Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New PLT Product Brings HF Doom A Step Closer

Let's forget the tech speak, and the engineering talk of decibels and signal levels.

Here's what is happening, in plain English:

What we are facing is the design and high-powered marketing of a whole large family of new products which cannot operate normally without ENDING SHORT WAVE RADIO, FOREVER.

Period.

It's no more technical, or esoteric than that. NO MORE SHORT WAVE. EVER. The entire HF band, 2 to 29 megahertz, JAMMED by the most highly distributed system of wideband HF noise generators EVER INVENTED. If WE do not act proactively, NOW, these will be in every building in the industrialized world.

Is that simple enough?

The latest such invention being heavily marketed, amid glowing praise in magazines, sends audio through power lines using HF carriers at a high enough power to jam the entire spectrum in a radius of hundreds or thousands of feet depending on conditions.

This particular product was tested by someone on the UKQRM list and was found to have NO NOTCHES! Amateur radio frequencies are NOT PROTECTED! This matches the experience in Portugal, where products are distributed without these notches.

Got that? No more utility. No more ham. No more use of marine USB while dockside. NO MORE SHORT WAVE RADIO, ANYWHERE IN THE INDUSTRIALIZED WORLD, EVER AGAIN.

I don't know why I bother with this cause. The apathy is complete, and the regulatory indifference is shocking. Unless a movement starts, right now, involving people who traditionally distrust political movements, it will be over. The regulatory agencies will say, well, that's the breaks. Sorry about that.

The people of this Earth will lose the most accessible and democratic (small d) communication medium ever invented. This will have a tragic effect on all history.

Now... is that clear enough?

Monday, March 16, 2009

STS-119 Is On Orbit

Do check out the pictures of the launch. It was right at twilight and absolutely gorgeous.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

STS-119 On Time for 2343 UTC Launch

The Discovery countdown continues. Crew is in the vehicle and last close-outs are in progress.

For the first time I can ever remember, there is a 0% chance that weather will violate launch constraints.

STS-119 Count Continues

Discovery is still on target for a Sunday launch at 7:43 PM EDT (2343 UTC). The Rotating Service Structure was rolled back at 0030 Saturday UTC, and tanking begins in about 10 hours.

Check for range and Booster Recovery Vessel activity on the usual frequencies. At night, the best ones are around 5 MHz.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

ISS Crew Back In Station

The space debris has passed without incident, and the crew has left the Soyuz and gone back to normal operations.

Space Station on Debris Watch

The crew of the ISS has put the station on auto and evacuated to a Soyuz spacecraft docked to the station. This is after space debris from a spent satellite kick motor drifted into the danger box.

The closest approach is at 1639 UTC, in other words right about now. The crew should be re-entering the station shortly.

Just In: LORAN-C Is Dead in the USA!

In a major policy reversal required by economic belt-tightening in this year's US government budget, the US Coast Guard has announced that the United States LORAN-C navigation system will shut down at a time to be determined.

It appears that LORAN was specifically defunded in the budget, which refers to it as "outdated."

Better hope GPS keeps working.

Here's the terse release at NAVCEN:

The Operating Status of LORAN-C

LORAN-C provides coverage for maritime navigation in U.S. coastal areas. It provides navigation, location, and timing services for both civil and military air, land and marine users. LORAN-C is approved as an en route supplemental air navigation system for both Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) and Visual Flight Rule (VFR) operations. The LORAN-C system serves the 48 continental states, their coastal areas, and parts of Alaska.

On February 26, 2009, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) publicly announced the President's Fiscal Year 2010 Budget. In the section for the Department of Homeland Security, the budget "supports the termination of outdated systems such as the terrestrial-based, long-range radionavigation (LOrAN-C) operated by the U.S. Coast Guard resulting in an offset of $36 million in 2010 and $190 million over five years." For more information on the proposed FY2010 Budget, visit the OMB website under President's Budget.

The Coast Guard will continue to operate the current Loran C system through the end of FY2009 and is preparing detailed plans for implementing the FY2010 Budget.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

STS-119 Now No Earlier Than Sunday

Following the meeting mentioned in the last post, the STS-119 launch to the space station has been postponed until this Sunday at the earliest.

A Sunday launch would be at 7:43 PM EDT, with the usual launch window of around 7 minutes to achieve proper orbit to reach the ISS. However, this remains contingent on exactly how much work will be required to fix the problem with the gaseous hydrogen vent line.

