HAMNET Report 28th March 2021

In a message to his regional directors, National HAMNET Director Grant Southey ZS1GS reports that he and Brian Jacobs attended a virtual meeting of the IARU Region 1 emergency communications leaders on 27th February. It was interesting to note that JS8Call was discussed a few times for Emmcomm use. Happily, SA seems to be doing very well in this field.

Greg Mossop, the Region1 co-ordinator took a liking to South Africa’s use of it during JS8Call parties and would like for us Region1operators to play with the mode during the 11/12 April QSO party.  He is proposing that we concentrate on the period 12h00-15h00UTC on the 11th, and we use the call group @R1emcor for transmissions.

Greg is looking at ways to communicate with South Africa and Grant hopes we can show him that we are more than capable.

In an interesting diversion from what we regard as a normal DXPedition, the concept of a radio-in-a-box has been developed, in a waterproof Pelican case, which is dropped off on a DXPedition site, with generator and antennas, and then operated remotely, from on board a nearby vessel. This obviates the common problem where operators are not allowed to stay on the island overnight, and so cannot take advantage of night-time conditions there, or better propagation at other times of day in other parts of the world. The ship-to-shore link has been tested with a Ubiquiti data bridge on 900 MHz, and this type of low-profile expedition may become the norm in sensitive geographical areas.

George Wallner, AA7JV, has been operating as C6AGU from Deep Water Cay in the Bahamas, during March, and tested this setup, to appease the concerns of environmental protection agencies that oppose camping on protected land. George’s setup contains a FLEX-6700 and an amplifier, and operators in his group include W6IZT, W8HC, and KN4EEI.

So far, all tests of the system have been deemed to be very successful. Thank you to the ARRL Letter of March 25th, for news of this clever development.

Now here’s a very clever technology, reported on in UASweekly.com. They report:

NEC Laboratories Europe has prototyped new, AI-enabled drone technology that quickly locates natural disaster victims using their mobile phones or smart devices in areas with damaged or no cellular infrastructure.

Finding disaster victims is slow and resource intensive. To locate victims, emergency response teams rely on line-of-sight or being in close proximity, and mortality rates are often high. NEC’s new prototype technology, SARDO (Search-And-Rescue DrOne), greatly expands search and rescue capabilities by using an autonomous drone as a mobile cellular base station to identify signals from smart devices of victims as it flies nearby.

Existing device tracking technology, such as GPS or standard cellular trilateration, is not suited for natural disaster situations. GPS tracking requires that a disaster victim be in possession of a GPS-enabled smart device and that GPS tracking be active at the time of the disaster. In the event of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or snow avalanche, cellular network infrastructure may not be working, or the disaster may have occurred in an area with inadequate coverage like a remote, mountainous region. This limits or prevents network operators from locating victims using their mobile phone signals.

SARDO fills this gap by incorporating the functionality of a cellular base station into an autonomous drone. Using pseudo-trilateration SARDO, as a mobile base station, acts as a single anchor that retrieves multiple distance measurements from a disaster victim’s smart device, taken by the drone over its flight time. The SARDO drone uses machine learning to calculate the position of a victim’s device even when that person is moving. The drone continually adjusts itself based on their predicted motion until it has identified the exact position of a victim. Says Antonio Albanese, Research Associate at NEC Laboratories Europe: “SARDO brings together the increasingly higher penetration rate of smart devices in our society and the ability of drones to reach harsh locations. We can now combine these technologies to build a standalone localization system that effectively supports first responders in disaster recovery operations. Requiring no pre-deployment effort, it can be up-and-running within minutes and keep the related deployment complexity to a minimum.”

SARDO works by identifying the unique identification number of a disaster victim’s eSIM or SIM card using the resource control connection that it establishes with a base station. With required emergency approvals, the SARDO drone can search for both a specific victim and all unknown victims within a given region. In collaboration with the network operator, search and rescue teams can also communicate directly with a victim via their devices. In large disasters with many victims, multiple SARDO drones can be used to scale up search and rescue efforts.

