Monday, 31 December 2012

Some SSTV Pictures

Over the last few days have been trying out the technology preview of SDR-Radio Version 2 with the FUNCube Dongle Pro PLUS and it seems excellent. While monitoring the bands I stumbled across some SSTV broadcasts on 14.230MHz, I haven't decoded any for a while so left it running for a few hours and these are some of the better images.

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Tuesday, 18 December 2012


I have been busy again, got lots of interesting stuff to post when I find the time..

In the meantime, this arrived last week my first ever QSL card!

See these posts for more details

Monday, 19 November 2012

Dongles, Dongles Everywhere!

It is dongle overload at the moment at Châteaux Nerdsville,

Firstly I purchased a new (and improved) RTL-based USB DAB/DVB stick.

Like the FUNCube Dongle Pro it seems the manufacturers of these cheap USB receivers have been hit by the shortage of the Elonics E4000 tuner chips. Up to now the E4000 has been the most desirable tuner to have in the devices as it's the most capable, giving usable coverage from around 60MHz to 1.7GHz. However Elonics has been liquidated and the intellectual property is up for sale and supply and/or stocks of the E4000 have dwindled. Manufacturers have therefore resorted to different tuners.

One of the alternative devices is the Rafael Micro R820T which has support in Linux drivers so the source code was ported to the rtl-sdr project. Several postings I saw hinted that the device could preform down to around 24MHz (which I have yet to confirm) and was more sensitive, so when I saw a dongle for the grand total of £11 including postage I brought one. It is a Newsky dongle and looks exactly like my previous one.

In the meantime the newly designed FUNCube Dongle Pro PLUS has been in production and lucky customers have been slowly receiving theirs. With over a thousand people in front of me on the waiting list I wasn't expecting one before the new year, so imagine my surprise when I received an email on Thursday inviting me to buy one, which of course I did without hesitation, and it arrived on Friday! So over the weekend I had chance to toy with it and the RTL-USB device.

The first issue I had was my favoured SDR program SDR-Radio doesn't yet support the new FCDP+, but support is being worked on for the V2 release. There is support using a new EXT-IO dll for HDSDR but I was keen to reacquaint myself with SDR#.

The SDR# (SDR Sharp) project which has become a popular application and I have used it occasionally with the original FCD. The latest download comes complete with all the necessary drivers and libraries to use with the FCD/FCDP+ and RTL-USB devices, indeed it was quite painless and everything seemed to work straight out the box.

The most obvious new feature of the FCDP+ and one of the main reasons I got one is the extended frequency range. It works down in the LW/MW and HF bands and that is what I have spent most of the weekend doing, picking up a lot of SSB/CW Amateur contest traffic as well as other CB operators. The VHF/UHF preformance seems much better and less prone to noise that the original FCD, but have yet to use it in anger.

Here is a recordings made using the FCDP+ down in 20 meter band

and one made showing reception in the 10 meter band of what appears to be SSB transmissions from America.

The RTL-USB device unfortunately had less use over the weekend playing second fiddle to the much more expensive FCDP+, however I did have some attempts at using it and first impressions are that it is more sensitive than the older version, but that really isn't much of recommendation as the older device was quite deaf, however it does look quite promising.

This is a recording made of some SSB TX by the RTL-USB in the 70cm band. (The recording that was posted earlier was recorded using the FCD)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

ARISS/ISS Downlink 14-Nov-2012

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

432MHz UKAC - SSB Contest

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A Frustrating Afternoon

I have recently took possession a 'new' laptop, a nice Lenovo Thinkpad. with a Core i3 and Windows 7 Professional.

I was trying to use it this afternoon with the FUNCube Dongle and having no luck at all getting it to work! I had planned to decode some NOAA-APT transmissions and hastily reverted to my older laptop only to discover that it wasn't receiving anything either.

In the end I traced it down to a faulty BNC coupler! I remember it was raining last time I used it and it did get slightly damp, so suspect there is some corrosion. Unfortunately by the time I had sorted it out I missed most of the overhead pass of NOAA-19.

I did manage to get two poor decodes of NOAA-18 and NOAA-15 but as you can see I was struggling with fading signals and interference.

NOAA-15 11-Nov-2012

NOAA-18 11-Nov-2012

What was interesting, and not seen before was the visible image (on the right) seems to change when it goes into darkness.
Damn you!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

ISS received in the carpark of Derby Hospital

There was an Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) school contact planned with participants at Primarschule Aesch, Forch, Switzerland around 13:50 UTC.

