Sferics, Whistlers, and the Dawn Chorus: Listening to Earth Music on VLF

We live in an electromagnetic soup, bombarded by wavelengths from DC to daylight and beyond. A lot of it is of our own making, especially further up the spectrum where wavelengths are short enough for the bandwidth needed for things like WiFi and cell phones. But long before humans figured out how to make their own electromagnetic ripples, the Earth was singing songs at the low end of the spectrum. The very low frequency (VLF) band abounds with interesting natural emissions, and listening to these Earth sounds can be quite a treat.

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[Jeri] Builds a Magnetic Loop Antenna

Most new hams quickly learn that the high-frequency bands are where the action is, and getting on the air somewhere between 40- and 160-meters is the way to make those coveted globe-hopping contacts. Trouble is, the easiest antennas to build — horizontal center-fed dipoles — start to claim a lot of real estate at these wavelengths.

So hacker of note and dedicated amateur radio operator [Jeri Ellsworth (AI6TK)] has started a video series devoted to building a magnetic loop antenna for the 160- and 80-meter bands. The first video, included after the break, is an overview of the rationale behind a magnetic loop. It’s not just the length of the dipole that makes them difficult to deploy for these bands; as [Jeri] explains, propagation has a lot to do with dipole height too. [Jeri] covers most of the mechanical aspects of the antenna in the first installment; consuming a 50-foot coil of 3/4″ copper tubing means it won’t be a cheap build, but we’re really looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

We were sorry to hear that castAR, the augmented reality company that [Jeri] co-founded, shut its doors back in June. But if that means we get more great projects like this and guided tours of cool museums to boot, maybe [Jeri]’s loss is our gain?

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Snazzy Balun Lets Ham Use Off-The-Shelf Coax

It’s a dilemma many hams face: it’s easy to find yourself with a big spool of RG-11 coax cable, usually after a big cable TV wiring project. It can be tempting to use it in antenna projects, but the characteristic impedance of RG-11 is 75 Ω, whereas the ham world is geared to 50 Ω. Not willing to waste a bounty of free coax, one ham built a custom 1:1 current balun for a 75 Ω dipole.

Converting between balanced and unbalanced signals is the job of a balun, and it’s where the device derives its name. For hams, baluns are particularly useful to connect a dipole antenna, which is naturally balanced, to an unbalanced coax feedline. The balun [NV2K] built is a bifilar 1:1 design, with two parallel wires wound onto a ferrite core. To tweak the characteristic impedance to the 75 Ω needed for his antenna and feedline, [NV2K] added short lengths of Teflon insulation to one of the conductors, which is as fussy a bit of work as we’ve seen in a while. We appreciate the careful winding of the choke and the care taken to make this both mechanically and electrically sound, and not letting that RG-11 go to waste is a plus.

With as much effort as hams put into antenna design, there’s a surprising dearth of Hackaday articles on the subject. We’ve talked a bit about the Yagi-Uda antenna, and we’ve showcased a cool magnetic loop antenna, but there’s precious little about the humble dipole.

[via r/amateurradio]

Copenhagen Suborbitals Launches Impressive Amateur Liquid Fueled Rocket

Copenhagen Suborbitals just launched their latest amateur liquid fuel rocket. Why? Because they want to strap someone to a bigger amateur liquid fuel rocket and launch them into space.

We’ve covered them before, but it’s been a while. While they make a big deal of being amateurs, they are the least amateurish amateurs we’ve come across. We’ll forgive a lot as long as they keep making great videos about their projects. Or posting great pictures of the internals of their rockets.

The Nexø I rocket they recently launched claims to be the first guided, amateur, liquid-fueled rocket. There is a nice post on the guidance system. It was launched from a custom built barge off the shore of Denmark, which allows them to escape quite a few legal hurdles around the launch. The rocket flew beautifully. That is, it went only away from the ground; no other directions. Also, it didn’t explode, which is a lot to expect from even the biggest players in the field.

Copenhagen Suborbitals continues to do amazing work. Hopefully their next rocket will be even more impressive… for amateurs, that is.

HamRadioTweets Gets the Word Out

In times of crisis, or extreme government control, it can be difficult to spread critical information to people who can help. A good example of this was during the Arab Spring in 2011. When your Internet connection is taken away, it can feel as though all is lost. Unless you have a ham radio, that is.

