Thursday, February 26, 2009

STS-119 Launch Target Now Mid-March

Feb. 25, 2009

Candrea Thomas
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Katherine Trinidad
Headquarters, Washington

Kyle Herring
Johnson Space Center, Houston

RELEASE: 09-042


WASHINGTON -- NASA's Space Shuttle Program has established a plan that could support shuttle Discovery's launch to the International Space Station, tentatively targeted for March 12. An exact target launch date will be determined as work progresses with the shuttle's three gaseous hydrogen flow control valves.

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians have started removing Discovery's three valves, two of which will undergo detailed inspection. Approximately 4,000 images of each valve will be reviewed for evidence of cracks. Valves that have flown fewer times will be installed in Discovery. Engineering teams also will complete analysis and testing to understand the consequences if a valve piece were to break off and strike pressurization lines between the shuttle and external fuel tank. Hardware modifications may be made to the pressurization lines to add extra protection in the unlikely event debris is released.

NASA and contractor teams have been working to identify what caused damage to a flow control valve on shuttle Endeavour during its November 2008 flight. Part of the main propulsion system, the valves channel gaseous hydrogen from the main engines to the external tank. After a thorough review of shuttle Discovery's readiness for flight on Feb. 20, NASA managers decided more understanding of the valve work was required before launching Discovery.

The Space Shuttle Program will hold a meeting March 4 to review new data and assess ongoing work. Managers then will determine whether to move forward with a flight readiness review March 6.
If Discovery's tentative launch date holds, there will be no effect on the next two shuttle launches: STS-125 to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and STS-127 to the International Space Station.

For STS-119 crew and mission information, visit:

For information about the space station, visit:


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More on HFDL

1. James Gilbert in Florida reports that he has the new PC-HFDL version 2.042 working fine under Vista and on a Winradio virtual sound card. Others report similar success with the program and Vista.

2. The new Panama HFDL station is being copied widely working aircraft on 10063 and 17901 kHz. It fills a gap in Central America. James has it in FL on 17 MHz, and so do I in CA. Along with squitters, I have recently logged new aircraft N317UP, N446UP (both UPS), LX-RCV (Cargolux), N17122, N33132 (both Continental), HP-1521, HP-1534CMP (both Copa), and XA-MXQ (Mexicana).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

WNE: New US Commercial Medium-Frequency Station

The historic old medium-frequency maritime band continues to be repopulated with new commercial stations seeking to keep this heritage alive. This information comes from Richard Dillman at KSM/KPH/K6KPH:

Another new US coast station has been granted a license for operation in the MF maritime mobile band.

OM Steve Russell of Stoneham, MA has been granted the very fitting call WNE for his station with authorization for 5000W on 500kc and 472kc in the name of the New England Historical Radio Society, Inc. Steve will be building the station "from the ground up", as he puts it. Erection of the antenna will have to await until temperatures rise a bit but the base for it has already been installed.

WNE joins two other recently licensed stations, KDR (Bellevue, WA on 500kc and 482kc) and WFT (Palmetto, FL on 500kc and 486kc), as part of the re-population of the MF maritime mobile band with commercially licensed stations.

"We have a lot of work to do and any input, suggestions, questions or donations will be greatly appreciated to make this happen" says Steve. We at the MRHS applaud the effort Steve has made to obtain his license and his willingness to take on the job of building a new commercial coast station. His efforts and those of Joseph Venable of WFT and James Dalke of KDR are major steps toward keeping commercial Morse alive in this most historic portion of the radio spectrum.

VY 73,


PC-HFDL Version 2.042 Now Available

The new HFDL system table got me interested, so I decided to install the new version of Charles Brain's commercial PC-HFDL program. It's been out for a couple of weeks now. While Charles' old web site is still gone forever, a stub page at his old link will give you a link to the new version, which is PC-HFDL 2.042.

The big news is that PC-HFDL now works under Vista. Most people are probably aware that Vista made large changes in the way the operating system handles the sound card. The code now handles these. I haven't tried it on a Vista machine, but those who have say it works just fine.

