HAMNET Report 28th November 2021


Engineering and Technology says that a European team of scientists have, for the first time ever, bounced a LoRa (LOng RAnge) message off the Moon. The feat set a new record of 730,360km for the furthest distance a LoRa message has ever travelled. It was also the first time a data message was bounced using an off-the-shelf small RF (radio-frequency) chip. For a brief moment in time, the entire message ‘PI9CAM’ was in space on its way from Earth to the Moon and back.

The experiment also proved that LoRa technology, used for many IoT (Internet of Things) applications, can cover such great distances and that it is possible to send and receive low-powered messages from the Moon. This could become relevant for future lunar communications.

The team, some of whom were licensed radio amateurs, consisted of Jan van Muijlwijk (CAMRAS); Tammo Jan Dijkema (CAMRAS); Thomas Telkamp (Lacuna Space), and Frank Zeppenfeldt (ESA). To achieve the transmission, the team used the Dwingeloo radio telescope, operated by the CAMRAS foundation in the Netherlands. The radio telescope has a history of being used in amateur radio experiments and is now often used for Moon bounces.

Nicolas Sornin, co-inventor of LoRa, said: “This is a fantastic experiment. I had never dreamed that one day a LoRa message would travel all the way to the Moon and back. I am impressed by the quality of the data captured. This dataset is going to become a classic for radio communications and signal processing students. [I send a] big thumbs up to the team and CAMRAS foundation for making this possible.”

Telkamp, CTO of Lacuna Space, a global connectivity provider for the IoT, said: “Seeing the message coming back from the Moon was exhilarating. From the round-trip time we were able to calculate the distance to the Moon, matching very well the predicted values of Nasa’s JPL Horizons ephemeris system. We even used the echo to see the shape of the Moon, which we didn’t imagine we could.”

LoRa is one of the low-power wide-area network communication technologies and is Semtech’s proprietary ultra-long-distance wireless transmission technology. On 5 October 2021, the team transmitted the signal with a Semtech LR1110 RF transceiver chip (in the 430-440Mhz amateur band), amplified to 350 Watt, using the 25-metre dish of the telescope. 2.44 seconds later, it was received by the same chip.

Using the LR1110 RF chip, the team also measured the frequency offset due to the Doppler effect caused by the relative motion of the Earth and the Moon.

One of the messages sent and received contained a full LoRaWAN frame, consisting of a header (information such as device address and message counter), payload (the data actually sent), and payload CRC (integrity check of payload).

In addition to the LoRa chips, the team used an SDR (software-defined radio) to capture both the transmitted and received signal for further analysis. These measurements together with analysis notebooks will be published as open data.

Michael Taylor ZS1MJT, our Regional Director of HAMNET in the Western Cape has advertised a Drone Briefing, by Fabian Higgins, about the Provincial Emergency Medical Services’ Drone Programme. It will take place on Wednesday the 8th December at 18h30, and should last about 45 minutes. He will describe the capabilities of the rescue drone, and how WSAR rescue teams can collaborate with the drone team for best results. The talk will be followed by Q and A time.

Michael has sent an invitation to Western Cape HAMNET members with a URL to fill in a registration form. Apply to Michael at michael@trailrunners.co.za if you don’t receive the notification.

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France, in September, the Mediterranean plastic crisis was firmly on the agenda. Representatives from tourist-sensitive countries, including France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, lined up to bemoan the level of plastic pollution and to highlight their own efforts to combat the problem.

According to a report last year by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the total volume of plastic waste in the Mediterranean, found mostly beneath the waves, could be as much as 3.5 million tons, with anything between 150,000 and 610,000 additional tons finding its way into the sea every year.

For the 21 countries that share the 28,000 km Mediterranean coastline, the half a billion people who live on the sea or along the 1,693 watersheds that feed it, and the 340 million tourists who typically visit in a normal year, this is a growing problem.

But of all those countries, just one has been singled out as the biggest single source of the problem. The finger of blame is pointing squarely at Egypt, which the IUCN says is responsible for releasing more plastic into the sea than any other nation, and twice as much as the second-worst offender.

