Off-Grid Radio Also Repairable Off-Grid

Low-power radios, often referred to in the amateur radio community as QRP radios, have experienced a resurgence in popularity lately. Blame it on certain parts of the hobby become more popular, like Parks on the Air (POTA) or Summits on the Air (SOTA). These are events where a radio operator operates off-grid at remote parks or mountaintops. These QRP rigs are a practical and portable way to make contacts. You would think that a five- or ten-watt rig running on batteries would be simple. Surprisingly, they can be enormously complex and expensive. That’s why [Dr. Daniel Marks] built the RFBitBanger, a QRP radio designed to not only be usable off-grid but to be built and maintained off-grid as well.

The radio accomplishes this goal by being built out of as many standard off-the-shelf components as possible. It eschews modern surface-mount components in favor of the much more accessible through-hole parts, including the ATMEGA328P at the center of the build. A PCB design is also available, but it can be built on perf board nearly as easily. The radio supports any mode a QRP operator might use, including CW, SSB, RTTY, and a new mode designed explicitly for this radio called SCAMP which is a low bandwidth, low SNR digital mode built into the Arduino-based firmware. It’s a single-band radio, but any band between 20 and 80 meters can be selected with pluggable filters.

As far as bomb-proof radios go, we can’t imagine a better way to live out an apocalypse than with a radio like this. As long as there’s a well-stocked parts drawer around, this radio could theoretically reach around the world without worrying about warranty claims, expensive parts, or even a company going out of business or not stocking parts for old radios anymore. There’s also more information about this build at the Open Research Institute for those interested. And, if you’re wondering how useful any radio could be using only five watts of transmitter power, take a look at this in-depth look at QRP radio operation.

Thanks to [Stephen Walters] for the tip.

Amateur Estimates Of Venusian Day Using Arecibo Data

[Nathaniel Fairfield] aka [thandal] was curious about the actual rotation and axis tilt of Venus. He decided to spin up at GitHub Python repository to study the issue further, as one does. The scientific literature shows a wide range of estimates and variations for the planet’s rotation and axis tilt. He wondered if the real answer might be found in a publicly available set of uncalibrated delay-doppler images of Venus. These data were collected by the former Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico from 1988 through 2020.  [Thanda] observed that the planet’s rotation appears to be speeding up slightly, and furthermore, his estimates of the orbital axis were within 0.01 degrees of the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) values. [Note: Venus is a bit confusing — one planetary rotation, 243 Earth days, is longer than its year, 225 Earth days].

Estimations of Venusian Orbital Period, [Thandal] Estimates in Green
Aligning and calibrating the raw data was no trivial task. You have to consider the radar’s (Earth’s) position and time, as well as Venus. Complicating the math even more, some times the radar was operated in a bistatic mode, with the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia being the receiver.

There’s a lot of interesting signal processing going on here. The Doppler-delay data consists of images that are 8091×8092 array of complex values, has to be mapped onto the Venus geoid.  Then by using various surface features, one can compare their positions vs time and obtain an estimate of rotational speed and tilt. If these kinds of calculations interest you, be sure to check out [Thandal]’s summary report, and also take note of the poliastro Python astrodynamics library. Why is this important? One reason to better plan future missions.

Bringing A Baofeng Into The Cyberpunk 2077 Universe

You’ve got to love the aesthetics of dystopian cyberpunk video games, where all the technology looks like it’s cobbled together from cast-off bits of the old world’s remains. Kudos go to those who attempt to recreate these virtual props and bring them into the real world, but our highest praise goes to those who not only make a game-realistic version of a prop, but make it actually work.

Take the Nokota Manufacturing radio from Cyberpunk 2077, for instance. [Taylor] took one look at that and knew it would be the perfect vessel for a Baofeng UV-5R, the dual-band transceiver that amateur radio operators love to hate. The idea is to strip the PCB out of a Baofeng — no worries, the things cost like $25 — and install it in a game-accurate 3D printed case. But this is far from just a case mod, since [Taylor]’s goal is to replace the radio’s original controls with something closer to what’s in the game.

To that end, [Taylor] is spinning up an interface to the stock radio’s keypad using some 7400-series bilateral analog switches. Hooked to the keypad contacts and controlled by a Mini MEGA 2560 microcontroller, the interface is able to send macros that imitate the keypresses necessary to change frequencies and control the radio’s settings, plus display the results on the yellow OLED screen that seems a dead-ringer for the in-game display. The video below shows some early testing of the interface.

While very much still a work in progress, we’ve been following [Taylor]’s project for a week or so and he’s really gaining some ground. We’ve encouraged him to enter this one in the Cyberdeck Challenge we’ve got going on now; it might not have much “deck” going for it, but it sure does have a lot of “cyber.”

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Ham Pairs Nicely With GMRS

Ignoring all of the regulations, band allocations, and “best amateur practices,” there’s no real fundamental difference between the frequencies allocated to the Family Radio Service (FRS), the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS), and the two-meter and 70-centimeter bands allocated to licensed ham radio operators. The radio waves propagate over relatively short distances, don’t typically experience any skip, and are used for similar activities. The only major difference between these (at least in the Americas or ITU region 2) is the licenses you must hold to operate on the specific bands. This means that even though radios are prohibited by rule from operating across these bands, it’s often not too difficult to find radios that will do it anyway.

