Sunday, February 27, 2011

Space weather team readies for upcoming solar max

Staff Sgt. Matthew Money monitors the near earth space environment at the 2nd Weather Squadron's space weather operations center located inside the Air Force Weather Agency at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. The sun's last solar maximum occurred in 2000 and therefore it is expected to awaken from its current solar minimum and get more and more active this year. Sergeant Money is a forecaster with the 2nd WS space weather flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Josh Plueger)

by Ryan Hansen, 55th Wing Public Affairs

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) -- Solar max may sound like the name of a super hero, but it's certainly no comic book or 3-D movie.

Solar max is actually the name for the sun's most active period in the solar cycle, consistently producing solar emissions, solar flares and sun spots.

For a little background on the sun's activities, the star goes through roughly 11-year cycles of where it is very active and also relatively calm.

The sun's last solar maximum occurred in 2000 and it is expected to awaken from its current solar minimum and get more active this year.

According to the members of the 2nd Weather Squadron, an active sun can cause all sorts of problems for us.

"Solar weather plays a huge part in the warfighter's mission," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Money, a forecaster with the space weather flight. "Impacts from solar weather can cause radio blackouts, satellite communication failure, satellite orbit changes, satellite surface charging, or short circuits, and radar clutter."

That is why the squadron's worldwide space weather team of roughly 50 active-duty members, civilians and contractors continually analyze, forecast and provide alert notifications for the entire Department of Defense, as well as a slew of other government agencies.

"When space weather causes impacts to earth that meet or exceed warning thresholds our end users are informed within minutes," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lash, space weather flight forecaster.

"We send out warning bulletins through a computerized distribution system, (and) we have other graphical products that show what happened in the past six hours around the globe as well as what we expect to happen in the upcoming six hours," he said.

Members of the 2nd WS rely on five ground-based solar observatories as well as a network of satellites orbiting the earth, to accomplish their mission.

"There aren't too many opportunities to be the Air Force's sole provider of something," said Lt. Col. Jim Jones, 2nd WS commander. "In this case, the mission is unique to the entire DOD."

Solar observatories are strategically placed around the globe in such places as Australia, Hawaii, Italy, Massachusetts and New Mexico. They include both optical and radio telescopes and ensure the squadron always has one eye, or ear, on the sun.

"The optical telescope network monitors solar surface features," said Master Sgt. Shane McIntire, the space weather flight chief. "It automatically tracks the sun and directs light to the instruments, which collect data and are controlled by computers. It scans specific regions at a rate of at least twice per minute."

Through filtered lenses space weather analysts are able to perform flare patrol and view sunspots to determine the magnetic complexity of the region.

"The telescope has special filters that isolate a single optical wavelength," said Master Sgt. Shane Siebert, who leads Det. 4's solar observatory for the 2nd WS at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.

"This wavelength, 6563 angstroms, is called hydrogen alpha, or H-Alpha, and is where the majority of solar activity occurs," he said. "Analysts monitor this wavelength from sunrise to sunset, and are looking for specific signatures that may lead to solar flares and other adverse activity."

But not all of the sun's activities can be captured using optical telescopes. Some events have a unique radio-frequency signature that can also be measured.

Using a mixture of technology from the 1970s to the present, radio observatories are able to monitor frequencies in the 25-180 megahertz range, as well as eight other discrete frequencies. Their digitized output is collected by a computer and then processed and analyzed for solar activity.

"We actually are able to detect the specific strength at a given radio frequency," said Maj. Bradley Harbaugh, who commands Det. 5's solar observatory for the 2nd WS at Palehua, Hawaii. "What we detect are energetic solar emissions in (specific) frequency bands or ranges. When detected, we (are able to describe) the start time, duration, intensity and type of solar emission. This helps describe the potential impacts by identifying the characteristics of what may impact earth."

Identifying these solar emissions is crucial to the warfighter's communication abilities.

"If there is solar energy that increases on your frequency, you can try to talk into your radio, but the noise from the sun will be stronger than your transmission, therefore drowning out what you are saying," Major Harbaugh said. "As an operator, you can increase your radio power to try and 'out-broadcast' the sun, but you are also now broadcasting over a much larger area, making your transmission more susceptible to enemy detection. Therefore, the sun's impact must be a consideration when planning a mission."

The squadron's network of satellites includes those owned and operated by the DOD, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They include a combination of systems that are both dedicated solely to space weather as well as a few that utilize space weather sensors.

"We gather a significant amount of data from satellites," Sergeant McIntire said. "Imagery from (satellites) can augment the ground-based network, providing real-time monitoring of solar features at wavelengths that can't be seen from the ground."

