Category: HF

Ghosts in the Air Glow HAARP Art Project: Transmitting Until March 28

The famous HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) antenna array will be transmitting again from March 25 - March 28, 2019. HAARP is an antenna array which is used to perform experiments on the Earth's ionosphere and thermosphere by transmitting HF RF energy into it. With an HF capable receiver like the RTL-SDR V3 it is often possible to receive these transmissions from some distance away. As HAARP only rarely transmits, it is an interesting signal to catch when it is transmitting.

HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program)
HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program)

The current set of experiments are being combined with an art project by artist Amanda Dawn Christie (@magnet_mountain). Amanda is an interdisciplinary artist working at Condordia University. On the project website she explains the project:

Ghosts in the Air Glow is an ionospheric transmission art project using the HAARP Ionospheric Research Instrument to play with the liminal boundaries of outer space.

Pairing air glow experiments in the ionosphere—false auroras creating soft, glowing spots in the sky—with SSTV images, audio and image signals articulated by artist Amanda Dawn Christie will be received and decoded via SDR (Software Defined Radio) equipment by amateur radio operators around the world, and streamed live online for audiences who do not have the equipment or expertise for reception.

She also talks about the project on a Concordia University article:

The first art transmission was sent earlier today, and if you missed it Amanda live streamed the signals being received on YouTube and the recording is available here. Future live streams will be available here. DK8OK has also posted about his reception on his blog.

Further transmissions are scheduled every day until March 28, and the transmissions schedule is available here. Each transmission consists of several 'movements', which consist of differing antenna array arrangements, frequencies being used, and signals being transmitted. If the text formatting of the movements is a bit difficult to read, Reddit user 
grink has formatted it into a nice table in his post. To follow the transmissions it would be also wise to follow Amanda on Twitter, where she is posting the most up to date transmission frequencies.

As to how the idea for this project came about, the Concordia University article writes:

The idea for the project came about when Christie met Christopher Fallen, the chief scientist at HAARP, at a hackers conference earlier this year. Fallen, who is an amateur radio operator, was intrigued by Christie’s proposition to use the IRI to create site-specific transmission art.

He agreed to open the facility to her, and when she gained backing from the Canada Council for the ArtsGhosts in the Air Glow officially became the first Canadian-funded project to take place at HAARP.

“Art and science are often seen as separate efforts but they actually share many of the same inspirations and techniques. I’m excited to see HAARP, a unique scientific instrument, used for a comparably unique artistic performance,” says Fallen.

“Amanda’s project will be a valuable contribution to the 50-year collection of scientific work in the field of ionosphere radio modification, and also to the brand new collection of artistic work using powerful high-frequency radio transmitters and the upper atmosphere — it’s art directed from the ground but created in space!”

Interdisciplinary artist Amanda Dawn Christie. Photo by Concordia University
Interdisciplinary artist Amanda Dawn Christie. Photo by Concordia University

If you prefer a video explanation of the project, YouTube user OfficialSWLchannel has prepared a video which is shown below.

HAARP tests and Ghost in the Air Glow from Amanda Dawn Christie

A Vacuum Tube Based Shortwave Software Defined Radio

Vacuum tubes are not typically found in software defined radios, but this interesting mix of old and new technology by Mirko Pavelski uses one in it's front end. The way it works is that the analogue radio circuit receives a small range of spectrum, and then the tube acts as a mixer, converting that spectrum down into audio frequency range which can be heard by a computer sound card.

The sound card acts as the ADC, digitizing the signal, and then the "SDRadio" software performs the final filtering and demodulation of a narrowband signal in software. This is the same concept used by other HF sound card SDRs such as the Softrock, although those of course do not use tubes in their design. Mirko writes:

Simple to build receiver made according to the instructions of Burkhard Kainka : I made it with EF80 tube instead EL95 and it works great. It is powered by a 7.4V lithium-ion battery followed by a 7806 stabilizer, so we get 6v for tube heating and there are no problems with 50 Hz hum. Тhe resonant circuit is made of strong coil with 20 turns of 1.5 mm thick wire wound on a PVC tube with 18 mm diameter. At the cold end of the resonant circuit is an antenna coil with two turns. At the output of the radio, I connecт 2 transistor preamplifier and cheap amplifier module in D class. So we get battery powered tube АМ radio. Using the potentiometer we can select between AM or SDR mode of operation.

In SDR mode, we need to connect the output of the radio to "line in" in sound card of the computer. Then we use some of the free software for example "SDRadio" from Alberto I2PHD. Тhe receiver has very good frequency stability which drifts less than 1 Hz per minute. Тhis is important if we want to decode DRM signals. In good HF propagation conditions I receive BBC World service DRM radio (3995MHz) with 16dB SNR here in Ohrid (41.1231° N, 20.8016° E). This little radio, with a long wire antenna and good grounding, gives us a lot of fun.

Hackaday also recently posted an article about this build.

DIY one tube shortwave + SDR radio

DIY Software Defined Ham Transceiver With eBay Parts

YouTuber jmhrvy1947, has recently uploaded a number of videos giving an overview of how he built his own HF SDR transceiver using what he calls the “Lego build method”. The idea of the Lego build method was to build a transceiver with parts picked and pulled from eBay so that it could be easily reproduced by others. There are a few scratch made components however those designs are available on his GitHub page. The SDR only functions within about 100 kHz of spectrum at a time however for amateur radio HF work this is more than sufficient. Bare bones the radio puts out a mere 100 mW and although the output power is small, he’s made contacts up to 450 miles away using CW (Morse code). You also have the option of adding an amplifier on  your output if you are looking for more power than that. His final revision currently puts out 100 Watts.

