New England QRP Club “QRP Afield” this Saturday!

This coming Saturday, the 15th, is the third Saturday of September and that means it’s time for the New England QRP Club’s annual QRP Afield event!

http://newenglandqrp.org/afield

QRP Afield is one of the best QRP field events in the calendar. Hit the great outdoors this Saturday with a QRP station and make some contacts!

Ten-Tec Argonaut VI: On schedule for ordering, shipping later this fall

I just received word from John Henry at Ten-Tec that their time frame for production runs of the Model 539 (Argonaut VI) is  on-track with estimates provided at the 2012 Dayton Hamvention.

John said:

We are running a small production run right now, working out the kinks of getting it into production. Most places call these “Pilot runs”. Pilot Runs basically get the factory up to speed with the units before we go to full scale production quantities.

He doesn’t see any reason, at this point, why they wouldn’t hit the late fall 2012 ship dates. He also said that they’re working hard to possibly take orders for the Argonaut VI at the 2012 Ten-Tec Hamfest being held at their factory in Sevierville, Tennessee, September 28-29th.

According to John, several Ten-Tec customers have said that they are going to buy a Model 539 and the Model 418 (companion 100 watt linear amplifier) when the 539 starts shipping.

I will attend the 2012 Ten-Tec Hamfest and plan to post updates on QRPer.com from there.

A Grocery Store Find — a Portable QRP Station Bag!

QRP Bag -- click to enlarge

I found an almost perfect bag for carrying a small QRP transceiver, simple antenna, and accessories yesterday in our local Aldi grocery store. The bag (photo) is manufactured by “Adventure Essentials”, is described as an insulated lunch bag, is available in several color-schemes, and cost all of $3.99 plus sales tax. I purchased the grey-and-black version, product number 41991. The bag looks to be very rugged, is covered by a two-year warranty, and the tag even includes a toll-free telephone number for customer service.

QRP Bag -- click to enlarge

As can be seen in the photos, the bag is almost ideally sized for carrying any of the current crop of trail-friendly-radios such as the Elecraft KX1 or KX3, the Ten-Tec 40×0 two-band or 4040 four-band rigs, the Youkits HB-1A three-band or HB-1B four-band rigs, or the MFJ 92xx single-band rigs.

If I didn’t already have a Pelican Case for my KX1 Mini Travel Kit, I could probably be very happy carrying the station in this insulated lunch bag!

Standard disclaimer: I have no relationship with Aldi other than being a satisfied customer.

An External Battery for the KX1

NOTE: I am embarrassed to admit that I made a significant error in my original measurement methodology and the numbers originally listed below were inaccurate. I’ve redone all the measurements and the text and tables below reflect the corrected measurements. *

Your host, K4SWL, asked me to share my experiences in trying to find a small, lightweight, battery pack for use with my field-portable QRP station. While I’m looking for a battery pack specifically for my Elecraft KX1, what I’m learning should be useful for users of any low-current QRP transceiver.

original 10-cell battery-holder -- click to enlargeCurrently, I’m experimenting with a pair of ten-cell AA battery-holders, one of unknown provenance (photo) and a new, more rugged one from Batteries America (p/n 10AAT, photo). When filled with ten AA NiMH cells, the resulting battery-packs provide about 14v at full-charge. At the 2012 Flight of the Bumblebees, my KX1 generated an indicated 2.6w on 20m and 4w on 40m while being powered by one of these packs; the nearly four hours of low-stress operating during this event did not discharge this pack of 2,000mAh cells very deeply. The use of two AA dummy-cells will also allow the use of eight lithium primary or alkaline cells in an emergency.

new 10-cell battery-holder -- click to enlargeI became concerned about using this style of spring-contact battery-holder when I found an article (link) by Phil Salas, AD5X, in which he reported that this sort of battery-holder is likely to display significant voltage drop under load.

I tested my original battery-holder with ten 2,000mAh NiMH cells and my KX1 transmitting into a dummy load. In addition to measuring whole-pack voltage-drop, I measured the voltage-drop of each of the individual 2,000mAh cells as I transmitted into the dummy load on 20m.