According to the IUCN report “The Mediterranean: Mare Plasticum” — Latin for “the plastic sea” — is “widely regarded as one of the most threatened environments in the world” and “is subject to a now ubiquitous, man-made disaster: Plastic pollution.”

The worst offender, says the IUCN, is Egypt, responsible each year for the “leakage” of over 74,000 tons of macroplastics — pieces with a diameter greater than 5 mm — followed by Italy (34,000 tons) and Turkey (24,000 tons).

Together, these three “hotspot” countries contribute more than 50 percent of the 216,269 tons of macroplastics that end up in the Mediterranean Sea each year, overwhelmingly as a result of “mismanaged waste.”

When it comes to microplastics — over 13,000 tons of which finds its way into the sea — Egypt fares little better, ranking second only to Italy (3,000 tons a year), with 1,200 tons. Tyre dust accounts for more than half of the total of microplastics, followed by textiles (33 percent) and the plastic microbeads used in cosmetics (12 percent).

Although bottles and other plastic waste are omnipresent on Mediterranean beaches, most of the polluting plastic is beneath the surface, fouling sediment and disrupting the life cycles of multiple species of fish and aquatic plants.

Time for us all to start picking up after us, folks!

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

HAMNET Report 21st November 2021

Southgate Amateur Radio news says that the German Amateur Radio community reports that the flood disasters in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate have shown that functioning communication in crisis situations is of great importance, but not a matter of course.

A translation of the DARC post reads:

The DARC department for emergency and disaster radio has taken the knowledge from the affected areas as an opportunity to develop a concept for future support of the population in such emergency situations.

“In times of prolonged communication failure, the unit would like to be prepared in order to be able to support the population and independent helpers on site. That is why we created a concept that many external helpers from business, aid organizations, the fire brigade, the German armed forces and politics helped develop,” explains Oliver Schlag, DL7TNY, the DARC’s federal officer for Emergency and Disaster Radio eV.

The focus here is both on building up and maintaining a base of material at the federal level as well as expanding the regional emergency radio groups. The aim is to build up a pool of material and helpers, who can then set up and operate a temporary network with access to the Internet, for example, for the citizens in damaged areas.

In the coming months, the volunteers will set up the prototype of such a regional emergency radio group and its material, at the federal level. For the first steps, the unit uses the additional financial resources from the [DARC] Pro membership. The DARC board has decided that the money will be used to support this project in the coming year. In order to achieve maximum dissemination and response from the public, the prototype is to be presented nationwide in the second phase. The aim here is to find external donors for the expansion of the prototype to cover the whole of Germany.

“An active emergency radio that broadly supports society is good evidence that we radio amateurs can use the frequencies assigned to us responsibly and in the interests of the community. But we are also dependent on help from business and politics”, concluded the DARC emergency radio officer.

EOS science news reports that Zimbabwe plans to launch its first satellite, ZIMSAT-1, in February 2022. The CubeSat will host a multispectral camera and image classification tool, as well as a device to transmit and receive signals from amateur radio operators. Scientists said these tools will allow stakeholders more quickly and fully to assess data for issues like ground cover and drought.

ZIMSAT-1 is the latest mission from the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite (BIRDS) project, a multinational program to help countries build their first satellite. ZIMSAT-1 was built by Zimbabwean engineers working with the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will launch it. In addition to the satellite itself, BIRDS supports a free app (BIRDS-NEST) with which satellite images from ZIMSAT-1 can be downloaded onto smartphones.

ZIMSAT-1 will be a capstone to Zimbabwe’s fast growing space program, which was established in 2018 as the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA), housed at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. In 2020, ZINGSA was allocated $7 million.

Wilfred Nunu, public health lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, welcomed the launch of the satellite as “a good idea…. It is also a positive step towards ensuring we have access to data for most of our projects in line with remote sensing.”

Nunu said he is “100% likely” to use data from the satellite. “We usually struggle to download data, particularly in our projects relating to land use and land cover changes for a wide period of time. We also do drought monitoring in light of climate change,” he said.

Twenty-two years after South Africa launched the first African satellite, SunSat-1, the continent’s satellite fleet stands at 44. African countries including Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan have successfully launched satellites.