Using modified versions of fldigi and Quisk he is able to easily work various digital modes and sync the transmitter and receiver together. The only real down side to this radio is that you must switch out your receive and transmit filters whenever you wish to operate on different bands, a process that really only takes a moment or two.

Check out his videos on the project – it’s really amazing to see what can be done with a small budget these days in radio and with how far software defined concepts have brought us.

DIY SDR CW Xcvr Project

In the video below you’ll see an explanation of the software involved in this build.

DIY SDR CW Software


Reducing HF Electrical Noise by Using a Faraday Cage for Switch-Mode Power Supplies

Over on his blog, DXer OH2-2192 was frustrated by lots of local electrical noise showing up on the HF bands on his Airspy + Spyverter SDR receiver. He discovered that the majority of the noise he was seeing was coming from the switch mode power supplies that power the electronic devices used in his setup. Switch mode power supplies are very common in the modern world, with almost every electronic device using one to efficiently convert wall AC into DC power. However, they convert power by rapidly switching on and off, and these on/off square wave pulses cause a lot of RF noise especially on the HF spectrum.

Instead of changing to noise free linear regulators which are expensive, very heavy and big, OH2-2192 decided that he'd try creating a Faraday cage shield out of metal mesh to enclose all his switch-mode power supplies. Using a simple AM loop antenna and Airspy's Spectrum Spy software he measured the amount of noise produced by a switch-mode supply placed inside and outside of the cage. The results he saw were very promising with the shielded supply eliminating the noise almost entirely.

Faraday Cage Shield for Switch Mode Power Supplies
Faraday Cage Shield for Switch Mode Power Supplies (Right image shows the results of a switching supply placed outside and inside the Faraday cage)

RedPitaya Announces Pre-order for STEMLab HF SDR Transceiver

RedPitaya has just announced their next SDR platform, the STEMlab 122.88-16 which is a software defined radio intended to be used as an HF transceiver on the amateur radio bands.

The SDR is advertised to cover HF + 6m (50MHz) and includes two 16 bit 50 ohm input ADCs and two 14 bit outputs. Based on the Xililinx Zynq 7020 FPGA running an ARM cortex A9 processor it’s plenty powerful to handle the various modes frequently seen in the amateur bands and then some while supporting an impressive 122.88 MS/s sample rate.

The RedPitaya – 3D Rendering

This hardware is also fully compatible with the HPSDR software platform which is an open source project for amateur radio SDR operation.

While this radio is built with amateur operation in mind, it is still a very capable platform that could be used for experimentation albeit with a more restricted frequency range that what you may be used to with traditional software defined radios.

The radio retails for $499 euros and will be available for pre-order from RedPitaya until March 31st of 2019.

Using an Airspy HF+ with SDR# and WSJT-X to Decode FT8 + SpyServer FT8 Decoding Demo

Over on YouTube user TheGazLab has uploaded a video that reviews the Airspy HF+, and also shows how to use the HF+ with SDR# and WSJT-X in order to create a FT8 monitor. The Airspy HF+ is high dynamic range HF/VHF receiver designed for DXing.

In the video TheGazLab demonstrates to us the decoding in real time, and explains the CAT control SDR# plugin that he's using. The CAT control plugin when combined with a virtual serial port driver allows the WSJT-X program to automatically tune SDR# to the FT8 frequency selected in WSJT-X.

Later in the video he also discusses the SpyServer network which allows SDR# users to connect to remote public Airspy and RTL-SDR units over the internet. He demonstrates connecting to a public server in the UK, and decoding FT8 via the remote server. The video also shows the new SpyServer interface by  which nicely lays out the world SpyServer network on a map, making it easy to choose a desired location to listen to.

Airspy HFPlus, SDR# and WSJT-X with full CAT control decoding FT-8

Creating a Standalone WSPR Receiver with an RTL-SDR V3 and Raspberry Pi 3

Thank you to Zoltan for submitting his scripts for installing the rtlsdr-wsprd WSPR decoder onto a Raspberry Pi, and showing us how to configure it for an RTL-SDR V3 dongle running in direct sampling mode. This set up allows users to create an extremely low cost and permanent RX WSPR monitor.

WSPR is an amateur radio digital HF mode designed to be decodable even if the signal is transmitted with very low power and is very weak. It can be used to help determine HF radio propagation conditions as WSPR reception reports are typically automatically uploaded to wsprnet. Direct sampling mode on the RTL-SDR V3 allows you to receive HF signals without the need for an upconverter. For best results it is recommended to use a simple bandpass filter for the band of interest.

Zoltan's tutorial comes with a companion YouTube video where he demonstrates his set up. He uses a random wire antenna on his roof directly connected to an RTL-SDR V3, which is connected to a Raspberry Pi 3.  The Pi 3 communicates to his home network via an Ethernet cable.

Making a standalone WSPR receiver with RPi and RTL-SDR V3 using rtlsdr-wsprd

A Tutorial on Receiving HF SSTV with a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR V3

Thank you to Giuseppe (IT9YBG) who has written in to share his tutorial about setting up a direct sampling RTL-SDR V3 based SSTV receiver on a Raspberry Pi. He writes that he uses the receiver to continuously receive images at 14.230 MHz, but with a frequency tweak in the command line code the system could also be used to receive the VHF SSTV images sent by the ISS.

In the tutorial he uses the free QSSTV software for decoding. An RTL-SDR together with the CSDR DSP software is used to set up a command line based receiver, which pipes the SSTV audio into a virtual audio sink, and then into QSSTV. The receiver setup procedure is similar to the method used in our RTL-SDR V3 QRP monitoring station tutorial, and is a very nice way of setting up an efficient command line based RTL-SDR audio output.

QSSTV Running on a Raspberry Pi with RTL-SDR V3 Radio
QSSTV Running on a Raspberry Pi with RTL-SDR V3 Radio