Tag Archives: satellite operations

Keeping Arrow Antenna Elements Tight with Loctite

I’m a big fan of the Arrow Antenna for satellite operations for its good performance and portability, but one issue that pops up is the constant need to tighten the elements. I leave my Arrow assembled in the back seat of my Honda Accord, so it loosens up on its own. This is annoying from a clanging noise perspective, but it always messes with the performance of the antenna and throw off the SWR in a huge way.

In a discussion some time ago on Twitter, Mike, W8LID, suggested trying fully aluminum threaded rod as he noticed this eliminated the problem and lessens the weight of the antenna slightly. Apparently, the included threaded studs are zinc plated steel which doesn’t tighten nicely against the aluminum threaded inserts in the arrow shafts. McMaster-Carr sells this threaded rod (8-32), but I found it locally at a metal shop so I saved on shipping costs. You can use a hack saw to cut 2 1/4″ pieces and you’re good to go with some minor filing to clean up the ends.

The aluminum studs developed small bends which become big deflections at the end of the 2m elements!

For the past year or so, I used this setup and it did solve the loosening problem nicely, but I recently noticed the elements were looking bent and misaligned. It also was sometimes difficult to dissemble the antenna as the aluminum hardware was binding a bit too tight to get a good grip to loosen it. I’ve been thinking about switching back to the original studs for these reasons, but I was still concerned about the constantly loosening elements.

A couple weeks ago, Sean, KX9X, held a RoverCon on Zoom, which aimed to provide a forum for satellite operators to meet, talk roving, and have a good time. During this, R.J., WY7AA, who is well known for making awesome drilled out masts, mentioned a solution the to loosening elements problem: purple Loctite. Purple Loctite, or officially Loctite 222, is a low strength threadlocker, weaker than the more common blue Loctite. He suggested putting a dab of it on one side of the threads to lock in the stud into one side of the arrow shaft. This leaves the other side free to easily dissemble, but prevents them from loosening on their own. I ended up using off-brand threadlocker on my own (Permatex 24024). I’ll update this if I have any issues in the future, but I look forward to have a nice and snug Arrow Antenna again without the fragility of aluminum studs!

Activation Report: Prairie Dog SP (POTA K-2349) and DN90/EN00 Grid Line

Day  three of my  4th  of  July  rove – and the 4th of July itself – led me  to  Prairie  Dog  State  Park,  an interesting  park  that’s  named  after  the  creatures  that  inhabit  the  area. After arriving, I headed to the Prairie Dog Town, a field in the park that has tons of prairie dog holes spread all around starting only a few feet from the parking lot. This was the first time I’d every seen a prairie dog, and I was surprised to hear the chirping sound they make. Unfortunately I only had my iPhone camera and couldn’t get too close before they ran into their holes to hide, so the photos I grabbed weren’t too great. There was a nice pavilion overlooking Prairie Dog Town, which ended up being my operating location for my POTA activation. I had some time to kill before the first satellite pass, though, so I headed over to the nearby nature trail to walk around for a half hour or so and enjoy the beautiful day.

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Activation Report: Webster SP (POTA K-2354) and DM99

After spending the night in Concordia, Kansas (see my 7/2 activations for more information on the preceding stops), I headed toward Webster State Park on the morning of July 3rd to grab some of the FM passes. After arriving and driving around a bit, I found the park fairly full (which makes sense given it was 4th of July weekend), so there weren’t any areas with a shelter available for me to use for a few hours. I decided to park at the Archery Range which was empty and on a hillside. This is not the first POTA activation I’ve done from a state park archery range, and I often find these as decent options since they are rarely in use when I’m at the park. This one had a couple picnic tables but no shade, so I mostly hung around my car.

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Activation Report: Glen Elder SP (POTA K-2339)

As the second stop on my 4th of July weekend rove after Lovewell State Park, Glen Elder State Park provided another nice place to give out the EM09 grid to many of my fellow satellite operators who needed it. I arrived in the middle of the day and quickly searched for a good operating position. As the AO-91 and AO-92 passes (the easy FM ones) coincided with my Lovewell activation, I knew this park could be a bit of a challenge to activate in a short amount of time. After leaving this park, I knew I had about another hour drive to my hotel in Concordia, KS which added to my desire to make this quick. I had already driven over four hours from the Kansas City area that morning, so I was tired to say the least.

