Trip report by Bill Miller, with editing and photos by Gary Agranat.
This is a report of our work at the Plishner radio telescope antenna site during the weekend of June 16 & 17, 2018.
Attendance: Gary Agranat, Paul Berge, Ed Corn, Michael Lowe, Bill Miller, Dave Molter, Steve Plock.
Vertical Multi-band Antenna Radials: Gary performed a set of SWR (Standing Wave Ratio) measurements with an antenna analyzer on the vertical multi-band antenna, which was installed last April for the ham radio station at the bunker. He then installed 17 radials at the antenna base. On the next trip he plans to retake antenna analyzer measurements, and also do some digital radio operating, to compare characteristics before the radials were installed.
New Rest Room: Steve Plock and Ed Corn continued work on the new rest room/out house. This is a refit of one of the rail road buildings previously used for storage. They added tie down cables to prevent it from succumbing to the winds. It will be fit with a chemical toilet and there is a waste receptacle behind the building for easy dumping access. This will greatly improve our facility for public visits such as the open house on August 11th.
Synchro Installation: Bill worked on the dish Az/El Synchro installation as a simple backup pointing system for the dish. On the previous trip Bill and Steve installed an additional 2” conduit from the Comm Trailer to the pedestal. Myron had helped pull in the 15-conductor cable. On this trip Ed Corn helped finish off the conduit and drilled 2” access holes in the trailer floor and pedestal. Bill installed the cable up the pedestal structure and terminated it in the terminal box above the control deck. He also terminated the other end on the synchro panel in the comm trailer. The azimuth synchros were hooked up and they worked. One problem remains with the fine azimuth synchro. The Elevation synchro connection on the dish will be made in a future trip.
Pointing System 1: Bill and Dave examined what would be needed to complete system 1. Bill has a linear power supply in the works to replace the noisy switcher. He also has an amplifier and watch dog circuit for the control function in progress. Dave suggested removing the system 1 box on the next trip and bring it back to Colorado Springs to install these and other software modifications for Glenn to test. Currently system 1 only has position feedback and no direct control.
Pointing System 2: System 2 currently has all the circuitry for full position reporting and tracking control. As reported last time, Bill is working to transfer programs between computers and working on the system 1 at home and will reinstall on the next trip.
Dish Restoration and Maintenance: Paul Berge came down Saturday afternoon and stayed for work Sunday. Paul checked our Synchro system and made some valuable suggestions. He worked on other maintenance items on the dish including making a rubber bellows and seal to keep the water and birds out of the multiple cables feeding down through the center of the azimuth axes. He also started working on wiring and setting up the Elevation and Azimuth limit switches.
Other Items: Dave Molter finished the tear out of the 12-foot fiberglass dish and support concrete from Sue’s yard in Sugar City. He transported it down to the site on his trailer and unloaded it for future use. Bill and Dave pulled a vertical antenna and base insulator out of the pedestal and loaded it on Dave’s trailer. Dave returned the antenna to Michael Lowe in Pueblo who originally brought it to the site.
While we worked on Saturday, there was harvesting in the surrounding fields.
We worked at the antenna site in Haswell from Friday May 18 through Sunday May 20, 2018. We essentially worked in two teams. The first team was at the site from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning, with some in that team just coming on Saturday. The second team worked Sunday afternoon.
Accomplishments for this work trip:
Beginning of work on a new toilet facility “outhouse” in the southwest corner of the site.
Aaron Reid brought his tractor. He excavated a large 5 1/2 foot hole, which will eventually be used to properly dispose the effluent from the outhouse. He also completed covering of the 600-foot trench that had been dug earlier to install the power line in the site. And he also excavated a new trench from the pedestal to the Comm. Trailer, to be used to lay control lines for our antenna pointing systems.
Initial checkout of the 5-band trap vertical antenna for ham radio at the bunker.
Removal of a 10-foot satellite dish antenna in Sugar City.
Continuing work on the dish antenna pointing control systems.
Contributors to this post are Steve Plock, Bill Miller, and Dave Molter, with additional writing and editing by Gary Agranat. Photos by Bill Miller, Gary Agranat, and Steve Plock. Working on this trip also were Aaron Reid, Paul Berge, and Floyd Glick.