Thanks to EOS for these excerpts from their report.

Now here are some notes after a sports event that all radio amateurs who are willing to help their local community will recognise as typical of their Emcomm activities.

The ARRL Newsletter for Thursday the 18th says that Twenty-two radio amateurs from the Western Placer Amateur Radio Club (WPARC) in Lincoln, California, provided communications and other support for the Rotary Club of Lincoln Tour de Lincoln charity bicycle event on October 30. The Tour de Lincoln consists of three routes — 25-kilometre, 50-kilometre, and 100-kilometre rides through the hills of Lincoln, California. At least 425 riders participated in this year’s event, with 230 of them on the 100-kilometre route. The mayor of Lincoln participated in the 50-kilometre ride. This was the 14th year that WPARC volunteers have supported the event.

“Our goal is to help the cyclists, their support crews, and their families have a safe and enjoyable event,” said Roger Brunnquell, K6OU, the club coordinator for the event. “Similar to a real emergency event, we have to be flexible in our planning and execution.”

“This year, we had 14 support and gear (SAG) units on the course and hams at the three rest stops,” Brunnquell said. “All ham radio vehicles on the course and at rest stops bore SAG signs printed on bright orange cardstock so riders could flag them for help,” he explained.

“We take our responsibilities very seriously, but have a lot of fun at the same time. One of our rules as a club is that we never leave [our assigned positions] as long as there is a rider on the course,” said Michael Buck, K6BUK, who leads the net control team for the event. “At net control, we log the time and content of every communication.”

The Net Control Station (NCS) was located at the event’s base and the riders’ starting and ending point. The experienced team of three net control operators set up a station, ran the event, and interacted with the event director, from coordinating vehicle rollout to staffing rest-stop relay stations, checking out first aid and mechanical kits, and preparing for the event.

After 20 years of assisting at the Two Oceans Marathon, every word of the report resonates with me, and probably, for similar reasons, with most of you.

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

HAMNET Report 14th November 2021

eNCA reports that the blast from a fuel tanker that blew up in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown last week claimed 131 lives, authorities said on Wednesday.

“(The) death toll has risen to 131, with 63 people hospitalised,” Lamarana Bah, head of communications at the National Disaster Management Agency, told AFP.

The disaster happened when a lorry crashed into a fuel tanker on Friday in an industrial area of Freetown. A crowd gathered to try to scoop up leaking fuel but the tanker then blew up, engulfing them in a fireball.

The country made an appeal for blood donations and bandages, painkillers and infusion fluids for the injured.

The World Health Organisation managed to deliver 6.6 metric tons of emergency medical supplies by the 8th of November. to support the government and people of Sierra Leone in responding to the fire disaster on the 5th. The emergency medical kits contain medicines, fluid infusions, disinfectants, autoclave sterilizer, dressings for burns and gloves amongst other things. These commodities can treat as many as 600 people with severe burns.

Our thoughts are with the survivors, and the medical teams treating them.

Michael, ZS1MJT, has again reported on a search-and-rescue exercise involving the software SARTrack, and Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) tracker beacons, to monitor the progress of searchers in a simulation.

On the 6th of November, he assisted the Hottentot’s Holland division of the Mountain Club of South Africa in the Stellenbosch area, as they practised their search techniques. Five teams set off from a base, equipped with tracker beacons, transmitting their coordinates every two minutes, while Michael received the signals by radio, and SARTrack decoded their positions and displayed them on a map.

Because he had cell phone reception at the base, he was able to export the tracking information on to the internet using a hotspot he created on his cell phone. This meant other authorities, who needed to know where the searchers were, didn’t need to be peering over his shoulder at the base.

In fact, he says, SARTrack “could be positioned in an area where there is better line of sight to the APRS units. This can then be connected to the internet, and base in turn can monitor from the internet. The entire time, the radio and laptop was run off 12V DC, confirming that the setup can be operated in remote areas or during load shedding where electricity supply is not needed.”