Ideally I would have been at home at that time during my lunch hour and would have brought out the big guns to make a decent recording as I've done in the past. Instead yesterday saw me spending most of the day at The Royal Derby Hospital.

But I planned ahead and took along my trusty Realistic PRO-26 to see what I could receive in the car park if I got the chance, which I did!

I actually received a few minutes more but I hadn't packed a spare battery for the camera and it ran out.. doh!

I was using a Watson W-881 Super Gainer but it's length precludes being able to stand it up.. hence the horizontal polarisation!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Antenna Mast

My current antennas are mounted up in the loft, the coax being dropped down into an upstairs room and connected to the scanners and receivers. So while I have moved a great deal of my junk into the shack I am stuck to just doing satellite work there for lack of a decent antenna.

I have purchased a dual band X50 2m/70cm antenna of eBay and plans are under way for the erection of an antenna mast/pole to mount it on!

What I have decided to do is purchase some galvanised scaffold pole, I will sink one around 6ft into the ground, which will be concreted in, giving a 6ft tall post. Then using some swivel clamps I can then clamps another longer pole to that.

By using some swivel clamps it means I can lower/remove the pole, allowing for easier maintenance and protection during high winds. By easily removing it I can also hopefully claim it is temporary and only raised when being used...

This is the sort of thing I plan on doing.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

KQ2H - 29.620MHz FM Repeater

The KQ2H Repeater in New York, America - coming in last night on 29.620MHz before the propagation suddenly went around 18:30 UTC (19:30 BST)

First post trying out AudioBoo as an alternative to Soundcloud for hosting my sound recordings since I haven't much space left on the 'free account'

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

FUNCube Dongle PRO+ in production!

Howard is busy assembling and shipping out the first units of the FUNCube Dongle Pro+

I registered my interest early on and am one of the few to have got a confirmation email.
Thank you very much for your interest in the FUNcube Dongle Pro+ that you made on 28 September 2012. This is confirmation that your request is on our waiting list and we will be notifying you by email when we have stock.
I apologise for any delay in receiving this confirmation: the ecommerce software were using doesnt seem to automatically send out responses, so far Ive had to come up with a semi-manual alternative. As I write, there are already a total of 1,233 unique emails on the waiting list, so it may take a few weeks to satisfy the demand.

This was the confirmation for my second attempt at registration, so probably missed out of getting one early. Not sure if it means I am 1233rd or one of the 1233... time will tell, but certainly am very eager to get my hands on one.

At the moment the new PRO+ version won't work with SDR-Radio my SDR software of choice, but integration is apparently being worked on as we speak. But it seems it is supported by SDR# which I have briefly used.
I am very eager to see the filtering and performance improvements and being able to use on the HF bands, mind you tempted to get another of the RTL based receivers this time with a new tuner following the demise of the E4000. Apparently they work from around 25MHz and are much more sensitive.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Some NOAA APT Decodes

Listening to the scanner this morning I heard the distinctive APT 'chiming' sound as one of the NOAA polar orbiting weather satellites was making a pass. It has been a while since I have done any APT decoding, so decided to capture some of the passes of NOAA-18 and NOAA-19 this afternoon.

The first two passes of both satellites were North to South around 20-30 degrees elevation, this image was the best of the them, the UK is in the upper left. 

NOAA-19 11:32 UTC 21-OCT-2012
The following passes were much higher, almost overhead, there was some interference on this NOAA-18 pass due to pagers and I got disorientated whilst hand holding 2-meter YAGI, hence the lost of signal near the top of the image.

NOAA-18 14:02 UTC 21-OCT-2012
However the NOAA-19 pass before it was much better. What is noticable is the bands of darkening, caused by nearby buildings and some large trees shielding the satellite from my the line of sight position.

NOAA-19 11:12 UTC 21-OCT-2012

All images were decoded realtime using the SDR-Radio program, received by the FUNCube Dongle connected to the InnovAntennas Yagi.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Citizen Band - "The Super Bowl"

Not feeling too well at the moment, have a suspected inner ear infection which is causing dizziness and nausea, so taking it easy today.

I switched on my scanner this morning and decided to peruse the CB channels, it is something I haven't done very often as usually there is nothing to receive and is problematic since my scanners cannot exactly tune to the UK frequencies accurately.

