Get Serious with Amateur Radio; Design & Build a Single-Sideband Transceiver from Scratch Part 1

Amateur radio is the only hobby that offers its licensed operators the chance to legally design, build, and operate high power radio transceivers connected to unlimited antenna arrays for the purpose of communicating anywhere in the world. The most complicated part of this communication system is the single-sideband (SSB) high frequency (HF) transceiver. In reality, due to the proliferation of low-cost amateur equipment, there only exists a very small group of die-hards who actually design, build from scratch, and operate their own SSB transceivers. I am one of those die-hards, and in this post I will show you how to get started.

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Casing up the Teensy SDR

[Rich, VE3MKC] has made a lot of progress on his Software Defined Radio (SDR) which is based on a Teensy. His latest update shows off the hardware in an enclosure and a few new features.

When we looked at this in April of last year it was pretty much a proof-of-concept with components hanging loose from jumper wires. The new case mounts everything securely in a plastic Hammond enclosure with copper clad for the front and rear panels. The SoftRock SDR unit was yanked from its case and retrofitted with connectors to make it swappable for other units.

A little help goes a long way and [Rich] thanks his friend [Loftur, VE2LJX] for contributing numerous code improvements and feature additions which can be viewed in the repository. Check out the video below where these features are shown off.

In its present state the radio draws 80 mA at 12V in receive mode. It doesn’t transmit yet but we’ll keep our eyes open for another update on that. [Rich] plans to populate the input circuitry and write the transmit code next.

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Using RC Transmitters With Flight Simulators

It’s winter, and that means terrible weather and very few days where flying RC planes and helicopters is tolerable. [sjtrny] has been spending the season with RC flight simulators for some practice time. He had been using an old Xbox 360 controller, but that was really unsuitable for proper RC simulation – a much better solution would be to use his normal RC transmitter as a computer peripheral.

The usual way of using an RC transmitter with a computer is to buy a USB simulator adapter that emulates a USB game pad through a port on the transmitter. Buying one of these adapters would mean a week of waiting for shipping, so [sjtrny] did the logical thing and made his own.

Normally, a USB simulator adapter plugs in to a 3.5mm jack on the transmitter used for a ‘buddy box’, but [sjtrny] had an extra receiver sitting around. Since a receiver simply outputs signals to servos, this provides a vastly simpler interface for an Arduino to listen in on. After connecting the rudder, elevator, aileron, and throttle signals on the receiver to an Arduino, a simple bit of code and the UnoJoy library allows any Arduino and RC receiver to become a USB joystick.

[sjtrny] went through a second iteration of hardware for this project with a Teensy 3.1. This version has higher resolution on the joystick axes, and the layout of the code isn’t slightly terrible. It’s a great project for all the RC pilots out there that can’t get a break in the weather, and is also a great use for a spare receiver you might have sitting around.

Vacuum Tube Repair After a Spectacular Failure

[Eric] has an Atwater Kent 55C AM radio from the early 1900’s. He’s been trying to restore the radio to proper working condition. His most recent pain has been with the rectifier tube. The tube is supposed to have a complete vacuum inside, but that’s not the case here. When the tube is powered up, it glows a beautiful violet color. It may look pretty, but that’s indicative that gas has leaked into the tube. It needed to be replaced.

[Eric] had a tube that would serve as a good replacement, but it’s plug didn’t fit the socket properly. He was going to have to use this old broken tube to make an adapter. Rather than just tearing the old tube apart, he decided to have some fun with it first. He hooked it up to a variac, an ammeter, and a volt meter. Then he slowly increased the voltage to see what would happen. The result was visually stunning.

The tube starts out with the same violet/blue glowing [Eric] experienced previously. As the voltage increases, it gets more and more intense. Eventually we start to see some green colors mixing in with the violets. [Eric’s] reaction to this unexpected result is priceless. As the tube gets increasingly hot, the anode starts glowing an orange-red color. Finally, the filament starts to crackle like a sparkler before the tube just gives up and completely fails.

After the light show, [Eric] moves on to replacing the tube. He begins by tapping on the old tube’s socket with the end of a screwdriver. After much tapping, the glass starts to come lose from the socket. After a bit of wiggling and twisting the tube finally came free from the socket. [Eric] luckily had an unused octal socket that fit perfectly inside of the old socket. All he needed to do to build his adapter was to connect the four pins from the old adapter to the proper pins on the octal socket. Piece of cake.