Another meeting will take place tomorrow to assess how well troubleshooting is going, then a firmer decision will be made.

STS-119 Scrubs 10 Minutes After My Last Post

Launch count has recycled one day. New launch target is 8:54 PM EDT Thursday, but this is contingent on a meeting of the mission directors that is taking place right about now.

Scrub was caused by a leak in a gaseous hydrogen line leading to the flare where the hazardous gas is burned off.

Sorry I'm the last to post this. I went to lunch, and when I got back the shuttle had not gone to launch. (Sorry about that too.)

Revised MT NASA Guide Now Available

Larry Van Horn has just announced an update of the Monitoring Times guide to monitoring NASA.

It's at the MT Web site. Download is free to all.

The STS-119 countdown is still on time for a 9:20 PM EDT launch. Fuel loading should be complete right around now. Weather still shows only a 5% chance of violating constraints.

Shuttle Still Counting for Wednesday Night Launch

STS-119 is targeted to launch at 9:20 PM Wednesday evening local time, or 0120 Thursday UTC. The flight is going to the International Space Station to add the last solar panel. Launch window is therefore only a few minutes.

NASA TV has begun coverage. Booster Recovery Vessels and range operations will begin soon, and they will be audible on HF. Cape Radio has been heard testing on all frequencies. Specific loggings have been made on 6550, 10780, 11548, 13212, and 14937 kHz USB. There are usually a few other low frequencies that light up closer to launch. Keep watching this and other blogs for hits.

Also go to http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle for latest NASA info.

Monday, March 02, 2009

WSPR@Home

I've been running WSPR fed by my own radio instead of the WebSDR. Guess what: it's active in the USA too! Here are some hits:

10138.6 2 mar
0504 -22 0.8 10.140175 1 W3HH EL89 33
0510 -16 0.7 10.140190 0 AA0DW DN70 37
0514 -11 5.9 10.140186 -1 WT5N EL09 37
0526 -16 6.1 10.140151 -1 WT5N EL09 37
0544 -22 0.8 10.140134 0 AA0DW DN70 37

7038.6 2 mar
0606 -15 1.8 7.040069 0 K0FT EM17 37
0608 -21 0.9 7.040077 0 KC2QII FN20 40
0616 -11 1.5 7.040069 0 K0FT EM17 37
0620 -19 0.9 7.040078 0 KC2QII FN20 40
0626 -19 1.0 7.040078 0 KC2QII FN20 40
0628 -12 0.6 7.040070 0 K0FT EM17 37

10138.7 2 mar
0634 -16 0.7 10.140151 0 AA0DW DN70 37
0636 -23 0.6 10.140122 1 WD8INF EM79 37
0638 -25 0.6 10.140138 0 W3HH EL89 33

For those interested in propagation spotting, I'm in DM04.

All signals are deep in the noise. Typical transmitter powers are around one watt, or lower. In fact, the program does not work as well on very strong signals. No wonder they call it whispering.

30 meters was completely dead otherwise. Maybe we've found a way to communicate on HF in the post-sunspot, pre-HomePlug era.

Here's a list of suggested WSPR frequencies, all USB. Park on one, make sure your computer clock is in perfect sync, and check back every even minute to see what your computer has found for you.

Band Dial freq (MHz) Tx freq (MHz)
160m 1.836600 1.838000 - 1.838200
80m 3.592600 3.594000 - 3.594200
60m 5.287200 5.288600 - 5.288800
40m 7.038600 7.040000 - 7.040200
30m 10.138700 10.140100 - 10.140300
20m 14.095600 14.097000 - 14.097200
17m 18.104600 18.106000 - 18.106200
15m 21.094600 21.096000 - 21.096200
12m 24.924600 24.926000 - 24.926200
10m 28.124600 28.126000 - 28.126200
6m 50.293000 50.294400 - 50.294600
2m 144.488500 144.489900 - 144.490100

(I've also seen 10138.6. It really doesn't seem to make a difference for casual utility receiving.)

Links:
WSPRnet
http://wsprnet.org/drupal/
Where to get the program
http://www.physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/K1JT/
And how to use it
http://www.frenning.dk/OZ1PIF_HOMEPAGE/Whisper_Guide.html

The Great WebSDR Tour - Part 4 (40m)

We conclude The Great WebSDR Tour with some stuff found on 40 meters.

