PowerSDR and Flex-Radio offerings becoming prime contest tools

image

FlexRadio systems is launching new products and new improved software all the time. I have been following the SDR scene for several years now and experimenting with the Softrock 40 and softrock RX-TX as well as some earlier VHF SDRs has been fun.

I must say that the offerings from flex-radio is now becoming more tempting than many offerings from traditional suppliers like Yaesu and Icom. My FT-2000 with the latest software is surely a great radio (the best I have had so far) but I think a FLEX-5000A with diversity RX and the newest PowerSDR software must soon be tried in a serious contest effort. The filters, diversity functions and FFT bandscope functions are simply great. One thing that lacks are the feel of real buttons and controls. But that has also been taken care of (read below)

Here you can see a video from Flex-Radio where they take the new tracking notch filters (TNF-RF)  for a spin:

In case you lack the feeling of a real radio, DH1TW is here demonstrating the use of a DJ controller for adjusting VFO and other radio functions:

Surely great stuff! Stay tuned!

How to upgrade the firmware of your Funcube dongle

I had some problems of getting my Funcube dongle (purchased dec 2011) to work with SDR-RADIO version 1.5 build 879 (beta). The reason was that the funcube dongle didn’t have the latest firmware.

The www.funcubedongle.com webpage is a bit unclear about how to do the upgrade, so here I have written up how to upgrade the software.

 

1 ) Goto www.funcubedongle.com

2 ) Select downloads

3 ) Download Windows fully functional front end

4 ) Download Boot loader with source code

5 ) Unzip those two archives in a suitable directory. (If you need a free zip tool, you can use the free WinRar software that you can download from Rarlabs homepage http://www.rarlab.com/ )

6 ) Make sure you close all other SDR programs that may acess the funcube dongle. This is important so that the funcube is not “occupied” by another program

7 ) Plug in your funcube dongle to one of your USB ports

8 ) Wait 10 secs and listen for the “bling” sound that windows sends to signal that a new USB unit was detected

9 ) Start the FCHID.exe file (the front end)

You should now see something like this –>

image

10 ) Click the read device. You should now NOT see any error message. In case the read went ok, you now have a connection to your funcube dongle

11 ) You now want to set the funcube dongle in the bootloader mode. This means that the funcube is ready to boot from new software.

Here comes the confusing part: you must start another piece of software to upload the new firmware to the funcube. You cannot do that from the FCHID.exe file. The software you use for uploading the firmware is FCHIDBL.exe

12) Start FCHIDBL.exe (from the CHIDBL___Win32_Debug subdirectory where you unzipped the Boot loader with source code ) file from point 4) above

13) Download the latest firmware from Firmware v18i – Save it to the same directory as you saved the other files.  NOTE per Jan 2012 this was the latest software but this may have changed when you read this !!! Check what is the latest file before you upgrade!

14) Now start the FCHIDBL.exe file. You should see something like this:

image

15) Click the Open file button

16) Select the *.bin file you saved earlier (the *.bin file contains the firmware)

image

17 ) At this point -> if you are on a laptop make sure your laptop battery is OK or that the laptop is plugged into a AC adapter, so that you don’t risk that your laptop shuts down while you flash the firmware to the Funcube dongle.

18 ) Click WRITE FIRMWARE button. Now click RESET TO APP to get out of boot loader mode (Thanks to Jeff Murri for this tip).

19 ) Close both programs you opened earlier

20 ) Wait 10 secs (just in case)

21 ) Plug out the funcube dongle  (Probably overkill, but hey…)

22 ) Wait 10 secs (to let windows have time to unload the driver. Not sure if this is really necessary. But hey …..)

23 ) Plug in the funcube dongle again

24 ) Congratulations, you have upgraded to the latest firmware !