He also noted that he was “operating in HAM mode and although good enough for the exercise, it is more limited compared to Search-and-Rescue (SAR) mode. We are hoping to use SAR mode next time to practise with the local server, giving more options and saving search details to use in training or being able to refer back to incidents should queries arise,” he said.

He regards the exercise as proving to be a “valuable learning curve for all, showing the capabilities and ease of operation for Search and Rescue.”

Thanks, Michael for making those features more obviously useful for us all.

Those of you interested in Mars exploration will have been fired up by the Perseverance Mission this year, and the helicopter Ingenuity, which is still flying missions long after its expected failure. But did you know the numbers surrounding a satellite which orbits Mars called Mars Odyssey Orbiter?

This less well known satellite and seldom quoted orbiter has now been orbiting Mars for 20 years, completing 88000 orbits of the planet, and supporting 6 Mars missions that took place after it was there. Furthermore, it has taken 1.2 million images of the planet, returned 16 Terabits of data to Earth, and relayed 1 Terabit of data from mars surface missions! Bearing in mind that all the technology on that spacecraft was developed before it was placed in orbit 20 years ago, in other words about 25 years ago, it has done jolly well to keep going, doing what it does without failure. That says a lot about the quality control of the mechatronics on board!

Now, if I could only get my toaster to keep working like that!

And while we’re verging on the ridiculous, the Daily Maverick informed me on Tuesday that the statute books in Oklahoma say that 7pm in the evening is the cutoff time for you legally to have a donkey in your bathtub! I kid you not. You cannot make this stuff up..

Now more down to earth, so to speak, and from the Sun, an active region on the Sun was seen bursting to life on Tuesday and releasing an M2-class or “medium-large” solar flare. The sudden burst of energy was recorded at about 17h01 UTC on the Sun’s north-eastern side. A sequence of images snapped by NASA’S Solar Dynamics Observatory showed an intense burst of light erupting from the Sun’s surface.

The announcement was corroborated by the US Space Weather Prediction Centre (SWPC), which warned of minor radio blackout impacts and “occasional loss of radio contact” on the Earth’s sunlit side on Wednesday.

Solar flares are ranked on a scale of C-class to X-class, based on their brightness and X-ray wavelengths. The weakest (C-class) flares typically go unnoticed by most as they tend not to disrupt technology on Earth.

X-class flares are much more concerning as they have the potential to knock out radio communications and trigger radiation storms in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. One such flare erupted from the Sun last month and was followed by a significant coronal mass ejection (CME) – a large stream of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s atmosphere.

Wednesday’s storm was an M2-class, meaning it was medium-sized but still big enough to disrupt communications over parts of the planet. Medium-sized flares are sometimes followed by minor radiation storms and CMEs.

According to the website SpaceWeather.com, the flare appears to have knocked out some radio communications over the Americas.

The explosion almost certainly produced a CME, but it wasn’t Earth-directed because the blast arose from an active region located just behind the Sun’s north-eastern limb.

Coronal mass ejections are large clouds of solar plasma and magnetic field that can interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere after a solar eruption. According to NASA, they often measure many millions of miles across as they fan out into space.

Thank you to express.co.uk for this summary of their news report.

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

HAMNET Report 7th November 2021


The Southern Africa Seasonal Update of the World Food Programme (WFP) has flagged western and southern provinces of Angola as area of high concern. Drought is affecting agricultural producing areas and below-average rainfall is again expected for October 2021 – February 2022.

A recent IPC report shows that 1.58 million people are likely to be food insecure through to the end of 2021 and on until March 2022. Malnutrition is sharply increased, affecting thousands of children. Deaths among children and the adult population are reported.

Angola is now entering the lean season, and emergency food assistance is urgently needed.  Angolan citizens (mainly women and children) presenting with high rates of severe malnutrition are crossing to seek for assistance in Namibia. In Omusati region, Etunda is hosting 2875 people and conditions are critical, with weekly influxes of 30 arrivals. Namibian local government has been providing food in some areas, but assistance is insufficient and conditions are difficult, with no basic services available. The regional government is calling for assistance and similar reports are coming from the Kunene region.

