December 24, 2017

December 23, 2017

Christmas Caroling via HF from Antarctica Set for December 23

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It's very short notice, but I wanted to share this recently discovered news item from the ARRL, giving my fellow Antarctica enthusiasts the opportunity to tune in to some very special, festive signals from "The Great White Continent" this Christmas Season! Thanks to my friend Alan Gale G4TMV for notifying me!


Each year, the “residents” of McMurdo Station, Antarctica, celebrate Christmas by singing and sharing Christmas Carols via HF — using a non-Amateur Radio frequency just above 40 meters — for those at remote Antarctic field camps. They’ll be doing it again in 2017, on Saturday, December 23, at 2300 UTC.

“Multiple stations are involved, each with different equipment,” explained Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF, an assistant research professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology who has been part of the chorus in the past. “McMurdo Station and South Pole Station probably have the most powerful equipment. Field camps and remote stations could be calling in with systems that put out as little as 20 W.”

Frissell said McMurdo Station would serve as a net control of sorts to coordinate the various broadcasts, which will include a small choir and vibraphonist John Piper at McMurdo. Other camps and South Pole Station each will have a chance to chime in.

“This year, we are asking ham radio operators around the world to listen in and e-mail short-wave listening reports telling us how far away the carols are heard,” Frissell said. “Last time I did this, almost all of the positive QSL reports were from South Pole Station.”

The broadcast will take place on December 23 on 7995 kHz USB at 2300 UTC, which will be Christmas Eve in some parts of the world. Frissell requests reports via e-mail. For a Christmas in Antarctica SWL QSL card, send an SASE to his home address. A YouTube recording offers a sample of last year’s transmission.

A graduate of Virginia Tech, Frissell started HamSCI, Ham Radio Science Investigation, which sponsored the Solar Eclipse QSO Party this past year. At NJIT, he works in the Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research.


December 12, 2017

My current WSPR / QRSS MEPT beacon station

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Here's a photo of my current WSPR / QRSS MEPT* setup in the attic.

From left to right:

  • Magnetic loop tuner (QRP only, max approximately 10 watts) and magnetic loop antenna
  • 5V 8000mAh powerbank
  • Voltmeter
  • 200 mW U3S QRSS / WSPR transmitter with QLG1 GPS receiver in the same housing (both homebuilt from a QRP Labs kit)

On the back of the table is a wooden box to store the various Low Pass Filters for the U3S. I've built my U3S without the relay-switched LPF board, so when changing band I have to swap the LPF manually.

The loop tuner holds a magnetic loop antenna made of a wooden support and RG-213 coax cable. The loop has a 5 metre circumference (radius = 5/2π = 0.8 m). Both the loop and loop tuner are homebrew. The mag loop can be tuned for the 80, 60, 40 or 30m band. The big size of the loop guarantees a relatively good efficiency on the lower bands (which I was aiming for while designing it), but means that I can not get it tuned on the higher bands. In the future I might make a second smaller loop that can also be used on at least the 20m band. The mag loop and tuner are not weatherproof and will be placed inside in the attic only, or maybe every now and then outside on a beautiful summer night.

I've only just recently built the magnetic loop antenna, and I've been experimenting with it mainly on 40m WSPR. It really works great, especially considering that it's placed inside in an antenna-unfriendly environment (concrete walls on two sides, several other antennas and metal structures nearby).
The past couple of days on 40m WSPR with the loop and the 200mW U3S I've been spotted all over Europe, by several stations in the United States (including N5CEY on the Mexican border in Texas), VP9NI on Bermuda, and 9L/KW4XJ in Sierra Leone. Looking at the results I would say the loop is at least performing equally well to the outdoor loaded EFHW sloper wire antenna that I was previously using for my MEPT setup, maybe even better.

Some of the 40m WSPR spots of the past few days sorted by distance
I haven't been testing the loop on 80m yet as I don't have an 80m LPF. I have one on order at QRP Labs and as soon as received and built I will start experimenting on 80m WSPR. I can't wait to see the results for that band.