What I did find were a lot of suspected 'Eastern European' transmissions on the CEPT/EU band in FM and AM mode. I also came across lots of activity on the "Super Bowl" Channel 6 (27.025 MHz AM). Apparently the popular channel for "skip shooters" using high powered amplifiers and indeed copied a few 1kW transatlantic transmissions. There were also a lot of SSB transmissions about but the PRO2006 scanner I have doesn't have side band capabilities.

I have thought many times about getting hold of a cheap CB, or one of those popular 10m/11m amateur rigs just to get some practice in operating a transmitter before getting around to taking my foundation test. Especially as OFCOM have announced they intend to finally harmonise with the EU on the use of AM and SSB next year.

Friday, 19 October 2012

FITSAT-1 - Full telemetry decode achieved.

Had an excellent FITSAT-1 pass last night, successfully received nearly three full frames of CW telemetry.

The image above (from the prediction site) shows a similar pass and illustrates the reception window which is just less than 8 minutes. Each frame of telemetry takes around 2.5 minutes to receive, so I was extremely happy with the results.

Again I recorded the pass using SDR-Radio and played back the doppler corrected IQ file later decoding with the MRP40 program, hear is a small video demonstrating the decoding process.

and this was the resulting telemetry data when run through the analyser program (see previous post).
FITSAT-1 NIWAKA Downlink CW Code
Input Data------------------
S1 :f00501bb
S2 :88db0101
S3 :02000102
S4 :1e20201f
S5 :1a12aae7
S-mater of 437MHz RX             :4.69[V]
Total Voltage of Solar cells       :0.1[V]
Total Current of Solar Cells       :0[mA]
Voltage of single cell battery     :3.65[V]
Current of single cell battery     :1054.69[mA]
Voltage of 3 series battery        :12.83[V]
Current of 3 series battery        :0[mA]
Voltage of 2.5V reference          :0.02[V]
Voltage of Solar cell + X          :0.07[V]
Voltage of Solar cell + Y          :0[V]
Voltage of Solar cell - X          :0.04[V]
Voltage of Solar cell - Y          :0.07[V]
Temperature of 3 series battery     :2.73[℃]
Temperature of single cell battery  :6.25[℃]
Temperature of +Z side              :6.25[℃]
Temperature of –Z side             :4.49[℃]
S-meter of 1.2GHz RX                :0.46[V]
14day 3hour 49min 59sec

I have also uploaded a better recording of the audio.

FITSAT-1 CW Telemetry by nerdsville

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Well got 80% of a full FITSAT-1 Telemetry Frame

Earlier today I posted about my latest attempts at receiving the FITSAT-1 Cubesat, the reception hadn't proved too difficult however actually decoding the morse code was proving difficult!

Having another go with the MRP40 decode software and replaying a recorded IQ wave file from yesterday I successfully decoded 80% of a full telemetry frame!

I also found this interesting pdf file detailing the construction of FITSAT-1 and discovered the 437MHz transmitter is only 100mW. So we have a flying metal cube measuring just 10cm x 10cm x 10cm travelling at approximately 4.5 miles/sec roughly 270 miles above the earth, transmitting with just a fifth of the power of one of those PMR446 hand held walkie talkies that in my experience struggle to maintain a contact over a few hundred meters! Isn't technology wonderful?

FITSAT-1, TechEdSat and F-1 Cubesats after leaving the ISS
Anyhow this was the telemetry frame, as decoded using a PC program developed by one of the students on the FITSAT team.
FITSAT-1 NIWAKA Downlink CW Code
Input Data------------------
S1 :f01601ba
S2 :8dbd8181
S3 :20001820
S4 :1e202020
S5 :*
S-mater of 437MHz RX :4.69[V]
Total Voltage of Solar cells :0.43[V]
Total Current of Solar Cells :0[mA]
Voltage of single cell battery :3.63[V]
Current of single cell battery :93.75[mA]
Voltage of 3 series battery :11.07[V]
Current of 3 series battery :0[mA]
Voltage of 2.5V reference :2.52[V]
Voltage of Solar cell + X :1.13[V]
Voltage of Solar cell + Y :0[V]
Voltage of Solar cell - X :0.84[V]
Voltage of Solar cell - Y :1.13[V]
Temperature of 3 series battery   :2.73[℃]
Temperature of single cell battery  :6.25[℃]
Temperature of +Z side   :6.25[℃]
Temperature of –Z side   :6.25[℃]
S-meter of 1.2GHz RX :No Data
Timestamp :No Data

Some FITSAT-1 Telemetry Decoded

It was dry and a lovely clear sky last night and I had several opportunities to receive the latest Cubesats.

