Saturday, 30 April 2011

30-4-11 21:50 - ISS

This was a nice and busy pass with 18-19 other stations in total (there are a couple of local ones in the list that weren't on the pass), with some messages sent to and from!

A nice range of calls from all over Europe, and the number of Scottish calls on the ISS is ever growing.

Contact was made with Vlado, YU7RD in Serbia and David, MM0HMM in Oban, although I don't think my reply was received!

My basic calculations show that the total distance from me to the ISS to Vlado in Serbia is about 1325 miles. Not bad for 10W and some nice antennas!


Friday, 29 April 2011

Fu-sen High Altitude Balloon Video

Here's the video from the launch of the FU-SEN balloon launch by some of our 5th Year Mechanical Engineering students last week.

It's a fantastic video, hopefully there'll be a HD version up soon.

This project was run by our Advanced Space Concepts Lab and the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Strathclyde University, and effectively showcases just one of the many fantastic and exciting opportunities a degree in Engineering can offer you, not only as an undergraduate but through life. 

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


Well, it's time for a little upgrade to STAC, isn't it? We've been here for a year now, and that's a long time for no changes!

There's been an Icom UX-910 sitting in my drawers for quite some time, now, and it would be a waste of a considerable amount of money if it wasn't installed. Some spare time and a bored me means it has been now!
In short, this box adds 1.24GHz -> 1.3GHz capability to the station, in terms of radio equipment anyway.

So... below are some pictures!

After removing the cover, and getting everything ready, this is what the desk looks like... Spot the prototype cubesat in the top right corner!

On closer inspection, this is the main circuit board for the IC-910H. Spot the two SSB filters and the space for the CW Narrow filter, if that's what takes your fancy. This seems to be a pretty upgradeable radio!

Unit fitted successfully! Only a Flexible Flat Cable, DC power cable and coax to the PLL unit had to be attached, then a couple of screws and it's secured!

And the end result? A lovely new frequency.

Sadly, the excitement can't last long as we have no antenna equipment to transmit with (although that may change soon), No one with a relevant license to transmit with (I've sat on my hands all year) and no one up here that we know of (yet) to test the system with.

Oh well, always something nice to do at midnight in the office!


Monday, 25 April 2011

Month of April: High Altitude Ballooning

For the most part, the station has been tracking balloons this month as part of it's duty in supporting university academic activities. 

The balloons launched were student built projects for masters projects, and they all worked to varying degrees of success.

Initially we had Project Strathosphere, however this was launched on a day that I wasn't able to track it and as such there's no data downlinked, however it was launched and recovered successfully, admittedly with a little bit of luck. This used the base design for electronics was one that was developed with STAC providing the essential basics. This project had a wire dipole for an antenna.

Following this, we had Skypod, which was a very successful launch with all the relevant data downlinked comfortably. This balloon differed from the other two as the group developed their own circuit and code successfully, based solely on a basic specification given to them and used a wire j-pole antenna. Sensors included an accelerometer, pressure, multiple temperature readings and more. Launched from Newton Stewart and picked up in Northumbria, this went very well from both the group's end and my end.

Finally, we had Fusen, another successful launch that had some technical hiccups once in the air, which proved to be the most interesting from a ground station point of view. Using a different GPS module bought at short notice, it hit a ceiling at 12.5Km, and due to the nature of the code in the flight computer no longer transmitted any data back to earth, however it did emit a constant tone. Using this tone and the readout of signal/noise on the high altitude ballooning specific software, dl-fldigi, a custom modification by members of UKHAS, the UK High Altitude Society, we were able to pinpoint the location angle of the balloon from the station and by collating the data with that from the HAB predictor we were able to work out that it actually landed more or less exactly where it was supposed to. See the pictures below for a high signal level example and a low(er) signal level example..

First off, we have the high signal level. Spot at the bottom right where it tells us there's a signal/noise ratio of 23dB, or that the signal is 23dB above the noise level/

Here, we have a lower signal level - spot how the S/N value is now 5dB (still a strong signal) however the waterfall background is yellow, indicating a much higher level of noise which was also audible.

