2019: A35JT OC-049 Tonga

6m EME & HF trials for the A35JT Expedition – the aftermath

What can I say, it has been an eventful month! After all the preparatory work to date, we took most of the antennas bound for Tonga out to a remote location SE of Adelaide to run shake down trials. It was good that we did, for we learned a few thing that are best learned back home rather than out in the Pacific.

What worked – 6m EME!

One of the key things we wanted to do was repeat the trial of the 6m EME station with the final antenna array with it’s elevation mount on the final Spiderbeam 10m aluminium mast using the M&P Hyperflex-13 feedline we obtained from RF Solutions. This was the first time we were looking to test the entire system end to end. We achieved success 5 deg above moon rise with contact to W7JW. We also heard 2 other stations but were unable to complete with them this time.

 

What didnt work – 6m EME

6m Beam on it’s elevation bracket

Things were going well until about 2 hours in. Then chaos broke out when the SPE 1.5K-FA amplifier failed catastrophically. This caught us by surprise as we were only driving it to 2/3rds of its output power (running 1kW) with the PA temperature remaining under 65deg Celsius (the documentation said that the amplifier wouldn’t take steps to protect itself until it reached 75deg C). Knowing that JT65 is a demanding mode, we had actively sought to treat the amplifier with care (even ensuring that the K3S was unable to generate more than 12W input to avoid any risk of over-driving it). Unfortunately it turns out it wasn’t carefully enough, although we believed it should have raised alarms etc first.

The fallout of this has been very expensive for the team. While the suppliers have been good with regards to honoring warranty repairs, it has become clear this week that we face the very real chance of the SPE not making it back from repairs in time to be included on our customs import/export documentation. This has thrown several aspects of the operation into re-planning to see what we can do (including back up amplifier purchases).

6m EME – Back on Track

On the 6m EME side, we have already started recovering the situation. We were very lucky that an alternate 1kW solid state amplifier came onto the second hand market just after the failure. The replacement, an M2 Systems M6-1K2 amplifier (the same type Lance W7GJ uses for his expeditions), is now enroute to Australia. We will conduct a followup systems integration test at the QTH of EME operator Peter VK5PJ as soon as it arrives. This will put the 6m EME part of the project back on track. We must thank Bjorn SM7SJR for his help with the replacement amplifier and Peter VK5PJ for the power supply to run it.


What did work – HF Antennas

Also over the test weekend we erected the final configuration of the 30m and 40m 4-square arrays. 30m was the first to air and the tests showed excellent directivity and performance. Steve VK5SFA who had led the 30m 4-square array development project was very happy with the results. 40m was next.

Oly VK5XDX and Steve VK5SFA assembling the 40m 4-square

40m 4-square at Nanda Farm

40m was an array we were watching closely. We had prior to the test weekend seen problems with it when trying to measure it’s radiation pattern in a park in suburban Adelaide. We had been thinking, at the time, that perhaps there were interactions with the local power poles or perhaps even the 30m array, as the directivity was nothing like what was expected.

Unfortunately, once testing began, it became clear that the 40m array did have a problem that we hadn’t seen on the first test earlier in the year. Oly, VK5XDX, then started investigating, aided by the team. Once back in Adelaide, he found a broken joint hiding in one of the 1/4 wave phasing feeders that drove the array. This was causing severe pattern distortion. Oly also made some changes to the ground radial design too. These two issues combined were responsible for severely degrading the 40m performance.

To prove it once and for all, Oly then set the array up again (a time consuming task when undertaken solo), this time on a farm north of Adelaide. Grant then went out to help test it with Oly the following weekend. The results were excellent, and we were met with fantastic reports. Front to back ratios in excess of 20dB (in fact we estimate closer to 25-26dB) were observed and excellent reports were received with stations both in Europe as well as domestically. The 40m 4-square project was finally finished ready for packing.

Progress in other areas

We also did some more testing on the 80/160m antenna at the farmstead and debugged a few more issues. That antenna will receive it’s final shake down testing during the Remembrance Day contest to be held on the weekend of August 16-17th but is now looking very promising. We also hope to test the beverage antenna for the first time during that contest.

Progress has also been made both on the tune and test weekend and over the following weeks, with most of the PC network and Logging / digital modes software integration completed. We are also considering what the 3rd back up transceiver will be and are in fact preparing to potentially have up to 3 stations on air at times (although it should be noted at least one will only be 100W at the time). All up our preparations are on track. For such a small team this has been a huge amount of work, but the testing and construction work we feel will be invaluable in bringing Tonga to the world in September.

