When the big annual meteor showers come around, you can often find us driving up to a mountaintop to escape light pollution and watching the skies for a while. But what to do when it’s cloudy? Or when you’re just too lazy to leave your computer monitor? One solution is to listen to meteors online! (Yeah, it’s not the same.)
Meteors leave a trail of ionized gas in their wake. That’s what you see when you’re watching the “shooting stars”. Besides glowing, this gas also reflects radio waves, so you could in principle listen for reflections of terrestrial broadcasts that bounce off of the meteors’ tails. This is the basis of the meteor burst communication mode.
[Ciprian Sufitchi, N2YO] set up his system using nothing more than a cheap RTL-SDR dongle and a Yagi antenna, which he describes in his writeup (PDF) on meteor echoes. The trick is to find a strong signal broadcast from the earth that’s in the 40-70 MHz region where the atmosphere is most transparent so that you get a good signal.
This used to be easy, because analog TV stations would put out hundreds of kilowatts in these bands. Now, with the transition to digital TV, things are a lot quieter. But there are still a few hold-outs. If you’re in the eastern half of the USA, for instance, there’s a transmitter in Ontario, Canada that’s still broadcasting analog on channel 2. Simply point your antenna at Ontario, aim it up into the ionosphere, and you’re all set.
We’re interested in anyone in Europe knows of similar powerful emitters in these bands.
As you’d expect, we’ve covered meteor burst before, but the ease of installation provided by the SDR + Yagi solution is ridiculous. And speaking of ridiculous, how about communicating by bouncing signals off of passing airplanes? What will those ham radio folks think of next?
[Bill Meara] has finished his latest project, a Moxon antenna for HF on 17 meters. [Bill] is well-known here on Hackaday. When not building awesome radios, he can be found ranting about ham radio. His new antenna turned out to be a true hack. He even used a hacksaw to build it!
The Moxon antenna is named for the late [Les Moxon, G6XN] who first described it in “Two-Element Driven Arrays”, a QST magazine article published in July of 1952. [Bill] built his Moxon loosely based on [Jim/AE6AC’s] excellent instructions. The design is incredibly simple – a two element directional antenna using crappie fishing poles as spreaders. That’s crappie as in the fish, not the quality of the pole. Crappie poles are typically made up of telescoping sections of graphite or fiberglass in common lengths of 14, 16, and 20 feet. The poles can be bought for under $20 at sporting goods stores. [Bill] used 16 foot poles purchased from Amazon.
The antenna is created by connecting all four poles at their bases in an X shape. The wire elements are stretched across the ends of the poles. The entire antenna bends up as the stiff poles hold the driven and reflector elements in tension. [Bill] used some scrap wood and U-bolts to attach the fishing poles, and bungee cord ends at the tips. Since the antenna is directional, [Bill] added a TV antenna rotor to spin the beam around. The antenna is so light that one could get by with a couple of cords and the “Armstrong method” of antenna rotation.
Once up on the roof, [Bill] found his antenna really performed. He was easily able to cross the Atlantic from his Northern Virginia home to France, Belgium, and Latvia. The mostly horizontal antenna makes it a bit more unobtrusive than other directional designs. [Bill] mentions that his neighbors haven’t revolted yet, so he’s continuing to enjoy the fruits of his antenna labors.
We have posted articles in the past on directional antennas such as Yagi antennas used for transmitter hunting otherwise known as fox hunting. Those types of antennas and reception suffer from one major drawback, which is as you get close to the transmitter the S meter will go full scale. At which time the transmitted signal appears to be coming from all directions. To correct for this problem you need to use clever signal attenuators or change to a poor receiving antenna as well as tuning off frequency effectively making your receiver hard of hearing so that only the direct path to the transmitter is loudest.
There is another popular type of antenna that you can build yourself called a TDOA which stands for Time Difference of Arrival. [Byon Garrabrant N6BG] shared a short video tutorial on the functionality of his home built TDOA antenna. Effectively this is an active antenna that uses a 555 chip or, in [Byon’s] case, a PIC chip to quickly shift between two receiving dipole antennas at either end of a shortened yardstick. In his explanation you learn that as the antenna ends move closer or farther from the source a 640 Hz generated audio tone will go from loud to very soft as the antennas become equal distance from the source. This type of directional reception is not affected by signal strength. This means you can be very close to a powerful transmitter and it will still function as a good directional antenna.
The current circuit diagram, BOM and source code are all available on [Byon’s] TDOA page.