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Activation Report: Lovewell SP (POTA K-2343)

This year for the 4th of July holiday weekend, I decided to do a four day rove to hit four new POTA parks (K-2343, K-2339, K-2354, K-2349) and four new grids (EM09, DM99, DN90, EN00) around northern Kansas. I’ll be posting a separate writeup for each park, so check out my overview page for links to the other activations. On Thursday the 2nd, I left my home in the Kansas City suburbs early in the morning for the approximately four hour drive. I decided to head north to St. Joseph and then travel US 36 almost the rest of the way which was a much nicer drive than the alternate I-70 option. I got to travel through a bunch of small towns and see a real beautiful part of rural Kansas. The drive up was mostly uneventful, although as I neared Lovewell, Google Maps routed me down a gravel road that soon turned to dirt. As I rounded a hill, the back end of my car started to slide around me, and although I didn’t spin out, I ended up in the mud and stuck. Using some of my snow driving skill learned during my Ohio upbringing, I switched off traction control, and my front wheel drive Honda Accord was able to make it on its way. I nearly got stuck two more times on that road before before hitting pavement again. A little rattled and worried if I’d miss my first planned pass at the park, I raced down the country roads in my now mud-caked sedan.

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Activation Report: Elk City SP (POTA K-2337) for Field Day

After going back and forth on plans for Field Day this year, I decided to do it as a satellite-only operation from Elk City State Park to double dip on my goal to activate all Kansas State Parks on satellites. I reserved one of the campsites right on the shore of the Elk City Reservoir which gave me a decent horizon around, although there was some terrain north of me facing away from the reservoir. I planned a 1B KS – Battery operation for the event.

After the nearly three hour drive down from Kansas City on Saturday, I got to the campsite around 2pm or 3pm and quickly set up my tent. The RV/camper section of the campsite was packed full, but the tent area where I set up was mostly empty. This was nice because it allowed me to operate without annoying any neighbors with my passes throughout the day. Unfortunately, I was too late to make some of the early FM satellite passes of the day, so I prepared for a long list of linear transponder satellites. My goal for this Field Day was to 1) activate the park for Parks on the Air, 2) have fun camping, and 3) get some more practice on the linear transponders. Looking back, I accomplished all three, but not without some frustrations. Additionally, the rules for ARRL Field Day, AMSAT Field Day, and POTA meant three separate logs that were all counted differently.

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Activation Report: Crawford SP (POTA K-2333) and EM27/37 Grid Line

Crawford State Park SignContinuing my mission to activate all Kansas State Parks, I decided to take the Friday before Memorial Day (5/22/2020) off from work to travel down to Crawford State Park in southeast Kansas. This park is nicely situated around a lake and offers camping, boating, and fishing. At first arrival, I drove around the park looking for a good spot to activate from with a clear view of a the sky and away from campers who probably did not want to hear my yelling into my radio. As I started to loop around the lake, I encountered the spillway which also serves as part of the road. Since it had been raining all morning, the lake was high, and the spillway was, well, spilling over. Although I saw several SUVs and trucks drive through the moving water, I decided my Honda Accord may not be up to the task and took the long way around the lake. I ended up coming back near the park entrance for the satellite passes, but I did get to see the numerous campgrounds and lake access points during my initial exploration. As it was Memorial Day weekend, the campsites were mostly full.

I decided to operate in the parking lot that butts up to the beach and playground area, both of which were closed for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This spot provided a decent view of the sky in most directions. I planned for three satellite passes from this location, all FM birds. Although this location is fairly far from my apartment up near KC, it was just within my VUCC circle, so I was able to tack on some new grids as well. This was especially lucky as Mitch, AD0HJ, was roving through North Dakota at the time, and I got him on the DN76/77 grid line!

The passes I attempted were:

  • AO-91 (1627z) – max 17 degree pass: 0 QSOs
  • AO-92 (1655z) – max 86 degree pass: 9 QSOs
  • AO-91 (1802z) – max 43 degree pass: 6 QSOs

Unfortunately the first pass didn’t yield any QSOs. It was a lowish pass to the east but also busy which made it difficult to get into the bird. I’m not sure if I heard myself at all on the downlink during that pass. The next two passes went very well despite being busy as usual.

After activating the park, I decided to drive over to the Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie about an hour and a half away to work the EM27/37 grid line. Although the grid line was not quite that far away directly, I prefer to use public parks/land for my roving as not to attract attention or worry locals who may see me pulled over on the side of the road. The prairie area just so happened to have a small gravel parking lot that perfectly straddles the grid line and afforded me a good place to hang out for an hour or so. From that location I worked two passes, PO-101 (a brand new satellite for me) at 2055z, and SO-50 (my least favorite) at 2122z. Both passes were successful with many QSOs, although PO-101 was fairly quiet and I even got to chat a bit, which is rare in my experience on the FM birds. In the end, I made six QSOs on PO-101 and 12 QSOs on SO-50 from the grid line.


