Demystifying Amateur Radio Callsigns

Regular Hackaday readers will be familiar with our convention of putting the name, nickname, or handle of a person in square brackets. We do this to avoid ambiguity as sometimes names and particularly nicknames can take unfamiliar forms that might be confused with other entities referred to in the text. So for example you might see them around [Bart Simpson], or [El Barto]. and occasionally within those brackets you’ll also see a capitalised string of letters and numbers after a name. For example the electronic music pioneer [Bob Moog, K2AMH], which most of you will recognise as an amateur radio callsign.

Every licenced radio amateur is issued one by their country’s radio authority as a unique identifier, think of it as similar to a car licence plate. From within the amateur radio bubble those letters and numbers can convey a significant amount of information about where in the world its user is located, when they received their licence, and even what type of licence they hold, but to outsiders they remain a mysterious and seemingly random string. We’ll now attempt to shed some light on that information, so you too can look at a callsign in a Hackaday piece or anywhere else and have some idea as to its meaning.

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Old Heatsink Lets Ham Push Duty Cycle for Digital Modes

Listen to the amateur radio bands long enough, and you’ll likely come to the conclusion that hams never stop talking. Of course it only seems that way, and the duty cycle for a transmitter operating in one of the voice modes is likely to be pretty low. But digital modes can up the duty cycle and really stress the finals on a rig, so this field-expedient heat sink for a ham transceiver is a handy trick to keep in mind.

This hacklet comes by way of [Kevin Loughin (KB9RLW)], who is trying to use his “shack-in-a-box” Yaesu FT-817 for digital modes like PSK31. Digital modes essentially turn the transceiver into a low-baud modem and thus messages can take a long time to send. This poses a problem for the 5-watt FT-817, which was designed for portable operations and doesn’t have the cooling fans and heavy heatsinks that a big base station rig does. [Kevin] found that an old 486 CPU heatsink clamped to a lug on the rear panel added enough thermal mass to keep the finals much cooler, even with a four-minute dead key into a dummy load at the radio’s full 5-watt output.

You may scoff at the simplicity of this solution, and we’ll concede that it’s far from an epic hack. But sometimes it’s the simple fixes that it pays to keep in mind. However, if your project needs a little less seat-of-the-pants and a little more engineering, be sure to check out [Bil Herd]’s primer on thermal management.
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HFSat and The All-HF Amateur Radio Satellite Transponder

One facet of the diverse pursuit that is amateur radio involves the use of amateur radio satellites. These have a long history stretching back to the years shortly after the first space launches, and have been launched as “piggy-back” craft using spare capacity on government and commercial launches.

Though a diverse range of payloads have been carried by these satellites over the years, the majority of amateur radio satellites have featured transponders working in the VHF and UHF spectrum. Most often their links have used the 2m (144 MHz) and 70cm (430MHz) bands. A few have had downlinks in the 10m (28MHz) band, but this has been as far as they have ventured into the HF spectrum.

A new cubesat designed and built by trainees at the US Naval Academy promises to change all that, because it will feature an all-HF transponder with a 15m (21MHz) uplink and a 10m downlink. To that end it will carry a full size 10m wire dipole antenna. The 30KHz wide transponder is an inverting design intended to cancel out the effects of Doppler shift. In their write-up they provide a fascinating description of many aspects of cubesat design, one which should be of significant interest beyond the world of amateur radio.

If the subject of amateur radio in space interests you, have a look at our series on the matter, first covering the OSCAR satellites, and then our recent feature on its use in manned missions.

[via Southgate ARC]

Hams in Space Part 2: The Manned Spaceflights

Whether it’s trying to make contacts across the planet with a transmitter that would have a hard time lighting an LED, or blasting signals into space and bouncing them off the moon, amateur radio operators have always been on the forefront of communications technology. As mankind took to space in the 1950s and 1960s, hams went along for the ride with the first private satellites. But as successful as the OSCAR satellites were, they were still at best only beacons or repeaters in space. What was needed was the human touch – a real live operator making contacts with people on the ground, showing the capabilities of amateur radio while generating public interest in the space program. What was needed was a ham in space. Continue reading “Hams in Space Part 2: The Manned Spaceflights”

Put That Amateur Radio License to Use on 915 MHz

Amateur radio enthusiasts in the US will be interested in Faraday, an open-source digital radio that runs on 915 MHz, which amateur radio enthusiasts may know better as the 33 cm band.