In earthquakes, damage to buildings is often extensive and rubble hampers search and rescue efforts. SARDO identifies rubble as a propagation environment and, by compensating for this, can predict a victim’s current location in it. In principle, this same technique is used by SARDO to identify channel artefacts produced by different propagation environments such as snow caused by avalanches or water in times of flooding.

Using commonly available parts, any commercial drone or UAV that meets disaster zone search and rescue requirements can be converted and deployed as a SARDO. This makes it extremely versatile in meeting the needs of different disaster response teams.

So, in summary, this is a more sophisticated way for a drone to calculate where that cell phone signal is coming from, while it desperately tries to ping its out-of-reach cell tower, without relying on the presence or absence of a GPS location. This should work even with my old Nokia 2110!  Thanks to UASweekly.com for the report.

It being the week before Easter, and Pesach week currently in progress, may I wish you all happy Easter and happy Pesach, and encourage all of us to remain safe, and healthy by following the rules of this pandemic game we are dicing with, and at the same time radio-active, and willing to be of help to your fellow South African. With the threat of the start of a third wave of the pandemic hovering in front of us, it behoves us to be responsible in our actions and activities.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 21st March 2021

In a letter to the editor of the ARES weekly newsletter, Doug McCray K2QWQ notes that, with an increasing number of bad actors with EMP (electromagnetic pulse) devices these days, the disruption of a country’s electronic infrastructure is tempting. Many veteran radio amateurs have older V/UHF/HF mobile radios and handhelds, and it may be a good idea to store them in a small steel trash can, along with a roll of RG58, a mag mount or other kind of antenna, and light line to hoist the antenna into a tree. There is little or no cost involved, and this puts older gear to potential use in an EMP incident.

While not too likely, the military and other government entities do pay attention to the possibility of such an incident that could cripple the internet, power grid, twisted pair telephone line, and much of the sensitive modern lower voltage circuitry.

Many hams licensed since the end of the cold war may have little or no knowledge of what an EMP blast can do, and how difficult it is to protect against. “When all else fails” means being prepared for the unlikely.

Food for thought and an easy plan to put into action. Doug is in South Jersey.

Writing in EDN this week, John Dunn, an electronics consultant, and a graduate of the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, and New York University, wonders whether the SETI project has receivers with sufficient sensitivity to do signal detections via attenuations through interstellar paths of many hundreds of decibels.

He says: “Trying to find radio signals originating from extra-terrestrial civilizations presents huge technical challenges, one of which is path loss between other stars and our home planet. Neglecting the possible effects of obstacles such as dust clouds, basic geometry creates a detection problem all on its own.

“Project SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) is looking for extra-terrestrial radio signals coming from other star systems. If we construct cones from those star systems, each with its point at the star in question and with Earth at the centre of the circular plane of that cone, we can compare the path attenuation from that far away star to the Earth versus the normalized path attenuation from the Moon to the Earth.

“The extra-solar path from Proxima Centauri, our sun’s closest interstellar neighbour, is approximately 4.3 light years. A radio beam traveling from there to the Earth would experience approximately 160 dB more signal attenuation than the beam path to the Earth from the Moon.

“The so-called local star group consists of those stars within 50 light years from here, for which the attenuation worsens to approximately 180 dB versus the beam path from the Moon. At distances of 1000 light years to 10 billion light years, the attenuation worsens further.

“If an extra-terrestrial civilization were using radio communications as we do, their antennas would not be especially different from our own because everyone would be constrained by the same laws of physics. I’m sure they would also have phased arrays and parabolic reflectors.

“Any transmissions they would likely make would not be especially targeted to reach us here. We would be searching for radio signals that just incidentally happen to come our way and such signals would experience the inferred path attenuations mentioned above.”

Would we hear them?

John says “I honestly don’t know, but it is one tall order indeed!”

Thank you to him and EDN for these excerpts from his article.

Now, here’s something in the “did you know” department.

Visitors to Greenland often believe that the colourful houses in every town are an inspired idea to add brightness to a monochromatic arctic setting. But they would be wrong.

