January 29, 2018

The Quest for HAARP

Last edited: 01.02.2018

The HAARP research facility in Gakona, Alaska under the lights of the Aurora borealis

As a radio hobbyist and space physics enthusiast I've always been highly fascinated by the HAARP research facility. HAARP stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. The facility is owned and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is located in Gakona, Alaska.
The most prominent instrument of the HAARP research facility is the so called "ionospheric heater", a huge array of transmitters and antennas (capable of transmitting up to a power of 4 GW ERP) with which temporarily a limited area of the ionosphere can be excited or "heated". For more technical, scientific, and historical information on HAARP I would like to refer you to the internet; a search on Google will give you plenty of hits. You'll also find a list of selected links below, and you might like to read my previous blog entry about HAARP here.

Already in early 1997 the first amateur-radio dedicated test of the then brand new HAARP facility (then still a US Military facility) was announced. The ARRL issued special bulletin ARLX005 which read as follows:

---
SB SPCL @ ARL $ARLX005
ARLX005 HAARP to air test transmission for hams

ZCZC AX05
QST de W1AW
Special Bulletin 5  ARLX005
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT  February 21, 1997
To all radio amateurs

SB SPCL ARL ARLX005
ARLX005 HAARP to air test transmission for hams

The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facility
in Gakona, Alaska, will transmit a test signal on March 8, 1997,
seeking reports from hams and SWLs in Alaska and in the ''Lower 48''
to determine how well the HAARP transmissions can be heard to the
south.

During this test, the HAARP facility will transmit on or near the
frequencies 3.4 MHz and 6.99 MHz to give listeners the opportunity
to listen for the HAARP facility and to claim a QSL card. The test
will be conducted beginning at 0430 UTC on March 8 (2330 Eastern
Time on March 7).

The format of the test will be to transmit a constant carrier (no
modulation) signal followed by a CW message at 10 WPM, according to
the following schedule:

TIME     FREQ         SIGNAL          ANTENNA POSITION

0430     6.99 MHz    Carrier only      Pointed up
0435     6.99 MHz    CW message        Pointed up
0440     6.99 MHz    Carrier only      Pointed to SE
0445     6.99 MHz    CW message        Pointed to SE
0450     3.4 MHz     Carrier only      Pointed up
0455     3.4 MHz     CW message        Pointed up

The transmission beginning at 0450 is primarily for Alaskan hams.
Reception reports should include signal strength during the constant
carrier transmission period along with the text of the CW message.

Complete details on this test and a QSL address will be listed on
the HAARP home page at
http://server5550.itd.nrl.navy.mil/announce.html.

The HAARP facility--now in the developmental prototype stage--has
been undergoing testing since it was completed in late 1994.
Multiple transmitters feed multiple antenna elements (there are 48
antenna elements on the site, arranged in eight rows of six columns;
however, at this time, only 18 elements are active. The test will
use 17 antennas with a net transmitter power of 340 kW). The final
configuration could have 180 antenna elements and a combined
transmitter power of 3.6 MW. HAARP's stated scientific purpose is to
study ''the properties and behavior of the ionosphere, with
particular emphasis on being able to understand and use it to
enhance communications and surveillance systems for both civilian
and defense purposes.'' HAARP is managed by the US Air Force and the
US Navy.

For more information, see ''The High Frequency Active Auroral
Research Program'' (QST, Sep 1996, p 33), or check out the HAARP home
page, http://server5550.itd.nrl.navy.mil/haarp.html.
NNNN
/EX
---

In those days I was a keen SWL, and I remember the announcements, but for some reason I missed the actual test. I believe at the time I was busy preparing for travelling to, or was already travelling in, northern Scandinavia, which might explain things. Or did the announcements reach me too late? I can't remember clearly. I can't recall either ever having read or heard anything about the test being successful or not.

To my knowledge no other special amateur-radio dedicated tests were conducted thereafter (please correct me if I'm wrong). Then the US Air Force in 2014 announced that the facility would be completely closed down and HAARP went silent for good.
Or so was thought! The facility was taken over by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and in February and September of 2017 HAARP was again heating up the ionosphere. Since the equipment of the facility had not been used for a couple of years, it was decided to go easy on the generators and transmitters, and the ionospheric heater was used at only a part of its full capacity, both antenna and power wise.




Excellent article on HAARP in the October 1996 issue of the legendary Monitoring Times magazine. Great article debunking the early myths and conspiracy theories about HAARP*. MT magazine from the collection of PA7MDJ.

The campaigns at HAARP in 2017 were primarily scientific research projects of course, but they had a ham radio flavour to it!
The ionospheric research campaigns done in 2017 were led by Assistant research professor Chris Fallen of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. And Chris Fallen also happens to be radio amateur KL3WX! Chris announced the tests on his website and on his Twitter account, and radio amateurs and shortwave listeners were asked to participate by monitoring for the HAARP signals. During the actual campaigns, Chris announced on and off times, frequencies, and mode on his Twitter account, helping radio hobbyists to tune in to the signals, and feedback was given to reports and questions from listeners.
The signals mainly consisted of unmodulated carriers or carrier pulses, but during the September 2017 campaign especially for the radio amateurs and SWLs listening in, also some SSTV images were transmitted! Also some AM transmissions were done with tones and musical tunes to generate the Luxembourg or cross-modulation effect. But both the SSTV and AM signals were transmitted on lower frequencies and were difficult or impossible to receive outside of North America.

