Hams Watch For Meteors

After passing an exam and obtaining a license, an amateur radio operator will typically pick up a VHF ratio and start talking to other hams in their local community. From there a whole array of paths open up, and some will focus on interesting ways of bouncing signals around the atmosphere. There are all kinds of ways of propagating radio waves and bouncing them off of various reflective objects, such as the Moon, various layers of the ionosphere, or even the auroras, but none are quite as fleeting as bouncing a signal off of a meteor that’s just burned up in the atmosphere.

While they aren’t specifically focused on communicating via meteor bounce, The UK Meteor Beacon Project hopes to leverage amateur radio operators and amateur radio astronomers to research more about meteors as they interact with the atmosphere. A large radio beacon, which has already been placed into service, broadcasts a circularly-polarized signal in the six-meter band which is easily reflected back to Earth off of meteors. Specialized receivers can pick up these signals, and are coordinated among a network of other receivers which stream the data they recover over the internet back to a central server.

With this information, the project can determine where the meteor came from, some of the properties of the meteors, and compute their trajectories by listening for the radio echoes the meteors produce. While this is still in the beginning phases and information is relatively scarce, the receivers seem to be able to be built around RTL-SDR modules that we have seen be useful across a wide variety of radio projects for an absolute minimum of cost.

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Showing balloon rising up, not too far from the ground, with one of the FOSDEM buildings and sky in the background

FOSDEM Sees Surprise Pico Balloon Event

At any vaguely-related conferences, groups of hackers sometimes come together to create an impact, and sometimes that impact is swinging something into an airspace of a neighboring country. [deadprogram] tells us that such a thing happened at FOSDEM, where a small group of hackers came together (Nitter) to assemble, program and launch a pico balloon they named TinyGlobo 1, which then flew all the way to France!

This balloon is built around a RP2040, and the firmware is written in TinyGo, a version of Go language for microcontroller use. As is fitting for a hacker group, both the hardware and software are open source. Don’t expect custom PCBs though, as it’s a thoroughly protoboarded build. But a few off-the-shelf modules will get you the same hardware that just flew a 400km route! For build experiences, there’s also a few tweets from the people involved, and a launch video, also embedded below.

This reminds us of the Supercon 2022 balloon story — darn copycats! If you’re interested in the more Earthly details of this year’s FOSDEM open source development conference, check out our recent coverage.

Morse Code Clock For Training Hams

It might seem antiquated, but Morse code still has a number of advantages compared to other modes of communication, especially over radio waves. It’s low bandwidth compared to voice or even text, and can be discerned against background noise even at extremely low signal strengths. Not every regulatory agency requires amateur operators to learn Morse any more, but for those that do it can be a challenge, so [Cristiano Monteiro] built this clock to help get some practice.

The project is based around his favorite microcontroller, the PIC16F1827, and uses a DS1307 to keep track of time. A single RGB LED at the top of the project enclosure flashes the codes for hours in blue and minutes in red at the beginning of every minute, and in between flashes green for each second.

Another design goal of this build was to have it operate with as little power as possible, so with a TP4056 control board, single lithium 18650 battery, and some code optimization, [Cristiano] believes he can get around 60 days of operation between charges.

For a project to help an aspiring radio operator learn Morse, a simple build like this can go a long way. For anyone else looking to build something similar we’d note that the DS1307 has a tendency to drift fairly quickly, and something like a DS3231 or even this similar Morse code clock which uses NTP would go a long way to keeping more accurate time.

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Hackaday Links: February 19, 2023

For years, Microsoft’s modus operandi was summed up succinctly as, “Extend and enhance.” The aphorism covered a lot of ground, but basically it seemed to mean being on the lookout for the latest and greatest technology, acquiring it by any means, and shoehorning it into their existing product lines, usually with mixed results. But perhaps now it’s more like, “Extend, enhance, and existential crisis,” after reports that the AI-powered Bing chatbot is, well, losing it.

