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Having used some of the WSJT suite during the Norfolk Island VK9NA expedition in January 2011, and following some postings to the VK1 mailing list in recent weeks, I was curious to know how to use WSPR. The best reference is at the website of its author, Joe Taylor W1JT.
WSPR is part of a suite of software tools that use digital signal processing (DSP) to detect and decode very weak signals, much weaker than can be even detected by the human ear, let alone understood. Possiblly the best known modes are the FSK441 mode used for meteor scatter contacts on vhf bands, and the JT65 series used for terrestrial dx contacts and Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) contacts on various vhf and uhf bands. The JT65 modes were used at VK9NA.
Having downloaded and installed the software I then had to see what audio levels were suitable. I first tried connecting a cable from the speaker/headphone socket of the radio to the mike input on the computer. Levels were very sensitive and I had to cut everything down, but even then it didn’t work well. I needed to cut down the audio level output from the radio, an FT817. It was overdriving the mike input of the sound chip in the laptop. If there had been a “line in” option I think that would have worked almost without any further change. The microphone input is more sensitive as it is designed for the much lower level of a microphone. I wired up a potentiometer to enable the sound level going to the computer to be set as a fraction of the output from the radio and that worked very well. I finished up setting that to about 10% of full scale.
The website http://wsprnet.org/drupal/ is the next resource I found very useful. It lists the beacon frequencies commonly used world wide, for each band. I have tried the 7, 10 and 14 MHz bands and found it worked very well. A good read of the user manual is advisable. Adjusting the input level on noise to be around 0 db was quite important. After that it was just a matter of tuning the radio to the correct dial frequency, using USB mode.
Before long I found the screen was gradually building up a list of callsigns received and their signal levels, frequency offsets and the stated power level of their transmitters. Most seem to be 5w but some are less than 1w and one notable station indicated 1000 watts, but was no stronger than others running 5w, so I think he specified his power incorrectly.
The WSPR screen looked like this at one stage today.
Thanks to Ian VK1HOW for sparking my curiousity about this mode. This must be providing a wealth of data for propagation students.
Late comments about the VK9NA expedition I joined in January 2011. This was a VHF/UHF/microwave and 2m EME operation. Due to quite poor conditions for tropo across to the mainland, we eventually did most of the operation on 2m EME. However we did try to make contacts and ran a lot of CQs on 144 MHz every day. We did make some contacts but there were nowhere near the number of tropo contacts made last year. The 144 MHz band was the main band used for this work.
We activated the station every day on 6m as well, from the hotel site.
Due to the high winds experienced on the hill we moved the EME station to the Guide Hall where we had been kindly offered the use of the grounds.
On Norfolk the internet access is provided by Wifi connections at hotels/resorts and a few in the Burnt Pine business area. I found it was necessary to buy several different cards to get access via NIDS, Norfolk telecom and another account for access at the hotel I stayed at. Wifi access from Mt Pitt was good, from the hotel the others stayed at, access to NIDS was not good.
The radio conditions on vhf up were not as good as they had been in 2010. This was partly due to physical weather conditions, including strong winds for the duration of the operation from 8th to 20th January. On the weekend of the summer field day conditions were very poor and the only contacts made with the mainland that weekend were on 6m, and there were not many of them.
The 2m EME operation was very successful. Over a hundred contacts were made using JT65 via the FT897 and a laptop computer running the WSJT software. A TE systems amplifier boosted the output power of the FT897 for EME work. The list of stations worked is at the VK9NA website.
I greatly enjoyed the event. I learned how to use WSJT on both FSK441 and JT65B, and learned a bit about pointing a very large 2m antenna (19 elements, 12 metres length) at the moon and periodically repointing it. For about half or more of the time, the moon was not visible so we were relying on compass bearings corrected for mag offset/declination and an inclinometer for the elevation.
I also became familiar with the FT897 and found what a great radio it is for this kind of operation. The other radios used were FT817 and a TS2000 which I found to be a very good radio too.
The TS2000 has an option to automatically transmit CW at a 700 hz offset (actually the offset equals your selected cw beat note and sidetone frequency) when you switch from USB to CW. It also has an option to automatically switch from SSB to CW mode if you press the key, whether it’s an automatic key or a hand key. Very neat.
Apart from the radio aspects it was also great to get to know Michael VK3KH, Alan VK3XPD, Kevin VK4UH. We were fortunate in being well organised on the social and meals front by Michael’s wife Roz and her sister Gail, and Alan’s wife Aileen all of whom made this event that much more enjoyable.
We did attend a few local special events such as the fish fry, the progressive dinner and the re-enactment drama based on the voyage of the Bounty, the eventual mutiny led by Fletcher Christian and the exile of the mutineers at Pitcairn Island. This history is a proud aspect of the Norfolk Island culture today.
A great event and a fun filled 10 day trip for me.
Here is one photo of the EME antenna. Remember it is 12 metres long. There are 19 elements. Click the photo for a larger view. The long “element” in the centre of the boom is just a truss boom – the antenna has vertical and horizontal stabilisation to prevent it flexing and losing gain.
The January 2010 event was much more successful for me than the Spring field day about 6 weeks earlier.
This time Dale VK1DSH and I operated as a multiop station on 50, 144, 432, 1296, 2403 and 10368 MHz.
Dale made several contacts on 10 GHz with Andy VK2AES operating south east of Bungendore.
Despite leaving the feed for the 2.4 GHz dish at home, we still made a contact with Andy on that band, using a “field day special” feed constructed onsite from a piece of wire and a N type socket connected to a piece of cable through the dish centre and attached to the normal feed hardware. Signals S9 over the 70 or 80 km path.
Several successful contacts with Dave VK2JDS near Bathurst on 1296 MHz. Some persistence was needed for the first contact, when conditions were not so good and we had to get our beam headings right. More power at both ends would have been a help.
Other than that, we had a fair contact rate on 144 with many throws to other bands.
For this event I used one of Owen VK1OD’s Roger Beep boards. I assembled the board on the previous weekend, mounting the board into a small box with the Icom mike plugging into a socket on the RB box, and mike output to the IC910 through a short section of shielded cable. I set the CW speed to 30 wpm and selected the K option.
Despite some thunderstorm activity in the area, we didn’t have to shut down.
Activity was a little lower than in the past. Chris VK2DO was away on a business trip and Matt VK2DAG was roving up and down the NSW coast and unfortunately we didn’t work him once. Our score was just over 2000 points, though, with the help of the additional microwave bands. We were grateful for Andy VK2AES’s efforts in going portable on both days and giving us contacts on all bands, in particular 2.4 and 10 GHz.
VHF field day antennas
The 8 element yagi for 144 MHz and 16 element for 432 MHz are on the main mast. The smaller mast carries a half wave vertical for 50 MHz, an 18 element yagi for 1296 and a gridpack dish for 2403 MHz.
Operating desk in the tent on Mt Ginini
From left: TS670S and amplifier for 6m, rotator control for small mast, clock for logging, second rotator control, Kbeep box, IC910H for 2m/70cm/23cm, power supply. Paper logs. Power supplies on floor. For 2.4 GHz an FT290R was used.
Field constructed dish feed for 2.4 GHz
The feed you use when the real one was left at home. Made from a piece of stiff coaxial cable, a type N socket a solder lug and some wire from the spare parts box. I knew there was a reason for taking that stuff.