After Hans Egede arrived in Greenland in 1721, Scandinavian culture began to impose itself on the new colony. Prefab houses were shipped north as kits, and buildings with a certain function generally had the same colour. In an era without street names or numbers, this made some of the key municipal buildings easier to identify.

Since most Greenlanders at the time couldn’t read, the colours also served as commercial signs. If you wanted something from the store, you looked for a red building. If you needed a hospital, you headed for the yellow building. Fishermen would bring their catch to a blue structure, indicating the local fish plant.

Nowadays, many of the colours are simply decorative, although some buildings still follow the old tradition. And residents need approval before painting: Nonconformists can’t express their individuality by going for an outlandish colour that clashes with every other house in town.

And here is the key to the colour palette of Greenland houses:

Red: Churches and stores, including the houses where the priest or shop owner lived. This is the most commonly used colour.

Yellow: Hospitals, including the houses where the doctors or nurses lived.

Green: Radio communications, or later, telecommunications buildings in general.

Black: Police.

Blue: Factories, fish plants.

Hmm, my house is a peachy-apricot colour. I think mine would have been recognised as the local madhouse!

Thanks to Explorersweb for that interesting snippet.

Finally, our friends at Southgate say that the IARU Region 1 Monitoring System newsletter reports that Over the Horizon Radar (OTHR) continues to be the biggest source of interference in the HF amateur radio bands

They also say “The mysterious groups of dashes (sometimes 5 dashes, sometimes 16 dashes, sometimes continuous dashes) keep on being transmitted during long hours almost daily on 7075 kHz and its near surroundings inside the segment of the 40 m band dedicated for FT-8 transmissions. They are very difficult to locate, and we still don’t know where they come from?”

The report was in their February 2021 newsletter, and can be found at www.iarums-r1.org.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 14th March 2021

I told you last week that the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge trail run would take place on 22nd May, seeing that Covid restrictions had been relaxed a bit. Well the plans have been scuppered, and not by Covid. A huge mountain fire in the Jonkershoek area about a week ago has so damaged the environment that Cape Nature has decided to close the reserve for at least 4 months to allow the vegetation to recover. So either the trail run will be postponed, or possibly cancelled altogether. Our HAMNET volunteers are highly disappointed by this, but understand the importance of the recovery of the fynbos there.

Registration is now open for the 2021 HamSCI Workshop, Friday and Saturday, March 19 – 20. The theme of this year’s workshop is mid-latitude ionospheric science. The University of Scranton will serve as host for the Zoom virtual event, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program will include guest speakers, poster presentations, and demonstrations.

The workshop will also serve as a team meeting for the HamSCI Personal Space Weather Station project, funded by an NSF grant to University of Scranton physics and electrical engineering professor Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF. The project seeks to harness the power of an amateur radio network to better understand and measure the effects of weather in the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere.

The workshop’s keynote address on the “History of Radio” will be given by Elizabeth Bruton, curator of technology and engineering at the Science Museum of London. She will discuss the history, science, technology, and licensing of radio amateur communities from the early 1900s to the present, exploring how individuals and communities contributed to “citizen science” long before the term entered popular usage in the 1990s. Bruton has been a non-licensed member of Oxford and District Amateur Radio Society since 2014 and has served as the society’s web manager since 2015.

Michael Ruohoniemi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech and principal investigator of the Virginia Tech SuperDARN Initiative, will review the physics of the mid-latitude ionosphere and discuss ways in which the amateur radio community can contribute to advancing scientific understanding and technical capabilities.

Joe Dzekevich, K1YOW, will present “Amateur Radio Observations and The Science of Mid-latitude Sporadic E.”

Now remember all of South Africa falls within the mid-latitude description, so this kind of scientific research can be done by each and every one of us. So go to hamsci.org/hamsci2021 and register to be included in the Zoom conference next weekend. Registration is free.

We’ve all seen pictures of hurricanes when they batter a coastline somewhere on the planet. But what if we told you the same thing happened in space?

Writing in Gentside this week, David Stein says that typical hurricanes are easy to spot on satellite images: swirling clouds surround a quieter ‘eye.’ These storms typically form in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, closer to the Earth’s surface, and they trigger heavy rains and high winds.

