Sunday, December 30, 2012

N5FPW and the JT9-1 Mode

After a lot of research, internal testing and more than my share of hand wringing I have successfully made my first two JT9-1 digital mode contacts. This afternoon at 1917 UTC, K5RCD Randall in Floresville, Texas, was the first station I contacted in this new robust digital mode. About 1/2 hour later NS2R Philip in Strawberry Plains was my second contact. Both contacts were made on 20m (14078 kHz) with 25 watts into the full length 80m G5RV.

The WSJT-x software package by K1JT Joe Taylor worked flawlessly.

Now if I can figure out how to get the JT9-1 mode into Logger 32 and get the ADIF standards folks to write it in so I can upload it to LOTW, I would be a very happy camper.

Wonder if I can make some contacts with the other new JT9 modes: JT9-2, JT9-5,  JT9-10 and JT9-30 modes? It is experimenting with cool stuff like this that makes ham radio so much fun. ;-)

JT9-1 Contact with Philip NS2R on 20m on 14078 kHz.

JT9 - a new digital mode for the MF and LF AR gang

There is a new weak signal mode in town and if you are a MF/LW amateur radio operator, you are going to like it. This new 9-FSK digital communications mode (for 2-way QSOs) called JT9 is optimised for MF and LF bands.

JT9 uses the structured messages introduced in 2003 for the JT65 mode, now widely used for EME and for QRP operations at HF. JT9 can operate at signal levels as low as -27 dB (in a 2500 Hz reference bandwidth), with one-minute timed transmissions. It also offers slower transmissions of 2, 5, 10 and 30 minutes duration, and the slowest mode can decode signals as weak as -40 dB. With one-minute transmissions, submode JT9-1 has a total bandwidth of just 15.6 Hz -- less than one-tenth the bandwidth of a JT65A signal. The other submodes are narrower still: a JT9-30 signal occupies about 0.4 Hz total bandwidth.

Note that these JT9 sensitivity levels are comparable to or better than those of WSPR, which uses simpler messages and is not intended for making 2-way QSOs. JT9 has much higher throughput and reliability than QRSS CW, including DFCW modes.

JT9 is implemented in an experimental version of WSJT called WSJT-X. Some further details can be found at , and an early version of WSJT-X can be downloaded from

WSJT-X is in an early development stage. A number of improvements and enhancements are already in the works, and others will surely be added. 

Screen capture of 160 meter JT9 signals courtesy of PC4T

Thursday, December 27, 2012

'Brighter than a full moon': The biggest star of 2013... could be Ison - the comet of the century

From the Independent in the UK ( While not a radio event per se, it will garner headlines for sure next year and our telescope will be up and operational for this celestial event.

A comet discovered by two Russian astronomers will be visible from Earth next year. Get ready for a once-in-a lifetime light show, says David Whitehouse.
At the moment it is a faint object, visible only in sophisticated telescopes as a point of light moving slowly against the background stars. It doesn't seem much – a frozen chunk of rock and ice – one of many moving in the depths of space. But this one is being tracked with eager anticipation by astronomers from around the world, and in a year everyone could know its name.
Comet Ison could draw millions out into the dark to witness what could be the brightest comet seen in many generations – brighter even than the full Moon.

It was found as a blur on an electronic image of the night sky taken through a telescope at the Kislovodsk Observatory in Russia as part of a project to survey the sky looking for comets and asteroids – chunks of rock and ice that litter space. Astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok were expecting to use the International Scientific Optical Network's (Ison) 40cm telescope on the night of 20 September but clouds halted their plans.

It was a frustrating night but about half an hour prior to the beginning of morning twilight, they noticed the sky was clearing and got the telescope and camera up and running to obtain some survey images in the constellations of Gemini and Cancer.

When the images were obtained Nevski loaded them into a computer program designed to detect asteroids and comets moving between images. He noticed a rather bright object with unusually slow movement, which he thought could only mean it was situated way beyond the orbit of Jupiter. But he couldn't tell if the object was a comet, so Novichonok booked time on a larger telescope to take another look. Less than a day later the new images revealed that Nevski and Novichonok had discovered a comet, which was named Comet Ison. A database search showed it has been seen in images taken by other telescopes earlier that year and in late 2011. These observations allowed its orbit to be calculated, and when astronomers did that they let out a collective "wow."

Comet Ison has taken millions of years to reach us travelling from the so-called Oort cloud – a reservoir of trillions and trillions of chunks of rock and ice, leftovers from the birth of the planets. It reaches out more than a light-year – a quarter of the way to the nearest star. In the Oort cloud the Sun is but a distant point of light whose feeble gravity is just enough to hold onto the cloud. Every once in a while a tiny tug of gravity, perhaps from a nearby star or wandering object, disturbs the cloud sending some of its comets out into interstellar space to be lost forever and a few are scattered sunward. Comet Ison is making its first, and perhaps only visit to us. Its life has been cold, frozen hard and unchanging, but it is moving closer to the Sun, and getting warmer.

Ison's surface is very dark – darker than asphalt – pockmarked and dusty with ice beneath the surface. It's a small body, a few tens of miles across, with a tiny pull of gravity. If you stood upon it you could leap 20 miles into space taking over a week to come down again, watching as the comet rotated beneath you. You could walk to the equator, kneel down and gather up handfuls of comet material to make snowballs, throw them in a direction against the comet's spin and watch them hang motionless in front of you. But it will not remain quiet on Comet Ison for the Sun's heat will bring it to life.

By the end of summer it will become visible in small telescopes and binoculars. By October it will pass close to Mars and things will begin to stir. The surface will shift as the ice responds to the thermal shock, cracks will appear in the crust, tiny puffs of gas will rise from it as it is warmed. The comet's tail is forming.