7033.3 (listed 7037.9)
I probably should have switched to LSB before getting a frequency on this one. It's TA2BBS-4, node #4 of a packet/Pactor mailbox and bulletin board system. The transmitter is in Ankara, Turkey.

7034.0 (see above, listed freq is much higher)
This is also packet, but I couldn't get an ID

7038.7
This is the infamous 40 meter SLHFB cluster that European hams have been serenaded by for decades now. Like 80m and the others, it's a cluster of propagation beacons (?) used by the Russian Navy. They bang away in CW, with single-letter IDs spaced 100 Hz that are consistent from cluster to cluster. That's why you'll remember some of these from 80.

Here's what I have so far:

7038.7 "D" Sevastopol 01/30/09 0650
7038.8 "P" Kaliningrad 01/30/09 0659
7038.9 "S" Severomorsk 01/30/09 0650
7039.0 "C" Moscow 01/30/09 0650
7039.1 "A" Astrakhan? 02/03/09 2050

(Again, thanks to Ary Boender.)

Quite the racket when these are all coming in at once, with different letters fading up and down at different rates.

7054.0
Indicated center frequency of what sounds like a loud teleprinting idler. May be an image, I don't know. It's REALLY loud, and it appears (much weaker) the same distance from the other side of the IQ mixer center frequency. Appears to be 75/200 and sounds like some military and diplo stuff but I have no way of knowing if I'm right. Fades in and out with the night time skip. ?????????????

Happy SDR'ing!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Great WebSDR Tour - Part 3

3589.7 (Dial, listed 3588.0)
This is an output frequency for an interesting European data network called PSKmail. Those who have used "packet" mailboxes get the concept, except that this one is in PSK250. This is a much faster, and much wider, version of the PSK31 that everyone's probably heard on 14070 kHz. It works better than HF packet, and you don't need a US $1500 modem to receive it, like you do for Pactor-II and III. The shareware MultiPSK program does it just fine, even over the grungy webSDR.

The station on this frequency identifies as DK4XI-8. It seems to dump large files of amateur callsigns and coordinates on the hour. I don't know if these are APRS or obtained in other ways. Many of the stations are afloat. At hour +15, it dumps an even larger file of Deutscher Wetterdienst WX and NAVTEX Hamburg, both in German. This contains weather observations and maritime safety information from the German weather and hydromet offices.

I've also copied another PSK250 station, DA5UWG, on 3588.5. This is also PSKmail.

3592.6 (listed, dial can vary all over)
This is an interesting world propagation spotting net using a semi-automated amateur mode called WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Reporter, aka "whisper"). WSPR is implemented in another small computer program resembling WSJT. Look and feel are similar, since both are written by K1JT, but WSPR is even less intuitive if that's possible.

This mode is designed for very bad HF circuits. It is precisely timed, with transmissions beginning exactly 2 seconds into each even UTC minute and lasting around 110 seconds. DEFINITELY sync your computer to an Internet time server if you're going to use THIS mode.

The information rate is very slow, around 1 baud. The signal is only about 6 Hz wide. It uses a very narrow 4PSK modulation and a lot of redundancy (FEC, etc). Therefore the dedicated WSPR software decoder can extract very weak signals, well below the noise.

Even when it's audible, WSPR is easy to confuse with just another dirty carrier or more local computer grunge. This makes it easy to miss, but if you park WSPR on the SDR at or near 3592.6 USB, you'll hear it eventually. At home, try this one and 10138.6 USB.

So far my only successfully decoded hit is:

0622 -4 1.7 3.594074 0 OE1SMC JN88 30

and yes, the actual transmitted frequencies are between 3594 and 3594.2 kHz.

3595.7
Our tour comes to an end with the Russian Navy SLHFB Single-Letter HF Beacon cluster. Like all these clusters, this one consists of several CW Morse beacons spaced 0.1 kHz repeating one letter forever. These have been on the air for a very long time, and they are thought to be propagation beacons. It's possible to tune in the whole range at once and see where the band's open to.

So far, on 80, we have nailed:

3593.7 "D" Sevastopol 02/04/09 0431
3593.8 "P" Kaliningrad 02/08/09 2142
3593.9 "S" Severomorsk 02/04/09 0431

(Thanks to Ary Boender for the locations).