Data from all of these sources combined are continually pushed to the space weather operations center at the Air Force Weather Agency here. With this information in hand, the squadron can produce the most reliable space weather forecast possible.

However, even with all of this data, producing a space weather forecast is still much more difficult than creating one for terrestrial weather.

"Space weather is a terribly difficult science and it takes a lot of training and experience," Colonel Jones said.

"Space weather forecasting is very reactive," Sergeant Money said. "The knowledge and tools are not quite up to par in order to do accurate forecasting like we do here on Earth."

It is also important to note that today the world is much more reliant on space-based assets than they were during the last solar max, officials said. With cellular phones, portable navigation devices and satellite television receivers all part of our daily lives, a huge solar weather event could wreak havoc on quite a few different platforms.

"The impact of a solar storm in 2000 was probably not as great, due to the lower density of space technology, and the limited number of consumers utilizing the data," Major Harbaugh said. "However, the ripple from a major solar event now will more likely be felt across a much broader consumer base, the public, since there are many more assets and many more users of space data."

However, with improved technology and an increased knowledge of the sun's activities, the squadron is more prepared than ever for the upcoming solar max, Colonel Jones said.

"Since the last solar max, we've upgraded most of our numerical models in terms of both their basic science and the data they ingest," he said. "That's a direct result of the advances in sensors and the technology that enables rapid data transfer. We can react faster and see farther than ever before."

"We already have members within the unit developing forecast techniques based on signatures we see on the sensors," Sergeant Money said.

So it's a safe bet that the next couple of years will be hectic for the 2nd WS. Their mission to provide situational awareness to key decision makers will certainly keep them busy.

"In the last month alone, we've had (more than 30) reportable energy events," Major Harbaugh said. "The workload has already increased and will continue to do so for probably the next year or two."

"About a year ago, it was not uncommon for an analyst to only have one very small region of the sun to monitor," Sergeant Siebert said. "Today, it is normal for analysts to keep fairly busy monitoring four-to-six regions.

"Studies of the last solar max show that a typical day included 22 active regions, almost four times our current workload," he added.

Regardless, the squadron's space weather analysts, forecasters and technicians around the globe are ready for the sun's upcoming fury, Colonel Jones said

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Alinco R8T HF Receiver on the Bench

Right now I'm up in the shack looking at the faceplate of the new Alinco R8T HF receiver. This has been a very interesting radio to test so far and may be a very worthy candidate if you are looking for a desktop shortwave radio. I will be working up a review of this radio shortly for the pages of Monitoring Times magazine in our First Look column.

You can get more information on this radio at

Sangean ATS-909x On the BTown Doorstep

Grove Enteprises is expecting their initial shipment of Sangean ATS-909x radios at anytime now here in BTown. Looks like a very interesting shortwave portable. Naturally we will give it a complete test in Monitoring Times very soon, but I hope to have some initial thoughts about it here on this blog once we have them in house.

In the meantime you can read the PDF brochure at

You can order one or read more about it from Grove via their website at

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Zealand Earthquake Emergency Communications Advisory

Arnie Coro, CO2KK, International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) Region II Area C Emergency Coordinator, advises users of the 40 and 20 meters bands to "be aware of possible (earthquake) emergency communications traffic taking place in and around the affected areas of New Zealand's South Island, where Christchurch is located."

"This is a city of about 400,000 population and it was hit pretty badly because of the proximity of the epicenter of the earthquake and the fact that it was registered at a very shallow depth and very near to the city.

According to Warren Harris, ZL2AJ, of Hastings, NZ, designated EmComm frequencies used by AREC NZ on HF for the Christchurch Earthquake are:

3.900 MHz USB
5.320 MHz USB
7.100 MHz USB

"The propagation on 40 meters more likely to cause problems to the New Zealanders from unintentional QRM coming from the Americas is the window that starts about two orthree hours before sunrise and lasts until sunrise at this end. A similar pattern, with a slight time shift shows up on 20 meters, too."

Amateur Radio Legislative Alert - Spectrum Management Bill Threatens Amateur Frequencies

Story from the ARRL website:

On February 10, Representative Peter King (R-NY-3), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, introduced HR 607, the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which handles telecommunications legislation. HR 607 addresses certain spectrum management issues, including the creation and maintenance of a nationwide Public Safety broadband network. As part of that network, the bill provides for the allocation of the so-called “D-Block” of spectrum in the 700 MHz range for Public Safety use.