I made some sight modification to the tripod mounting of the small 70cm Yagi antenna I am using, repositioning the clamp allowed me to secure my Android smart phone behind it. Then by using the Satellite-AR app I was able to hopefully point and track more accurately.

As you can see from this close up, it is quite a useful tool. Selecting the Cubesat catagory in the application, shows the procession of the cluster one after the other. The Cubesats have now spaced sufficiently to allow reception of WE-WISH which is just dropping out of sight as FITSAT-1 is starting its pass.

One thing I hadn't counted on last night was the very high elevation and I struggled to turn and tilt the tripod quickly enough whilst still viewing the screen on the phone, this will hopefully improve with practice!

Previously to the tripod I hand held the antennas but the drawback with that method was not being able to check and make adjustments on the computer, the tripod at least allows me to maintain reception.

I again received WE-WISH but the signal was too weak and short lived for any reasonable attempt at decoding the SSTV image. FITSAT-1 was however much better, getting relatively clear signals from the CW telemetry beacon, however I have been struggling to actually decode the messages, however after some research I tried the MRP40 Morse Code Decoder program, which appears to be excellent and as you can see from the screenshot below successfully decoded some of the telemetry messages. 

Definitely got the bit between my teeth now, will try to get a full telemetry frame this evening, weather permitting!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

WE-WISH and FITSAT-1 Received

The recently released Cubesats were due to pass with high elevation late last evening, so the new antenna was mounted out in the garden on a tripod and the FUNCube Dongle connected to the trusty laptop in the shack.

The Cubesats FITSAT-1, WE-WISH and TechEdSat are now supported by the Satellite-AR application on my android phone allowing me a reasonable chance at tracking them.

According to the tracking data the WE-WISH Cubesat is ahead of FITSAT-1 on the orbit, so my first attempt was to capture some of the Infra-Red SSTV imagery it is sending back, I did managed to receive the signal as you can see on the waveform below, you will also see SDR-Radio was preforming doppler correction very well  indicated by the slanted central IQ spur and local 'carrier' in the middle of the transmission (was playing back a captured IQ wavefile) Sadly the WE-WISH signal wasn't strong enough and didn't last long enough for any meaningful decode, but I was able to confirm that instead of being at 437.505MHz it is nearer 437.514MHz as was reported on AMSAT-UK

WE-WISH Downlink Transmission, received in UK 16-OCT-2012 19:32UTC
I was very happy to have received this as the WE-WISH downlink transmitter is reported to be only 100mW! As the signal disappeared I quickly switched to the latter stages of the FITSAT-1 pass and got some nice clear bursts of the CW beacon.

FITSAT-1 Downlink Transmission, received in UK 16-OCT-2012
Tonight there are two other nice high elevation passes of the Cubesat cluster, so hopefully will get out to have another attempt.

Monday, 15 October 2012

It worked for three weeks

After seemingly fixing that broken laptop it has failed to boot up this morning!

I noted that it has been running hot again, the heat sink port on the side has been getting seriously warm so if I do attempt another re-flow of the GPU (if that is the fault) I will have to look at improving the cooling. I am thinking I might drill some holes through the bottom casing to allow more air in and might fit an override switch on the fan since it seems to only come on when very very warm.

What is doubly annoying is that over the weekend I managed to receive what I believe are the FITSAT-1 and TechEdSat Cubesats. My earlier attempts last week were only partially successful and the one time I did manage to get really good signals I forgot to set it to record the IQ file.

Over the weekend I was away from home, visiting the in-laws. I had taken a scanner, my FUNCube Dongle and laptop. I appropriated an indoor TV aerial and surprisingly managing to get some clearly audible signals, despite major issues with pager breakthrough and interference caused by the aerials wideband amplifier.

As soon I manage to get the laptop working, or recover the IQ files from its hard drive I will post the results.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Operation Cubesat

It is a sad time here at the moment as my Father-in-law passed away at the weekend following a long illness. Obviously the priority at the moment is dealing with the aftermath and supporting the wife and family.