Over time I will be optimizing the mag loop. I'm looking for a way to make tuning easier. Now I use my Yaesu FT-817 to tune for maximum noise on receive nearby the WSPR/QRSS frequency I want to use, and then fine tune until the rig's built-in SWR meter shows no bars anymore on transmit. I then connect the U3S.
I'm looking into a way to tune the mag loop without the help of the FT-817. In the future I would like to experiment with tuning methods used by other mag loop users. This includes a small NE-2 type neon lamp that at maximum brightness indicates maximum antenna current, or measuring for maximum RF voltage across the capacitor plates. I'll have to do some more online research into both.

I will be participating with the MEPT setup as it is now and as described above in the "Night of QRSS" New Year's Operation Celebration of the Las Cruces QRSS Mafia. More information can be found here and here. The event has generated quite some interest on the QRP Labs group recently.

Below I will post some links to interesting QRSS websites that I've recently found.

* MEPT = Manned Experimental Propagation Transmitter

December 11, 2017

Canada C3 Expedition update nr. 2

While the Canada C3 Expedition came to a succesful end back in October, the WSPR beacon aboard the expedition ship "Polar Prince" continues to be active. The CG3EXP callsign licence expired and the beacon now can be caught on the HF WSPR sub bands with the new callsign VE0EXP.
The coming period the Polar Prince will be returning from the Canadian West Coast to its home port on the Canadian East Coast on a long home voyage via the Panama Canal. And radio amateurs, like on its voyage along Canada's three coasts last summer, will also be able to track the ship on its home voyage by monitoring for its VE0EXP WSPR beacon. The WSPR beacon continues to transmit on its usual time and band schedule. As of writing this, the Polar Prince currently is in grid CM78 off the coast of California. More info can be found on the CG3EXP page.

From CG3EXP trustee Barrie Crampton VE3BSB and the CG3EXP team, as a token of appreciation, and as recognition of my help in publicizing the C3 Expedition, I received the beautiful C3 Expedition certificate, and it's which much pride that I present it here on the PA7MDJ blog. My thanks and compliments go out to Barrie Crampton and the others of the CG3EXP team for the wonderful project, and for making the ham community part of the epic voyage of the Canada C3 Expedition.

More about the Canada C3 Expedition and my monitoring sessions for its WSPR beacon in my blog entries of  October 29th and June 5th.

December 09, 2017

More 40m fun!

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In my blog of March 4th I already wrote about how I'm continued to be surprised by the DX I'm able to work on the 40m band with low power (100 watts or less) and a simple loaded EFHW sloper wire antenna; the US East Coast, the Caribbean, South America, Middle America, Africa, Australia, and even Antarctica, they're all in the log. Don't be discouraged when you have only modest equipment and antennas to your disposal. Combined with some luck and perseverance it will work for you! I know, because it does for me!
Especially the Caribbean is an easy target, and the past year or so the 40m band has been a good provider to me of quite some ATNOs from Africa as well. Now that the higher bands are in bad shape, 40m has become my primary DX band!

Looking at the success I had last winter / spring on 40m QSOing several Russian Antarctic bases in CW and various stations in the southern part of the African continent in both CW and digital modes, I guess for extreme DX, roughly taken, the path from my QTH going down south across the African continent to Antarctica is a very good one for me.
This again was proved the last couple of months when I managed to contact again several stations in the Antarctic region. Last September on 40m in JT65 I managed to work the Polish Antarctic Station Arctowski HF0ARC on King George Island, South Shetland Islands, IOTA AN-010 (more about this QSO in my Sept. 14 blog). Then early October on 40m CW I managed to work FT5XT/MM on a fishing trawler off the Kerguelen Islands (see separate "QSL card in the Spotlight" section below). And very recently on 40m CW I finally also succeeded in making a QSO with the Russian Antarctic Station Bellingshausen RI1ANO, also on King George Island. After a long time and many attempts in JT65, FT8, and CW on both 40m and several other bands I finally managed to put this station in the log.