The D-Block consists of two, 5-megahertz-wide segments of spectrum (758-763 and 788-793 MHz) that became available when the FCC ended analog television broadcasts in June 2009 and reallocated the 698-806 MHz band for Public Safety and commercial broadband. It was anticipated that the D-Block would be auctioned for commercial use. There are several bills in Congress providing for the allocation of the D-Block for Public Safety use, and HR 607 is one of those. But HR 607 uniquely provides for the reallocation of other spectrum for auction to commercial users, in order to offset the loss of revenue that would occur as the result of the allocation of the D-Block to Public Safety instead of commercial auction. HR 607 lists the paired bands of 420-440 MHz and 450-470 MHz among the bands to be reallocated for commercial auction within 10 years of its passage.

“Of serious concern to the ARRL is the inclusion of the 420-440 MHz amateur allocation in the list of frequencies to be cleared for auction,” said ARRL Regulatory Information Manager Dan Henderson, N1ND. “The ARRL and the Amateur Radio community certainly support the work of public safety agencies and understand their desire for an interoperable network; however, the inclusion of most of the amateur 70 cm spectrum as one of the replacement bands is illogical and unacceptable. The 420-440 MHz band is not Public Safety spectrum and should never have been included in any spectrum swap of Public Safety allocations.”

Saying that the ARRL Washington team has already begun meeting with key Congressional staff on Capitol Hill, Henderson noted that Amateur Radio already shares the 70 cm band on a secondary basis with the governmental radiolocation services, such as the PAVE PAWS radar systems: “The 70 cm band is a critical and irreplaceable resource for Amateur Radio public service and emergency communications. The specification of the 420-440 MHz band in this legislation is ill-conceived. To be sure, the ARRL will vigorously oppose this legislation in its present form. It is, as evidenced by other legislation, completely unnecessary to the creation of a nationwide Public Safety broadband network or the use by Public Safety of the D-Block for that purpose. The role of the Amateur Service as a partner to Public Safety in the provision of public service and emergency communications necessitates the retention of full access to the entire 420-440 MHz band.”

HR 607 is presently cosponsored by the Homeland Security Committee’s Ranking Member, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS-2) as well as Representatives Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), Yvette Clarke (D-NY-11), Billy Long (R-MO-7), Candice S. Miller (R-MI-10), Laura Richardson (D-CA-37), Mike Rogers (R-AL-3), and Michael Grimm (R-NY-13).

“As we continue to track the progress of HR 607, I urge ARRL members to watch for further information about the bill on the ARRL website,” Henderson said. “When that additional information is released, it will include a request to contact your representative and express opposition to HR 607, as long as it includes a provision to auction off any Amateur Radio spectrum for commercial use. ARRL members may also sign up for the ARRL Legislative Update Newsletter and automatically receive information as it becomes available. Sign up by logging onto the ARRL website and select the ‘Edit Your Profile’ link located at the top of each page. Once on that page, select the ‘Edit Email Subscriptions” tab and click on the box for ARRL Legislative Update.” The ARRL Legislative Update is prepared on an “as needed” basis to those who have opted-in to receive it. A new edition addressing HR 607 will be forthcoming soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Zealand Earthquake Emergency Communications Advisory

Arnie Coro, CO2KK, International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) Region II Area C Emergency Coordinator, advises users of the 40 and 20 meters bands to "be aware of possible (earthquake) emergency communications traffic taking place in and around the affected areas of New Zealand's South Island, where Christchurch is located."He continues: "This is a city of about 400,000 population and it was hit pretty badly because of the proximity of the epicenter of the earthquake and the fact that it was registered at a very shallow depth and very near to the city.

"The propagation on 40 meters more likely to cause problems to the New Zealanders from unintentional QRM coming from the Americas is the window that starts about two or three hours before sunrise and lasts until sunrise at this end. A similar pattern, with a slight time shift shows up on 20 meters, too."Specific emergency communications frequencies will be posted as soon as the information is available.- WorldRadio and CQ Amateur Radio newsrooms

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Active Geomagnetic Activity Due at Any Time

The first interplanetary shock, driven by the CME from Sunday, is expected any time. Soon thereafter, the shock from Monday evening's R3/CME is due. Look for G1-G2 (and maybe periods of G3 if the following shock compresses and enhances the CME magnetic field). Geomagnetic storming should persist 24- 48 hours. Back at the Sun, Region 1158 is still hot and fast-growing, Region 1161 is producing small flares.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sad News on the ARISSat-1 Deployment - It is a No-Go until July

According to post from Kevin Fetter on SEESAT-L minutes ago, the release the ARISSat-1 sat during today's spacewalk, is no go. It now won't be released until July, according to info at

According to the arissat-1 website:

"AMSAT learned on Friday morning, 11 FEB 11 that the deployment of the ARISSat-1 satellite had been removed from the RSA EVA 28 timeline by RSC-Energia management. NASA was informed that the ARISSat-1 deployment would be deferred to a later RS EVA, due to changes in the tasks associated with the configuration of RS pay- loads to be performed during RS EVA 28. Subsequently, RSC-Energia informed NASA that deployment of ARISSat-1 will be added to RSC EVA 29 currently scheduled for July 2011."