It still works fine under XP, though there are a couple of new quirks and weirdnesses that replace the old quirks and weirdnesses with regard to setting up the channels and spectrum display. Since my system is a bit different than most, there's no point in my describing my own strangeness, since your strangeness might vary.

Also, I am told that the program still works better with some sound cards than others. It does great with my old external USB Sound Blaster, and in fact the rate of successful decodes is up noticeably on weak signals. (At this point in the solar non-cycle, that of course is most of them.)

Charles has added the pcfhdl.dat file that we talked about in the previous post to this blog. This means that the program is up to date with system table number 34 (22 hex) right out of the box. You still have to change the entry in pchfdl.txt from Annapolis to Albrook AB in Panama, though. BTW, I have heard this ground station and aircraft exchanging data on 10063 kHz, so it is definitely live.

Given the many variables, I'd back up the files in the PC-HFDL subfolders before doing the update. While you probably won't need to uninstall everything and start over with 2.031, we are dealing with computers here. Nothing is too strange.

Monday, February 09, 2009

More On New HFDL System Table #34 (0x0022)

Users of PC-HFDL probably know that when ARINC changes the System Table of frequencies used for this huge system, the mismatch is picked up by the program. You see this when it reverts to using numbers instead of frequencies in kHz. Checking the "System Table" box to open the window won't help, because the program still doesn't have the new information.

PC-HFDL does have the ability to update itself, but you have to be lucky. What happens is that the mismatch is also picked up by the "real" HFDL system, which sends aircraft the new table until everyone has it. Those who are listening at the right time, or the real hard core fans who run PC-HFDL 24/7 are already in business.

Everyone else has to update it by hand. Here's what you do:

1. Find the directory containing PC-HFDL. There should be a subfolder called configs (all lower case). This contains, at a minimum, three files auto-generated by PC-HFDL the first time it runs. These are:

pchfdl.ini (don't worry about this one);

pchfdl.dat (contains a lot of weird text and binary stuff that is apparently a capture of the system table from the air; this is how the program updates itself);

pchfdl.txt (a list of ground stations, with unused slots and 0 padded with UNKNOWN).

2. Ordinarily, only pchfdl.dat would need to be changed. However, this time there's a new ground station. This one replaces the long-gone Annapolis station in slot number 11. It's at or near the old Albrook Air Base near Panama City, which was once used by the US until the canal was given back. Therefore the HFDL community has decided to call it ALBROOK in PC-HFDL.

Therefore, two files must be changed.

3. Back up pchfdl.dat and pchfdl.txt somewhere else, so you have untouched copies if you need to revert.

4. Make sure PC-HFDL is not running, or none of the subsequent steps will work.

5. Download the new pchfdl.dat from somewhere. I got my copy from the excellent HFDL group on Yahoo. This is a great group populated by the real heavy duty HFDL monitors, and it is highly recommended. If you don't want to join, a copy of the file is on the Utility World site. It's the same one in use here, though for various reasons I can't guarantee it will be right for everyone.

6. Go to the PC-HFDL config folder and rename the existing pchfdl.dat. Copy in the new one. Make sure the file doesn't get changed in any way, for it indeed IS a binary and must be treated as such. Most problems in this step come from the file getting changed somehow.

7. Now it's time to fix the ground station list. This is easy. Rename pchfdl.txt and open it an any plain text editor like Notepad. Don't use a formatting editor like MS-WORD that adds stuff, unless you know how to save straight text from the program. Find the line containing ANNAPOLIS - MARYLAND and change it to ALBROOK - PANAMA.

When you're done, the text in the file should look like this:


Save as pchfdl.txt and exit.

8. Fire up PC-HFDL, find some squitters to decode, and you should be back in business.

I have working copies of pchfdl.dat and pchfdl.txt for public download on the Utility World web site. You're welcome to them, though of course I must again note that they have no guarantees due to the jungle that is Windows. They were good files whey I put them up there, but that's where my knowledge of them stops.

I also have version34.txt, which is just a straight capture of the contents of the window that comes up when you check the System Table box. It's a good way to get the new table in its entirety. However, it's not needed for the operation of PC-HFDL.