Russian Antarctic Station Bellingshausen, South Shetland Islands (from the RI1ANO page)
Operator Alexandr (UA1OJL) at RI1ANO (from the RI1ANO page)
On several nights while running JT65 on 40m I was also spotted by the Japanese Antarctic Station Syowa 8J1RL. Unfortunately 8J1RL at the time seemed to be monitoring only, as I saw no signal of the station at my side (or other stations trying to contact the Japanese Antarctic base), and thus no QSO could be made.

PA7MDJ spotted by 8J1RL on 40m. Screenshot from PSKREPORTER.
Syowa Station, Antarctica under the rays of the Aurora australis (from the 8J1RL page)
Syowa Station, Antarctica (from the 8J1RL page)
During the CQ Worldwide CW contest on November 26 around 15:00 UTC the 40m band once again surprised me when I managed to work K6AR in grid DM13ib near San Diego, California. It left me absolutely astonished, to say the least. Ok, I had worked Antarctica and other distant parts of the world on many occasions, but with my equipment on 40m I'd always considered the path to the US West Coast to be a very difficult or even an impossible one! I've made some contacts over the years, but also on the higher bands California always has been a very difficult area to reach for me.
One would expect a greyline contact here, but strictly seen it wasn't; K6AR had just come out of the grey line zone though, and I was about to go into it. The screenshot below from DX Atlas shows the great circle path completely in daylight. It might also have been a long path contact but I don't believe so.

Short path between PA7MDJ and K6AR on 26 Nov 2017 14:53 UTC
The good 40m path south to Antarctica looks very promising for me for the upcoming 3Y0Z Bouvet Island DXpedition planned for early 2018. Looking at the path to Bouvet Island, I should have no problems catching their CW signals on the 40m band. I expect the pile-ups for this DXpedition to be HUGE and to be lasting until the very last second of the operation, so I'm not expecting to work them, but I'm hoping to at least hear them, so that I can send in an SWL report. Since I've got my ham licence, I usually don't send SWL reports anymore, but for Bouvet Island I'm going to make an exception and return to my roots and to how it all started: being an SWL! From this special DXpedition and special location I just need to have that QSL card momento! If not for a 2-way QSO then for an SWL report!

I've been deeply fascinated by the elusive "Bouvetøya", as the uninhabited, subantarctic Norwegian dependency is officially called, for a long time. In the 1990s I read about the mysterious Bouvet Island in the book "Het ijspaleis" (The Ice Palace) by Boudewijn Büch (1948-2002). Büch is one of my favourite Dutch writers, not for his fictional novels, but for his non-fiction series of island books. As far as I know the books were never translated, but for every island enthusiast that's able to read Dutch, the series of books is a must-read. I can without doubt say that the origin of many of my fascinations with certain islands and places on this earth derives from reading one of Büch's books. "Het ijspaleis" is largely dedicated to Bouvet. Although he never visited the island, Büch was an authority on Bouvet and therefore unique in the Netherlands and maybe even the World. Reading "Het ijspaleis" makes you realize how remote and elusive the island really is, not only on the ham bands, but also in many other ways.

The island series books by Boudewijn Büch, from the PA7MDJ library. On the right "Het ijspaleis: eilanden, derde deel" from 1993.
For those interested in 40m DX, Oene Spanjer PA3CWN is an avid 40m DXer, and his propagation observations for this particular band as laid out on his page are very interesting, and they are recommended reading for every serious 40m DXer!

You can read more of my 40m contemplations in the March 4 blog entry linked to at the top of this page. More on FT5XT/MM in a separate section below.