HF Challenges still to be faced

Unfortunately we have one remaining challenge to overcome. The loss of the SPE amplifier is a serious blow and our resources wont stretch to any further amplifier purchases at this late stage. We are still following up on sources of a 2nd amplifier for HF as we have reservations that the SPE will not return home before we leave. If these alternate plans come to fruition, we will hopefully be back to our original planned strength before long. We will let you know more as things unfold.

Conclusion

While we have had our setbacks in July, the team is still in great spirits and is keen to get everything out to Tonga and get started. We are now under 60 days to go before we leave Australia and are looking forward to bringing you the best signals we can from the Kingdom of Tonga in only 2 months time! If you would like to support our efforts, donations are most welcome. See our donations pages for details.

A35JT 6m EME Antenna – Mechanical & Tuning preparation

Over the weekend we put the finishing touches on the 6m EME antenna mechanical and packing details and did a first set of measurements to confirm it’s tuning. The antenna, which started life as an InnovAntennas LFA2 6el Yagi can now be elevated for EME work using a tilt bracket designed by Lance W7GJ and built by Peter VK5PJ. The antenna has been modified so it can also be packed down into less than 1.5 metres in length for transport. It has also been adapted to fit out new Spiderbeam 10m Aluminium portable mast that Spiderbeam generously sponsored us with.

Now to pack it into it’s travel case and take it down to Lake Alexandrina next weekend for the trials!

6m Moon-bounce Dress Rehearsal planned for July 6th 0050-1130z

The A35JT expedition team will be running a shakedown test of the 6m EME system we are taking to Tonga in September next weekend. The plan is to operate from moon-rise to moon-set in VK5. We will have elevation control now for the antenna and will be able to manually track the moon through the full lunar pass. The team also visited the site today and now believes that we can operate down to the horizon on moon set, which will benefit the European stations hoping to call us. The callsign to be used will be:

VK5GR – Grid PF94mm

Frequency: 50.203MHz (planned)

Moon Rise = 0050UTC July 6th

Moon Set = 1130UTC July 6th

The team will monitor the ON4KST EME Chat and ask you keep track of our activities there – (in case we have to move due to birdies or other factors).

If you are going to try and call us could you please drop me an email beforehand (to make sure you are in our CALLS3.TXT file).

The intention is to run the same calling procedure as Lance W7GJ uses for his DXpeditions. This way it becomes a full dress rehearsal for when we operate from Tonga in September.

Our station will consist of a K3S Elecraft + SPE 1.5KFA Amp and 12dBi antenna with 0.6dB feeder loss using Hyperflex-13 coax (LMR400 equivalent from Messi and Paoloni). The station is the full portable one we are packing up to send to Tonga in August ready for our arrival in the last week of September. Spiderbeam have helped sponsor our 10m aluminium portable tower for this station and we must say a big thank you to RF Solutions in Queensland who have supported our venture  through the supply of our coaxial cables (they are the M&P cable dealers here in VK).

We have been allowed to run 1kW and 12dBi by the ACMA (our VK regulator) for this trial. We hope with this that we should be able to work the bigger stations at least. We did manage with this setup the work several NA stations + JA, UK, I, OH and S5 when we ran the first test in February as well as hear our own echos. That was without elevation. This time, with elevation and an extended window we hope to work some more.

If you miss us on the moon, also look out for VK5GR on HF. We are taking the opportunity to test end to end the complete Tonga expedition station and will have all of the antennas on air over the weekend. We are setting up on Friday 5th and tearing down late Sunday 7th (perhaps even the morning of the 8th for some antennas). Watch the clusters looking for VK5GR/P on HF.

How to call A35JT – our directed calling strategy

Our DXPedition Calling Plan

We want to work as many stations as possible, while at the same time trying to maximise ATNOs for those located in the hardest to reach locations. As a result, the A35JT team is working hard to provide opportunities for everyone. This however presents a problem with geography and the ionosphere. As a result, you will find us frequently calling for a particular region. The following however will hopefully help you identify the best way to still get into our logs as we do want to work you all on as many bands and modes as possible.

Directed Calling for Europe

One of the principle targets of this expedition is to try to work Europe from Tonga (where Tonga is in the top 60 most wanted list due to the difficult path). The difficulty however is that the principle path to Europe is also a direct line to Asia and Japan. To maximise the chance of successful contact with European stations the team will be calling specifically for EU at times when the band is likely to be open to that destination.

Please respect the operators requests and if you are not located in the target zone being called, please hold your call.

We want to work everyone, but will need to work with the ionospheric conditions we are presented with in order to reach the target destinations.


Asia & North America will not miss out!

We dont plan on leaving out other regions either. Our operating plan is to have 2 stations on air during the EU openings with one on an adjacent band taking calls from all regions or even targeting Asia or North America depending on conditions. Please listen closely to the operator to know which region is being called in order to maximise your chances of getting into our logs.

Asia and North America, if we are not general calling or calling your region, please try looking for us on an adjacent band!