…Or so [Eric] thought. After testing some new tubes with a tube tester, he realized he had soldered all four pins incorrectly. On top of that, he had super glued the adapter together. He eventually got the two pieces apart. This time he removed all of the unused pins from the octal socket so he wouldn’t get it wrong. Another run on the tube tester confirmed that everything looked good. After plugging the tube into the radio, it worked just as expected

If you need fabrication rather than repair, we’ve got you covered there as well. Check out [Charles Alexanian’s] process for making new vacuum tubes in his garage. Now if you just have too darn many of them around, you can always decorate your pad with ’em.

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PortableSDR Makes It To Kickstarter

Last year’s Hackaday Prize saw a lot of projects that were crying out to be Kickstarter Campaigns, but non has seen people throwing money at their screens quite like [Michael]’s PortableSDR. It’s a small, handheld, battery-powered shortwave software defined transceiver that can do just about everything with coverage up to 30MHz. It’s the ultimate apocalypse radio, a contender for to the throne now held by the ‘my first radio’ Baofeng, and now, finally, a campaign on Kickstarter.

The PortableSDR (now called the PSDR) started off as [Michael]’s ideal radio. It just so happened the Hackaday Prize gave him the impetus design, develop, and build the radio that would eventually land him third place in The Hackaday Prize.

The radio itself is completely self-contained and battery-powered, implementing a software defined radio on an STM32F4 processor. The design includes an LCD for the waterfall display, vector network analysis, and the ability to receive GPS.

In keeping with its ham heritage, [Michael] is offering the PSDR as a kit, with a PCB, enclosure, and all the parts you can’t get on Digikey available for a $250 pledge. Get those toaster reflow ovens warm, because there’s a lot of SMD parts in this build.

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Using librtlsdr Over TCP

[Texane] built a low-cost software defined radio rig which could be remotely controlled. This allows the hardware to be placed outside for better reception, while being controlled from any PC that can connect over TCP. To do this, he created a fork of librtlsdr, the library used to turn cheap TV tuners into software defined radios.

The official release of rtl-sdr includes the rtl_tcp utility, which is meant for this purpose. Unfortunately, not all of the SDR tools for Linux support this. By modifying the library itself, remote devices interact with software in the same way as local devices. This means that any software that supports librtlsdr should work.

The outdoor rig contains a BeagleBone Black and the SDR hardware, sealed up in a weather-resistant box. This connects to [Texane]’s home network over ethernet, and allows SDR utilities to be run elsewhere.

This feature is quite experimental, but the source for the fork is provided for those who want to build the code and try it out.

Demodulating BPSK31 With OpAmps and 555s

BPSK31 is an extremely popular mode for amateur radio operators; it’s efficient and has a narrow bandwidth and can be implemented with a computer sound card or an Arduino. Just like it says on the tin, it’s phase shift keying, and a proper implementation uses a phase detection circuit or something similar. [Craig] thought it would be fun to build an analog BPSK31 demodulator and hit upon the idea of doing this with amplitude demodulation. No, this isn’t the way you’re supposed to do it, but it works.

Data is transmitted via BPSK31 with a phase shift of 180 degrees being a binary 0, and no phase shift being a binary 1. [Craig]’s circuit uses an op-amp and a pair of diodes to do a full wave rectification of the signal, which basically makes a binary 1 logic high, and binary 0 logic low.

This rectified signal is then fed into a comparator, making the output go high when the signal is above 2V, and low when the signal is below 1V. That’s all you need to do to get bits out of the signal, all [Craig] had to do after that was figure out a way to sample it.

A 555 set up in astable mode running at 31.25 Hz provides the clock, synchronized with the signal by connecting the comparator’s output to the 555 trigger input. The timer clock ends up being slightly slower, but thanks to the varicode character set, the maximum number of binary ones the circuit will see is nine; every time the trigger sees a zero, the timer’s trigger is reset, re-synchronizing the receiver’s clock.

Yes, it’s a hack, and no, this isn’t how you’re supposed to receive PSK. It does, however, work, and you can thank [Craig] for that.