There should at least be "C" (3594.0, Moscow) audible at some point, and also an "A" on 3594.1 and maybe a "K."

Well, that's the 80 meter part of our tour. Sure a lot more to hear than around here.

For those who want to do the WebSDR thing, there's a list of these here. Note that K7UEB has just brought up a new one at his US location near Walla Walla, WA. It covers 14000-14095 kHz (or most of the 20 meter digital band).

Happy decoding!

The Great WebSDR Tour - Part 2

We continue our tour of 80 meters on the Dutch WebSDR.

3582.1 (dial; listed is 3581.5)
This is W1AW, the ARRL Headquarters superstation in Newington, CT. Code practice and bulletins are audible nightly. I wish I could get it as well here.

~3585
One of several weather FAX stations in this range. These are very weak. This and the SDR's woozy timing guarantee poor reception of these faxes, but they are identifiable as weather charts sent at 120/576.

3585.5 (listed 3584.5)
One of several ALE frequencies. It might be worthwhile to park on these, but I hate to tie up their server. By the time I can tune them in, it's too late to sync up and get an ID. I would guess this one is amateur, since it's a listed ALE calling frequency for Regions II and III.

Other ALE frequencies include, but are not limited to, 3587.6 and 3618.2.

3585.0
Unknown STANAG 4285, that jet-plane noise made by a NATO data communications mode about 3 kHz wide. Started and stopped. Also voice in a language other than English, using military-sounding procedures and NATO phonetics. STANAG 4285 has also been heard on 3614.4.

3586.5
VERY approximate frequency of NATO tactical data linking in Link-11 mode. There's Link-11 all through this part of 80 at night. That's what it is. Hams have nothing similar. It's the military.

Other Link-11 frequencies include, but are not limited to, 3590.5, 3607.0, and 3610.0 kHz.

--------
Break, more to follow

The Great WebSDR Tour - Part 1

The WebSDR in the Netherlands just keeps getting more popular. Maybe it's too popular. The server is getting pretty hammered.

It's easy to see why, because this box gets everything. Maybe it's the full size antenna. 20 is dead, but 80 and 40 sound like old times, with stations from one end to the other of the SDR's little segments. Back here in The Land That Shortwave Forgot, I haven't heard the low bands this active since I was a small boy with a big antenna.

Let's begin our tour on 80 meters. This band is shared in Europe. Amateurs co-exist with military utilities and even weather faxes.

The SDR coverage begins around 3576.0 kHz. Frequencies are corrected to documented listed ones where available, otherwise it's the reading of the SDR "dial."

3576.0-3578.0
This is a JT65 working frequency range. Stations pick frequencies plus or minus QRM. JT65 is part of a computer program named WSJT which has several digital modes designed for EME (Earth-Moon-Earth communication, aka "moon bounce"). This is done on VHF and UHF, making 80 meters an unlikely place to find these extremely slow polytone-like transmissions. However, a quick session with WSJT decodes them, proving that's what it is.

Here's one morning's decoding done here. It's right off the Internet, rubbery timing and distortion and all:

1836 CQ UT0TV KN39
1843 CQ UA1ZFL KP67
2024 CQ TF3HZ HP94
2025 TF3HZ UA1ZFL KP67
2027 TF3HZ UA1ZFL R-20
2032 UA0AET RA4NCX RRR
2033 GM0AXY
2034 GM0AXY UT0TV -06
2036 CQ RA4NCX LO49

JT65 has three submodes, A through C, depending on the amount of frequency shift made by the single sine wave tone. On receive, WSJT can pick the right one. The sound in your speaker really does slightly resemble the slow preamble sent by the Russian polytone numbers stations (XP and XPH). It's a steady beep changing frequency at regular intervals.

This net sounds weird, which might explain why it seems to have picked up some jamming. Maybe the jammers don't know what it is, or maybe they want them to do it somewhere else. Since the jamming (manually swept carriers) follows the stations around, we know there are people sitting at radios turning knobs. It's definitely a ham turf battle.

3577.0 IZ3DVW Italian Propagation beacon, ~1 watt. Always loud and right in the middle of all the JT65 fuss. Sends long carriers and the callsign plus "BEACON" in CW Morse.

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Break, more to follow.