Thanks to everyone who helped on this trip.
Trip report by Steve Plock
I arrived Friday afternoon. Paul Berge arrived shortly after and Aaron Reid not long after that. We ate a little dinner and turned in. Right around sundown it started raining. It rained most of the night and stopped around sunrise. Because it had rained all night it was pretty muddy outside. We helped Aaron unload his tractor off of his trailer. We then started cleaning debris out of the 600′ trench ahead of the tractor that was pushing the low side hill made by the ditch witch down into the trench. We then placed the barrier tape into the trench ahead of the tractor which pushed the high side berm into the trench as well. We tromped through a lot of mud that morning.
Next we cleaned out the building that would become the new outhouse.
Then Steve and Paul ran an 85′ coax cable from the new vertical into the bunker. When Gary arrived he checked the antenna out using Ray’s Intellituner as a crude analyzer. It checked out OK on 80-40-20-15 and 10 meter phone portions of these bands.
Floyd Glick showed up and started helping out to get the outhouse up on the old platform that had the battery box building on it. We used a couple of chains and the tractor and some boards to accomplish this. Next I marked the spot the Ed had wished the pit to be placed and Aaron dug it to a depth of about 5 ½’. All three of us worked together to cover the pit with railroad ties.
Next I marked the 2nd trench, from the pedestal to the Comm. trailer, after consulting with Paul to stay clear of the existing conduit. By that time everyone was pretty tired and turned in for another, night. Sunday morning everyone left before noon. I led Aaron north on County Road 20 until we hit CO Highway 96 up in Haswell. Told him to pick up Highway 287 north in Eads.
Ham Radio Vertical Antenna Check, by Gary Agranat
On our last trip we installed a donated 5-band trap vertical antenna for our ham radio station at the bunker. Although we had radial wires with the donation, we didn’t yet have time to install those.
Before I arrived on this trip, Steve Plock installed an 85 foot coax cable from the antenna base, through the doghouse, to the ham station in the bunker. Although he didn’t try to make any contacts, he reported good signal reception using the IC 706 on 40 and 20 meters, including DX from Europe. The IC 706 has an attached automatic antenna tuner, and he reported there was good tuning on all of the bands.
I decided to hold off installing the antenna radial wires, and instead check how well we could operate in the current set-up. I systematically checked the SWR and the ability to tune on all 5 wavelength bands of the vertical (80, 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters). I confirmed we could tune well enough on all of the band spectrum except for the 20 meter Morse Code segment. I tried making some phone contacts but succeeded only with one. And for the IC 706 I didn’t have the right connector for my CW key. I therefore instead set up a Yaesu FT-950 with a SignaLink digital interface matched for it. With that I succeeded in making 30 FT-8 digital contacts, most on 40 and a few on 20 meters. I was able to do some DX (distance contacts) on 40 meters: IU8CNE (Italy) and LU5VV (Argentina). Plus we made one New Zealand contact, with ZL2IFB, on 15 meters, but otherwise DX conditions were poor. The other contacts were across the U.S. and to northeast Canada. I also had one traditional Morse Code CW chat on 40 meters with K3WAS in Kansas. And so the vertical antenna without the radials does work, and we do get out at least domestically. The somewhat poor FT-8 DX suggests radials may be worth installing still, although I cannot rule out that we had poor band conditions.