Original Battery-Holder / 2,000mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.76v 0.52v
30m 0.79v
40m 0.75v
80m 0.70v

The sum of these individual drops was 0.52v, so I’m losing 0.24v in the spring-contacts and/or battery-holder’s “transistor battery” output connector.

After replacing the original nylon connector with a pair of Anderson Powerpoles, I tested the same 2,000mAh NiMH cells in the new, more rugged battery-holder, this time only on 20m:

New Battery-Holder / 2,000mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.73v 0.53v

I’m losing about 0.20v in the battery-holder’s spring-terminals, slightly less than with the older battery-holder.

The 0.20v ~ 0.24v drop from the spring-terminals doesn’t seem excessive to me and the difference in these measurements between the two battery-holders is probably not significant. I am more concerned by the 0.53v ~ 0.54v voltage-drop I measured in the individual cells. It is likely that these older 2,000mAh cells, which have been cycled many times, are exhibiting greater voltage-drop than new cells would. To test this theory, I purchased new 2,100mAh cells to measure.

I measured the new cells as above, again on 20m into a dummy load, and found that with each of the battery-holders, the sum of the individual cell voltage-drops was 0.22v, so my speculation appears to have been correct–the new cells do have lower voltage drop under load than the old cells do.

Orignal Battery-Holder, 2,100mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.48v 0.22v
New Battery-Holder, 2,100mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.47v 0.22v

The new 2,100mAh NiMH cells are marketed by Polaroid and cost $6 per four-pack at Big Lots; the least expensive AA NiMH cells available at Batteries America, 2,500mAh Sanyo cells, cost $3 each at the time of this experiment. I don’t know if the Polaroid cells will last for as many cycles as the probably-higher-quality Sanyo cells would but trying the significantly less expensive Polaroid cells seemed like a a good gamble.

As indicated above, the new battery-holder (Battery American p/n 10AAT) is more rugged than my original battery-holder; it holds the AA cells more securely and and doesn’t use a “transistor battery” connector to connect to the load. I replaced the original nylon connector with a pair of Anderson Powerpoles. This battery-holder will be my preferred battery-holder for field operations with the KX1.

In his article (link), Phil Salas, AD5X, recommends foregoing battery-holders in favor of soldered/welded battery packs but I will continue to experiment with battery-holders. I prefer to charge my NiMH cells individually, using an intelligent MAHA charger, rather than charging an entire pack. In addition, my KX1 draws significantly less current on transmit than Phil’s IC-703 does so the the IxR losses I’ll experience will be less significant than that which Phil experienced.

Visit my website to learn more about my QRP operations or to learn more about my KX1 Mini Travel Kit.

* What had I done wrong? I discovered when testing my new battery-holder that the previous measurements of the old and new NiMH cells in the original battery-holder had been made with the KX1 transmitting into a 50Ω dummy load with the KX1 autotuner configured in tune mode instead of in bypass mode; because the KXAT1 autotuner doesn’t sense a mismatch and automatically tune, this meant that transmitter current–and the measured IxR voltage losses–might be also be significantly different than with the KX1 transmitting into a matched load. Comparisons of my original numbers to measurements made later of the new battery-holder wouldn’t be meaningful, so I had to do all the measurements again.

Video of Kenwood TS-990 at the 2012 Tokyo Hamfair

Admittedly, I love the analogesque dial above the tuning knob:

QST Managing Editor Joel Kleinman (N1BKE) is SK

Very sad news in the amateur radio community today. I just learned that Joel Kleinman (N1BKE) is SK after a house fire this past weekend. I met Joel once and he was a super nice fellow. We should all be thinking about his wife, who is in the hospital. Follow the ARRL for more.

(Source: ARRL)

The ARRL is sad to report that QST Managing Editor Joel Kleinman, N1BKE, died in a house fire this past weekend. His wife Jayne is still in the hospital; her condition is unknown at this time. No arrangements have been made at this time. We will post more information as it becomes available.