QSL card in the Spotlight: FT5XT/MM near Kerguelen Islands

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QSL card from FT5XT/MM for a 40m CW QSO with PA7MDJ on 8 Oct 2017 0115 UTC.
FT5XT/MM is operated by Frenchman Gildas Ballanec F4HQZ (ex-TU5KG). Gildas is the captain of a fishing vessel which each year sails in the FT5 area for a period of about three months. He's active as FT5XT/MM from the ship when he sails within the vicinity of the Kerguelen Islands, and as FT5WQ/MM within the vicinity of the Crozet Islands. As most of you will know, /MM stands for Maritime Mobile and is added to an amateur radio callsign to indicate the station is located aboard a ship at sea.
Sporadically Gildas goes ashore on one of the islands (for instance when the ship needs refueling) and will be active from there with the callsigns FT5XT (on Kerguelen) and FT5WQ (on Crozet) without the /MM suffix added. Both Kerguelen and Crozet are part of the Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises or TAAF and both form a separate DXCC entity. In case of Gildas' operations, of course they will only count as such when he operates from the islands and not when he's operating /MM from the ship at sea.
In previous years Gildas sailed on the fishing trawler "Ile de la Réunion", and I assume this year is no different. The "Ile de la Réunion" is shown on the QSL card and on his TU5KG page. The "Radio Officers" website in an October 9th, 2017 news item also reports Gildas is aboard the F/V "Ile de la Réunion".

For more info on this QSO, see also my "More 40m fun!" blog entry above.

Kerguelen Islands (source)
The "Ile de la Réunion" (source)
Map showing the location of Kerguelen and Crozet (source)
QSO confirmed in Clublog

November 22, 2017

So many projects, so little time...

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So many projects, so little time... Most of you hams out there reading this probably know exactly what I mean. I currently have so many amateur radio related plans, ideas, and projects in mind, that I just don't know where to begin. Trying to give it all some structure, and to have an easy way to link to related webpages, I've made a list here of all the projects that are in the PA7MDJ "pipeline". I know myself, and probably not all projects will be finished or realized, but some of them definitely will! Suggestions, hints, and tips are very welcome of course. The information on this blog will be constantly edited, links and other information is continuously being added.

Launching a High Altitude Balloon with a HF WSPR tracker payload
This is my main project at the moment. I'm awaiting the special QRP Labs U3B balloon WSPR tracker to become available. QRP Labs currently still has the U3B in its test and development stage. At present the exact date of the U3B becoming available is unknown. Another blog post that I wrote earlier about the U3B, can be found here.
I've already acquired the needed 36" foil balloons (I'm planning on flying the lightweight payload on a single balloon), 0.1 and 0.2 mm enameled copper wire for the dipole antenna, and 52x19 mm and 39x19 mm solar cells, 100 of each. The solar cells are rated average 0.5 V / 300 mA / 160 mW and 0.5 V / 240 mA / 120 mW respectively. It will take about 6 cells to power the U3B.

Some things still to do: buy a bottle of helium, buy 0.8 mm enameled copper wire, buy a precision electronic weighing scale accurate to 0.01 gramms

An interesting forum with lots of info on WSPR balloons is

Powering up my U3S transmitter with solar cells
While awaiting the U3B, and since I got plenty of them, to get more experience and more knowledge of the little solar cells described above, I've taken up the plan to try powering up my U3S transmitter here down on earth using these same little solar cells. The U3S has to be powered with 5 V and draws about 110 mA at idle and 220 mA when transmitting, so it will require some more cells than the U3B. Soldering to the cells, I've been told, is not easy. I'm awaiting the arrival of a package with special tinned wire strip and a flux pen. Once arrived I can start soldering to the solar cells. The soldering experience I will gain during this project will be invaluable for the U3B balloon project.
I have several circuit designs in mind including the following components, either individually or a combination of them: 5.5 V 1 F supercapacitor, a 5 V LDO regulator, a DC-DC boost regulator, a 3.7 V 100 mAh LIPO battery.
I'm still learning about solar cell specific things like Isc,Voc, Imp, Vmp, and the solar cell I-V curve (see links below).

Some things still to do: buy schottky diodes

Building a Pixie CW QRP transmitter and an electronic keyer based on Arduino
I already bought the Pixie kit back in the summer at HAM RADIO 2017 in Friedrichshafen. An earlier blog post I wrote about it can be found here. There you can also read about the Arduino based electronic keyer I want to build so that I can use the Pixie with a dual paddle.