The peak S/N level before it landed was 28dB at 216 degrees AZ, which from the station is the Stewarton, Ayrshire area, where it was expected to land. 

Future work to be taken from Fusen is that data should still be transmitted regularly so the other experiments (in this case, the thermal characteristics of the foam) can still be continued, and hopefully the GPS module may come back to life.

In the case of all the balloons, the Radiometrix NTX-2 transmitter was used on the unlicensed 434.650MHz frequency, with an erp of 10mW. Of all the antennae tried (dipole, j-pole, monopole) it was felt that the j-pole performed best, however there were some drift issues when it went into freefall/descent. If a more solid material had been used (maybe piano wire, or some sort of reinforcement of the copper wire) then falling performance would have been ideal. The main issue, however, is that tuning any of the antennae is difficult without access to a UHF capable antenna analyser and adapting them for connection to it. 

For flight computers, Arduino microcontrollers were used because of their ease of availability, cost and simplicity to learn and use. The ideal configuration would have been using the chip (Atmel Atmega 328) on it's own and only using the arduino board for programming, but due to the lack of experience in electronics the Fusen and Strathosphere groups had, it was felt appropriate to use the board as-is.

For GPS, the Falcom FSA-03 module was preferred ~ this ublox compatable module provided us with plenty useful data when polled, and worked well with a modified library for arduino.

All the flight computer software for Strathosphere and Fusen can be found at GitHub, with circuit diagrams to follow.

Now, any questions?


Thursday, 10 March 2011

10-3-11 - ISS

Well that was a busy day! Note to self - get the passes when Europe is just finished work - much better results!
28 stations, some interesting ones in there - see the English Ambulance, G1LEV, the French Jogger F8FFP and the other Scottish station up in Fort Bill, GM1YPJ!
Below is where they are, in case of interest :) (click to enlarge)


Monday, 7 March 2011

07/03/11 - ISS

Quiet pass, overall, with 11 stations heard.

Furthest away, again was Spain, however the most interesting ones were SP1TMN, from Poland and 9A6AIB from Croatia. There's a cheeky Swiss station in as HB9DUQ too!

Shiny new maps, because we're using OpenStreetMaps for plotting data now, is cool... This one's slightly more up to date than the last one - it doesn't have Yugoslavia and the USSR on it. Still got funny umbrellas on Greece though. Click it for a larger picture too!


Saturday, 15 January 2011

15/01/11 1515 - ISS

Nice Pass with a maximum elevation of about 25°.

Total of 15 stations heard, 14 individual as MM0XXP had two SSIDs.

Furthest away was Spain, EA8AHA. Interesting to note that we are closer to bits of Hungary than bits of Spain! I'd never have thought that. Got a Portuguese station for the first time too. More activity in Scotland - Hello GM1WKR in Aberdeen!

No list today - busy doing other things, such as revising for exams!

Here's where everyone was, in case you're unfamiliar with the layout of Europe.

Now, back to the world of industrial control...

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

11/1/11 16:45 - ISS

Another busy pass, this time with 12 stations heard and placed on the map!

So, we heard and placed Scotland (MM0XXP), England (G4ILO 2E0JXE G6HMS), Ireland (EI2GNB), The Netherlands (PD2RLD), Germany (DB3LA), France (G6EZP), Italy (IK1COA), Spain (EA1JM), Hungary (HA3HT) and Yugoslavia (YU7RD).

Yugoslavia's a new one - pretty far away as it goes (2011.06KM to be exact)... The ISS definately does it's job for long distance communication on low power!

Just in case you weren't sure where the countries were!

Messages were sent to/from G6HMS, Ted in Doncaster.

System's working nicely, and now that 70cm has been properly activated, we can do full duplex communications over satellites such as AO-51!

Enough play, back to the studies!

11/1/11 1500 - ISS

This pass started off quiet but got busier towards the end, as the ISS passed over the more Eastern European countries.
The APRS software, AGWTracker, had some difficulty as not all station include their Latitude and Longitude data in the packets I was hearing.
Also, updating the Keps was a good plan - everything was much clearer, even after our tracking software (currently Nova for Windows) said the ISS was out of range!