Ten-Tec Model 418 100 Watt Amplifier now shipping

The Ten-Tec Model 418 100 Watt Linear Amplifier (Click to enlarge)

(Source: Ten-Tec)

TEN-TEC Inc. Announces the Model 418

160-6 Meter Solid State Linear Amplifier in stock and ready for shipment

Generating 100 Watts of output from as little as 5 Watts of input, the Model 418 Amplifier raises the bar for reliable and efficient recreational, emergency, and even contest communications.

TEN-TEC Engineers have utilized state of the art, silicon MOSFET technology to create a continuous 100% dutycycle operations in both CW and SSB Modes. The Model 418 is also compliant with AM, FM, AFSK, and PSK modes of operation.

Measuring only 3.625” x 6.5” x 7.6” inches and weighing just 5.4 lbs, the Model 418 will operate from any 13.8VDC (+/-15%), 20 Amp power source.

Designed to interface with the new TEN-TEC Model 539 QRP Transceiver, the Model 418 amplifier can be easily connected to most low power transmitter designs (20 Watts or less input). The amplifier’s comprehensive User’s Manual and TEN-TEC’s industry standard Technical Support department make set up quick and easy.

The Model 418 can switch bands automatically or manually. It also has a two position manual antenna switch. Bypass operation allows low power operation until higher power is needed.

The Model 418’s large LCD front panel readout gives the operator essential information about Output Power, SWR, Operating Voltage, and even Operating Temperature.

The TEN-TEC Model 418 Amplifier is competitively priced at $785.00

Don’t for get to send us your latest Shack Photographs and submit links to your club or community event for the community page. This is a great way to get some exposure for your organization or a community event station.
The TEN-TEC SSB Net meeting frequency has changed to 7.260 LSB Sundays at 4PM Eastern Daylight Saving Time.

73
Jim Wharton, NO4A
Vice President

Elecraft KX3 Tops Sherwood Engineering’s Receiver Test Data

Wow–the Elecraft KX3 has some serious ears! Most impressive, Elecraft!

Mountain Xpress: Your cellphone can’t do this

One of the many hams profiled in Max Cooper’s article: Carl Smith (N4AA), publisher of The DX Magazine (Photo: Mountain Xpress)

I’m very proud of our local free community newspaper, the Mountain Xpress for its article on ham radio. Not only does the article give readership a short primer in the hobby, but it also profiles a variety of local hams–even an 18 year old YL.

This one is worth a read and goes beyond the boiler-plate local articles that usually follow on the heals of Field Day. I’ve included a few clips below:

(Source: Mountain Xpress)

On a stifling late-June day, a tangle of wires snakes through the open door of the Buncombe County Firefighters’ Training Center. Outside, the sun beats down and the roar of big generators fills the air; indoors, the atmosphere is even thicker, dense with a jarring concoction of radio static, Morse code and urgent voices.

[…]At first glance, the whole endeavor seems anachronistic. In an age of global communication, pervasive cell coverage and hundred-million-member social networks, what’s the attraction of basic, point-to-point radio communication? Who are these people who call each other not by name but by arcane strings of characters? What exactly are they doing?

[…]That fear may be unfounded: Today’s ubiquitous tech appears to be re-energizing the long-standing hobby. Pioneering operators have merged radio (an analog medium) with digital communication, and the Internet gives beginners a broad base of support.
“Amateur radio is very much alive and well,” says Bill Morine (N2COP), North Carolina section manager for the Relay League. “An awful lot of young people are coming out and seeing the merger of technologies between computers and wireless applications.”

Nationwide, there are 700,000 licensed hams — an all-time high, he reports. The licensing process is easy, Morine maintains, and ham radio’s staid image is no longer accurate.

[…]Carl Smith (N4AA) represents the old guard. Licensed in 1954 at age 14, the Air Force veteran and retired electronics salesman has logged more than 70,000 radio contacts, many from his home in Leicester. In ham circles, he’s a big deal: For the past 15 years, he’s published The DX Magazine, a bimonthly journal for serious hams with long-range ambitions.