Have a good flight!

New HFDL System Table 34 (0x22) Is Out

Never fails... you disappear for a few days to eliminate a backlog of projects, and all hell breaks loose.

This time it's a new system table for ARINC's global HFDL system. It has apparently added an altogether new ground station in the open slot 11, and changed quite a few things. More when I get it up and running here.

WebSDR PSK250 Station Identified

We have a positive ID on the station mentioned just below. It's the one that transmits long weather bulletins apparently from Hamburg NAVTEX and Deutcher Wetterdienst. I'd been trying to figure that one out for a week.

A Google search for PSK250 (the mode used, a hot-rod 250-baud variant of psk31) plus a few other things turned up the wiki for PSKmail, yet another HF e-mail system. This one is in use worldwide, though I've never heard it here in The Land That Shortwave Forgot.

Be that as it may, the wiki turned up a list of PSKmail servers. A likely candidate seemed to be DK4XI-8, a DK4XI mail node using a center frequency of 3588.0 kHz. The station is listed as German. The frequency would seem right, in view of the various offsets we're dealing with here. It's listed as not beaconing, but note the identifier that was also copied at the end of the elephant picture a couple of posts down.

Sure enough, I subsequently copied a CQ DE DK4XI-8 preamble before a scheduled weather broadcast at 2116 UTC today (February 9, 2009). Isn't that always the way, that you see an identifier right after you spend a whole morning hunting things down? Anyway, it's confirmed.

BTW, the killer signal right above it on 3588.5 is DA5UWG. It's another PSK250 automated PSKmail server.

WebSDR Utility Hits

WebSDR is a remote Software Defined Radio at the University of Twente, Netherlands (grid locator JO32KF). It runs a Java applet that displays three waterfalls for amateur band segments, and allows multiple Internet users worldwide to listen to different parts of these at the same time.

While the amateur signals are interesting enough, the real fun is the utility reception at this location. It gives those of us trapped here on the US West Coast (aka The Land That Shortwave Forgot) a chance to hear some of those utilities that Europeans keep reporting on UDXF.

Here's a short log of some recent stuff I heard. Keep in mind that some of the frequencies are offset from where you'd hear them on your own equipment. Others are not (because I looked them up).

3589.7 (Indicated on WebSDR)
Unid - BPSK250 Weather obs in GG 01/30/09 0636
This unidentified station appears to dump files from various sources on a regular schedule. At 250 baud, it's pushing the limit of what the rubbery Internet timing can pass undistorted. Garbled characters are common. However, there's never been anything resembling an ID.

One file included many amateur callsigns and sets of coordinates, perhaps an APRS dump. Another one, passed frequently at hour +15, contains Deutscher Wetterdienst (German Weather Office) warnings and formatted marine safety bulletins from "NAVTEX-Hamburg."

80 meter Russian single-letter HF beacon cluster:
3593.7 CW SLHFB "D" Sevastopol 02/04/09 0431
3593.8 CW SLHFB "P" Kaliningrad 02/08/09 2142
3593.9 CW SLHFB "S" Severomorsk 02/04/09 0431
(frequencies are actual, from records)

3607.0 Unid Link-11 (idling) 01/04/09 0427
3610.0 Unid Link-11 (busy) 01/04/09 0427
(On pretty much nightly. Unknown NATO. Other Link-11 comes and goes. Frequencies are WebSDR readings.)

Other utilities abound in the band 3500-3700, which by the way is legal for their use in region 1. There are several very strange fax-like digital signals. Also, several old fashioned analog weather fax stations can be copied here, though the SDR's timing makes sync difficult.

40 meter Russian single-letter HF beacon cluster:
7038.7 CW SLHFB "D" Sevastopol 01/30/09 0650
7038.8 CW SLHFB "P" Kaliningrad 01/30/09 0659
7038.9 CW SLHFB "S" Severomorsk 01/30/09 0650
7039.0 CW SLHFB "C" Moscow 01/30/09 0650
7039.1 CW SLHFB "A" Astrakhan? 02/03/09 2050
(Actual freqs, from lists.)