However I have managed a few hours to myself this evening to make an attempt at receiving the newly launched CubeSats. This news item has some amazing pictures of the satellites as they were released from the ISS

A full technical breakdown of the new satellites and frequencies can be found here. At the present time signals have been received from WE-WISH, TechEdSat and FITSAT-1 and NanoRack/F1 appears to be silent. I did get some of the FITSAT-1 CW beacon using the antenna in the loft the other night, but was a bit scratchy and didn't manage any reasonable decode. I was using the orbit information of the ISS, but the satellites are now a few minutes in front of the ISS and new TLEs have been issued by Celestrack (1998-067CN-CS)

As it happens the 2012 National Hamfest took place a few weekends ago, and I purchased a small 70cm Yagi antenna, known as a ZL-Special. I am hoping this will give me some decent results as the satellites are mostly in the 437Mhz range.

Friday, 5 October 2012

"Good morning. My name is Greg"

From ARISS newsletter 
On Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 7:13 UTC, i.e. 9:13 CEST, students of Complex of Technical Schools, Kolo, Poland established ARISS contact with astronaut Akihiko Hoshide KE5DNI onboard the International Space Station. Astronaut Aki Hoshide operated with the ISS callsign OR4ISS. This was a direct contact performed by amateur radio station SP3PGZ, located in the school.

Kolo is a 650 years old, small city located in the central region of Poland. Zespol Szkol Technicznych (Complex of Technical Schools, abr. ZST) in Kolo is a modern, dynamic and constantly developing school with more than 60 years tradition, with a well-qualified staff. The school is one of the largest secondary schools in the region. Currently they teach more than 1000 students between 16 and 20 years old.
Local School Amateur Radio Club SP3PGZ was established in 1976 and since then it has been active on many amateur radio bands. The main goals of the club are: promoting shortwave radio communication as a hobby for young people, cooperation in organizing local events and taking part in competitions. Now they established the ARISS school contact.

The contact took place at Centre of Information in the school, where an audience of about 30 visitors and media participated to the ARISS event. Before the contact, host of the event Dr. Armand Budzianowski and students Konrad Kustosik and Mateusz Karulak presented  visitors and media information about ARISS and about the students’ preparation to this contact with the ISS via Ham Radio.

At 7:13 UTC, contact was established with OR4ISS by SP3PGZ station. Mr. Greg Walichnowski SP3CSD, the radio contact operator, exchanged welcome greetings with astronaut Akihiko Hoshide KE5DNI. Using the VHF radio in the Service Module, Aki answered 18 questions from the students. To close the contact, students dedicated this event to the memory of all those brave men and women like Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong or Sally Ride and to all ISS crew members who are striving to fulfil humanity’s dream of conquering the universe.

The event was covered by several TV stations and other media. There was 2 minutes live breaking news on wide-World in Polish language television TVN24. 

Two movies produced by TVN24 are available here:,43/good-morning-my-name-is-greg-uczniowie-rozmawiali-z-kosmonauta,277673.html.

I myself successfully managed to capture a fair portion of the downlink myself. The Polish ARISS organisation have just posted a full video of the contact. (We won't mention that they appeared to lose contact before the dedication at the end, as it was a nice touch)


Friday, 28 September 2012

FUNCubeDonglePRO+ Demo Video

Well the laptop is still working..

Now doesn't this newly released video demonstating the new FUNCubeDongle PRO+ make your mouth water?


Thursday, 27 September 2012

If at first you don't succeed... try, try, try again

Hopefully yesterday saw the conclusion to the saga of my broken laptop.

Two weeks ago I had an attempt at reviving a sickly HP/Compaq 6735S a model which is notorious for GPU problems. Specifically the GPU BGA contacts break due to thermal stresses and shoddy manufacturing.

I had stripped the laptop down and using a IR rework station attempted to reflow the contacts with limited success. It survived one power up and then died again.

Like Robbie Burn's famous spider I was not going to give up that easily so I stripped it down again and this time remembering the 7 Ps adage I didn't cut any corners.

The picture above shows the motherboard after I removed it the first time, you can clearly see the GPU in the top right. Notice first the pathetic thermal bonding? Also you can see around all four corners of the chip what appears to be red cement.

Initially I was unsure of whether to remove this and indeed it appeared to be tough and nigh on impossible to remove so fearing possible collateral damage I left the cement in place and heated the GPU on the IR rework station attempting to reflow the joints.

This I believe was the mistake as this bonding would have prevent the chip from floating on the reflowed solder pads. So this time I did remove the cement as you can see below. I found heating the cement did make it malleable, the problem being how to heat it without damaging any of the surrounding components?