Receiving wideband FM with the Funcube dongle

image

I have recently acquired a Funcube dongle software defined radio. The Funcube dongle is a small USB unit that contains a E4000 Silicon Tuner (radio on a chip), a TLV320AIC3104 Audio Codec and a Microchip 24FJ32GB002 16bit Microcontroller. This small USB device gives me coverage from 64 to 1700 Mhz with some small gaps according to the manufacturers data. You can download more information here: http://www.funcubedongle.com

As a windows SDR RX I am at the moment experimenting with the sdr-radio program that you can download here: http://www.sdr-radio.com

The picture above shows a FM broadcast transmitter in the Oslo area. You can also see the pilot carrier that is used to encode the stereo information if you look carefully

NOAA solar wind prediction tool

NOAA has a nice tool that can be of utility for radio amateur operators that are interested in how the geomagnetic field will be affected and how strongly it will be affected. It is now possible to see when there is a high likelihood that the K and AP indexes will rise.

image

By processing the data from the STEREO satellites that are positioned “behind” and to “the side” of the sun, it is possible to plot the solar winds that are emitted from the sun.
You can check it out here: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/wsa-enlil/cme-based/
The sun and the earth as well as the two STEREO satellites are seen from above in the circular images above. The green spot is the earth. The yellow spot is the sun. The grayish spot is the stereo satellite that sees the emissions from the sun before any active areas has rotated towards the earth. The red spot is the stereo satellite that sees the emissions from sun after any active area has rotated thru the earth direction.

The fan shaped images to in the center of the image above is the sun and earth seen “from the side”. It is possible to check if the emissions from the sun will propagate above, below or towards the earth. The AZ images on the left alone are not enough, because a particle emission may have the direction of the earth in zimuth (seen from the sun) but may have too high an elevation or too low an elevation to hit the earth.

Simulation of HV glitch resistor and HV SCR crowbar circuit

I have posted a simulation for investigating energy dissipation when a high power transmitting vacuum tube arcs over from anode to grid (A-G arcing). I have simulated energy dissipation in the glitch resistor, in a simulated SCR based crowbar circuit and finally in the vacuum tube itself. In this case an Eimac YC-179 high power triode with a 6KV DC supply is investigated. The PSU storage capacitor is 20 uF.

Schematic:

Curves:

According to an Eimac engineering note, the maximum energy the grid circuit of a typical Eimac YC-179 or 8877 can take is 4 Joules. With only a fuse and a glitch resistor it looks like it will be hard to prevent the grid taking less than 4 Joules of energy. A typical Elschukom HV fuse opens after 10ms at 10x rated current according Elschukom datasheets. This is too long time to prevent the tube becoming damaged, if Eimacs data is not too conservative. I suspect the opening time will be less if loaded by 100-200x the rated current. I have contacted Elschukom engineering department to get more data.

In this simulation I have taken the time integral of the current x voltage product to investigate energy dissipation in Joules. (A not very well documented trick in LTspice is to CTRL+left click on the trace you would like to investigate to get the numerical time itegral of the trace data. If the trace data is a compound statement, the integral engine will give you correct units. For example P in Watts x t in seconds will give you Joules).

The findings in this simulation may be incorrect. Please contact me if you have comments or would like to share experiences from practical field tests.

Instructions:
===========

If you want to disable the crowbar to see dissipation with just a glitch resistor, just change R1 to 10 MEG.

If you want to change the PSU DC voltage, right click V1 and change to desired value.

In case you would like to increase the capacitance of the capacitor bank, right click C1 and enter your new value.

If you want to change timings, please change pulse sources (they control the voltage controlled switches to simulate the sequencing in a real HV PSU).

You can download the simulation files here:
hv_crowbar_switch_test_with_tube.asc

Here is the LTspice plot settings control file (Rename the file so it has a .plt extension and load it via Plot Settings / Open Plot Settings file) :
energy_in_glitch_res_and_tube.txt

These files are licensed to you free of charge for hobby use. If you change them you have to share the results back. If you would like to use these files for commercial design / R&D purposes, please contact the author for more information.

Hi Pot tester schematic

I have posted the equivalent schematic for my hipot tester.


The design is based loosely on some ideas from K8CU and AG6K.  However, I have simplified the circuit somewhat and used different components. The mechanical encapsulation is also different. I used LTspice to verify the tester before building it. The schematic is from the LTspice simulation (see below). I have also posted the simulation files so you can load them into your own LTspice simulator.