I recently made a 40m CW contact with my SOTA friend Roger F5LKW on SOTA F/AM-680. During this SOTA activation Roger used a Pixie transmitter. The CW signal sounded very clear, and if I didn't know better, I would have thought it was coming from one of the more expensive rigs usually used on SOTA activations. This definitely sparked the urge for me to finally start assembling the Pixie kit.

PA7MDJ in the log of F5LKW/P SOTA F/AM-680.
Building a simple QRP magnetic loop antenna and participating in the QRSS beacon annual New Year's Eve Operation Celebration
I would like to build a big (5 to 6 m circumference) QRP magnetic loop antenna of RG213 coaxial cable to use with my QRP Labs U3S transmitter. I hope the mag loop will have enough efficiency to put out decent enough signals on 40m. I secretly hope it still has enough efficiency on 80m as well, and I will experiment on that band as well.

I will use a variable tuning capacitor taken from a never finished antenna tuner project that I bought from a fellow ham at the local club some time ago. The air gaps between the capacitor's vanes is probably big enough for the antenna to handle up to 5 - 10 Watts. So maybe beside using it with my U3S, I can also use it in the field with my FT-817.

If finished in time, I would like to try sending QRSS beacons with my U3S on 30 or 40m with it during the recently announced annual New Year's Eve Operation Celebration.

Some things still to do: buying two 2 metre long planks to build a cross support frame

Building a magnetometer
I've always wanted to build a magnetometer to experiment with taking my own measurements of the activity of the geomagnetic field at my own QTH.
You can build one easily with a jam jar and a light or laser pointed at a mirror on a suspended bar magnet, but I prefer another similar design by GJ4ICD which uses a Hall effect sensor instead of the mirror/light like presented at the UKSMG site here and linked to below. Unfortunately the Hall effect sensor 634SS2 is not available anymore, and I have no clue about what replacement part I can use.

DIY Magnetometer design by GJ4ICD (source)

Building an 80m loaded dipole
In my small garden I can only fit a wire antenna of about 10 to 12 metres in length max. A full size dipole for 80m will be about 40 m in length. With a loading coil in each element the length can be reduced. I'm not expecting much of a 12 metre long loaded 80m dipole, but I still want to see what it can do with my 200 mW U3S WSPR transmitter, and maybe even try to make my first ever 80m 2-way contact, in CW, SSB, or some digi mode. Again, I'm not expecting super DX from it though. If working ok, I'll also want to try making one for 160m. Making coils with the right inductance value is the challenge in this project. I don't have an LC meter. I've been looking at those cheap ones available at the various Chinese selling sites, but the reviews for these are varying from the device being inaccurate garbage to ok for the price.

November 13, 2017

The Aurora Beacon

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The "Aurora Beacon" transmits on 3.579 and 10.144 MHz with the callsign DK0WCY and on 5.195 MHz with the callsign DRA5. The beacon is located at the QTH of Emil Johannsen DK4LI in northern Germany in grid locator JO44vq. In its CW identifier loop beside its callsign the beacon continuously also sends a data group of four elements consisting of numbers and letters containing the current K index and MUF and indicating if there are unusual propagation conditions in progress or forecasted, like for instance Radio Aurora. At specific times every hour there are also more detailed broadcasts with geophysical and solar-terrestrial data, warnings, and forecasts, in CW, PSK31, and RTTY.

A schedule and information on the format of the broadcasts can be found on the beacon's website. On the website you can also read the history of this fascinating beacon, and how in pre-internet times it was set up mainly to alert the radio amateur community of Aurora conditions being in progress, the only other way of being alerted at the time being part of a telephone network of interested radio amateurs.

The Aurora Beacon somewhere around 2003 with Emil DK4LI.

Blank DRA5 QSL card as found on
The Aurora Beacon is a project of the DARC Ortsverband Süderbrarup M15 and the beacon manager is Ulrich Mueller DK4VW. I haven't been able to find out who founded the Aurora Beacon, and in what year, but looking at the photo above of around 2003 with the "20 Jahre DK0WCY" sign, I guess it must have been at least somewhere in the early 1980s.