 

VUCC Circle Checker Script

As a relatively active rover for satellite operations, I’m often looking to check whether a new location will be within my “VUCC circle” and be eligible to count for my home station VUCC certificate. Rule six of the ARRL’s  VHF/UHF Century Club (VUCC) Award Rules states:

For VUCC awards on 50 through 1296 MHz and Satellite, all contacts must be made from locations no more than 200 km apart. For SHF awards, contacts must be made from a single location, defined as within a 300-meter diameter circle.

This means that I can use many operation positions, including those from different grids and parks from my Kansas State Parks POTA mission, and effectively double dip on these contacts as long as no two locations are more than 200km apart. Although it’s easy enough to manually measure distance between locations using the ruler tool on Google Maps, as your list of locations grows, that gets difficult. I decided to write a quick and dirty Python script that checks every combination of locations against one another to see if any are more than 200km apart.

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Activation Report: Prairie Spirit Trail SP (POTA K-2350)

Although technically a Kansas State Park entity, the Prairie Spirit Trail State Park is actually a 51 mile trail that connects Ottawa and Iola, Kansas and replaces the old railroad that used to link the cities. Along the way, this trail brushes up against several city parks which makes for several convenient access points. I chose to base my activation at Kanza Park in Ottawa, located less than two miles from the trailhead, as it has a parking lot near the trail and gave me some room to activate within 100 feet of the trail without being up on the trail itself. The park was quiet for a Saturday morning (5/9/2020), but I saw several people walking and biking down the trail. It was an easy park to get to being in the middle of Ottawa near a lot of shops and restaurants.

I planned for three satellite passes throughout the early afternoon. After the first one, I was a little concerned as to whether I’d get to 10 QSOs after those three passes, but I was able to get well above the threshold and ended up with 20 (19 unique) contacts total:

  • AO-91 (1639z) – max 25 degree pass: 1 QSO
  • AO-92 (1655z) – max 87 degree pass: 8 QSOs (including a dupe from the previous pass)
  • AO-91 (1815z) – max 37 degree pass: 11 QSOs

This park was again within my VUCC circle (and my home grid EM28), so I was able to count these contacts towards my home VUCC. As of 5/11/2020, I am up to 116 grids with three new grids from this trip.

Theodolite screenshot of my operating point near the parking lot. In this photo, my antenna is aimed toward the trail.

Other notes:

  • As I arrived to the park a bit early, I was able to listen into an RS-44 pass before my first AO-91. While I didn’t attempt any QSOs, it was neat to hear all the activity people are talking about.
  • I tested my new headset (Koss SB-45) with my FT-817ND and TH-D74 on two of the passes, and it worked fairly well. I’m planning a more thorough review in a future blog post, but I think this is a decent headset for ham radio. My only gripe so far is that the boom mic is a bit loose so it flops around a bit if you’re moving your head. Audio quality seems fine, though.

This is a part of my goal to activate all Kansas State Parks on satellites for the Parks on the Air program.

Activation Report: Hillsdale State Park (POTA K-2340)

As the first step on my mission to activate all Kansas State Parks for Parks on the Air, I decided to visit the park nearest to my home in the suburbs of Kansas City – Hillsdale State Park. This park has numerous RV and tent campsites as well as a few day areas spread around Hillsdale Reservoir. I arrived fairly early in the day on April 25, 2020, and it wasn’t hard to find some space away from other people (keeping in mind the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions). I eventually found the archery range which was empty and had a wooden tower in front of a few targets which seemed like a perfect place to operate satellites from with a bit of a height boost. I was able to work two passes from this location before having to move elsewhere in the park since some other people arrived who wanted to use the area. The second location was near a day-use shelter, and I worked from the trunk of my car.

My plan was to be on three satellite passes throughout the afternoon, although in the end I stuck around for a fourth pass. As this park is in my home grid of EM28 and within my “VUCC circle,” these contacts also counted towards VUCC from my home location. As of the time of writing, I’ve confirmed five new grids from this activation, bringing my VUCC total to 113 grids. While at the park, I made 23 contacts in total which broke down accordingly for each pass:

  • AO-91 (1631z) – max 22 degree pass: 9 QSOs
  • AO-92 (1717z) – max 45 degree pass: 8 QSOs
  • AO-91 (1806z) – max 48 degree pass: 5 QSOs
  • CAS-4A (1826z) – max 46 degree pass: 1 QSO

A couple other interesting notes for this activation:

  • I worked my brother, Andy, KK4LWR, on AO-91 at 1631z.
  • The last CAS-4A pass was meant to be for practice with my brother. We’re both fairly new to the linear transponder satellites, so we planned to try to work each other. Prior to this contact, the only linear bird I’ve worked was FO-29 some time ago. Although my brother and I couldn’t make the contact, as soon as I tuned up, I heard Patrick, WD9EWK, on frequency and was quickly able to make the contact with him.

This is a part of my goal to activate all Kansas State Parks on satellites for the Parks on the Air program.