During the February 2017 campaign I did not manage to receive the HAARP signals. During the September 2017 campaign I again did not manage to pick up the HAARP signals on the lower frequencies, but this time also a higher frequency was used: 9.500 MHz. And this higher frequency proved to be suitable to propagate the unmodulated carrier of the HAARP experiments to me in the Netherlands several times. I used my Yaesu FT-991 transceiver and a HyEndFed 10/20/40 wire antenna to pick up the signals.

On 9.500 MHz I do have a lot of interference from PLC devices, and at times there was also some interference from broadcast stations on nearby frequencies. But by using a narrow digital filter of 300 to 50 Hz in CW mode, wide enough for just an unmodulated carrier, much of this could be eliminated. And nowadays we have the advantage of being able to detect received carriers and make them visible with the computer and spectrum analyzer software like for instance Spectran or Argo. And that's what I did.

I was surprised and still am by the choice of the higher frequency; 9.500 MHz is in the middle of the 31m broadcast band, and there's no way of determining if the received carrier is from a weak broadcast station or from HAARP except by watching closely for the on and off times of the carrier, as these were announced by Chris Fallen on Twitter.

Only one time I was able to determine both the exact on and off time of the received carrier, which enabled me to identify the signal with almost 100% certainty as coming from HAARP. On September 24th, 2017 a carrier was received starting at 0100 UTC and ending at 0200 UTC, exactly as announced by Chris Fallen on his Twitter account.

I checked this website https://www.shortwaveschedule.com/index.php?freq=9500 for the schedules of broadcast stations on 9.500 MHz. Only one station was transmitting on this frequency during the time of reception and that is China National Radio 1. But this station broadcasts continuously from 1825 to 0600 UTC and does not have a sign-on and sign-off time of respectively 0100 and 0200 hours UTC.

But still the on and off times exactly at the hour are of course common for broadcast stations, and there's always a slight chance that the carrier was originating from some broadcast station that no schedule is known of. To be really sure an odd on or off time of for instance a couple of minutes after the hour would have been helpful. At one occasion when I was able to detect the carrier an odd off time was announced but unfortunately the carrier had faded out by the time it was turned off. Also if the carrier would have been pulsed there wouldn't have been any doubt left, but I did not receive any of the pulsed carrier transmissions.

Furthermore, I'd like to note that at times the carrier was strong enough to actually be audible through the speaker of my transceiver, beside also being detected in Spectran.

Carrier detected on 9.500MHz with Spectran with on time of 0100 UTC (Spectran shows local time UTC+2). My receiver's CW sidetone pitch is set to 880 Hz, explaining the frequency of the carrier in the screenshot. The ticks are placed at one second intervals.

The same carrier with off time 0200 UTC

I know the campaigns at HAARP are primarily scientific research experiments, but from an amateur radio point of view I would like to be so free to make some suggestions, or requests as you will, to Assistant research professor Chris Fallen for future HAARP campaigns. In case of implementation these suggestions will not directly add scientific value but might cater to the radio amateur, and in particular the ones at DX locations. This is the point where I'd like to consider this blog entry doubling as an open letter to Assistant research prof. Chris Fallen.

1. The higher frequency of 9.500 MHz proved to be suitable for easy worldwide reception of the HAARP transmissions, but in the future could maybe a frequency be chosen in the same range but outside of the 31m broadcast band, for instance 9.300 MHz?

2. Is there a possibility to have HAARP transmitting WSPR signals, or even better JT9 (as in JT9 a free-text message can be transmitted; in WSPR you'll have to transmit a callsign)? WSPR or JT9 would enable radio amateurs to pick up and identify the signals up to a signal to noise ratio of about -30 dB. So even extremely weak signals will be detected. If desired, announce a WSPR or JT9 test to the weak signal community, and you'll have a huge audience worldwide. WSPR and JT9 are FSK type emissions and possibly might be generated by the HAARP computers/software that drive the transmitters.

3. In order to make identification easier, could some intelligence be added to each continuous unmodulated carrier transmission, like for instance a morse code identification? QRSS (very slow CW) could be used with a "dit" length of for instance 6 seconds. Even when the signal is inaudible, with for instance Argo a QRSS morse code identifier could still be made visible. Argo is already widely used by hams and SWLs listening for HAARP.
The SSTV was very nice, but is useless when the signals are weak, or at the low frequencies that were used aren't present at all, like at my station in the Netherlands.

Last but not least I'd like to thank Assistant research prof. Chris Fallen for giving hams and SWLs the opportunity to participate in the fascinating research done at HAARP. I'm looking forward to the next research campaign!

Addendum 01.02.2018
* The full Monitoring Times article can be found here:
http://www.oocities.org/marksrealm/project145.html


See also:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Frequency_Active_Auroral_Research_Program
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ionospheric_heater
http://www.gi.alaska.edu/haarp
http://www.arrl.org/news/alaska-s-haarp-facility-once-again-open-for-business
https://twitter.com/UAFGI
https://twitter.com/uafhaarp
https://twitter.com/ctfallen

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