Space hurricanes are totally different beasts altogether.

A study published last month in the journal Nature Communications describes the first space hurricane ever observed. In August 2014, satellites observed a swirling mass with a calm centre more than 200 kilometres above the North Pole. While ordinary hurricanes stir air, this space hurricane was a vortex of plasma, a type of extremely hot charged gas found throughout the solar system around strong magnetic fields. And instead of rain, this storm brought electron showers.

Michael Lockwood, an astronomer at the University of Reading (England), and co-author of the new study, said in a press release:

“Until now, it was not clear whether space plasma hurricanes existed, so to prove it with such a striking observation was incredible.”

The space hurricane was nearly 1,000 kilometres wide and was high in the sky – it formed in the ionosphere, between 80 and 965 kilometres above sea level. Michael Lockwood and his co-authors used satellite data to create a 3D model of the storm.

The space hurricane lasted eight hours, swirling counter-clockwise. According to the researchers, it had several spiral arms sticking out of its centre, much like a spiral galaxy. By connecting satellite data to a computer model, Michael Lockwood and his colleagues were able to reproduce the storm and determine its cause. They found that charged particles emitted from the sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona, were responsible for the storm.

This constant flow of solar particles and coronal plasma is known as the solar wind. It travels at about 1.5 million kilometres per hour.

These space hurricanes must be created by the exceptionally large and rapid transfer of energy from the solar wind and charged particles into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

When the solar wind reaches the Earth, it meets the magnetic field of the planet. The Earth has such a field due to the swirling of liquid iron and nickel in its outer core, and it generates electric currents. The magnetosphere shields the planet from deadly radiation from the sun, but also retains a tiny layer of plasma from this solar wind.

In general, solar winds bounce of this protective sheath. But sometimes the charged particles and the incoming plasma interact with the trapped plasma or the electric currents that generate the field. Such interactions create disturbances in the magnetosphere.

The 2014 space hurricane was the result of one of these disturbances.

The study’s authors suggested that an interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and parts of the solar magnetic field – carried by the solar wind – contributed to the formation of the hurricane.

Usually, magnetic fields do not mix. But if they get closer, parts of the fields can realign and even merge, forming a new pattern of magnetic energy. This is probably what happened on the day of the space storm: an influx of solar wind energy formed a new configuration above the Earth’s magnetic north pole.

The storm acted as a channel from space to Earth’s atmosphere, channelling some electrons beyond the planet’s protective cover.

This shower of particles could have wreaked havoc on our high-frequency radio communications, our radar detection systems or our satellite technology, according to the study’s authors. This is because charged solar particles that infiltrate the Earth’s magnetic field can cause malfunctions in the computers and circuits of satellites and the International Space Station. Fortunately, in this case, no problem was observed.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 7th February 2021

That endless source of news, Southgate Amateur Radio News reminds us this week that the YouTube channel called “Ham Radio Perspectives” carries an interview Tom, WA9TDD, had with Quin, K8QS, a known communications expert, about how we can grow Amateur Radio. I’m sure this subject is close to the heart of all radio amateurs, gloomily watching the lure of amateur radio being whittled away by the social media channels, and the electronics boffins siphoned off by the hacker community. If I just described you, and you’re alarmed at the state of radio affairs, please watch this video, entitled “How to grow Ham Radio – Part 1” and apply your minds to a solution to the problem.

The Western Cape Regional Director of HAMNET, Michael, ZS1MJT says that the Wildrunner Organisation has been the first to step up to the plate, and announce a recommencement of their mountain trail running series, now that the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted a bit. The Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge has been set to take place on Saturday, the 22nd of May. How it will take place is not known at this stage, and, frankly, the pandemic could still throw a curved ball, to continue the metaphor, and fox the batter! Time will tell, but Michael is already advertising for a few HAMNET volunteers to assist with the challenging mountain communications during the race. If you’ve assisted before, you will know what fun it can be, and your experience will be greatly appreciated.

