HAMNET Report 18th April 2021

In a message to the Emergency Communications groups around IARU Region 1, on Monday the 12th, Greg Mossop conveyed his thanks to everyone who took part in Sunday’s exercise on JS8call. There had only been a few countries interested when it was discussed on the last conference call, so getting 17 countries listed to take part and putting 40+ stations into 2.5kHz of spectrum was a good show of interest and certainly challenged the mode for performance.

If it had gone perfectly there would have been no point in doing it so Greg was expecting comments from all. He said he would be interested in how many stations we were able to send short messages to and how many formal messages were sent if possible as well as for any messages received.

He is not intending to review all logs as this was intended as an enthusiasm and awareness raising test rather than a formal exercise with control stations etc. but some numbers will help to see if there is an improvement in future.

He already has some observations on message handling and the organisation of the event as well as the good comments about timing of exercises which we will talk about at our next teleconference in May.

In other reports from regional EmCor chiefs, Jul 6W1QL in Senegal, who had not formally registered to take part, found 40m challenging because of interference, but had more success on 20m, in spite of Senegal’s inexperience with the mode.

Jan, PA0NON in the Netherlands, reported many many contacts, but found the band too crowded, and suggested future exercises take place on another 40m frequency to avoid QRM from regular users of the mode.

From Stan OM8ST in the Slovak Republic, we learnt that few amateurs in that country took part, mainly because they were finding the technology difficult to master, and he reports that Slovak amateurs are not very interested in digital modes. He personally learned a lot from the exercise, so his eyes were opened to the mode.

John EI7IG in Ireland found auto responses by some stations he was trying to message blocked attempts to get the messages through, and felt a more structured approach to message passing was probably necessary. John struggled to separate stations taking part in the exercise from regular stations just using the frequency, and basically agreed with Jan’s observation that a different frequency should be used for exercises in future.

Grant ZS1GS in South Africa, reported that band conditions prevented our involvement in DX messaging on 40m, but noted that signals were easily decoded from most parts of South Africa on 40m, between 2 and 5pm, but that DX only opened up after 5pm, after the exercise was over, and then only on 20m. However, he thanked all South African participants for doing their best to be heard in other parts of IARU Region one.

Now, for some real disaster comms, we hear from Donald de Riggs, J88CD on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, who says that on April 13, the 42nd anniversary of the 1979 eruption of the La Soufrière volcano, island residents were awakened to another column of volcanic ash creating a thick blanket obscuring part of the eastern sky as the volcano continues to erupt violently.

“Almost all residents in the Red Zone have been evacuated, save for a few diehards who will not move, for reasons unknown,” he said.

Since the effusive eruption began last December, local hams have been in a state of readiness via 2-meter networks and regional networks via HF. A 24-hour regional HF network and vigil has been active since violent eruptions resumed earlier this month to provide communication support should [the] telephone service be disrupted by the volcanic hazard. This includes a twice-daily link-up on HF with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). There is also a 2-meter gateway via EchoLink on the J88AZ node. The other active VHF repeater is the main resource for domestic communications.

The Grenada repeater, which is linked to St. Lucia and Barbados, is also accessible by hams in Tobago, Trinidad, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Frequencies being used for disaster-related communications may include 3.815, 7.188, or 7.162 MHz. Volcanic ash is also falling in Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Grenada.

The La Soufrière volcano on St. Vincent began its most recent series of explosive eruptions on April 9, sending clouds of hot ash some 20,000 feet into the air, blanketing much of the island in ash and causing water and power outages. The volcano is “a constant threat,” according to CDEMA.

A 5-year, $9.3 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant will allow the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Geophysical Institute to establish a new research observatory at the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP). A former military facility, HAARP is now operated by UAF and is home to HAARP Amateur Radio Club’s KL7ERP. The new Subauroral Geophysical Observatory for Space Physics and Radio Science will be dedicated to exploring Earth’s upper atmosphere and geospace environment. The facility’s 33-acre Ionospheric Research Instrument will be the centrepiece of the observatory.