[…]For some operators, service is ham radio’s primary purpose, and dropping the code requirement has unquestionably attracted many younger licensees. Eighteen-year-old Virginia Todd (KK4BRE), for example, got involved due to radio’s community-service opportunities and usefulness in emergencies.

“We volunteer a lot,” she says. “We did the bike race for Meals on Wheels and the Shut-In Trail Ridge Run.”

Paul Tilley (KK4BRD) says ham radio is just another communications tool he uses as a SKYWARN spotter. In foul weather, Tilley takes to the road in a truck equipped with a rooftop weather station, using his radio to report conditions to the National Weather Service. In remote areas lacking cell coverage, Tilley’s radio has enabled him to give people in the path of a storm time to prepare.

“There are storms that make it past the mountains that don’t appear on the radar at all,” Tilley explains. He’s had some close calls, including a lightning strike that destroyed his radio, but he stresses that he’s not a storm chaser. “Storm chasing in the mountains is extremely dangerous: You can’t see the weather coming.”

Even the most obsessed hams make time for community-service work. When Smith isn’t chasing DX, he heads the Buncombe County Amateur Radio Emergency Service, whose roughly 25 volunteers assist emergency-response agencies when normal communications fail. Because radio requires no infrastructure, it’s often vital in large-scale emergencies.

[…]That’s why emergency power is paramount on Field Day. But though the underlying purpose is serious, the event is also a chance for these operators to have some fun.

Watching Smith work CW is a jaw-dropping experience, and he quickly draws a crowd. Even while talking to those around him, he transmits so fast that the individual dits and dahs are barely discernible. Outside, other hams set up antennas in preparation for an all-nighter.

“This is my favorite day of the year,” says Tonya Campbell (WB0VDK) in between transmissions.

And as night falls, Marc Huennekens (KG4OPM) sets up a station in a tent in the bed of his truck. Using an old, tube-driven radio, he plans to log as many contacts as he can before falling asleep.

Back in the training center, the room is thick with Smith’s rapid-fire code, open-band static and low voices swapping stories. One old-timer recalls how it feels to be hit by lightning — twice.

After 24 grueling hours, the club has logged nearly 1,000 contacts. Smith alone worked 300 stations, transmitting all night and into the next morning. The allure of ham radio, he explains, is equal parts technical endeavor, community service and fellowship.

“Through ham radio,” notes Smith, “I can go anywhere in the world and know somebody and have a friend. I daresay your cellphone can’t do that.”

Read the full article in the Mountain Xpress online.

Curiosity making tracks…with morse code?

Today, I watched a fascinating eleven-minute NASA animation depicting key events of NASA’s newest Mars rover, Curiosity, in action.

Does this pattern remind you of something? Yep, the letter “L”. The other tires produce a “J” and “P” on the Martian surface. (Photo: NASA/JPL)

As I watched, I noticed something very peculiar about the tires–right around mark 5:15, one can see a pattern imprinted on them. At first I thought nothing of it, assuming NASA scientists had pondered the perfect pattern for traction and also shedding any trapped rocks or debris.

But–as my curiosity was piqued– a little research on the rover tires revealed this article from TyrePress.com: “Curiosity’s tyres ‘tagging’ Mars” in which the pattern is explained:

Yesterday the Mars Curiosity rover successfully went into action on the surface of the red planet, and the vehicle’s tyre tracks have gained a measure of notoriety. It turns out that Curiosity is ‘tagging’ the surface of Mars as it drives about.

A series of notches included in the track tyre tread is not just a pretty pattern – the notches are in fact Morse Code and spell out the letters ‘JPL’, short for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Curiosity is now busy leaving the laboratory’s initials all over Mars[;] however [this] is not just wanton interplanetary vandalism – the dots and dashes are part of the rover’s visual odometry system, used to estimate changes in position over time.

Brilliant!  Not to mention, practical…NASA has just put morse code on the Mars surface!

Perhaps it proves that it’ll be very difficult to do away with morse code. At least, until NASA sends a sweeper or Zen garden raker-rover to Mars.

QRP radios, product announcements, reviews, news and more. Low power amateur radio fun!