The reason [Byon] used a programmable PIC instead of the 555 for his design is because he wants to add a few more modifications such as feeding back the audio output to the PIC in order to programmatically turn on a left or right LED indicating the direction of the transmitter. Furthermore, he plans on adding a third antenna in a triangular configuration to programmatically control a circle of 6 LEDs indicating the exact direction of the signal. When he finishes the final modifications he can drive around with the antenna array on his vehicle and the circle of LEDs inside indicating the exact direction to navigate.
We look forward to seeing the rest of the development which might even become a kit someday. You can watch [Byon’s] TDOA video after the break.
Continue reading “TDOA (Time Difference of Arrival) Directional Antenna”
Radio direction finding and fox hunting can be great fun and is a popular activity with amateur radio (ham radio) enthusiasts. These antennas are great and are not only good for finding transmitters but also will greatly increase directional distance performance including communicating with satellites and the international space station (ISS).
[jcoman] had a nephew who was interested in learning about amateur radio so [jcoman] figured building and using a cheap and portable 2 meter band VHF Yagi style beam antenna would be the perfect activity to captivate the young lad’s interest in the hobby.
His design is based on [Joe Leggio’s] (WB2HOL) design with some of his own calculated alterations. We have seen DIY Yagi antenna designs before but what makes this construction so interesting is that the elements come together using bits of cut metal tape measure sections. These tape measure sections allow the Yagi antenna, which is normally a large and cumbersome device, to be easily stowed in a vehicle or backpack. When the antenna is needed, the tape measure sections naturally unfold and function extremely well with a 7 dB directional gain and can be adjusted to get a 1:1 SWR at any desired 2 m frequency.
The other unique feature is that the antenna can be constructed for under $20 if you actually purchase the materials. The cost would be even less if you salvage an old tape measure. You might even have the PVC pipes, hose clamps and wire lying around making the construction nearly free.
We were quite surprised to find that such a popular antenna construction method using tape measure elements had not yet been featured on Hackaday. For completeness this is not the only DIY tape measure Yagi on Instructables so also check out [FN64’s] 2 m band “Radio Direction Finding Antenna for VHF” and [manuka’s] 70 cm band “433 MHz tape measure UHF antenna” postings. The other Yagi antenna designs featured on Hackaday were “Building a Yagi Uda Antenna” and “Turning an Easter Egg Hunt into a Fox Hunt” but these designs were not so simple to construct nor as cleverly portable.
We’ve seen [Todd Harrison]’s work a few times before, but he’s never involved his son so throughly before. This past Easter, he thought it would be a good idea for his son and a few of his friends to take part in an easter egg hunt. Being the ham he is, he decided to turn an easter egg hunt into an adventure in radio direction finding, or as amateur radio operators call it, a fox hunt.
[Todd] put together a great tutorial on building a yagi – a simple directional antenna – out of a couple of pieces of PVC pipe and a few aluminum and brass rods. With this and a handheld ham set, [Todd] hid a fox along with a stuffed easter bunny and a basket of candy near a local park. Operating under the guidance of his dad, [Todd]’s son and his friends were eventually able to find the fox. Leaving candy out in the Arizona sun probably wasn’t [Todd]’s best idea – the fox, and candy, were covered in ants when they were found – but it was a great introduction to amateur radio.
[Tommy Gober] built this Yagi-Uda antenna that has some handy design features. The boom is a piece of conduit with holes drilled in the appropriate places. The elements are aluminum arrow shafts; a good choice because they’re straight, relatively inexpensive, and they have #8-32 screw threads in one end. He used some threaded rod to connect both sides of the reflector and director elements. The driven elements are mounted offset so that a different machine screw for each can be connected to the appropriate conductor of the coaxial cable. The standing wave ratio comes in right where it should meaning he’ll have no trouble picking up those passing satellites as well as the International Space Station.
We Make Money Not Art recently visited the LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain. The installation that left the strongest impression on [Regine] was the WiFi sightseeing telescope built by Clara Boj and Diego Diaz. Spain is in a situation similar to the USA: A few years ago many municipal WiFi projects launched only to be squashed because of theoretical unfair competition with local utilities. Now commercial projects like WeFi, Whisher, and FON encourage people to “share” their WiFi. Observatorio (Observatory) is designed to provide insight into the current state of local WiFi. It uses a highly directional Yagi antenna to collect wireless access data from the local area. The antenna has a 30deg aperture which is matched to a camera with an identical field of view. The observer sees the camera’s viewpoint with the WiFi data overlaid showing where accesspoints are and whether the AP is open. WMMNA also recommends you check out the WiFi Camera which photographs electromagnetic space.