In the end I used a precision hot-air gun (which they also have at work) on a low-medium heat setting on a very low 'blow' setting. Using this and a couple of wooden toothpicks I was able to remove the vast majority of the red gunk!

Once removed I applied a small amount of flux around the chip, working it under the device and then used the IR rework station but on a much higher setting than before to ensure the solder properly melted.

To my pleasant surprise the reassembled laptop booted and it has been successfully been powered down and rebooted several more times since.

While not the prettiest of laptops, or indeed in the best condition it does at least have Windows 7 Professional on it and a nice big hard drive and 4GB of memory so should prove more than capable for my experiments - assuming she carries on working, and she does get a little warm!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

FUNcube Dongle PRO+

Ever since I got my FUNCube Dongle Pro last Christmas it has been the main focus of my radio experimentation. I have used it on a number of computers including some quite old not very powerful machines and with different software applications primarily the SDR-Radio and HDSDR suites.

It was a little fiddly to initially set up but I have been impressed with its performance, it has opened my eyes and ears to what is out there on VHF and UHF, much more than I could ever monitor using my scanner receivers. Have a look at my previous postings.

Being SDR, with all decoding being done in software, it is effectively capable of all modes capable with the added advantage of having a variable bandwidth which is useful for data modes.

I have decoded images broadcast from orbit, received transmissions relayed via satellite and even bounced off the surface of the moon! As well as listening to all manner of terrestrial broadcasts.

In a word it is BRILLIANT.

It has its faults, or should I say limitations. It would be nice to have more of the spectrum available at one time and the front end filtering and rejection is troublesome at times. However this is more than made up for by its versatility and performance and it often out preforms my PRO2006 on the same antenna.

On the various forums and social networks it irks me to see people complaining about its performance but then they are usually the same people who go out and purchase a sub £20 RTL2832U based USB FM/DAB/DTV receiver dongle from eBay to use as a SDR and then complain they cannot get it to work or that its performance is lacking. But then that seems to quite common at the moment, everyone expects to just plug it in and it to just work with the minimum of understanding, involvement or experimentation but I digress.

Unfortunately Elonics the suppliers of the tuner chip in the FUNCube Dongle PRO are currently in liquidation and so they have struggled to produce any more units since July this year. This has potentially serious implications for the whole FUNCube educational project as there is no earth based component. Therefore the FUNCube team have instigated a redesign of the receiver and in doing so have increased its functionality and addressed some of the issues. This is the FUNCube Dongle PRO+

The new FUNcube Dongle Pro+ offers the following features and enhancements:
  • Full coverage of all amateur bands from 136kHz through HF, 6m, 2m, 4m, 2m, 1.25m, 70cm, 33cm, 23cm (150kHz-240MHz and 420MHz-1.9GHz, 70kHz-150kHz coverage through your software’s NCO offset)
  • 0.5ppm TCXO
  • 192kHz sampling rate
  • Eleven discrete front end filters
  • Super sharp SAW filters on 2m and 70cm
It is expected mid October 2012 and you can register your interest here

The official release of the FUNcube Dongle PRO+ was made during a presentation given to the AMSAT-UKInternational Space Colloquium 2012 on Saturday September 15. You can view the presentation by following these steps:

- Go to
- Click on "Film Archive"
- Select "AMSAT 2012" in Category box and click on Select Category
- Select "02 - FUNcube PRO-PLUS" in Stream box and click on Select Stream

Or download the whole video of the presentation from

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Gahhh! I didn't fix the laptop

I spoke too soon I finally got hold of some thermal paste and reassembled the laptop. Everything looked fine it powered up and had installed all the latest windows and software updates it had missed during it's illness. I closed the lid when I'd finished then when I opened the lid to use it again and it won't power up! Flashes the cap lock LED five times to indicate the same fault! Piece of s.....

Thursday, 20 September 2012

ARISS Contact 19th September 2012

I did manage to get a decent capture of the ISS downlink during the ARISS School Contact on Wednesday morning before I had to leave for work. It was a bit cold standing out with the antenna but was worth it.

ARISS School Contact 19-Sep-2012 by nerdsville

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Two more ARISS downlink recordings

Seems to be lots of ARISS activity at the moment. There have been a number of school contacts over the last few weeks that have had downlink transmission from the International Space Station receivable over the UK and Europe. Tomorrow morning (September 19th) there is another one, but it is unlikely I will be able to have a proper attempt at receiving it.

