DSES Plishner Site Work Trip Report September 14-16, 2018

Here is our report of our work trip at the Plishner radio telescope site in Haswell, on the weekend of September 14-16, 2018. Opens as a PDF file. Illustrated with photos.

DSES Plishner Site Work Trip Report September 14-16, 2018

By Bill Miller and Gary Agranat.

Plishner Radio Telescope Site Work Trip, July 20 -23, 2018

Trip report and photos by Gary Agranat and Bill Miller, with contributions from the rest of the team.

We traveled to and worked at the Plishner radio telescope site during the weekend of July 20 to 23, 2018. Attending were: Steve Plock, Ed Corn, Paul Berge, Bill Miller, Dave Molter, Gary Agranat, and Tony Bigbee. This is a summary of what we did:

– The site received several days of heavy rains during the previous week. The bunker sump pumps were overwhelmed and the bunker was flooded. Steve and Paul spent a number of hours on Friday and Saturday morning clearing out the water and cleaning up. Steve reported clearing at least 60 gallons of water. Dave later on Saturday also spent time removing water and cleaning. Paul cleaned up some more water on Monday morning.

– On Saturday morning Paul and Bill filled in the conduit trench for the synchros.

– Ed installed a conduit and the power cables from the pedestal to the outhouse. He also started to install the cables from the outhouse that will lead to the RV power risers and connections. Ed said he intends on the next site trip to put in breakers, extend the wires to the RV locations, and install the outlets there.

– Paul put in wiring to the limit switch system, for azimuth and elevation limits of the dish travel. Paul stayed over Sunday to complete more of this.

– Paul and Bill installed the synchro indicator panel and reinstalled the manual dish steering control panel in the rack, in the com trailer. The panels in the rack will still need to be moved down one U space, to accommodate Skip’s TM-4 timing control. The Spectrum Analyzer was moved over to the adjacent rack. Paul installed the limit switch control panel under the manual control panel in the rack. They redid the panel configuration so that all the panel controls have azimuth on the left and elevation on the right to match convention. Bill relabeled all of the control panels to provide a more organized presentation of the switch and knob functions.

– Bill brought out the System 2 dish controller and laptop. It had worked well on the bench at home, but at first didn’t work at the site. After some frustration he called Ed Johnson and they worked through the problem. The static IP address of the computer had to be set and then the system communicated and could be tested. Paul stayed in the tower control deck while Bill drove the dish from the comm. trailer. A fairly serious problem was found and Ed was consulted again by phone. The watch dog timer was apparently timing out and dropping the power to the motor drives about 3 times a second. Seeing this they immediately shut it down. Bill took the system home to do a modification on the VFD power enable relay and to trouble shoot the reason for the time out. Once fixed, he will bring it back for more testing. Bill informed Dave Molter of the problem and asked that he not repeat the same issue in the motor drive control circuits of System 1. Bill also provided Dave with a linear power supply and some parts to complete System 1 controller.

– Bill also installed the latch on the System 2 Controller and temporarily installed the DB25 switch boxes in the control deck so we can switch between systems for test and maintenance.

– Steve and Gary worked on installing the MFJ auto-tuner for the FT-897 ham transceiver in the bunker. They found that the tuner would not power up, although the manual indicated that it should have. There is an alternative way to directly power the tuner, but they didn’t have the proper wiring. Steve gave Gary a wire on Monday, which can be used to connect the tuner directly to the power supply (located lower on the bench below the rigs). Gary also brought the mini-manual for the FT-897. It is like a checklist, and is useful for quickly finding menu settings.

– Gary used Dave’s antenna analyzer to check the SWR across the ham bands for the 5-BTV vertical antenna we installed by the bunker. The results show that the 10 and 15 meter bands are tuned well. The 20 meter band is biased towards the low end, with 14.0 MHz at an SWR of 1.4 and 14.350 MHz at an SWR of 2.8. The 40 meter band is biased towards the high end, with 7.0 MHz at an SWR of 3.1, the minimum of SWR 1.5 at about 7.23 MHz, and 7.3 MHz at SWR 1.8. 80 meters is tuned to a best frequency of about 3.9 MHz (SWR = 1.8), with a probable usable range from 3.87 to 3.947 MHz (where the SWR reaches 3.0). Gary noticed one of the smaller radials for the vertical broke in the middle. Perhaps it had been set a little too tightly.

– After checking with the analyzer Gary did some operating through the afternoon and evening on 10 through 40 meters, mostly on FT8 digital mode and some SSB on 10 meters. He was able to tune on the digital portion of all of those bands with his FT-950. During that time he made about a hundred contacts, which give the club some exposure to the ham community. As of this writing, about 50 confirmations were received on LOTW and eQSL. The QRZ page counter increased by about a hundred during that time as well. Propagation was poor, so that most contacts were just around the US. We did get some DX to Germany, Italy, and New Zealand. Gary also checked into the 12:30 pm Weather Net on 146.970 MHz on the Pikes Peak repeater, which is at a distance of over a hundred miles.

– Dave Molter brought his trailer out and the crew loaded up most of the remaining surplus wood container parts for Dave to dispose of.

– Tony Bigbee came out for the first time on Sunday. Bill gave him a tour of the facility and Tony went right to work, cleaned out the pedestal base room, and sorted out a lot of the surplus hardware there. Thanks Tony, this was greatly needed.