Amateur Radio in Space: ARISSat-1 to Be Deployed from ISS Today; Watch Live on NASA TV

Expedition 26 Flight Engineers Dmitry Kondratyev and Oleg Skripochka, RN3FU, will step outside the International Space Station (ISS) today, February 16. While in space, they will install and retrieve experiments on the Russian segment of the complex and deploy ARISSat-1, a small ham radio satellite. NASA TV coverage began at 6:45 AM (CST), while the extra-vehicular activity -- commonly called a spacewalk -- will begin about 30 minutes later. The spacewalk will be the second for Kondratyev, who will wear the spacesuit marked with red stripes, and the third for Skripochka, who will wear the suit with blue stripes.

During the nearly six hour spacewalk, Kondratyev and Skripochka will deploy an experiment called ARISSat-1, a boxy 57-pound nanosatellite that houses congratulatory messages commemorating the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's launch to become the first human in space. The ham radio transmitter will enable communications with Amateur Radio operators around the world for three to six months. It is the first of a series of educational satellites being developed in a partnership with the Radio Amateur Satellite Corp, the NASA Office of Education International Space Station National Lab Project, the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program and RSC-Energia.

The two cosmonauts will also install two experiments: One will collect information useful in seismic forecasts and earthquake predictions, and the second will look at gamma splashes and optical radiation during terrestrial lightning and thunderstorms. The spacewalkers also will retrieve a pair of panels exposed to space as part of an experiment to identify the best materials for building long-duration spacecraft.

You can watch live online on the NASA TV Public and Media channels, or on your television set. Contact your local provider for the NASA TV channel in your area. -- Thanks to NASA and the ARRL for the information.

A Radio Disconnect Between the Brain and the Ears!

I couldn't resist this. Busted calls in ham contest are a bummer. In the heat of battle things like busted calls can and do happen. But what excuse do we really have when we are just working DX?

Jim AD1C posted this ditty up on the DX-Chat group. Thanks for sharing Jim.

How many ways can you bust a call?

Here are some of the variations on "VP8ORK" I found in the February 2011 spots:

VP80RK (VP-eight-zero) (16 spots)
VP80RX (VP-eight-zero)

VP8ORX (9 spots)

73 - Jim AD1C

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Russia to Stay in Baikonur

From the Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS) website:

Russia will never leave the Baikonur cosmodrome rented in Kazakhstan, even upon the completion of its new Vostochny space launch site, the head of Russia's Space agency Roscosmos said on Monday.

Anatoly Perminov told local media that "We will not abandon Baikonur till the end of cooperation with Kazakhstan would be gradually switched to the entirely commercial tracks."

According to Perminov, Kazakhstan has already offered Russia to use one of Baikonur's launching pads for commercial launches after Russia's shift to the Vostochny cosmodrome of its main space operation, reports

In addition, Perminov revealed that Russia plans to use the Kourou launch site in French Guiana this year, and eyes cooperation agreements with Israel, Vietnam, Nigeria, Belarus, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

The Vostochny cosmodrome is being constructed in Amur region, which would become Russia's point of origin for space travels to the Moon planned by 2025.

Rosсosmos plans to complete the building of Vostochny infrastructure by the end of 2011, Perminov said.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Blog Logs - 1 Feb 2011 - Midwest USA

Our friend Walt in the Midwest passed along the following winter weather related amateur radio activity.

0230Z - Kansas / Western Missouri (MOKAN) SATERN net on 3920.0 LSB + OR - 5 (Tues) (WB0CNK NCS) No joy but found @ 0230Z - W9SEM - Indiana RACES net holding freq due to "emergency situation" in Indiana due to weather // makes ref to SATERN Net also being on the freq // Fm W9SEM is the official call sign of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security RACES Team


0300Z - Kansas / Western Missouri (MOKAN) SATERN PSK31 net on 3579.5 (Tues) No joy but PSK31 signals fm stations in McBee, SC; Bristol, TN; Cedar Rapids, IA; Berryville, VA & Willard, OH all working PSK31