For many people the thought of ham radio conjures up images of old guys twisting knobs listening to static, but it’s actually come a long way in our modern digital age. For example, you can now send tweets via ham radio. This project was actually started in 2011 by [Bruce Sutherland]. The Egyptian government had shut down the country’s Internet access after citizens were posting information about the extreme violence they were facing. [Bruce] wanted a way to help  others get the word out, and he came up with HamRadioTweets. This system allows a user to send tweets via ham radio.

The system actually piggybacks off of a ham radio service called APRS. This service is most often associated with GPS tracking systems, such as those found in nearspace balloons, but it can also be used to send simple text messages over the air. APRS works thanks to the vast network of receiving stations setup all around the world. These stations can receive messages and then re-transmit them, greatly extending the reach of the original transmitter. Some of them are even hooked up to the Internet to get the messages to go distances that would be extremely difficult and unreliable by traditional means.

[Bruce’s] system hooked into the Internet component and watched for messages being sent specifically to “TWITR”. The Python based system would then read these messages and re-transmit them over Twitter. The project died out a while back after Twitter updated their API. Now, it’s been rebuilt on Ruby by [Harold Giddings]. The project website was handed over to [Harold] and he is currently maintaining it. Hopefully you’ll never need to use this software, but if the time comes you will be glad it’s available. You can watch [Harold] bounce an APRS message off of the International Space Station and on to Twitter in the video below. Continue reading “HamRadioTweets Gets the Word Out”

Amateur Radio Transmits 1000 Miles On Voice Power

Many of us tried the old “Two tin cans connected by a string” experiment as kids. [Michael Rainey, AA1TJ] never quite forgot it.  Back in 2009, he built “El Silbo”, a ham radio transmitter powered entirely by his voice. El Silbo is a Double Side Band (DSB) transmitter for 75 meters. While voice is used to excite the transmitter, it doesn’t actually transmit voice. El Silbo is a CW affair, so you should bone up on your Morse Code a bit before building one. Like many QRP transmitters El Silbo’s circuit is rather simple. A junk box loudspeaker is installed at the bottom of the can to convert voice power to electrical power. The signal is passed through a step up transformer, and used to excite a 75m crystal. Two NPN transistors (in this case MPS6521) pass the signal on through a second transformer. The signal is then routed through an LC network to the antenna.

Back in 2009, [Michael] brought El Silbo to the Maine coast in an attempt to make a transatlantic contact. This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds – [Michael] has “crossed the pond” on less power. While the attempt wasn’t successful, [Michael] has made connections as far as 1486km, or 923 miles. That’s quite a distance for simply yelling into a tin can! One of [Michael’s] favorite El Silbo stories is a 109KM conversation (QSO) he had with W1PID. [Michael] found that the signal was so good, he didn’t have to yell at all. He reduced power by dropping to his normal speaking voice for the “dits and dahs”. The two were able to converse for 17 minutes with [Michael] only using his speaking voice for power. We think this is an amazing achievement, and once more proof that you don’t need a multi-thousand dollar shack to make contacts as a ham.

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BITX, A Return to Hackers’ Paradise

bitx

[Bill Meara] has finished up his radio. It both looks and sounds great. It was only a few weeks ago that [Bill] posted a guest rant here on Hackaday. The Radio he mentioned building in the rant is now complete. The transceiver itself is a BITX, a 14MHz Single Sideband (SSB) radio designed by Ashhar Farhan VU2ESE. Ashhar designed the BITX as a cheap to build, and easy to tune up transceiver for radio amateurs in India.

By utilizing parts easily sourced from scrapped TV sets, the BITX can be built for less than 300 Indian Rupee – or about $4.70 USD. In [Bill]’s own words, “Five bucks and some sweat equity gets you a device capable of worldwide communication.” He’s not kidding either. [Bill’s] first QSO was with a ham in the Azores Islands of Portugal.

[Bill] built his radio using the “Manhattan” building style, which we’ve seen before. Manhattan style uses rectangular pads glued down onto a copper ground plane. It makes for a more flexible design than regular old dead bug style building. Looking at all those components may be a bit daunting at first, but plenty of support is available. [Bill] has an 18 part build log on the soldersmoke website. There also is an active yahoo group dedicated to the BITX.