Log of contacts:
K5BZI 20m SSB TX
K4SHA 40m FT8 AL
W6GRD 20m FT8 CA
K9ZJ 20m FT8 WI
VA3HP 40m FT8 ON, Canada
K2PS 40m FT8 FL
KG7RZD 40m FT8 WA
K3WAS 40m CW KS
K0CHW 20m FT8 SD
N9RS 40m FT8 WI
AB1HL 40m FT8 MA
K6SJT 40m FT8 CA
K7ZYV 40m FT8 MS
NA8N 40m FT8 OH
K6KHB 40m FT8 CA
WA6PHR 40m FT8 CA
AE8S 40m FT8 OH
N4RLG 40m FT8 KY
KB7ZDM 40m FT8 OR
KC1GWX 40m FT8 MA
WA2HIP 20m FT8 ME
VA3CTX 20m FT8 ON, Canada
ZL2IFB 15m FT8 New Zealand
VE2GYA 40m FT8 QC, Canada
N4ZI 40m FT8 TN
KB5DXO 40m FT8 MS
LU5VV 40m FT8 Argentina
N8NXG 40m FT8 FL
K4RGN 40m FT8 NC
WY7CDL 40m FT8 WY
IU8CNE 40m FT8 Italy
K9QVB 20m FT8 IL
AB5CA 40m FT8 TX
Trip Report by Dave Molter, for Sunday May 20, 2018
On Sunday I met Bill Miller in Sugar City, and tore down a 10 foot dish that was donated to DSES. The dish was left at the residence until a trailer can be provided to remove the parts. The base post was not removed from the concrete and will need to be done on a future trip. This effort also led to 3 more fiberglass 10 foot antennas identified which will be donated and obtained at a future date.
When we got to the site we energized the dish drives and observed noise on the elevation encoder lines shown by the LEDs flickering and watching the position signal on an Oscilloscope. Ferrite beads were installed around the elevation encoder lines. There was no change to the amount of noise present on the wires. The elevation readout cover was removed and the cable was removed from the encoder. The connector was opened to allow inspection of the wiring. The cable shield drain wire was temporarily jumpered to the frame ground. The signal noise was reduced. The cable drain wire was connected to pin S of the encoder (Frame Ground). A jumper wire was also attached to the drain wire and connected to the encoder body. The mount was run in elevation and azimuth and the readout was stable, the LED did not flicker. The dish control was transferred to the trailer. The control panel was used to move the mount in azimuth and elevation. The readout computer was energized and the remainder of the day was spent looking for the paper that contained the logon to the portable computer.
It was observed that the electrical trench was backfilled. The trench between the tower and trailer was dug out. The ramp has a good sized amount of tumble weeds in residence.
– Dave Molter
Additional Details from Bill Miller, Sunday May 20, 2018
I arrived at Sugar City at 9 AM and met with Dave about 10:30. We went to Sugar City contact’s (Sue) house and proceeded to disassemble the 10ft Fiber glass satellite antenna and mount in the back yard. This took about 3 1/2 hours and we didn’t complete digging up the concrete foundation but got a good start on it. This will be completed and the dish will be transported in a future trip. Sue gave us contacts for a 10 ft mesh dish in Sugar City and for her daughter’s perforated dish in Rocky Ford. Dave made contacts for 2 more fiberglass dishes in Sugar City. Seems we can have all of these that we want for the asking and labor.
We didn’t get to the Plishner site until about 3:00 on Sunday and by then the previous crew of Aaron Reid, Steve Plock, Gary Agranat, Paul Berge and others had left the facility.
Dave and I set up to determine the cause and fix for the elevation encoder noise that we have been fighting for the last five months. We took a methodical trouble shooting approach with scope and meter instrumentation. We verified that the elevation encoder circuit was much more susceptible to the motor controller noise than the azimuth encoder circuit. It was even susceptible to the Azimuth motor drive but to a lesser degree than to the elevation drive. After trying several things we discovered by continuity checking that the Azimuth encoder wiring shield was grounded to the telescope structure at the encoder end but the elevation encoder wiring shield was open. We opened the elevation encoder box in the upper deck and attached the shield drain wire to the chassis ground with a clip lead. This had a dramatic effect on the noise as seen by the scope and the 12 bit LEDs indicating the input signal state on system 1. Seeing this, we permanently attached the shield drain wire to Pin “S” (Case GND) of the encoder connector and to the attachment screw on the encoder with a flying lead. This substantially reduced the motor drive noise problem on the elevation encoder circuit and should provide much cleaner encoder signals to both system 1 and 2. Of note: There is still a lot of HF noise on the system 1 electronics as indicated on the scope. It appears to be from the small switch mode power supply in the box and the motor drives. It may be wise to change out the small PS with one that is less noisy. We were unable to check the Laptop program operation with System 1 due to a missing password.