“This NSF support will provide the scientific community increased access to the instruments at the observatory and, hopefully, grow the scientific community,” said Geophysical Institute Director Robert McCoy, the project’s principal investigator.

A second NSF-funded project will add a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) instrument at the site, which will allow the study of other regions of the upper atmosphere. UAF hopes to add additional instruments over time at the Gakona, Alaska, research site.

The research grant will allow scientists to investigate how the sun affects Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere to produce changes in space weather. Their work will help fill gaps in knowledge about the region, which is important because ionospheric disturbances, if severe enough, can disrupt communication systems and damage the power grid.

Research at the observatory is initially expected to include the study of various types of aurora and other occurrences in the ionosphere..

“Amateur radio will clearly benefit with an improved understanding of ionospheric propagation and space weather physics, and providing improved HF propagation prediction modelling data,” HAARP Research Station Chief Engineer and ARRL Life Member Steve Floyd, W4YHD, told ARRL. He said, “Radio science experiments will also provide a valuable data set to encourage development of new radio technologies and modulation methods.”

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

HAMNET Report 11th April 2021

ScienceDaily says Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and collaborators have demonstrated an atom-based sensor that can determine the direction of an incoming radio signal, another key part for a potential atomic communications system that could be smaller and work better in noisy environments than conventional technology.

NIST researchers previously demonstrated that the same atom-based sensors can receive commonly used communications signals. The capability to measure a signal’s “angle of arrival” helps ensure the accuracy of radar and wireless communications, which need to sort out real messages and images from random or deliberate interference.

“This new work, in conjunction with our previous work on atom-based sensors and receivers, gets us one step closer to a true atom-based communication system to benefit 5G and beyond,” project leader Chris Holloway said.

In NIST’s experimental setup, two different-coloured lasers prepare gaseous Caesium atoms in a tiny glass flask, or cell, in high-energy (“Rydberg“) states, which have novel properties such as extreme sensitivity to electromagnetic fields. The frequency of an electric field signal affects the colours of light absorbed by the atoms.

An atom-based “mixer” takes input signals and converts them into different frequencies. One signal acts as a reference while a second signal is converted or “detuned” to a lower frequency. Lasers probe the atoms to detect and measure differences in frequency and phase between the two signals. Phase refers to the position of electromagnetic waves relative to one another in time.

The mixer measures the phase of the detuned signal at two different locations inside the atomic vapour cell. Based on the phase differences at these two locations, researchers can calculate the signal’s direction of arrival.

To demonstrate this approach, NIST measured phase differences of a 19.18 gigahertz experimental signal at two locations inside the vapour cell for various angles of arrival. Researchers compared these measurements to both a simulation and a theoretical model to validate the new method. The selected transmission frequency could be used in future wireless communications systems, Holloway said.

With further development, atom-based radio receivers may offer many benefits over conventional technologies. For example, there is no need for traditional electronics that convert signals to different frequencies for delivery because the atoms do the job automatically. The antennas and receivers can be physically smaller, with micrometre-scale dimensions. In addition, atom-based systems may be less susceptible to some types of interference and noise.

So your future radio receiver might have two lasers embedded in it, and a vapour cell, be able to receive the transmitted signal, and tell you which direction it came from. Impressive indeed!

I watched the pre-flight press briefing for Mars Ingenuity helicopter on Friday night, and the excitement in the demeanours of the group being interviewed was palpable. No earlier than Monday morning (tomorrow) at 09h30 Central African Time, Ingenuity will be programmed to spin up its rotors to 2500 rpm, and attempt to fly up to an altitude of 3 metres, hover there for 30 seconds and then return gently to the ground. It will be observed from a distance of about 60 metres by Perseverance, taking pre-programmed 2.5 second vignettes of it doing so, hopefully to catch some part of the flight, for immediate download to earth. Far more importantly, all the technical data of the flight will be downloaded  as quickly as possible, so engineers can study all the recorded parameters, to see if it behaved as expected, or developed flight anomalies impossible to predict before the time.