– The Britain family from Haswell came out on Sunday afternoon. Bill, Paul, and Tony gave Mr. and Mrs. Britain and their two ~10 year old boys impromptu presentations and tours of parts of the facility. Mrs. Britain is a teacher and very interested in working with DSES on a school & student outreach program in the area.

– Dave again tried the VHF talk-in radio system (on 146.46 MHz) while coming in to the site. We had a clear contact with him from about mile marker 128 on Highway 96. Gary tried communicating through the talk-in system coming from the south from Las Animas. He contacted Ed and could be heard from the first transmission at the county line, which is on a ridge. Gary again tried talking to the system with Bill while going out, traveling north to Haswell and then west on Highway 96 past mile marker 128. Gary could hear Bill clearly along most of the route, but Bill had some difficulty hearing Gary. Bill suspects the problem may be at the audio of the phone receiver in the comm. trailer.

The team considered this a successful trip.

PHOTOS:

Gary using Dave’s antenna analyzer to record SWR (standing wave ratio) values on the 5-Band Trap Vertical antenna for the HF ham frequencies it covers.

Paul and Steve worked on covering the synchro trench from the communications trailer to the pedestal.
The synchro trench getting filled in.
Ed installed wiring in a conduit to power the outhouse. This will eventually be covered over.
Power conduit, looking back from the outhouse to the pedestal.
The outhouse. Ed installed conduits and additional wiring at the left, which will power the RV risers.
Dave loaded excess wood for disposal on his trailer Saturday evening. We watched a thunderstorm pass to the north.
A passing storm at sunset Saturday evening.
The rains seemed to clear the smoke and summer haze enough that we saw Pikes Peak in the distance.
Dave also cleared out the tumbleweeds from the bunker ramp.
The antenna for the VHF talk-in radio, located on the “dog house”.
The synchro indicator panel and the reinstalled the manual dish steering control panel in the rack, in the com trailer.
Rear view of the synchro indicator panel and manual dish steering control panel.
Bill’s test setup on the Analog Power supply for Dave’s System 1 controller.

View of the grain tower in Haswell over 5 miles away, seen from the site.
Steve’s antenna feed at the focus of the 60-foot dish antenna.

 

Plishner Antenna Site Work Trip Report for May 18 – 20, 2018

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.

-Steve Plock

 

Site of our new toilet facility “outhouse”. We are repurposing a railroad shed. Aaron Reid excavated a 5 1/2 foot deep hole with his tractor behind the shed, where the effluent will properly be disposed. We plan to have the “outhouse’ in service by the time of our annual Open House in August. Our plans include installing electric light and heat.
The 5 1/2 foot deep hole excavated by Aaron Reid with his tractor. Old railroad ties were placed over the hole afterwards for safety.
We are cleaning out this former railroad shed for use as our new outhouse on the site. It had railroad electrical components and some debris accumulated over time. In the photo is Floyd Glick helping with the cleanup.
Steve Plock and Aaron Reid inspected the route for excavating a second trench, for the dish antenna pointing system Syncro wiring.
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.

-Gary Agranat

Gary Agranat WA2JQZ operating FT-8 at the K0PRT station in the bunker. Photo by Steve Plock from his smartphone.
The vertical antenna set up by the bunker, with coax feed from the doghouse.

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

A benefit of using a digital mode like FT-8 is you can see feedback of where you are received, on the PSK Reporter website. This screenshot displays reports by other hams of where we were received for the previous 3 hours, at about 7:25 pm local time on Saturday (0125 GMT). The blues are for the 40 meter band, the yellow for 20, and the brown for 15 meters.
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.

-Bill Miller

12 Ft Fiberglass Dish in Sugar City
Dave Molter, 12 ft Dish Tear Down
Dave Molter, 12 ft Dish Tear Down
Dave and Sue at the 10ft Mesh Dish
Exposed Elevation Encoder and Syncro’s in the upper deck of the pedestal (Level 4).
Aaron’s Syncro Wiring Trench

DSES earned a first place award in the ham radio 2017 Colorado QSO Party

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.

2016 ARRL CW Sweepstakes – We Won 1st Place for Colorado !

Last November (2016) we tried participating in our first contest.  This was the annual ARRL 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 K0PRT on to the air.

To our surprise we just received a certificate from the ARRL that we won First Place in 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!

We operated for the contest from our Communications Trailer. The photos are from that day.

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.

                                                                                                 – Gary WA2JQZ

2017-09-02 DSES Plishner Site Work Trip Report

Here is a summary from our work trip to the Plishner Radio Telescope site on Saturday September 2, 2017.  It includes many photos of what we did.  Highlights include:

  • Work started on rebuilding the bunker ramp retaining wall
  • Work on the control boxes which control the azimuth and elevation pointing of the 60 foot antenna
  • Maintenance and calibration of the Radio Jove and total power measurement instruments
  • Positioning the 60 foot antenna for detecting radio source Cygnus A during drift scan
  • Colorado ham radio QSO Party participation

The summary report was written by DSES Secretary Bill Miller.  The ham radio report was written by Gary Agranat.  Click the link to see the report in PDF.

2017-09-02 DSES Plishner Site Work Trip Report rev3