We saw the trench that Aaron Reid had dug for the syncro cabling. Thanks to Aaron for that. I brought down a 350 foot spool of 15 conductor x 18awg wire for the syncro connection. Unfortunately we had no suitable conduit to install in the trench so we will have to do that on a separate trip. I left the spool of wire in the locked pedestal for when it can be installed. The deal with OEM Electronics is to use what we need and return the rest for credit as soon as possible. The approximately 160 ft of wire needed will be charged to Michael Lowe’s OEM credit that he established several years ago.
Two curious boys from Los Animus HS stopped by while we were working in the pedestal and we told them about the Dish, but not knowing them didn’t offer a tour. Bill took their names and Email addresses for future contact.
Several spools of RG59u and a 4KW generator were left in the open after the clean out of the RR shed to be used for the outhouse. We moved the wire to the locked pedestal and Dave took the generator back to Springs to see if he could get it running. We put food in the bunker away, locked up the site and left about 7:30PM.
K0PRT, the club ham radio station of the Deep Space Exploration Society, earned this First Place certificate in the 2017 Colorado QSO Party, for our category. The QSO party ran last September.
We operated Morse Code (CW) and Phone (SSB). We entered as a portable station, because we made contacts while traveling to the telescope site, and then while at the telescope site itself. We made 37 contacts around the U.S. and Canada. Thanks to all of the team for supporting this event. Our operators were Gary Agranat WA2JQZ and Bill Miller KC0FHN.
During the work trip on October 21, 2017, a single-band 1420 MHz circular polarized feed was installed. This feed was built by Steve PlockKL7IZW.
The antenna was set with an azimuth of 149.6° , and with an elevation 39.2° above the horizon. This allows the antenna to drift scan the sky along an arc, as the Earth rotates, at Declination -7.5° (celestial latitude).
This scan was designed to pass across the triple star system 40 Eridani, at about 0200 local time. This was a joint SETI project with Skip Crilly to make simultaneous measurements together with the Green Bank Observatory 40 foot radio telescope in West Virginia. The two sites are at about the same latitude, at a distance of about 1300 miles. Joint observations were scheduled for the early mornings of October 26, and October 29.
The specific target of interest was 40 Eridani A, which is at a distance of 16.4 light years. Eridani A has a habitable zone around it for an orbit calculated to take 223. The frequency spectrum of 1405 to 1445 MHz is continually sampled, in order to look for “triplets” signals. Simultaneous observing from two distant sites would rule out that any signals detected at both sites cannot be from local terrestrial sources.
The technique of “Drift Scan” is just keeping the antenna pointed in one fixed direction, while the sky passes overhead as the Earth turns. Rather than track a particular object, the sky is passively scanned, as the sky “drifts” across.
Total power measurement @ 1428 MHz, beam size 2°
Neutral hydrogen spectral line measurement
Also on this trip, Gary Agranat WA2JQZ operated the ham station from the bunker, to participate in the annual Boy Scouts of America Jamboree On The Air (JOTA). Ops were on 20 meters, using the bunker’s 160 meter dipole. Two JOTA stations were contacted in California, W1AW/6 and N6B. Other JOTA stations around the US and also Mexico were heard, but conversations among them were already well in progress, and so we didn’t interfere with those. Attempts were made to listen for the JOTA station in Colorado Springs, operated by Dave Molter AD0QD, but it was not heard. In between JOTA ops, the club also participated in the New York State QSO Party, on CW and SSB, with 19 contacts. And 9 contacts were made with JT65. The longest distance JT65 contact was to Spain EC2ATM, and with SSB to 9A3XV in Croatia.
Skip Crilly used his antenna analyzer to check both the 160 and 80 meter dipoles located at the bunker. He verified that most of the lower part of the 20 meter band was usable, and the 17 meter band was as well, but many of the other ham bands were not with the current length of the antenna. Ed Corn KC0TBE later also used his antenna analyzer to check the antennas and feeds. And he checked the amplifier.
Ed Corn also placed the two sump pumps on separate power inverter feeds. That ensured that each pump can start independently if both are needed simultaneously.
Paul Berge, who was active several years ago, drove to the site from the Denver area. He discussed past and current projects with the team. Paul Berge, Steve Plock, and Skip Crilly stayed at Haswell overnight, to continue work the next day. Overnight the sky was clear, with the Milky Way clearly visible. The Orionid Meteor Shower was in progress, and several other members of the team stayed past sunset to watch the night sky as well.