If successful, this flight will be the first flight off a planet’s surface since the Wright brothers managed to do it on Earth on 17th December 1903, so these special events don’t come round very often!

If you are near an internet connection, watch the event live tomorrow morning from 09h30 our time, as nasa.gov/nasalive streams it, or download the NASA app on all the usual platforms, or watch it on YouTube or FaceBook channels. There may not be much to see, but history is being made, so try to be a part of it!

Now for the computer gamers amongst us, MedicalExpress reports that Elon Musk’s Neuralink start-up has managed to get a Macaque monkey called Pager to play the video game called Pong, using thought only.

The monkey, with electrodes implanted on both sides of his brain, was monitored while he played Pong with a joystick, so that researchers could learn how to interpret his brain waves while he controlled the joystick. A banana-smoothie through a straw was used to reward him for his successful actions.

Then the joystick was removed, and he was given the game scene on the screen to contemplate, and he was able to move the paddles using only brain-wave monitoring and no physical activity on his part. He became amazingly good at MindPong by thought association!

[Note two things: firstly this was a male monkey, and secondly he was satisfied with the relatively insignificant reward of a banana smoothie. I think all the women in the world will snort and speculate that all men are more closely related to monkeys than they are!]

However, the researchers suggest that the decoder in the computer software could be calibrated to enable a person to guide a cursor on a computer screen, potentially letting them type emails, text messages, or browse the internet just by thinking, according to a blog post at neuralink.com.

“Our first goal is to give people with paralysis their digital freedom back,” the Neuralink team said in the post.

Members of the team last year shared a “wish list” that ranged from technology returning mobility to the paralyzed and sight to the blind, to enabling telepathy and the uploading of memories for later reference—or perhaps to be downloaded into replacement bodies.

For now, Neuralink is being tested in animals with the team working on the potential for clinical trials.

I’m sure even the women of the world will agree these lofty ideals outweigh the time wastage demonstrated by your teenage son on the couch all weekend playing video games, drinking non-nutritious stuff and eating junk-food when he should have been out there conquering the world!

This is Dave Reece reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 4th April 2021

Reliefweb.int reports that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Council of Ministers has endorsed the offer by Mozambique to host the SADC Humanitarian and Emergency Operations Centre (SHOC) which will be responsible for facilitating enhanced regional disaster risks preparedness, response and early recovery to support Member States affected by disasters.

The Council of Ministers held a virtual meeting on 12th March, 2021 to discuss policies, strategies and programmes geared towards consolidating SADC regional integration in fulfilment of Council’s mandate as spelt out in Article 11 of the SADC Treaty. Honourable Verónica Nataniel Macamo Dlhovo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Republic of Mozambique, chaired the meeting in her capacity as the Chairperson of the SADC Council of Ministers.

The SADC Council noted that the SHOC will enhance the coordination of support towards Member States affected by disasters.

The SADC Region has over the years stressed the need to strengthen climate resilience as well as general preparedness against natural disasters such as droughts, cyclones and floods. These multiple hazards have highlighted the importance of cooperation and coordinated response, as well as the need to come up with innovative mechanisms to strengthen resilience, preparedness and responsiveness for disasters, including pandemics, epidemics and related hazards.

In the past few decades, the SADC Region has experienced an increasing frequency and severity of droughts, floods, cyclones and locusts that have been attributed to climate change and variability, resulting in food insecurity and other socio-economic impacts.

The Region has faced a number of weather-related phenomena such as tropical cyclones which caused extensive flooding in SADC Member States such as the Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Cyclone Idai, which hit the Region in 2020, was recorded as one of the worst tropical storms ever to affect Africa and the southern hemisphere.