[Greg], aka [K4HSM], was experimenting with a TIDRADIO H8 meant for GMRS, which in North America is a service used for short-range two-way communication. No exams are required, but a license is still needed. GMRS also allows for the use of repeaters, making it more effective than the unlicensed FRS. GMRS radios, this one included, often can receive or scan frequencies they can’t transmit on, but in this case, the limits on transmitting are fairly easy to circumvent. While it isn’t allowed when programming the radio over Bluetooth, [K4HSM] found that programming it from the keypad directly will allow transmitting on the ham bands and uses it to contact his local two-meter and 70-cm repeaters as a proof-of-concept.

The surprising thing about this isn’t so much that the radio is physically capable of operating this way. What’s surprising is that this takes basically no physical modifications at all, and as far as we can tell, that violates at least one FCC rule. Whether or not that rule makes any sense is up for debate, and it’s not likely the FCC will break down your door for doing this since they have bigger fish to fry, but we’d definitely caution that it’s not technically legal to operate this way.

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Spy Transceiver Makes Two Tubes Do The Work Of Five

Here at Hackaday, we love following along with projects as they progress. That’s especially true when a project makes a considerable leap in terms of functionality from one version to another, or when the original design gets more elegant. And when you get both improved function and decreased complexity at the same time? That’s the good stuff.

Take the recent improvements to a vacuum tube “spy radio” as an example. Previously, [Helge (LA6NCA)] built both a two-tube transmitter and a three-tube receiver, either of which would fit in the palm of your hand. A little higher math seems to indicate that combining these two circuits into a transceiver would require five tubes, but that’s not how hams like [Helge] roll. His 80-m CW-only transceiver design uses only two tubes and a lot of tricks, which we admit we’re still wrapping our heads around. On the receive side, one tube serves as a mixer/oscillator, combining the received signal with a slightly offset crystal-controlled signal to provide the needed beat frequency. The second tube serves as the amplifier, both for the RF signal when transmitting, and for audio when receiving.

The really clever part of this build is that [Helge] somehow stuffed four separate relays into the tiny Altoids tin chassis. Three of them are used to switch between receive and transmit, while the fourth is set up as a simple electromagnetic buzzer. This provides the sidetone needed to effectively transmit Morse code, and is about the simplest way we’ve ever seen to address that need. Also impressive is how [Helge] went from a relatively expansive breadboard prototype to a much more compact final design, and how the solder was barely cooled before he managed to make a contact over 200 km. The video below has all the details.

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Two-Tube Spy Transmitter Fits In The Palm Of Your Hand

It’s been a long time since vacuum tubes were cutting-edge technology, but that doesn’t mean they don’t show up around here once in a while. And when they do, we like to feature them, because there’s still something charming, nay, romantic about a circuit built around hot glass and metal. To wit, we present this compact two-tube “spy radio” transmitter.

From the look around his shack — which we love, by the way — [Helge Fykse (LA6NCA)] really has a thing for old technology. The typewriter, the rotary phones, the boat-anchor receiver — they all contribute to the retro feel of the space, as well as the circuit he’s working on. The transmitter’s design is about as simple as can be: one tube serves as a crystal-controlled oscillator, while the other tube acts as a power amplifier to boost the output. The tiny transmitter is built into a small metal box, which is stuffed with the resistors, capacitors, and homebrew inductors needed to complete the circuit. Almost every component used has a vintage look; we especially love those color-coded mica caps. Aside from PCB backplane, the only real nod to modernity in the build is the use of 3D printed forms for the coils.

But does it work? Of course it does! The video below shows [Helge] making a contact on the 80-meter band over a distance of 200 or so kilometers with just over a watt of power. The whole project is an excellent demonstration of just how simple radio communications can be, as well as how continuous wave (CW) modulation really optimizes QRP setups like this.

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Enormous Metal Sculpture Becomes An Antenna

Those who have worked with high voltage know well enough that anything can be a conductor at high enough voltages. Similarly, amateur radio operators will jump at any chance to turn a random object into an antenna. Flag poles, gutters, and even streams of water can be turned into radiating elements for a transmitter, but the members of this amateur radio club were thinking a little bit bigger when they hooked up their transmitter to this giant sculpture.

For those who haven’t been to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate New York, the enormous metal behemoth is not a subtle piece of artwork and sits right at the entrance to the university. It’s over 70 feet tall and made out of bronze and steel, a dream for any amateur radio operator. With the university’s permission and some help to ensure everyone’s safety during the operation, the group attached a feedline to the sculpture with a magnet, while the shield wire was attached to a ground rod nearby. A Yaesu FT-991 running on only 5 watts and transmitting in the 20-meter band was able to make contacts throughout much of the eastern United States with this setup.

This project actually started as an in-joke within the radio club, as reported by Reddit user [bbbbbthatsfivebees] who is a member. Eventually the joke became reality, as the sculpture is almost a perfect antenna for certain ham bands. Others in the comments noted that they might have better luck with lower frequency bands such as the 40-meter band or possibly the 60-meter band, due to the height of the structure. And, for those who are still wondering if you really can use a stream of water to transmit radio waves, it is indeed possible.