Wednesday, December 6, 2017

KA7OEI now QRV on 630 and 2200 meters

Figure 1:
The LF/MF transmit station, configured for 630 meter operation.
At the time this picture was taken I had not yet completed the gear and
put the various pieces in their boxes, hence the mess of clip-leaded-
together modules sitting on my workbench.  Not visible is
the low-pass filter in the power amplifier box or the thermocouple-type
RF ammeter.  The pictured 630 meter variometer has been supplanted
with a "new" one wound with 660/42 Litz wire for lower loss (see Figure 6).
Click on the image for a larger version.
It so-happened that I had a few days off around Thanksgiving and I took this time to throw together a fairly simple transmit converter for the "new" amateur LF and MF bands - notably 2200 and 630 meters.  Having had already obtained my approval from the UTC to operate on both of these bands, I was "good to go".

It took only two evenings to put together the transmit converter and power amplifier as I had the parts on hand - and none of them were particularly exotic.  While the transmit converter will be described in greater detail in a future post, the signal path for the transmitter is approximately thus:

(See the block diagram in Figure 2, below.)
  • A 5 MHz IF is used, allowing a "broadbanded" FT-817 (with TCXO) to serve as the exciter.
  • The 5+ MHz signal (about 5137 kHz for 2200 meters, 5475 for 630 meters) is mixed (using a 74HC4066) with a 5 MHz local oscillator (a 10 MHz OCXO divided-by-two) to yield frequency-stable LF/MF signals.
  • A low-power post-mixer amplifier boosts this signal to a level capable of driving the power amplifier.
  • A single-ended MOSFET-based broadband power amplifier, running on 12-30 volts, provides between 10 and 50 watts of RF at either 630 or 2200 meters.  Because the transmit converter is broadband, it is agnostic to the operating frequency meaning that one needs only use the appropriate low-pass filter to change bands.  (The 630 meter low-pass filter is always in line - another filter is added for 2200 meter operation.)  This power amplifier is designed to be driven by either the transmit converter or another device, such as a QRP Labs Ultimate 3S beacon transmitter configured for these bands.
  • The 50 ohm output of the power amplifier goes to a tapped autotransformer wound on what is probably an FT-240-61 toroidal ferrite core and is used to match the transmitter's output to input resistance of the loading coil.
  • Also in the drawing is a relay the disconnects the loading coil from the autotransformer when not transmitting.  This was necessary to prevent the transmit antenna from "sucking out" some of the receive signal being intercepted by my E-field whip and also to prevent the transmit antenna from conducting "house noise" from the transmitter onto the transmit antenna which gets coupled into the receive antenna, reducing ultimate sensitivity. Not shown in the drawing is a 100k resistor connected between the "relay" side of the variometer and ground that bleeds static when the relay is open.
  • The loading coil, placed in series, cancels out the capacitive reactance of the antenna system.  For 630 meters my antenna requires about 230uH while about 2.5mH is needed to resonate the same antenna at 2200 meters.
Figure 2:
Block diagram of the 630 and 2200 meter transmit chain.  The transmit converter is broadband, capable of operating
from below 100 kHz to at least 500 kHz which means that one need only provide appropriate matching and low-pass filters to operate on either band. Not shown is a 100k static bleed resistor on "relay" side of the variometer and ground.
Click on the image for a larger version.

When I made my first-ever transmission I had not yet constructed the variometer, but I fished around in my "box-o-inductors" and found several Litz-wound ferrite inductors that were probably rescued from some scrapped TVs or computer monitors and wiring enough of these in series I was able to achieve  resonance with about 750mA of antenna current.  On the very first WSPR transmission I managed to be "heard" by several stations (See Figure 3, below.)
Figure 3:
A screen shot (from of the very first 630 meter WSPR transmission that I made with the badly-kludged loading coil.
Not too bad for a temporary lash-up!
On the next night, after observing a few stations engaging in JT-9 QSOs, I answered a CQ by VE7SL and he replied, giving me a signal report of -22dB while I gave him -19dB.  This was quickly followed by two other QSOs as both W7IUV and NC0B noticed the "new guy" on the band!