Also working at the site on this trip were Rich Russel ACoUB and Ed Schade KC0HCR.
Last November (2016) we tried participating in our first contest. This was the annualARRL Sweepstakes for CW (Morse Code).
The goal of this contest is to contact hams across the U.S. and Canada. As such, it is usually a sociably friendly event. Your points do get multiplied for each ARRL geographical Section you contact. Some Sections are whole states or provinces, like Colorado is its own Section. Some populous states though have a few Sections within them, for example California. If you contact all the Sections in one contest, that is called a “Clean Sweep”, hence the name of the contest. That is a lot of work. For many hams, though, this is just for fun, and a chance to make contacts with other folks in other places. I was looking forward to having some fun making contacts from our site, and bringing our club call sign K0PRTon to the air.
To our surprise we just received a certificate from the ARRL that we wonFirst Placein our category for Colorado! Our category was Muli-Operator (for two or more hams operating) Low Power (less than 150 watts).
We actually only made 8 contacts for the contest: 6 on 20 meters and 2 on 15 meters, to 7 states. Then at that point we discovered our CW signal had a chirp. We were operating on battery power from the site. And when we drew current as we pushed down the telegraph key, the voltage dropped too much. Later we added a regulated power supply to our ham station to solve that problem. But on that day we decided we should just stop, as our signal sounded awful.
And yet, what we did was enough in our category to still earn First Place!
Sometimes there are not many stations operating in a contest as multi-operator low power. I investigated into the contest records, and that was the case this time. That said, I am still proud of what we did. Bringing together a team to operate and have fun is not necessarily easy. And we did this at our remote site. Our category has its challenges. Congratulations to our Club! We earned a First Place certificate. We will have more opportunities.
Last weekend, while we were working on the radio telescope (reinstalling the antenna feed at the focus), we also spent a few hours participating in the ARRL DX CW contest. This is an annual ham radio contest sponsored by the ARRL, done in two parts. In February (this month) is the contest for using Morse Code (CW). In March is the contest for using voice. The goal is for hams in the continental U.S. and Canada to contact hams everywhere else, and vice versa. We used our ham radio station at the site, which includes a 100 watt transceiver, an antenna tuner, and a folded dipole suspended above the communications trailer. For sending code we used just a straight traditional key.
We succeeded in making 27 contacts with 18 overseas DX locations. These are the places we contacted:
Antigua & Barbuda
Turks & Caicos Islands
U.S. Virgin Islands
A31MM in Tonga was a nice surprise, and was our longest-distance contact, at 6600 miles. Tonga is in the western Pacific, north of New Zealand. That and D4C in Cape Verde (about 4500 miles distance) took some patience and skill, but they were worth the effort as those are not common DX to work.
We mostly used the 15-meter band, which had good propagation openings to the Caribbean and across the equator. If you look on a globe or world map, Tonga and Cape Verde are across the equator from Colorado. That suggests we benefitted from Trans Equatorial Propagation (TEP). We managed to hear one station in Europe, in Poland, but couldn’t make the contact. 20 meters was heavily crowded with domestic stations (which we couldn’t contact in this contest), and so we didn’t use that band much. The 10-meter band was open enough that we made our Chile contact there. On Log Book of the World, which we need for the DXCC award, we received so far 12 confirmations:
Cape Verde D4C
Costa Rica TI5W
Hawaii KH6LC, WH7W
Turks & Caicos Islands VP5K
U.S. Virgin Islands KP2M
I expect most 0f the rest of our contacts will confirm on Log Book of the World in the near future, as this sort of contest is commonly used to achieve credits toward DXCC.
We also started to receive confirmations on eQSL as well. See the accompanying card images bel0w.
These contests are generally fun and good learning experiences. We can participate in more in the future. I will be happy to help anyone in the group take part while we are at the site. Contests can help develop good ham skills – including developing good operator practices and learning first-hand how propagation can change during the day across the bands. You can be at any experience level, including beginner. With some experience, you may find yourself developing some strategies. Contests also can be fun geography lessons. You can contact hams in so many different places, including places you didn’t know about.