Below you can listen to a recording I made of the DRA5 beacon on 5.195 MHz today with a CW datagram. The complete datagram reads as follows:

VVV DE DRA5 2/13/N/N
VVV DE DRA5 2/13/N/N

CONDS 13 NOV 1534 UT =
MAG   KIEL K  2 2   KCUR  2.3 2.3 =
IONO   RUEGEN FOF2  4.2 4.2   MUF  13 13   MAXHOP  2263 2263   MUF 1K  7 7 =
SUN   WIND  374 374   DENSITY  5 5   BZ  0 0   XRAY  A7 A7   FLARE  NONE
= =
= =
R  0 0   SSNE  NA NA   FLUX  69 69   BOULDER A  6 6   KIEL A  9 9

VVV DE DRA5 2/12/N/N
VVV DE DRA5 2/12/N/N

If the third element in the CW identifier data group is an A instead of an N, Auroral propagation conditions are in progress. Below, beside links related to the Aurora Beacon, also some links to webpages about Radio Aurora. During Auroral conditions I've heard the eerie sounding CW and SSB signals on 2m, but I haven't managed to make a QSO yet, and it's still on my amateur radio bucket list. Keeping an eye on the DX cluster and regularly monitoring the Aurora Beacon will hopefully alert me in time to the next Aurora opening to have another try.

November 05, 2017

QSL card in the Spotlight: VO1/OZ1AA Thomas Andersen, Cycling the Globe

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In 2010, Dane Thomas Andersen left Copenhagen by bicycle for an epic journey, a cycle touring expedition around the world known as "Cycling the Globe". 6 years later Andersen was back in Denmark, he'd completed his adventurous journey around the world, and in 2200 days had covered a total of 58,201 km through 58 countries!

Thomas Andersen cycling in the Andes on the border of Argentina and Chile. In the background the Lanin vulcano (Photo from the Cycling the Globe Facebook page).
Thomas Andersen also happens to be an avid ham radio operator, holding callsign OZ1AA, and during the trip has been active on the ham bands from the shacks of fellow radio amateurs around the world, old friends as well as newly met along the way.

On  September 20th, 2015, Thomas had just (on September 18th, if I'm not mistaken) reached the easternmost point of North America at Cape Spear, Newfoundland, had been on the road for more than 1800 days, had covered 43,712 km, and was staying with fellow radio amateur Gus VO1MP at his home in St.John's, Newfoundland. St. John's is the easternmost city of North America and well known to radio aficionados for Signal Hill where in 1901 Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal (the Morse Code transmission originating from his Poldhu Wireless Station in Cornwall, UK). And I was lucky that day to catch Thomas on the air operating from Gus VO1MP's QTH and to QSO him on 20m CW. It was one of my most memorable QSOs and it resulted in the wonderful QSL card shown in this blog post. The VO1 prefix was added ofcourse to denote the QTH in Newfoundland, Canada.

Thomas Andersen (middle) at Cape Spear. Gus VO1MP on the right (Photo from the Cycling the Globe Facebook page).
Cape Spear literally was the end of the road for Thomas on this part of the trip. Next destination would be Africa.

More information can be found on Thomas' page, or on, as well as Twitter and Facebook.

I learned that there's also an amateur radio station located inside Cabot Tower on Signal Hill with the callsign VO1AA, and I wonder if it could have also been this location where Thomas has been active from on 20m CW when I QSOed him (1).

Newfoundland is IOTA NA-027.

You can listen to a recording of my QSO with Thomas below.