However these are the last two downlink transmissions I managed to receive.

  ARISS School Contact 09-Sep-2012 by nerdsville

ARISS School Contact 13-Sep-2012 by nerdsville

On a related note found this video today that made me smile can you spot the deliberate mistake?


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Fixing my broken laptop

Last  Saturday saw a huge tropospheric lift on VHF and UHF. The amateur bands were apparently buzzing with activity and scanner enthusiasts were reporting lots of new signals. Unfortunately I wasn't at home so missed most of the action.

However I did manage to have a Sunday to tinker to my hearts content, I will post up some details of what I got up to when I have more time. I did get an excellent capture of the ISS downlink for the ARISS school contact and did some experiments with receiving some UHF Satcom stuff.

One thing I finally got around to doing was removing the motherboard from a sick laptop. It is a HP/Compaq laptop and suddenly died one evening. It would no longer boot and flashing a diagnostic code on one of the LEDs. The code was "GENERAL SYSTEM BOARD FAILURE". The laptop is quite nice and was going to form a key component of the shack and so I was determined to repair it if necessary.

I did some googling and it seems the model in question is prone to failure of the GPU, or more specifically failure of  the contacts between the GPU and motherboardl. This is a common fault now in many devices especially those with components that run hot (Xbox/PS3 etc)

It is thought that the temperature and thermal stresses involved cause one or more of the contacts to break. On inspection of the heat sink over the GPU and CPU I was shocked at the poor mounting and application of thermal pads/paste which undoubtedly made the problem worse.

The suspected faulty GPU is mounted using a ball grid array, where the contacts are under the component the problem with this is you cannot easily repair or replace the contact without specialist equipment. What is required is to reflow the solder joints, heating up the component sufficient so the solder underneath melts reforming the contact.

Several methods of 'homebrew' repair are available using heat guns, blow lamps or placing the board in a hot oven but due to the delicate nature of the board and risk to surrounding components aren't recommended.

As luck would have it I had access to a Infra-red rework station, this device has a high intensity infra-red lamp which heats the component and a heat pad underneath to pre-heat the circuit board. The advantage of this is there is no risk of movement to the components during the process and the temperature can be accurately controlled.

Well I had a go, and can report the motherboard is now working or at least now boots up. I just now have to replace the thermal bonding under the heat sink to hopefully prevent it happening again and then the small matter of putting it all back together!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Some reception reports

Not much to report, but have had a few decent monitoring sessions with the FUNCube Dongle.

A couple of ISS ARISS School Contacts took place over Europe during the last couple of weeks, with another taking place on Sunday morning. I was in work during the passes but managed to remotely log in to my computer to do some 'unattended' SDR-Radio recordings.

ARISS School Contact 31-Aug-2012 by nerdsville

ARISS School Contact 07-Sep-2012 by nerdsville

Late last night there was a bit of a lift on VHF and managed to receive the GB3VHF 144MHz Beacon which while it may not seem very news worthy is given there is a huge hill in the way when you look towards Kent! I have received it before using the Yagi in an horizontal polarization. But last nights reception was via the discone in the loft, which was a first. Love the JT65B tones, very musical.

GB3VHF by nerdsville

Earlier last night was also quite amusing when I stumbled across the Hucknall Rolls-Royce Amateur Radio Club who were trying to run an Amateur Radio Direction Finding Fox-hunt but were being completely blotted out by another, seemingly deaf, local operator pumping out 100W, though he did turn it down to 10W eventually.

Amateur Radio Direction Finding - Or Not! by nerdsville

Finally last weekend was the RSGB 144MHz Trophy Contest, again I got to get some decent SSB reception.

144MHz Trophy Contest - Part 1 by nerdsville

144MHz Trophy Contest - Part 2 by nerdsville

Friday, 24 August 2012

Shack Update

Again it has been a very busy month since my last post, but I did manage to get a few days to finally start sorting out my workshop/shack.

Just before the horrendous winter of 2010 struck I had purchased a 16' x 10' wooden workshop, in fact you can see it in the picture below the day after it was erected complete with a coating of snow! The workshop was subdivided into two separate sections a smaller 6' x 10' area with it's own door for storage of garden paraphernalia and the remaining 10' x 10' section was intended to be a 'man cave' where I could keep my junk, set up a small workspace and experiment to my heart's content without an accountability. The intention was to free up a small bedroom in the house and remove some of the accumulated junk from the loft!  