Oceania, South America and Africa – Special Circumstances

The A35JT team is very aware of just how few amateurs are active in these continents. To that end, it is rare that we will see enough activity to regularly call those areas if we are directing calls elsewhere.

The team has agreed that if you are located in Oceania, South America or Africa, we will accept your call at any time, regardless of which specific region we are calling.

This will apply to VK, ZL, Oceania, South America and African stations only. All other regions, please stand by if your region isnt being called, or please look for us on another band.

Antenna preparation continues – 30m & 40m 4-Square Arrays Tested

The expedition team reached another milestone this week with the successful testing of both the 30m and 40m 4-square arrays.These are all home brew arrays including the phase shifting networks and switching controllers. Oly VK5XDX has led the development of our 40m array while Steve VK5SFA has lead the development of the 30m array. We had many helpers on the day including Trevor VK5YFR, Neil VK5KA, Chris VK5SA, Paul VK5SL and Greg VK5LG. We conducted pattern measurements of the arrays and confirmed they were providing the expected 20dB front to bank ratios confirming that they were working properly.. Now, the only remaining project to finish off the 4-square systems is the upgraded remote switching controllers.

The previous week, Steve and Grant completed testing of the 160 and 80m inverted L antennas with great success.

Next up, we will undertake final packaging, run one last shakedown of the station over the test weekend on July 5-8th, and prepare the antennas for freighting to Tonga.

We are doing everything we can to maximize out chances of communications with areas most needing A3 in their logs. Only 3.5 months to go before departure!

 

A35JT DXpedition Pilot & QSL Manager Team Announced

The A35JT Dxpedition team heading to Tonga in September wishes to introduce our pilot team for our 2019 DXPedition. We are very fortunate to have assembled a great team of people to help you make contact with us between September 23rd and October 7th 2019.

The team comprises Bjorn ON9CFG who will be our Chief Pilot and will also cover Europe and Africa, Steve N2AJ will cover North America, Cesar PY2YP will cover South America, Joe JJ3PRT will cover Japan, Chris VK5SA will cover VK/Oceania and Jim AC9EZ will be our Youth pilot (in training). This team is in addition to our QSL manager, Charles M0OXO who has again offered to support our expedition as he did for me on Niue (E6AG) and Vanuatu (YJ0AG) in recent years.

Why are we setting up pilot stations?

Principally, to assist the A35JT expedition team get quickly dialled in to what bands are open from when for Tonga. The role our pilot stations will be to gather SWL reports as to when stations in their area are hearing the DXpedition stations. SWL reports containing the date, time, band and mode are then compiled and forwarded to the team on the island, so they will know when they are being heard and adjust their operating schedule for various continents and bands to target them at the right time.

NOTE: Our pilots do not take Not In Log (NIL) complaints, requests for certain bands or modes (wish list), etc. “Not In Log” requests will be considered only after the expedition by our QSL manager via the OQRS Busted Call Request function, once the final logs are consolidated.

Looking forward to seeing you all on the air in September!

73 from the A35JT DXpedition Team

A35JT 80/160m Antenna Tests: How to mount a CrankIR to a Spiderbeam 12m Fibreglass Pole

Antenna development work continues for the A35JT DXpedition. Today, after several failed attempts over the past month, and some yacht rigging experience from Matt VK5ZM, we successfully mated a SpiderBeam 12m Fibreglass pole with a CrankIR portable antenna. What does this give us you might ask? In short, the ability to run a folded 1/4 wave mono-pole vertical on 80m on a tune-able antenna rig that will support our expedition across all bands from 160-10m. It is, in effect, a variation of the same antenna I took with me to Vanuatu last year – but in a much more robust form.

While the original CrankIR does have an 80m add on kit, our measurements indicated that it was rather inefficient at that frequency. Converting the antenna using the SpiderBeam pole and moving to a full size folded monopole design for 80m with elevated radials raises the efficiency considerably on 80m, while retaining the rest of the versatility of the CrankIR system.

So, how did we do it? Using a combination of components from both the 80m add on kit for the original CrankIR and all but the top section of the SpiderBeam 12m Fibreglass pole. These were arranged in the form of a box rigged yacht mast. Through careful selection of guying points and pole segments, we were able to achieve sufficient compressible strength to take the head load of the CrankIR spreader system while improving the lateral stability of the top half of the SpiderBeam mast at the same time. Doing so required several pieces of ingenuity and home brew development, as well as a few visits to the local hardware store.

Components

To achieve the box rig guy configuration required two main elements, the 4 way spreader arm and hub assembly plus a base plate at the bottom of the mast. This spreader arm assembly was created from a rubber dolly wheel of about 100mm diameter and 4x 600mm fibreglass tent poles. The wheel was drilled out to the appropriate size to fit the mast at the height we wanted. Then 4 holes were drilled to fit the tent poles at 90deg to the mast.