In total, we heard, recognised and placed 11 stations (ordered in terms of distance, starting with us):

However, there are at least 3 I know of that haven't come up in this list due to me not receiving their positional data - UT4QU from Ukraine, 9A2RI from Croatia, F4FHY from France and OM3FH from the Slovak Republic.

 Outside of that, we heard (and placed) England (G4ILO G6UIM), Netherlands (PD2RLD), Germany (DB3LA DL6SDA), Spain (EA1GGK EA1JM EA4DS) and Poland (SP2FOP).

Messages were sent and received to/from G4ILO and EA1JM!

All in all, a pretty good pass!

Monday, 10 January 2011

10/1/11 17:55 - ISS

This was a pretty quiet pass, with 6 stations being heard.

From Left to right it reads:
Callsign - Type - Mobile/Portable/Fixed - Distance - Latitude - Longitude - Number of Packets Received

So, all in all we heard Germany (DG4BR DG3LA), Italy (IK3ZGB), Hungary (HA3HT), Spain (EA1JM) and England (G0GOO).
Some familiar callsigns beginning to pop up. Transmission and Reception wasn't the clearest - I'll have to update the Keplarian Elements (see the bottom for more) by the looks of it. Interestingly, for me anyway, is that I can actually hear when the system isn't going to be able to decode a packet, and there were quite a few of those moments, so I think that means I'll need to look at the Elements. Will try again tomorrow with new ones and see if the quality increases and as such, reception improves. Another thing that's worth taking away as a valuable lesson from playing with the ISS.

Keplarian Elements are defined as the standard mathematical model that describes the orbit of a spacecraft. In real English, they're a bunch of numbers I download from here, the system does some maths and it tells us where and when a satellite will be overhead. They have a limited timespan - they can only predict the pass for a few days as the model isn't 100% perfect, and it appears that these 5 day old ones might be a bit past their best. By updating them regularly, we keep the chances of us making contact with a spacecraft much higher, and the quality of the communications will improve as a result!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

06/1/11 19:22 - ISS

This was a busier pass, with 14 stations heard...

From Left to right it reads:
Callsign - Type - Mobile/Portable/Fixed - Distance - Latitude - Longitude - Number of Packets Received

Through the International Space Station, I heard Ireland, (EI7IG), England (G0GOO G6WZA), Scotland (MM0YEQ), The Netherlands (PD2RLD), Belgium, (ON6MU), Germany (DB3LA DG1IHH), Spain (EB1BE EA1JM EA2BVD), Italy (IZ1BCJ IK1COA) and Hungary (HA3HT), plotted below for your viewing pleasure.

Better than last time, but a busier pass also. Highlights include sending and receiving messages from Spain - EA1JM, Francisco Jimenez-Martin Sanchez, which went much like:

MM3ZRZ->EA1JM: Hello from Dave in Scotland!
EA1JM->MM3ZRZ: 73 from Spain Dave!

Not much, I know, but it came over 1000 miles, not including the up-down bit to space, and used less power than an energy-saving lightbulb!

That's enough space for today... back soon!

06/1/11 17:50 - ISS

This pass was relatively noisy, with 10 stations being heard...

Through the space station, I heard England (G0GOO G6UIM), the Netherlands (PD2RLD), Germany (GF8LS DG4BR DM2KGB), Spain (EA1JM), Italy (IK1COA) and France (F6CDZ F4FEB), Plotted below for your viewing pleasure.

Not a bad list, overall, but I reckon we can do better.
Below is a map of all the stations in Europe that were heard by the Space Station, and we are one of them (as MM3ZRZ), but there are a lot that seem to be missing from my list above.

image from

And our path to the internet was particularly good...

RS0ISS-4 1 2011-01-06 17:52:15 IO75VU > CM78LQ 5038.7 miles 315°

In english, that's the Space station, the number of packets it heard, the date and time we were last heard, Where the signal went from and to in Maidenhead Locator format, The distance the signal covered to get there and the angle the final destination is from us. 5000 miles isn't too bad, eh? I need to find out, though, how the signal got to over the Pacific Ocean...

Any suggestions?

New Blog

So the station has a new blog finally, where we hope to keep track of all the stations that we see in the daily operation of the system.

More to come soon!