Well for the past 18 months despite my best intentions the workshop had become nothing but yet another store room! The first task was to empty the workshop and sort out the rubbish, almost immediately I became rather dispirited as it seemed a huge task, however after several temper tantrums, a beer or two and some ruthless decisions followed by several trips to the local tip I had got rid of a large portion of the contents.The remaining good stuff including tools, screws, nails and other items were sorted roughly into boxes to be properly organised at a later date.
I had already run an armoured electrical cable supply into the workshop but no internal wiring. The distribution/RCD unit, cabling, sockets, switches and lighting were still sitting in the screwfix box. Several hours of hard work in the sweltering heat and I had it wired it up with some decent lighting and power sockets. I also took the opportunity to install some proper thick moisture resistant chipboard tongue and groove flooring to strengthen the existing floor and that has been covered in some vinyl flooring for ease of cleaning.   

I had always intended to line out the workshop with plywood and insulate it but I had a change of heart, mostly due to cost but also for aesthetic reasons since it has a lovely rustic wooden feel inside with roof beams and the tongue and groove panelling, I will probably regret the decision in the winter, but given the fact that everything stored in it has survived two harsh winters with no signs of damp I have left it alone for now. 

I have furnished it with some unwanted items including a nice sturdy table, chest of draws and some old book shelves and have gradually been moving my junk into the workshop. I am now in the process of sorting out some more shelving and a soldering station and workbench so I can finally start tinkering again!   

I have also installed a wireless access point configured using WDS to connect to the main house WLAN and that seems to be reasonably fast and reliable and have an old PC which gives me access to the Internet and my music library I can listen to without being told to turn it down!

I should add the whole shed/workshop are protected by a proper security alarm with PIR and door contact sensors.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Experiments with an SDR4+ and a scanner refurb

Seems the holiday in early June broke the blogging momentum and unfortunately work commitments since and the stresses involved as a major project nears deployment have sapped my time and energy, so not had much to post.

Family commitments too have also eaten into my spare time not leaving me time or inclination to experiment. The FUNCube Dongle and the Ultra-cheap RTL-SDR have been unplugged for several weeks and I am ashamed to say most of my evenings have been sent slumped in front of the TV often nodding off to sleep rather than tinkering away.

That is not to say I have been completely idle! I have spent the last couple of weeks with a Cross Country Wireless SDR4+ receiver courtesy of my younger brother. For a while I have toyed with purchasing one after seeing them at last years Hamfest and have read some decent reviews. The SDR4+ is a HF Software Defined Radio covering 0.85 - 30MHz, the full specifications can be found on their website.

My brother shares a similar interest in radio, probably as he was forced to share a room with me when we were younger and I would subject him to listening to all sorts of strange signals late into the night! Well he decided to purchase one several weeks ago, but was frustrated when it didn't seem to work. On one of visits to see my Mother I took a cursory look and couldn't make it work either. To cut a long story short while he went away on holiday I borrowed the unit away to see if I could figure it out.

Following some experimentation and discussions with Chris Moulding on the Cross Country Wireless Yahoo Group turned out the problem was some dodgy USB ports and/or USB leads! The thread can be read at

I strung up a long random-length wire antenna in the loft and have managed to get some decent results on some bands, but interestingly very little on others, probably due to the lack of an ATU. But I have received lots of broadcast AM, some DRM (but not actually decoded) and buckets loads of Amateur transmissions, LSB/USB voice and Morse, RTTY and PSK31 from Europe, and decoded some HF-FAX. Sadly the SDR4+ will soon be off back to it's rightful owner, but has certainly wetted my appetite.

I have also refurbished my Realistic PRO2022 scanner, as I posted back in 2010 this was my very first scanner and sadly was looking a little bit worse for years of wear. It is still functional, especially for listening to airband but the displays electro-luminescence back light had faded and it was looking a little grubby.

I had already replaced the backlight on my PRO2006, but this was a lot easier due to the display being easily accessible with the simple removal of the front panel, and the EL panel being on flying leads rather than soldered on to a PCB. 

I found a cheap supplier of a suitable EL panel on Ebay and quickly had the new one cut to size and fitted, giving a lovely new blue display.

 The next thing was to clean the grime and grease that was encrusted on the case and knobs, using a small amount of Clit-Bang degreaser and being very careful soon had the case looking almost as good as new!