1. Simultaneous Multi-Band WSPR Decoding with KiwiSDR and WsprDaemon

    I've been interested in receiving Weak Signal Propagation Reporting (WSPR) signals recently, for two reasons. The first is that the picoballoons that we launch use WSPR for position information. Not only do I directly receive the picoballoons after we launch them, but I also use the WSPR network to check on their location around the world. I don't have a receiver in Europe, so I rely on other amateur radio operators to receive the balloon and post its location online, and I want to give back to the network.

    The second reason is that I'm curious about how far I can receive signals with my somewhat compromised city antenna. While my fan/parallel dipole antenna will never perform as well ...

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  2. Building a Multi-band Fan/Parallel Dipole Antenna

    Now that Solar Cycle 25 is upon us, I wanted to get active on the HF bands. My primary bands of interest are 40 and 20 meters, so I wanted to build a multi-band antenna for these frequencies. After some research, and wanting only one antenna connection for my Kenwood TS-2000 radio, I settled on a fan/parallel dipole antenna. It's very simple to build, and really hard to beat the performance of resonant dipoles.

    Choke Balun

    A balun is required when you are interfacing a BALanced device, such as a dipole antenna, to an UNbalanced device, such as a coaxial cable. Coaxial cables are unbalanced because from an RF perspective, there are actually 3 conductors in a ...

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  3. Building a Quarter-Wave Ground Plane Antenna

    After my talk at Pacificon a few months ago, several people reached out to me about setting up a radiosonde receiving station at their house. They specifically had questions about the antenna and LNA, and after answering the same question a few times I decided to do a post about this topic.

    Building a 1/4 wave ground plane antenna is very easy to do. The overall design is simple, with a vertical element surrounded by a ground plane consisting of two or four wires bent down. Here are the dimensions for the VHF/UHF amateur radio bands (from the ARRL Handbook), but these dimensions can be scaled to any frequency.

    Quarter wave vertical antenna construction diagram

    There are many online calculators that will give you ...

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  4. Vandenberg Radiosonde Launches

    Just after setting up a remote receiving station in the hills above Santa Cruz for tracking radiosondes launched from Monterey Bay, I started noticing some weird stuff with the station. The station would detect a LMS6-403 radiosonde, but was unable to actually decode anything. The "jamming" signal was always on the same frequency of 400.259 MHz, and occurred daily around noon and midnight UTC.

    I speculated that it might be radiosondes from Vandenberg Space Force Base, approximately 300 km (~180 miles) south of the receiver along the coast of California. Although it would be cool to receive those radiosondes, the purpose of this station was to track the Monterey Bay radiosondes, so I put that frequency on the blacklist ...

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  5. Picoballoon Launch 19: Midway Islands

    The SF-HAB group launched another picoballoon on December 11th, 2021, from the Berkeley Marina. The launch party was Martin W6MRR, Robert K6RGG, and Kazu AG6NS. This picoballoon used two clear Chinese party balloons with hydrogen gas for lift. Martin's custom electronics was used, with a WSPR transmitter that alternated 14 MHz (20 meters) and 10 MHz (30 meters).

    The aprs.fi callsign was W6MRR-22 using the WSPR to APRS bridge, and the WSPR callsign was W6MRR.

    W6MRR-22 picoballoon trajectory

    This picoballoon floated between 9,900 and 11,100 meters (32.5k to 36.5k feet) for the duration of the flight, which is the perfect altitude for picoballoons. This is above most bad weather (rain and thunderstorms), but still low enough to be ...

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  6. Picoballoon Launch 18: Almost around the World!

    While the previous Lodi picoballoon was floating over Mexico City, we launched another picoballoon from the southeast corner of the Berkeley Marina on November 13th, 2021. The launch party was Martin W6MRR, Robert K6RGG, Kazu AG6NS, and myself KF6ZEO.

    W6MRR-21 picoballoon launch

    The forecast for the morning was no wind, and when we arrived at 10am the winds felt pretty calm. But after assembling the picoballoon train, it was apparent that even the very light breeze was too strong. The two clear Chinese party balloons were bent over, threatening to scrape against the ground.

    We waited almost 30 minutes for the winds to die down enough to release the picoballoon. During a bit of a lull in the wind, we walked across the ...

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  7. Picoballoon Launch 17: Lodi to Florida

    SF-HAB's Central Valley Division launched a picoballoon from Lodi, California, on Thursday November 11th, 2021. The launch party was David WB6TOU and Skip N6NFB. The tracker electronics used this time was a ZachTek WSPR Pico transmitter. Two Chinese party balloons were used for lift.

    ZachTek WSPR Pico transmitter front

    ZachTek WSPR Pico transmitter back

    The WSPR callsign for the balloon was N6NFB, and the APRS callsign was N6NFB-1.

    Launch party

    N6NFB-1 Flight Results

    Unfortunately, the tracker electronics did not power up on launch day, November 11th. We thought all was lost, but it awoke the next day in Maidenhead grid square DL58, which is ~1640 km (~885 mi) southeast of the launch location. The balloon was at an altitude between 9,900 and 11,100 meters (~32.4k to ~36.4k feet ...

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  8. Newfoundland Radiosonde Launches

    I recently went on a work trip to Newfoundland, Canada. Checking Sondehub before I left, I saw that there were two radiosonde launching stations on the Island of Newfoundland, one on the west side in Stephenville, and the other on the far east end in St. John's. And as luck would have it, I was traveling to Lewisporte, which is on the Trans-Canada highway almost halfway between the two launching sites. I might be able to receive both sondes at the same time!

    As far as I could tell, the radiosondes launched at both of these sites were Graw DFM-09P (pdf), which transmit around 403 MHz. One interesting thing about these radiosondes is that they don't transmit a serial number ...

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  9. Pacificon 2021 Picoballoon and Radiosonde Presentation

    David WB6TOU, Martin W6MRR, and myself gave a presentation at the Pacificon, which is the annual ARRL Pacific Division ham radio conference held in San Ramon in the fall. Our presentation was titled "Picoballooning in the Bay Area: High Altitude Balloons, Picoballoons, and Radiosondes." Download the slides here.

    We also used this opportunity to launch the new SF-HAB website, which is a collection of how-tos, resources, and blog posts about our ballooning activities.

    The first third of the presentation was David talking about balloon mechanics, including how to prestrech, fill, measure, and release SBS-13 and cheap Aliexpress picoballoons. David launched two SBS-13 picoballoons from the Central Valley in winter 2021, one of which went 2.5 times around the world ...

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  10. October 2021 Picoballoon Activities: Launches 12 thru 16

    In the beginning of October 2021, we had a flurry of launches from the Berkeley Marina. In the span of two weeks, we launched five balloons. All of the picoballoons woke up after launch, which means that we are getting better at building, testing, and launching picoballoons. But unfortunately, only one of them survived the first night and woke up the next day. We can't achieve our goal of going around the world if the picoballoons only last for one day!

    All of these picoballoons used the same custom electronics designed and built by Martin W6MRR. Two cheap Aliexpress 36-inch clear plastic balloons were used, with around 6 grams of free lift.

    Picoballoon Launch 12: K6RGG-11

    On Thursday, Sept 30th ...

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