Over the next several days I got around to constructing the "new" variometer depicted in Figure 4 and this boosted my antenna current to about 1.25 amps - a theoretical improvement of about 4.4dB with more QSOs to follow - including 2.5 (one "partial") CW contacts on the band.  After operating for a while it became apparent that, for the most part, I could work anyone that I could "hear".

A few days later I constructed yet another variometer for 630 meters - this time using some 660/42 (e.g. 660 strands of 42 AWG) Litz wire which reduced the skin-effect losses by a significant amount and this, along with minor improvements of the ground system, decreased losses and resulted in a further increase of antenna current to a bit over 2 amps - a theoretical ERP improvement of more than 8.5dB as compared to my original configuration. The measured resistance at the input of the 630 meter Litz coil is about 13.5 ohms, implying an overall antenna system efficiency roughly 1% - but still enough to work quite a few stations with a few 10s of watts of RF.

Figure 4:
 The "Mark 1 version of the 630 meter variometer.  This device is wound
on "4 inch" ABS triple-wall sewer pipe using 22 AWG insulated hookup
wire.  Inside is "3/4-inch" ABS waste pipe (actual O.D. about 1-1/8")
that forms the rotatable portion of the variometer.  This unit has an
adjustment range of approximately 175-235 uH.
Click on the image for a larger version.
The "Q" of the antenna system+Litz wire coil is now such that if I QSY from 475.75 kHz for WSPR operations down to about 475.0 kHz for JT-9 I actually see noticeable drop in antenna current until I readjust the variometer, but if I QSY from 475 kHz down to 473 kHz for CW operation the antenna current plummets to a few hundred milliamps and I absolutely must retune!

As is the custom on both the LF and MF bands, my WSPR signal reports not the transmitter power, but rather the estimated EIRP.  I've typically been reporting 0.5 watts (+27dBm) which, assuming about 25 watts of RF power, implies an antenna efficiency of about 2% which, while in the general ballpark, may still be a bit optimistic.  With the recent changes/improvements in my system (mostly improving the grounding, radials and counterpoise network) I will have to re-analyze my estimated system efficiency.

Operation on 2200 meters:
Figure 5:
Antenna and ground system of my LF/MF TX antenna system.  The
yellow line represents the outline of the "Lazy Loop" - a horizontal HF
antenna fed with 450 ohm window line with both conductors of the
feedline being tied together and fed as a tophatted vertical on LF/MF.
The total circumference of this antenna is about 215 feet (65 meters) -
dimensions mostly dictated by the locations of trees at an average
height of roughly 30 feet (9 meters).
The red lines show the extent of my ground/radial system showing
extra wires, including sections of chain-link fences with electrically-
bonded sections and wires buried in the ground, including an
abandoned CATV line.  The roofs of both the house and garage are
metal which are ultimately tied into the ground/radial network.  There
are several ground rods near the feedpoint of the antenna to which
all of the grounds/radials are connected.
Click on the image for a larger version.

I have since wound yet another variometer (visible in Figure 6, below) - also on 4" ABS pipe - for 2200 meters.  This coil, adjustable from about 1.7-2.0mH, uses the same 22 AWG hook-up wire as my original 630 meter loading coil.  As it turned out this coil, by itself, doesn't have quite enough inductance to resonate my antenna at 137 kHz so I place the other two 630 meter coils in series with it.  As compared to the 630 meter loading coils, it is somewhat lossy, but I am able to obtain about 900mA of antenna current:  Not surprisingly, this coil runs slightly warm in operation due to the losses - but these are, no doubt, minor in comparison with the ground losses.

Update - 12 December, 2017:  After improving the ground system my antenna current is now around 1.1 amps on 2200 meters, implying an improvement of at least 1.7dB from current alone.  The actual far-field improvement, based on readings seen from monitoring stations on WSPR, appears to be in the area of 2-3dB.

The measured resistance at the input of this loading coil is about 43 ohms implying an overall antenna system efficiency of well under 0.1%.   Based on estimated antenna efficiency, I've configured WSPR to report my ERP as 50mW, which assuming a transmitter output power of about 25 watts implies an actual antenna efficiency of about 0.2% which is probably very optimistic!