TechXplore reports that a research group at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has developed a method for making an ultra-high material efficient solar cell using semiconductor nanowires. If this is placed on top of a traditional silicon-based solar cell, it could potentially double the efficiency of today’s Si solar cells at low cost.

“We have a new method of using gallium arsenide (GaAs) material in a very effective way through nanostructuring, so we can make solar cells much more efficient using only a tiny fraction of the material that is normally used,” says Anjan Mukherjee, a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Electronic Systems. Mukherjee is the main developer of the technique.

Gallium arsenide (GaAs) is the best material for making high efficiency solar cells because of its extraordinary light absorption and electrical characteristics. It is commonly used to make solar panels mainly for use in space.

However, high-quality GaAs solar cell components are quite expensive to make, which has driven a demand for techniques that can cut the use of the material.

In recent years, it was realized that a nanowire structure can potentially enhance solar cell efficiency compared to standard planar solar cells, even as less material is used.

“Our research group has found a new way to make an ultrahigh power-per-weight ratio solar cell that is more than 10 times more efficient than any other solar cell, by using GaAs in a nanowire structure,” says Helge Weman, a professor at the Department of Electronic Systems at NTNU.

The group’s research has been published in ACS Photonics, a journal from the American Chemical Society.

GaAs solar cells are most often grown on a thick and expensive GaAs substrate, which leaves little room for reducing costs.

“Our method uses a vertically standing semiconductor nanowire array structure on a cheap and industry-favourable Si platform to grow the nanowires,” Weman said.

The development of this technology can be straightforward and cost-effective with appropriate investments and industrial-scale R&D projects.

“We grow the nanowires using a method called MBE (molecular beam epitaxy), which is not a tool that can produce materials at a high volume. However, it’s possible to produce these nanowire-based solar cells at a large scale by using an industrial-scale tool such as metal organic vapour deposition (MOCVD),” Mukherjee said.

Integrating this product on top of a Si cell can potentially improve solar cell efficiency to as much as 40 % – which would mean a doubling of efficiency when compared to today’s commercial Si solar cells.

The researchers say their approach could be adapted so that the nanowires are grown on different substrates, which could open the door to many other applications.

“We are exploring growing this type of light-weight nanowire structure on atomically thin two-dimensional substrates such as graphene. This could open up enormous opportunities to produce light-weight and flexible solar cells that can be used in self-powered drones, micro-satellites and other space applications,” Mukherjee said.

Thanks to Phys.org for drawing my attention to this technology.

TechXplore notes, in another article, that a combined team of researchers from the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) and battery maker A123 Systems has developed a new way to reclaim some of the materials from the cathodes that are used in lithium batteries, which can then be used to make new batteries. In their paper published in the journal Joule, the group claims the process can be used to make new batteries that are more efficient than batteries made with newly mined metals.

Currently, very few new batteries are made using materials recycled from old batteries—instead, old, dead batteries wind up in landfills and new batteries are made using fresh materials. In this new study, the researchers have found that it is possible to use at least some of the materials in old batteries to make new ones. They have developed a recycling system that can remove the metals used in the cathodes of lithium batteries, specifically the metals—nickel, manganese and cobalt.

The technique begins with discharging the batteries. Next, the batteries are shredded and sent through a sieve where materials from the case, wires, plastics and other parts of the battery are removed. The resulting mixture holds cathode materials, other metals and some graphite. These materials are separated using both filtering and leaching. The output is nickel, manganese and cobalt in powder form. The researchers note that the powders can be used to create new cathodes for new batteries. They also note that under a microscope, particles in the powder had larger pores than metals taken directly from a mine, and they were also less brittle. They note that more porous metals make better batteries because they enable better ion diffusion. They are also less likely to crack after repeated charging and discharging.

The researchers also made batteries using their recycled material and tested them using a protocol developed by USABC. They found they performed as well as or better than batteries made with virgin metals. Also, some of the members of the team have formed a start-up called Battery Resources and they have already started selling their recycled materials. They have plans to build a facility capable of processing 10,000 tons of batteries a year by the end of next year.

What to do with expired Lithium batteries has been a headache for all of us. Here’s a potential solution to the problem.

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