a fascination.  There are over five hundred of us on the “time-nuts” mailing list.


    One of my fellow time-nuts, Tom Van Baak, did perhaps the best “science fair” experiment ever.  Tom has some of the best clocks in the world in his collection, and he decided to see if he could prove that Einstein was right about that relativity stuff.  According to the general theory of relativity, the “speed” of time is affected by gravity.  If a clock on the earth gains altitude (moves further away from the earth’s gravity), it will run fast and gain time.


    In his lab near sea level, Tom measured the time of three extremely accurate atomic clocks.  He then put those clocks, along with his three kids, into the family van and drove to nearby Mt. Rainier, 5400 feet above sea level.  They spent two days there and then returned home.  Einstein’s theory predicts that, given the time spent at altitude, the clocks would gain 22 billionths of a second during the trip.  When Tom compared the traveling clocks to others that had stayed at home, he found that they had gained, on average, 23 billionths of a second.  Tom and his kids proved that Einstein was right!  Read about Tom’s experiment.


    I haven’t done anything quite as exotic as Tom’s experiment, but I was able to capture data that confirmed the impact of a powerful solar flare.  On December 5, 2006, a large spot on the sun exploded, creating one of the strongest solar flares in the last 25 years.  I was recording data from a GPS receiver at the time (GPS not only tells you where you are, it can also serve as one of the most accurate time signals available), and recorded a “blip” in the strength of the GPS signals that coincided directly with that flare.  View a story about the solar flare and my data.


    Since I am a computer as well as radio geek, my interest in time led me to explore the Network Time Protocol which is used around the world to keep computer clocks synchronized.  I started running my own NTP time servers, and soon found myself unhappy with the performance that a standard PC can provide.  Another time-nut, Poul-Henning Kamp, found that an inexpensive single-board computer with no hard disk had some special features that allowed it to serve time more accurately than any standard PC.  However, even that box would benefit from some hardware changes to give it a more stable clock.  That led me to design two products that are now being sold by TAPR: the Clock-Block frequency synthesizer and the FatPPS signal conditioner.  The end result is perhaps the most accurate NTP server hardware in the world.  My web site describes that hardware, and shows how well it works.

  • Ham Radio & Music? We do that!

    Posted on March 24, 2008 by apitts ronnie.jpg

    Ronnie Milsap is a professional musician – and a ham.  As music incorporates more and more electronics into its array of sound shaping tools, the experiences and knowledge gained in Amateur Radio comes in very handy.  But just hear Ronnie describe it….  
    Learn More


    Posted on March 11, 2008 by fathoming arisslogo.thumbnail.jpg

    Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) is a volunteer program which inspires students, worldwide, to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math through amateur radio communications opportunities with the International Space Station (ISS) on-orbit crew. Students learn about life on board the ISS and explore Earth from space through science and math activities. ARISS provides opportunities for the school community (students, teachers, families and local residents) to become more aware of the substantial benefits of human spaceflight and the exploration and discovery that occur on spaceflight journeys along with learning about technology and amateur radio.

    ARISS is an international working group, consisting of delegations from 9 countries including several countries in Europe as well as Japan, Russia, Canada, and the USA. The organization is run by volunteers from the national amateur radio organizations and the international AMSAT (Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation) organizations from each country. Since ARISS is international in scope, the team coordinates locally with their respective space agency (e.g. ESA, NASA, JAXA, CSA, and the Russian Space Agency) and as an international team through ARISS working group meetings, teleconferences and through electronic mail.

  • Green Radio? -We Do That!

    Larry D. Barr, K5WLF, is a long-time proponent of renewable energy use, has lived off-grid in the past and is the owner of Rebel Wolf Energy Systems, a renewable energy (RE) consulting and design company. So, it was only natural that he’d look for ways to combine his passion for RE sources with amateur radio emergency communications.


    One of the problems at any remote location where radios are set up is the need for reliable power. If hams are deployed in response to an emergency such as a fire, flood or tornado, there is no guarantee the the power grid will be functioning, so the hams must provide their own power. As Larry tells students at license and EmComms classes, “You can’t count on the infrastructure being in place. So the safest way is to figure that if we don’t bring it with us, it doesn’t exist.”


    What’s become known locally as the “Solar Powered Ham Station” started out in response to a need for an autonomous station to serve as Net Control for the bicycle races that the Tarleton Area Amateur Radio Club (TAARC) in Stephenville, TX provides comms for each year. “We couldn’t count on being within reach of an AC power source,” says Larry. “A generator would do the job, but they’re noisy, require refueling and can be a fire hazard. Besides, I wanted to use some kind of renewable source.”


    Larry had a pair of Uni-Solar US-64 photovoltaic (PV) panels “sitting at the house collecting dust when they could be collecting sunshine”, so it was an easy decision to put them in the pickup and carry them to the bike races, then stand them up in the truck bed for the event. However, it took a couple folks to load them and there was no room to carry anything else in the pickup when the PV panels were being transported.  The next logical step was to devise a way of carrying the panels on the truck all the time, so that it would always be ready for use. Not only would it be more convenient but, as Larry says, “Having the panels ready in the pickup all the time is really what Amateur Radio EmComms is all about. If we need to deploy somewhere at a moment’s notice, the panels are already on the truck and my Go-Kit is behind the seat.”


    Larry and his friend Robert Taylor, K5HIX, designed and built the rack that supports the panels in the pickup. The panels ride below the top surface of the rack, so that it can be used to haul lumber or pipe without removing the PV panels. There are two antenna mast sockets in the front members of the rack enabling the erection of an antenna approximately 30 feet in the air without the need for a separate tower or guying. “Our goal was to make the pickup a self-contained EmComms response station, and I think we met that goal quite well, Although there are always things you think of after the fact that you’d like to add. So it’s subject to modification at any time.” Larry said.


    The two PV panels, at 64 watts each for 128 watts total, are capable of providing almost eight amps to the two 12 volt, 100 amp-hour AGM batteries which power the radios. For larger radio systems, such as operating not only a transceiver or two, but also a repeater, four batteries are used instead of two. “We’ve left to do a bike race with less than a full charge in the batteries, run a net control radio for about five hours and come home with the batteries fully charged,” Larry says. “It’s amazing what Mother Nature will do for you.”


    The batteries are PowerSonic PS-121000 AGMs, the charge controller is a Trace (now Xantrex) C12 and all the 12 VDC power is interconnected with Anderson PowerPole connectors. Power distribution is handled by either a West Mountain Radio RigRunner or distribution devices by Red-Dee-2-Connect (sold by Powerwerx).


    Larry D. Barr, K5WLF, is an Amateur Extra class licensee, ARRL NTX District 3 PIO, ARES AEC and RACES CLO (Alt). Robert Taylor, K5HIX, is an Amateur Extra class licensee and ARES NTX District 3 DEC.



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