Slowly at first but with increasing vigour, as it passes the orbit of Earth, the gas and dust geysers will gather force. The space around the comet becomes brilliant as the ice below the surface turns into gas and erupts, reflecting the light of the Sun. Now Ison is surrounded by a cloud of gas called the coma, hundreds of thousands of miles from side to side. The comet's rotation curves these jets into space as they trail into spirals behind it. As they move out the gas trails are stopped and blown backwards by the Solar Wind.

By late November it will be visible to the unaided eye just after dark in the same direction as the setting Sun. Its tail could stretch like a searchlight into the sky above the horizon. Then it will swing rapidly around the Sun, passing within two million miles of it, far closer than any planet ever does, to emerge visible in the evening sky heading northward towards the pole star. It could be an "unaided eye" object for months. When it is close in its approach to the Sun it could become intensely brilliant but at that stage it would be difficult and dangerous to see without special instrumentation as it would be only a degree from the sun.

Remarkably Ison might not be the only spectacular comet visible next year. Another comet, called 2014 L4 (PanSTARRS), was discovered last year and in March and April it could also be a magnificent object in the evening sky. 2013 could be the year of the great comets.

As Comet Ison heads back to deep space in 2014 the sky above it would begin to clear as the dust and gas geysers loose their energy. Returning to the place where the Sun is a distant point of light, Comet Ison may never return. Its tail points outward now as the solar wind is at its back, and it fades and the comet falls quiet once more, this time forever.

Dr David Whitehouse is an author and astronomer

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

US UHF Milsat Pirate Busted

Many of us who monitoring Milsat activity are well aware of the hijinks involving Brazilian (aka Portuguese speaking) pirates transmitting over our UHF milsats. Well one another one of them has been busted, and no he was not in South America, but right here in the United States, New Jersey and an Extra Class Amateur Radio Operator to boot.

So who is our winner of the "Bonehead of 2012 award?" Here is part of the story courtesy of the ARRL website:

FCC Finds New Jersey Ham Violated Communication Act, Reduces Forfeiture from $20,000 to $16,000

After unsuccessfully appealing to the FCC to cancel his $20,000 forfeiture, Joaquim Barbosa, N2KBJ, of Elizabeth, New Jersey was issued a Forfeiture Order stating that he must pay $16,000 for “willfully and repeatedly violating Section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by operating a radio transmitting equipment on the frequency 296.550 MHz without Commission authorization.”

The FCC noted in the Forfeiture Order that based on the examination process involved in pursuing an amateur license, “amateur licensees are expected to have an understanding of radio operations and pertinent FCC regulations, including Part 97 of the FCC’s rules governing the Amateur Radio Service. Licensed amateur operators know that they are authorized to operate only on the frequencies listed in Section 97.301 of the rules, as designated by their operator class and license. Pursuant to the Table of Allocations, the 267-322 MHz band -- the band that Barbosa was operating in -- is allocated solely for federal government use, which we continue to believe Barbosa knew (or should have known) was not authorized for non-government use.”

Barbosa’s Amateur Radio license expired August 31, 2008, but his timely filed renewal application was listed as “Offlined for Enforcement Bureau Action” in the ULS. As such, Barbosa was legally allowed to operate while his case was undergoing the enforcement proceedings.

You can read the complete bizarre story on Barbosa and why he thought he could operate on a DoD Milsat uplink/downlink on the ARRL website at:

And what is 296.550 MHz? From my MilcomMP database:

296.5500 FLTSAT Charlie Navy Fleet Relay (25 kHz) Channel 04 Uplink
The downlink for this uplink is 255.550 MHz.

Here are a couple of the notes in this regard from my database about this 255.550 downlink/296.550 uplink

255.5500 Portuguese pirates music and comms (also noted using DStar digital comms)
255.5500 Portuguese milsat downlink pirates, whistling

So N2KBJ guess we won't be seeing you hand around the ham bands in the future. Just curious how is that Brazilian milsat license you got working out for you?

As old P.T. Barnum you to say, "There's a sucker born every minute" or you may better recognize it in your 296.550 MHz native tongue, " um otário a cada minuto nasce."

Last Night was a very successful JT65 night on 80 mtrs

For whatever reason, last night the 706 seemed to beckon me to have an evening at the rig and what an evening that turned out to be.

It started around 1947 with a brief opening on 10 mtrs to the west coast. At 2030 I moved down to 20 mtrs for a couple of quick contacts to OR and Spain.

At 2108, I dropped in on 40 mtrs for 5 quick contacts, including a new country for me on 40 mtrs Greece, thanks to George, SV2KF.

Feeling pretty good about cx I dropped down to 80 meters for the rest of the evening. It was fun working 3576 in the center slot and it was quite productive as well. When the night started I needed only four more states to finish out my 5BWAS quest and they were all on 80 mtrs.

At 0103, the first of three of those states showed up with Ken KJ2U in Alpine UT with a great -10 signal.

Then at 0154, KI0QS Clyde in Bismark ND popped up with a -14 signal.

To add some spice to the night at 0322 worked Manfred HB3YAT from Elsau, Switzerland, at the high end of the band scope +974 with another -14 signal.

My very next contact at 0345 was my third state I needed for my 5BWAS, NE4RD (an ex-NC op) William in Billings MT with a nice -11 signal into Btown.

All in all I worked 36 new JT65 stations last night (what a great mode), added a new country on 40 mtr and 80 mtrs, and knocked off 3 of the last 4 states I need to finish out my 5BWAS.

So what is left?

New Mexico on 80 mtrs is it. And I hope that one falls real quick as well so that beautiful plaque will grace the N5FPW shack wall real soon.

Are you listening New Mexico?