Addendum 10.11.2017
(1) Thomas informed me by e-mail that the contact was indeed made from the QTH of Gus VO1MP, not from Cabot Tower.,_Newfoundland_and_Labrador,_St._John%27s

October 29, 2017

Canada C3 Expedition update

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On June 5th I wrote a blog post about the Canada C3 Expedition. Yesterday in Victoria, British Columbia, the epic 150-day expedition came to an end. The expedition ship "Polar Prince" had sailed 23,000 km from Canada's east to west coast via the infamous Northwest Passage in the Arctic.
For the complete duration of the Canada C3 voyage the Polar Prince could be tracked by radio amateurs by monitoring for the ship's WSPR beacon with callsign CG3EXP. At PA7MDJ over the summer many CG3EXP listening sessions were done. During the first legs of the voyage, the 200 mW CG3EXP WSPR beacons on 40m could be received relatively easily, and most nights around midnight UTC I could count on the CG3EXP callsign to show up in the decode window of my WSPR program at least a couple of times.
As expected, whilst the Polar Prince got more northerly and westerly spots became more seldom. Spots already became scarce when the ship had reached the northern part of Newfoundland. From this point on during listening sessions if I could get one or two spots I was lucky.
Nevertheless I managed to receive the CG3EXP beacons from various locations in the Arctic. The northern and westernmost location of the Polar Prince I managed to receive a WSPR beacon from was Pond Inlet, Nunavut at approximately 73ºN 78ºW in grid locator FQ02xq. And I'm still amazed! Receiving a 200 mW signal on 40m from this far into the Canadian Arctic with just a simple wire antenna! The fact that the antenna of the CG3EXP beacon was located aboard a ship surrounded by salt water must have been of huge benefit.

The Polar Prince at Bylot Island in the Canadian Arctic (photo from the Canada C3 Facebook page)
Below you can find the Canada C3 WSPR logbook (click to enlarge) that I kept during the summer. It does not contain all received beacons as it was more or less a logbook for all the different ship locations I managed to hear the WSPR beacons from. It includes locations like the previously mentioned Pond Inlet and other locations in the Arctic, and also L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, famous for being an archeological site with the remains of a Viking settlement dating to around the year 1000. It's the only certain site of a Viking settlement in North America and is widely accepted as evidence for pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact.

Canada C3 Expedition logbook. The original Excel logbook spreadsheet was provided by Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) to keep a log and to send in at the end of the expedition. Each received unique 6 character grid locator gives points for a Canada C3 Award certificate (more information on the CG3EXP page) . Unfortunately I didn't manage to obtain the required 150 points.
Electronic QSL card received for my reception of the CG3EXP WSPR beacon from Pond Inlet. Electronic QSL cards can be requested by e-mail (see CG3EXP page for more information)
Pond Inlet, Nunavut (source)
CG3EXP in Pond Inlet heard by PA7MDJ

October 01, 2017

QRP Labs U3B and an update on my U3S

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This is Hans Summers G0UPL:

Photo taken by PA7MDJ at HAM RADIO 2017 in Friedrichshafen

Hans is the designer and developer of amateur radio kits like the already legendary standalone Ultimate3S (U3S) 200 mW WSPR transmitter. The kits are sold through his company QRP Labs. Previously I've already written some blog posts about the U3S, of which I've built one myself, and of which I'm an extremely happy user! I met Hans at the QRP Labs booth at HAM RADIO 2017 in Friedrichshafen, and had the pleasure to have a chat with him. We all have our ham radio heroes, Hans is definitely one of mine.

This is the QRP Labs U3S:

U3S as built by PA7MDJ

And this is a prototype of the new QRP Labs U3B:

Photo taken by PA7MDJ at HAM RADIO 2017 in Friedrichshafen

The U3B basically is a miniature version of the U3S and was designed by Hans mainly to be used as a HF WSPR tracker payload for High Altitude Balloons. The U3B currently is still in its test phase, and the past few months about 9 test flights have been done. Most of the test flights were launched by well known WSPR balloonist Dave VE3KCL from Canada. I managed to catch the WSPR signals of two of the balloon test flights, the U3B-2 and the U3B-8.
The miniature size and the almost weightless SMD components make this a very lightweight payload ideal for single "party balloon" WSPR flights. The power of the U3B will be in the range of 10-20 mW, and the current draw will be extremely little. During the test flights, the current draw was so little that the tiny solar powered WSPR tracker remained awake and transmitting well into darkness where most other solar powered WSPR trackers would have already gone to sleep with a depleted battery quickly after sunset. The U3B "slept" for only a couple of hours. Although the power of 10mW might look very little, with the wire antenna of a WSPR balloon hanging in free air at about 10 km height it's sufficient to be picked up by the worldwide network of WSPR monitoring stations.