You can transmit on 915 MHz without a license (in the US), taking advantage of the Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) exemption. This means that there’s commodity hardware available for sending and receiving, which is a plus. But you can’t do so with any real power unless you have an amateur radio license. And that’s what makes Faraday interesting — it makes it very easy to transmit and receive digital data, with decent power and range, if you’re licensed. The band is currently under-utilized, so go nuts!

The hardware design and documentation is online, and so is the firmware. The founders of the project would like you to build out a big network of these devices, possibly meshing them together. Our only regret is that the 33 cm band is only really open for use in the US, both with a license and without. Of course, there’s very little the Faraday team can do about that.

We’re no strangers to digital-mode amateur radio around here. But if you’re an amateur who hasn’t played around with digital modes yet, this might be a good way to get your feet wet.

Thanks to [Daniel] for the tip!

The BITX Transceiver Comes Of Age

There was a time when the idea of building your own single-sideband transceiver was too daunting for all but the most hardcore of amateur radio constructors. After all the process of creating SSB is complex enough in itself without adding the extra complexity of a receiver and the associated switching circuitry.

In 2003 an Indian radio amateur, [Ashhar Farhan], [VU2ESE] changed all that. His BitX SSB transceiver used a bidirectional amplifier design and readily available components such that it could be built by almost anyone using dead bug construction techniques for an extremely reasonable price.

Over the years since [Ashhar] first published his circuit, his design has been taken and enhanced, been presented in kit form, and extended to other bands by multiple other radio amateurs. Until now though it seems as though he himself has taken very little advantage of his work.

It is therefore with great interest that we note a new 40-meter BitX transceiver on the market from a company founded by the man himself. The transceiver itself is an Indian-assembled PCB with an updated circuit using a 12 MHz IF, varicap tuning, and large surface-mount components for easy modification. Just as with the original circuit, there is a full technical run-down of its operation should you wish to build one yourself. For a rather impressive $45 though you might wish to put down the soldering iron, it looks very much worth the wait for international postage.

We don’t often feature commercial product launches here on Hackaday, though we are besieged by people trying to persuade us to do so. So why this one? When the creator of a design that has been as significant as the BitX has been to its community of builders releases a new version it is newsworthy in itself, and if they are commercializing their work then they deserve that reward.

We’ve featured the BitX here in the past, with a rather impressive dead-bug build, and a look at a multiband version. We’re sure that this design thread has more to deliver, and look forward to more.

Thanks [WB9FLW] for the tip.

Pneumatic Launcher Gets Ham Antennas Hanging High

Amateur radio is an eclectic hobby, to say the least. RF propagation, electrical engineering, antenna theory – those are the basics for the Ham skillset. But pneumatics? Even that could come in handy for hanging up antennas, which is what this compressed-air cannon is designed to do.

[KA8VIT]’s build will be familiar to any air cannon aficionado. Built from 2″ Schedule 40 PVC, the reservoir is connected to the short barrel by a quarter-turn ball valve. Charging is accomplished through a Schrader valve with a cheap little tire inflator, and the projectile is a tennis ball weighted with a handful of pennies stuffed through a slit. Lofting an antenna with this rig is as simple as attaching a fishing line to the ball and using that to pull successively larger lines until you can pull the antenna itself. [KA8VIT] could only muster about 55 PSI and a 70′ throw for the first attempt shown below, but a later attempt with a bigger compressor got him over 100 feet. We’d guess that a bigger ball valve might get even more bang for the buck by dumping as much air as quickly as possible into the chamber.

Looking to launch a tennis ball for non-Ham reasons? We’ve got you covered whether you want to power it with butane or carbon dioxide.

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