In 1971, the United States Navy launched the Omega navigational system for submarines and surface ships. The system used radio frequencies and phase difference calculations to determine global position. A network of eight (VLF) transmitter sites spread around the globe made up the system, which required the cooperation of six other nations.
Omega’s fix accuracy was somewhere between one and two nautical miles. Her eight transmitter stations were positioned around the Earth such that any single point on the planet could receive a usable signal from at least five stations. All of the transmitters were synchronized to a Cesium clock and emitted signals on a time-shared schedule.
A ship’s receiving equipment performed navigation by comparing the phase difference between detected signals. This calculation was based around “lanes” that served to divvy up the distance between stations into equal divisions. A grid of these lanes formed by eight stations’ worth of overlapping signals provides intersecting lines of position (LOP) that give the sailor his fix.
In order for the lane numbers to have meaning, the sailor has to dial in his starting lane number in port based on the maps. He would then select the pair of stations nearest him, which were designated with the letters A to H. He would consult the skywave correction tables and make small adjustments for atmospheric conditions and other variances. Finally, he would set his lane number manually and set sail.
Is your ham radio rig made of iron and steel? Is it mechanically driven? Classified as a World Heritage Site? We didn’t think so. But if you’d like to tune in one that is, or if you’re just a ham radio geek in need of a bizarre challenge, don’t miss Alexanderson Day 2015 tomorrow, Sunday, June 28th
The Alexanderson Transmitter design dates back to around 1910, before any of the newfangled tube technology had been invented. Weighing in at around 50 tons, the monster powering the Varberg Radio Station is essentially a high-speed alternator — a generator that puts out 17.2 kHz instead of the 50-60 Hz that the electric companies give us today.
Most of the challenge in receiving the Alexanderson transmitter broadcasts are due to this very low broadcast frequency; your antenna is not long enough. If you’re in Europe, it’s a lot easier because the station, SAQ, is located in Sweden. But given that the original purpose of these behemoths was transcontinental Morse code transmission, it only seems sporting to try to pick it up in the USA. East Coasters are well situated to give it a shot.
And of course, there’s an app for that. The original SAQrx VLF Receiver and the extended version both use your computer’s sound card and FFTs to extract the probably weak signal from the noise.
We scouted around the net for an antenna design and didn’t come up with anything more concrete than “few hundred turns of wire in a coil” plugged into the mic input. If anyone has an optimized antenna design for this frequency, post up in the comments?
The device works by connecting two antennas to an enclosure that contains a speaker. The enclosure is intended to be worn on the back with a harness securing it in place and wrapping the arms around the wearer’s body. The antennas are incorporated into a pair of gloves. When the antennas pick up electromagnetic radiation, the speaker emits a low frequency sound waves. They vibrate the enclosure and the arms, which in turn vibrate the body, signaling to the wearer that he or she is in an electromagnetic field, also referred to as hertzian space. A good deal of detail about the project can be found on his blog, or if you prefer, download his thesis paper in(PDF).