The unit consists of a 700VA 12KV AC RMS output (nominal) center tapped neon sign transformer that I purchased on Ebay. The trafo was designed for less than 230V AC RMS nominal primary voltage. Therefore the transformer gives out a bit more than 12KV AC RMS when supplied from the 230V AC RMS mains in Norway. After the rectifier I get approx 17-18 KV DC. The transformer is simulated by a sine voltage source in LTSpice. The transformer is insulated from ground in the tester for safety reasons. The schematic shows a gnd connection but that is only to get the Spice 3F4 solver to accept the netlist. It is recommended to insulate your tester from ground if you build one. There is a variac (not drawn on the schematic) in front of the transformer and the input is current limited by two 100W light bulbs in parallel (bulbs not drawn on the schematic). The voltage metering circuit is a uA meter with a shunt resistor and the current measurement instrument is a std. 100uA instrument protected by back to back diodes (not drawn on the schematic). The instruments are at high potential so adequate protection must be implemented to prevent arcs to the operator.  The device under test (DUT) is drawn. Note that a working tube has much higher resistance than 100 megs that is the load in the simulation. However this is placed as a load test for the simulation to check smoothing of the output voltage. The chassis is built in plastic and lexan and I have ensured long creepage distances by utilisation of vertical lexan insulators. There are no detected creepage currents at all even at full DC HV potential with my current design.

WARNING: do not attempt to build this high voltage device unless you are experienced in electronics and high voltage circuits. Touching the HV leads may instantly kill you. I do not accept any responsibility for your use of this device. The schematic is not a complete circuit description.

Download the LTspice simulation file here:  LTspice schematic of hipot tester

Video of the hipot tester in operation (test of an air variable capacitor):

High potential testing of an YC-179 high power vacuum tube

I have posted some pictures of the hi pot test setup of my new Eimac YC-179 vacuum tube (MRI pull). This is for a future legal limit (LA amateur regulations) amplifier for digimode and contest CCS amateur radio use. It is better to run a tube cool than to stress a smaller tube for high dutycycle modes. Let’s hope the tube behaves OK. It measured less than 15uA at 16KV DC from A to G so I might have a good pull. (The reason for measuring at such a high voltage is to ensure that the swing that the PI circuit contributes when driven by the tube can be tolerated w/o breakdown).

HV setup to test to 16 KV (below)

Tube in the test rig (below)

Click on the pictures to see the gallery (below)

The HV meter to the left is on the hot side of the rectifier / smoothing cap and has a multiplier shunt that gives 200 x. That means that 80 on the meter on the left indicates 16KV (DC) output. The uA meter on the right is in line and measures leakage current. (uA)  The o/p is current limited on this output. The meter panels are insulated with plexiglass and air gaps to prevent arc overs to the operator. Not that this would help since the HV leads are exposed. However in a future version… (below)   

 

Wireless infrared badger detector with 2,4GHz datalink to PC

We have 4 badgers in our garden that digs up our lawn. I needed a way to scare the badgers off without needing to use more drastic methods.

I have modified a passive infrared detector that I purchased at Clas Ohlson for another project several years ago. The modification makes the detector more sensitive. I take out the signals from before the logic that does an AND between sensor 1 and sensor 2. The signals are scaled down to 3,3V and are sent to two inputs of an Arduino mini PRO.

DSC_2990_w800_ed
The modded PIR sensor with the uC and the radiolink mounted inside the existing chassis. (Note: the antenna is 1/4 wavelength, not 1/2 wavelength as is written in Norwegian on the picture)

The Arduino uC runs a C program that detects infrared thermal events. In case a valid detection is sensed, packets are generated and sent to a nRF2401 13 cm radiolink from Sparkfun. The radiolink sends the data to the base station in my house signalling that a badger is detected. I can then verify the operation of the sensor. Later the plan is to generate some noise to scare off the badger.

 

DSC_3016_w800
The sensor in its test configuration for detecting badgers. The sensor is mounted close to the ground to have their path in the sensors FOV.

DSC_2947_w800
Testing radiolink code with logic analyzer

DSC_2953_w800
Three wire signalling and nRF2401 chip control signals are analyzed.

DSC_3020_w800
Link check terminal. Good to check proper positioning of the RX antenna.

 

Good HF condx. A lot of DX worked lately.



The conditions lately have been very good on 20, 17, 15 and 12 meters. I have worked a lot of new stations on the HF bands above 40 lately. Finally the nice sound of a wide open high band that I remember from last time the SSN stayed above 100 is here again.

The SSN peaked above 100 between 12. and 13. April. The SFI also peaked around 14.-16. April. The K-index also stayed low and the auroral activity has been modest. Perfect settings for working DX!

Antenna: broadband vertical with computer controlled tuner. Large groundplane.
Rig: Yaesu FT-1000MP MKV
Power: 200W