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FT8 Monitoring Station with SDR and Raspberry Pi 3B

FT8 is a digital mode, invented by Joe Taylor K1JT, that has become very popular these days. A lot of people talked about it in both possitive and negative ways, so I decided to make my own opinion. When I was playing with WSJT-X software, I found that there is a possibility to upload the decoded stations to a server where all the contacts are shown in a map. I found this very exciting, so I connected my Raspberry Pi to the transceiver (TRX) and watched the propagation for several days. Unfortunately, the power consuption of the TRX is quite high, so I had the idea to try that with my software defined radio (SDR) HackRF. I used GQRX software in combination with WSJT-X and Pulse Audio Volume Control for mixing the audio signals (virtual audio cable). I noticed that there was a problem with reception not being reliable. Firstly I thought that it was caused by a weak power supply, so I replaced my DC addapter with a laboratory power supply. After some tests I noticed that the main chip on Raspberry Pi was getting very hot. Therefore, I ordered an active heat sink that keeps Raspberry Pi cold and it made a great difference. Now I can run the monitoring station 24/7 without any problems. Furthermore, I tried to compare the reception of my TS-590SG with HackRF SDR. TS-590SG has a power divider already built in, so I could use it for splitting the signals comming from my indoor antenna. To be fair, by connecting the SDR to the TRX, the noise level of the TRX increased a bit. On the other hand, I could not hear this effect when the antenna was connected as the noise floor was much higher. The results are shown below the text. It can be seen that they do not differ that much. My HF transceiver received 756 transmitters, 1691 reports and 57 countries in 24 hours in comparison to the SDR where 657 transmitters, 1370 reports and 54 countries were decoded. It seems that SDR in combination with Raspberry Pi works well. As I want to keep HackRF for other tests, I decided to buy a cheeper RTL-SDR for this automatic monitoring station. (Please see the results below.)

 

SDR + Raspberry Pi 3B with a heat sink

GQRX + WSJT-X running on Rasberry Pi 3B

Map, reception at 14.074 MHz, TS-590SG

Map, reception at 14.074 MHz, HackRF

My new RTL-SDR (version no. 3) has been delivered. GQRX software does not allow to receive signals below 24 MHz in combination with RTL-SDR until a direct sampling mode is activated. I found a message of Thomas KC3JVH (link) that this can be done by writing direct_samp=3 into the device string in the config window (see the screenshot below), so no up-converter is required for HF reception with this particular dongle. I compared RTL-SDR in the same way as HackRF with the reference transceiver TS-590SG. TS-590SG received 771 transmitters, 1742 reports and 56 countries in 24 hours in comparison to RTL-SDR where 728 transmitters, 1611 reports and 56 countries were decoded. I am very happy with that.

If you want to test your signal with my receiver, search for M0KBW on PSKREPORTER. (Please see the links below the images.)

Links to my monitoring station (M0KBW):

https://pskreporter.info/pskmap?callsign=M0KBW

https://www.pskreporter.de/?s_type=rcvdby&call=M0KBW&search=Search

Narda Power Divider 1-2 GHz, Model 4312-2

S11 and S21 measurements of a power divider (Narda 1-2 GHz, model 4312-2) are presented in the following figures. A VNA (pocketVNA) for S11 measurements and a spectrum analyser with tracking generator for S21 measurements were used. As can be seen the S11 results are a bit noisy therefore I interpolated the measured data with a short script written in Python for easier reading. It can be seen that the divider performs really well.

S11 Measurements:

 

S21 Measurements:

 

HackRF One: EMI Shield + Aluminum Enclosure

HackRF One is a software-defined radio capable of transmission or reception of radio signals from 1 MHz to 6 GHz. I bought this radio for my tests more than one year ago. It came in a plastic enclosure and as it can be seen in the following picture, it was not RF shielded even though the PCB was prepared for it. Therefore I decided to buy an RF EMI shield and an aluminum enclosure. Furtheremore, the shield came also with a PCB testpoint and a 20 position header that I added as well.

QCX CW Transceiver Kit

Last weekend I finished my new transceiver for my SOTA (Summit On The Air) activations. This is a single-band TRX with power of 2 - 3 W by QRP Labs. I chose to build one for my favourite HF band 7 MHz.

 

 

I have performed a quick measurement of the output power measuring the pak-to-peak voltage across a 50-Ohm dummy load. The results can be seen in the following figure. From the practical point of view when the transceiver is used on battery power, the output power is 2 - 3 W, so a good antenna is needed. :)

23cm Transverter (28 MHz / 1296 MHz) - DB6NT KIT

This week I have finished my new transverter for 23cm amateur radio band. Even though there is still a lot of work on this project, I am very happy that the main part is done. :)