Australia started reporting on Tropical Cyclone NIRAN on 1st March, when it formed in the Coral Sea. By the 3rd, its centre was located about 300 km east of the far-north eastern Queensland coast, with maximum sustained wind speeds of 120 km/h. Strong wind and heavy rain have been reported in the Cairns Region (eastern Queensland). According to media, about 42,000 residents experienced power outages. Material damage was reported to several buildings and crops.

NIRAN was forecast to move south-east over the Coral Sea and was likely to approach New Caledonia on 6 March. GDACS’ forecasted track for the cyclone had it just North-West of New Caledonia at midnight UTC on Friday night, and over the island at midday UTC on Saturday. Alert levels were pegged at RED, wind speeds were measured at more than 118km/h, and forecast to rise to 204km/h between Friday and this coming Tuesday.

After New Caledonia, Norfolk Island and Vanuata are projected to be in NIRAN’s path. At the time of writing this, I have not heard of casualties or damage. Let us hope it remains this way.

In an interesting item on their website, the ARRL notes that RF noise is a frequent discussion topic among radio amateurs. A proliferation of electronics has cluttered and complicated the noise environment; it’s not just power lines anymore. Unless isolated from civilization, most hams experience RF interference (RFI) — sometimes without even realizing it, although spectrum scopes on modern transceivers make RF noise much more apparent. Various approaches to address the apparently worsening noise floor have been taken around the world, some addressing lax regulation.

“We all want to enhance our ability to copy the weak ones by increasing our signal-to-noise ratio,” Alan Higbie, K0AV, said in his March/April National Contest Journal article, “Tracking RFI with an SDR, One Source at a Time.” He suggests practical methods for individual radio amateurs to improve their own noise environment. “We can do that by reducing the noise on each band that we operate. Lowering the noise floor increases the relative signal strength of weak signals. Those in typical residential environments find that locating and eliminating RFI sources is a never-ending process. It is much like weeding a garden.”

The International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) warns against complacency. “Radio amateurs cannot sit back, because even if the desired noise limits are agreed, there are many rogue manufacturers and dealers who will happily sell noise-generating devices, leaving out filter circuits to cut costs,” IARU said in a statement. IARU has urged member-societies to get involved.

Thanks once again to the ever-observant Southgate Amateur Radio News for spotting that one.

This coming Thursday the 11th marks the tenth anniversary of the magnitude 9   earthquake that struck Japan in 2011, just east of the Miyagi Prefecture, moving Japan’s Honshu Island 2.4 metres to the East, and creating tsunami waves estimated to have been up to 16.7 metres high. Almost all the deaths in the disaster were caused by the tsunami, and the toll was staggering. Confirmed deaths now stand at 15899, and another 2577 people are still unaccounted for 10 years later.

The biggest problem was the flooding by the tsunami of three of the Fukashima nuclear power reactors, which promptly melted down, and further damage to a fourth one.

A decade later, the decommissioning of Fukushima is still moving slowly, with the entire process expected to take decades.

Challenges include disposing of a growing amount of water contaminated by radiation. Once put through a filtration process, most radioactive elements are removed, but releasing the water into the sea — as recommended by some officials — remains a controversial option.

An evacuation zone of 20 kilometres around the reactors was immediately declared, and nearly 165000 people were evacuated from that area. Many more further away from the power station left the area voluntarily. Ten years later, 2.4% of Fukashima is still a no-go area.

Four hundred and thirty non-contiguous kilometres of seawall will eventually be   constructed or reconstructed, 80% of which is now complete, and the project will finally cost US $12 billion once finished.

Amazing to think that a decade has passed since that one, and more than 16 years since the undersea earthquake in the Indonesian sea that created the tsunami that took over a quarter of a million lives along all the coastlines surrounding that epicentre, on Boxing day 2004.

All of which pales into insignificance next to the death toll from the miniscule Coronavirus causing the current Pandemic, which has so far claimed two and a half million lives, in one short year.

It seems to me we are becoming stunned into submission by the extent of the disasters that befall us with the passage of time, having no choice but to shrug our collective shoulders, and move on with our lives, battle-scarred as we have become.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.