Mast Base plate

We then manufactured a base plate from a 150mm square piece of 3mm plate aluminium, some Carabina clips and a door stop to centre the pole.

Mast Setup

As noted by the SpiderBeam, the top couple of sections of their 12m fibreglass poles are not designed to take any load more substantial than a piece of wire. Our experiments confirmed this, with problems encountered with the pole bending uncontrollably with the ~300g+ head load of the CrankIR spreader arm unit applied, even before rigging the  wire radiating element. So, in addition to the box mast rigging addition, we also had to rearrange how the masting we had from both the Spiderbeam Pole and the 80m CrankIR kit was being used.

The ultimate objective was to get the top of the antenna at least 11.7 metres off the ground. This would allow the 80m folded element to reach the required height of 10m with the base of the antenna at least 1.7m high. This was important as it raised the antenna impedance up to 50 ohms once the 8x25m ground radial lengths were adjusted (note these are longer than needed to raise the impedance).

Our solution was to not use the top section 12 of the SpiderBeam mast at all, and to indeed lower the 11th section (held by a hose clamp) so that only 10cm was visible above the 10th section (for stiffness and diameter matching for the CrankIR spreader). The mast was then guyed from the bottom of the 10th section. The box rig guys use 1mm polyethelene cord while the main guys used 2mm dia “Spectra” rope – very light weight but also high breaking strain. The end result looks like this:

The SpiderBeam mast then fits neatly on top of the connecting aluminium pipes supplied by CrankIR allowing us to extend the mast by the 1.7m we lost at the top. The overall height doesn’t change, but the strength does. With this setup, we had finally created our multi-band tune-able vertical!

The total weight for the entire antenna is predicted to come in under 10kg (without pegs) including an addition that will also give us tune-able access to 160m through mounting an inverted L to the same mast.

80m Antenna Operation

Tuning the antenna for 80m is a combination of adjusting the amount of wire in the driven element plus the length of the earth radials. An important point to note is that the impedance is sensitive to how much of the radial is on contact with the ground. In our tests we arranged the radials to be 25m long and elevated off the ground for approximately 3-4m away from the base of the antenna. Doing so allowed us to achieve some great results! We were able to tune and match the antenna with relative ease from 3.5 – 3.85MHz.

160m Modifications

We also want the expedition to be able to have some access to 160m, although it is not a primary band for us (we just cant take enough gear with the number of team members we have to build a full size 160m station as well). To achieve this, based in part on a design by Rick DJ0IP, we wound in the wire on the 80m CrankIR. Then on a second pully and string we had rigged for the purpose, we attached a new radiator wire to the top of the guyed section, brought it down 11m to the 160m feedpoint, and extended the other end out ~34m to form the inverted L. For testing and initial tuning, we then passed it through a 5-500pf 15kV variable vacuum capacitor (VVC). The horizontal part of the L is then varied to tune the antenna across the band.

In this configuration, the antenna itself then presents a feed impedance of ~ 32ohms, which when connected via a 1.5:1 Binocular Core matching transformer (thanks to Neil VK5KA), returned the antenna to 50ohms for transmission back to the shack. While the VVC is too heavy and bulky to take with us, it did allow us to determine the correct fixed value high voltage “door-knob” disc capacitor to place in series to allow operation on both 1823-1843kHz and 1908kHz (for the Japanese FT8 operators).

We were very happy with how the 160m inverted L modification worked out. This combined with the 128m beverage Rx antenna we are taking will hopefully give us at least a reasonable chance of 160m across Asia/Pacific and the Americas – and if we are very lucky perhaps parts of Europe as well!

Conclusion

Now, you might be saying why go to all of this effort? It really came down to using the materials we had available in the best way possible to build as efficient antennas as we could. Given weight, cost and availability of other options to us (remember VK is a long way from the manufacturers of anything) we were happy to put together what we did and achieve the results we did.

With this work done, we have now achieved a working tune-able vertical which is ready to be packed up for use on Tonga. Another major milestone complete in our preparations to go to Tonga in September!

 

 

More antenna development: 30m 4-square early work

The team today undertook the first set of tests on the elements that will form the basis of our 30m 4-square array that we are planning on taking to Tonga!

The first challenge was to build one of the elements and validate the mechanical and the electrical characteristics. We were looking for a 50 ohm match point so that it would work properly with the 4-square array and were very happy when it matched almost spot on. We have left the radiator a bit long for now as when we add the other three elements we know the impedance will change.

We also make some more progress on adapting the CrankIR to cover 160-10m on a 12m Spiderbeam pole as well. More on that experiment in the coming week!