Update - 5 May, 2018:  After some old-fashioned number-crunching, several antenna simulations and comparing my signal to other beacons of "known" EIRP I've revised my estimate of radiated power to be closer to 20 milliwatts, even after taking into account that I've increased my amplifier's output power to between 60 and 80 watts.  The previously-optimistic calculations assumed lower ground (and other losses - such as those due to nearby vegetation) than I originally thought that I had.

* * *

Not surprisingly, operation on 2200 meters - even at this power level - can be a bit hazardous.  With the rather low antenna capacitance the voltages on the feed are quite high - an estimated 5000-8000 peak volts!  What this means is that the feed wire has to be kept well clear of other conductors or else corona will occur, sapping transmit power, filling the room with ozone and becoming a potential fire hazard.  Fortunately, at this modest power level - and with the current-regulated power supply that I'm using - almost any sort of fault will detune the antenna system to the point that the high voltage will all but disappear and/or the power supply will go into current limiting and effectively shut down the transmitter.

Figure 6:
Left to right:  The original 630 meter variometer (seen in figure 4
wound with 22 AWG stranded wire , the new 630 meter wound with
660/42 Litz wire and the 2200 meter variometer, wound with the
same 22 AWG stranded wire and insulated with PET tape to allow it
to withstand the high voltages.  In the lower right corner is the
autotransformer wound on an FT-240 ferrite core.  With my current
(pun intended!) antenna I must put all three of these variometers in
series to resonate the system at 2200 meters.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Despite this simple arrangement I've managed to be "heard" by at least seven other stations in the western U.S. and Canada using WSPR to date, but I've not yet made any 2-way contacts.  The relative scarcity of stations that listen or transmit on 2200 meters - coupled with my rather weak signal - means that a contact will probably have to be arranged and conducted using a weak signal mode like JT-9 or QRSS.


There are plenty of improvements to be made, most notably getting the feed of my antenna a bit higher, laying out a few additional ground wires to further-reduce losses and improving the variometer for 2200 meters - but there are only so many things that I can do on my relatively small city lot.  This entire arrangement has so far been precariously sitting on my workbench meaning that the high RF voltages are also also nearby, just waiting to leap out at me when I reach over to tweak a variometer.

At some point I'll "remote" the matching network outside, but I need to get/build a few other items first, namely some stepper motors, control circuity, more vacuum relays and a means of remotely monitoring the antenna current.

Comment:  Despite having the feedpoint in my shack, I've not had any problems at all with transmit RF getting into computer speakers or other devices in my house.

* * * * * * * *

My recent operation, as of the date of this post, seems to be the only actively transmitting station on either 630 or 2200 meters in Utah.  I have been running WSPR on 2200 meters most of the time, occasionally switching to 630 meters in the local evenings when the activity level on that band is highest.

If you are QRV on 2200 or 630 meters and would like to arrange a CW, JT-9 or QRSS contact with me, or if you are interested in just "hearing" my signal (via your ears or with a computer+sound card) drop me a line using my callsign at arrl dot net.

Other entries on related topics found at this site:
Other web sites that have information on 630 and 2200 meters: 

This list is by no means comprehensive.  Peruse the "links" sections on the sites below for even more information.
  • NJD Technologies - link  - This web page has a wealth of information related to 630 meter operation, propagation and reports of activity, plus lists of known-active operators on both 630 and 2200 meters.  This web site also has many links to others that have credible information on LF and MF band topics.
  • W1TAG's web site - link  - John, W1TAG, has long been an experimenter and operator on the MF and LF bands.  This site has details on equipment both for operating and measuring performance at these frequencies.
  • W1VD's web site - link - Jay, W1VD, has long been an experimenter on the LF/MF bands and this page offers a lot of information on equipment for transmitting and receiving on these bands.
  • Antennas by N6LF - link - The callsign gives  you the clue that this guy likes LF/MF operation.  This page includes detailed information on LF/MF antennas and how to characterize/improve them.


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