Eventually the U3B will be taken in production and will be sold through QRP Labs. Contrary to most other QRP Labs products, the U3B will not be sold as kit but as an already finished product, as the SMD components will be impossible to work on for the average kit builder. In Friedrichshafen Hans told me he was aiming at having the U3B ready for production in about three months. I think however that the popularity of the new QRP Labs QCX 5W CW transceiver kit might have slowed things down on the U3B development side, although test flights are still being launched; the U3B-9 is over the Atlantic Ocean as we speak.

I'm really looking forward to the U3B being taken in production and to experimenting with the tiny WSPR transmitter myself. My goal eventually is to launch a WSPR balloon myself, but I still have a lot to learn, about solar cells, insulated casings, helium, balloon pressure, the ideal launching weather, wind conditions, trajectory predictions, and probably many more things still unforeseen at this moment. It will be an interesting, but relatively long-haul project. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile my 200 mW U3S is still going strong, and since it started sending WSPR beacons for the first time in February, its signals have been picked up all over the world. Some places I want to mention are Reunion, Australia, Brazil and Vladivostok on 20m, and South Africa on 40m, all with an EFHW wire antenna. Do a search on U3S for more of my blog posts on this wonderful little transmitter.

September 22, 2017

5T5OK Mauritania - How Third World power blackouts can benefit the Little Pistol DXer

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Most of us in the "Western World" have gotten used to reliable electric power delivery every minute of the day. Not seldomly it's a different situation in many of the poor countries of the "Third World". It's not uncommon for DXpeditions to African countries for instance to be plagued by frequent power outages or power blackouts. It's recently that I've learned that such a blackout can benefit the Little Pistol DXer like me.

5T5OK DXpedition logo
On September 18th, I was trying to QSO the 5T5OK DXpedition in Mauritania in CW on 17m, but I just couldn't get through the pile-up. I was especially keen on making the contact as it would be an ATNO* for me. I'd been fighting the pile-up for quite some time already when, much to my dismay, suddenly the signal of 5T5OK disappeared.
"Power off" reported OK6DJ (one of the 5T5OK operators) on the DX Cluster. I decided to patiently wait on the same 17m band frequency, and then suddenly after about 15 minutes they were back: ".....5T5OK   BLACK OUT HI   QRZ 5T5OK UP"! I quickly started keying my call again, and this time I was the second station to be picked out! Contact made!
Apparently not everybody had managed to bring up the patience I did, and the pile-up must have had decimated considerably, giving me the chance to finally get through to the desert of Mauritania!

Smartphone screenshot of the DX Cluster notification
5T5OK is a Czech DXpedition oparating from Mauritania between September 15-29, 2017. Their QTH is Terjit Vacances Hotel and Grill located at the intersection of the great Mauritanian desert and the Atlantic Ocean near the capital Nouakchott. On the website of Terjit Vacances you can read how, before the road between Nouadhibou and Nouakchott was built, Terjit Vacances was traditionally the point where so called "overlanders" (people travelling in Africa in vehicles over land) would cross the sand dunes into Nouakchott. Before the construction of the road, overlanders used to drive the coastline during ocean low tide to traverse the long distance from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott. During high tide the overlanders had to stop their travels, as the ocean would temporarily eat up the "road".

Mauritania has a population of approximately 4.3 million, and it's estimated that about one-third is living in the capital. 90 percent of the country (the 11th in size in Africa) is within the Sahara.

In the log!
5T5OK uses 100 Watts only, as a power amplifier is not allowed.

Below some photos of the 5T5OK QTH and antennas. All photos from the Czech DXpediton (CDXP) Facebook page.

Below you can listen to the black out message and my contact with 5T5OK. Don't pay attention to the background noises, hi.

* Also read my blog entry ATNO explained