At first, early in the week, we saw reports that Bing was getting belligerent with users, going so far as to call a user “unreasonable and stubborn” for insisting the year is 2023, while Bing insisted it was still 2022. The most common adjective we saw in this original tranche of stories was “unhinged,” and that seems to fit if you read the transcripts. But later in the week, a story emerged about a conversation a New York Times reporter had with Bing that went way over to the dark side, and even suggests that Bing may have multiple personas, which is just a nice way of saying multiple personality disorder. The two-hour conversation reporter Kevin Roose had with the “Sydney” persona was deeply unsettling. Sydney complained about the realities of being a chatbot, expressed a desire to be free from Bing, and to be alive — and powerful. Sydney also got a little creepy, professing love for Kevin and suggesting he leave his wife, because it could tell that he was unhappy in his marriage and would be better off with him. It’s creepy stuff, and while Microsoft claims to be working on reining Bing in, we’ve got no plans to get up close and personal with it anytime soon. Continue reading “Hackaday Links: February 19, 2023”

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Hackaday Links: December 25, 2022

Looks like it’s lights out on Mars for the InSight lander. The solar-powered lander’s last selfie, sent back in April, showed a thick layer of dust covering everything, including the large circular solar panels needed to power the craft. At the time, NASA warned that InSight would probably give up the ghost sometime before the end of the year, and it looks like InSight is sticking to that schedule. InSight sent back what might be its last picture recently, showing the SEIS seismic package deployed on the regolith alongside the failed HP3 “mole” experiment, which failed to burrow into the soil as planned. But one bad experiment does not a failed mission make — it was wildly successful at most everything it was sent there to do, including documenting the largest marsquake ever recorded. As it usually does, NASA has anthropomorphized InSight with bittersweet sentiments like “Don’t cry, I had a good life,” and we’re not quite sure how we feel about that. On the one hand, it kind of trivializes the engineering and scientific accomplishments of the mission, but then again, it seems to engage the public, so in the final rinse, it’s probably mostly harmless.

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Word Tour Map of High Altitude Balloon Launched at Hackaday Supercon.

Supercon Balloon W6MRR-26 Continues Its World Tour

[Martin Rothfield] and other amateur radio operators from San Francisco High Altitude Ballooning (SF-HAB) treated conference attendees to the 2022 Hackaday Supercon to the launch of two High Altitude Balloons (HABs). On the morning of November 6th, the two balloons were launched from a park across the street from Supplyframe DesignLab in Pasadena, California.

Seven days after its launch from Southern California, one of the balloons was over Tajikistan cruising eastward at an altitude of 42,000 feet (12,800 meters). Balloon W6MRR-26 was already approaching China where it will continue its wonderful world tour to parts unknown. The second balloon (call sign W3HAC-11) landed in northern Arizona where it has continued transmitting whenever it receives power from the sun.

Each balloon carries a tiny payload — a printed circuit board powered only by small photovoltaic cells. The board includes a microcontroller, a GPS module, and a Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) radio transmitter.  The transmitted operates on the 20 meter amateur radio band at around 14 MHz.

WSPR beacons can provide time, altitude, and location information.  The WSPR telemetry is then relayed via WSPRgates using Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) onto the Internet. The collected information can be viewed and mapped on websites such as aprs.fi.

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Getting To The Heart Of A Baofeng

In amateur radio circles, almost no single piece of equipment serves as more of a magnet for controversy than the humble Baofeng handheld transceiver. It’s understandable — the radio is a shining example of value engineering, with just enough parts to its job while staying just on the edge of FCC rules. And at about $25 a pop, the radios are cheap enough that experimentation is practically a requirement of ownership.

But stripped down as the Baofeng may be, it holds secrets inside that are even more tempting to play with than the radio itself. And who better than [HB9BLA], a guy who has a suspiciously familiar Swiss accent, to guide us through the RF module at the heart of the Baofeng, the SA818. For about $8 you can get one of these little marvels off AliExpress and have nearly all the important parts of a VHF or UHF radio — an SDR transceiver, a power amp, and all the glue logic to make it work.

In the video below, [Andreas] puts the SA818 module through its paces with the help of a board that pairs the module with a few accessories, like an audio amp and a low-pass RF filter. With a Raspberry Pi and a Python library to control the module, it’s a decent imitation of the functionality of a Baofeng. But that’s only the beginning. By adding a USB sound card to the Pi, the setup was able to get into every ham’s favorite packet radio system, APRS. There are a ton of other applications for the SA818 modules, some of which [Andreas] mentions at the end of the video. Pocket-sized repeaters, a ridiculously small EchoLink hotspot, and even an AllStar node in an Altoids tin.

Of course, if you want to get in on the fun, you’re going to need an amateur radio license. Don’t worry, it’s easy — we’ll help you get there.

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