The 2019 annual report of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said 91 percent of all major disasters and 77 percent of economic losses from natural disasters during the year were attributed to extreme weather events.

This percentage is expected to increase as the World Meteorological Organisation has projected that global temperatures would rise by between three and five degrees Celsius by 2100.

In FreeNews, John Kessler has written about the new ionospheric weather prediction capabilities which Russia will have with its Satellite System “Arktica-M”.

He says: “The instruments of the complex installed on the “Arktika-M” will monitor the characteristics of the near-earth environment during solar flares and geomagnetic storms.

“Space weather affects the conditions of radio communications, and the setting of flight restrictions for aircraft pilots. If it is predicted, then it is possible to prepare for incidents on power grids and exclude events when large-scale power outages occur due to strong magnetic storms.” End quote.

Alexey Kovalev, chief designer of the RKS heliogeophysical instrumentation complex, has said:

“GGAK-VE should measure the values of the Earth’s magnetic field in orbit, [and] cosmic fluxes of electrons and protons. Some of the measurements will be carried out for the first time. The complex was created in cooperation with the leading institutes of the industry: the Institute of Applied Geophysics named after academician E.K. Fedorov, the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the D.V. Skobeltsin Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov. The complex has unified instruments that also operate in a continuous mode on the Electro-L geostationary spacecraft.”

John continues: “The space system ‘Arktika-M’ will continuously provide operational information about the state of the atmosphere and surface of the Arctic region of the Earth to the Hydro-Meteorological Centre of Russia.

“This will improve the accuracy of the models when making short-term weather forecasts, help track emergencies and carry out environmental monitoring of the environment.”

Thanks to John Kessler for this report.

Now when last did you drop an expensive radio and feel your heart sink into your boots? Well NASA is quite happy about what they’re going to drop.

Nasa.gov says engineers will drop a 6350kg test version of the Orion spacecraft into the “Hydro Impact Basin” at NASA’s Langley Research Centre’s Landing and Impact Research Facility in Hampton, Virginia at 1:45 p.m. EDT Tuesday, April 6. (What is a Hydro Impact Basin, I hear you ask? Well, that means they’re going to drop it into a dammetjie of water!)

The test will air live on NASA Television, the NASA app and the agency’s website, and will livestream on multiple agency social media platforms, including the Facebook channels for Orion and Langley.

This series of drop tests began March 23 to finalize computer models for loads and structures prior to the Artemis II flight test, NASA’s first mission with crew aboard Orion. Artemis II will carry astronauts around the Moon and back, paving the way to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface and establish a sustainable presence at the Moon under the Artemis programme. The current test series builds on previous tests and uses a configuration of the crew module based on the spacecraft’s final design.

Thank you to Southgate Amateur Radio News for alerting me to that one.

The promotion of electric cars has dramatically increased the demand for lithium-ion batteries. However, cobalt and nickel, the main cathode materials for the batteries, are not abundant. If the consumption continues, it will inevitably elevate the costs in the long run, so scientists have been actively developing alternative materials. A joint research team co-led by a scientist from City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has developed a much more stable, manganese-based cathode material. The new material has higher capacity and is more durable than the existing cobalt and nickel cathode materials—90% of capacity is retained even when the number of charging-recharging cycles doubled. Their findings shed light on developing low cost and high efficiency manganese-based cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries.

“The capacity of the LiCoO2 cathode material currently applied in electronic products like smartphones is about 165mAh/g, while our LiMnO2 cathode material has already achieved a capacity as high as 254.3mAh/g, which is much higher,” Dr. Liu, head of the research team, and assistant Professor in the Department of Physics (PHY) at CityU elaborated. “It is difficult for commercial LiCoO2 to maintain 90% capacity even at 1,000 cycles. And our material has achieved high capacity retention of 90.4% after 2,000 cycles, demonstrating a long cycle life,” he added.

The net effect would be to allow more recharge cycles of your lithium battery, and reduce the demand for this scarce material. Sounds promising to me..

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