HAMNET Report 25th June 2023

Disasters in the news this week are of the maritime or watery type. The world’s news agencies have been kept very busy following the chasing of clues as to what happened to the mini-submarine that was trying to get 4km down to the wreck of the Titanic. As we now know, the sad news is a field of debris found on the bottom of the ocean in the area compatible with a mini-sub that imploded, with the loss of all 5 people on board, including a teenage boy. One can only hope that the end was very swift, because the thought of a slow death as their oxygen ran out, is too terrible to contemplate.

Meanwhile, and of far greater import, we were basically ignoring the capsizing of a migrant boat in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Greece, but actually on its way to Italy, carrying possibly 750 people of Pakistani, Syrian and Egyptian origin. The boat had set sail from Libya with refugees seeking a safer life in Europe. It appears that the Greek Coast Guard had been observing the boat for several hours before it sank, but no-one intervened to try to guarantee the safety of so many people in the fishing trawler until much later, by which time the boat was sinking, and all the coast guard could do was to assist in pulling survivors out of the water.

By Thursday the 22nd, close to 100 bodies had been recovered, and 104 survivors rescued, but that leaves more than 500 people still unaccounted for, and who will perhaps never be accounted for. By comparison, 5 people paying exorbitant prices to ride in a mini-sub seeking to view the Titanic pales into insignificance, doesn’t it! The unnecessary loss of life is tragic, no matter how or where it happens, so we do stand together in conveying our sympathies to all families shattered by disaster.

And spare a thought for the roughly 700 000 people who are facing water shortages in the area usually supplied by the Kakhovka Dam, which was breached during the Ukraine-Russian conflict 2 weeks ago, and whose water supply has been polluted by sewage contamination, or destroyed by the floodwaters which raced down the river below the dam. Flood waters have subsided, but this kind of disaster doesn’t fix itself in a few days or weeks.

On a happier note, I have received reports from Keith Lowes ZS5WFD, Regional Director of HAMNET for KwaZulu Natal, regarding the two consecutive busy weekends he and his team experienced earlier this month.

Regarding the Isuzu Ironman event on the 4th June, he writes: “It was a lovely cool day, which saw 8 Hamnet KZN members deployed on the 90Km Bike Course between Suncoast Casino and the Umdloti/M4 Freeway intersection. A total of 1291 athletes and 26 Teams entered for the event.

“Race control was situated opposite the old Natal Command HQ and manned by Provincial Director Keith Lowes ZS5WFD. Operators were situated at Penalty Tents and turnaround points. Communications were all on 145.550 MHz. I was using a 3-element dual band satellite antenna produced by AMSAT-SA, which was mounted on a telescopic mast. I am pleased to report that no serious incidents occurred”.

Keith thanks those members that assisted on the day.

The next Sunday, the 11th of June, saw the team assisting with the Comrades Marathon. Again, Keith writes:

“Hamnet KZN was contacted two weeks before the event to assist with the provision of radio operators at key refreshment tables on the almost 90Km route.  We had not been involved with the race last year, but the Event Safety Officer, Mr. John Gutridge, was concerned about possible loss of cell-phone coverage along the route due to ongoing load-shedding.  A number of agencies rely on PTT radio and apps like Zello and WhatsApp that are solely reliant on the cellular backbone. As it turned out no load-shedding was experienced but it was a lesson learned, ‘Always have a back-up plan’ and ‘When all else Fails – Amateur Radio’.

“A total of 17,901 entries were received and it was anticipated that at least 16,000 would start the race.

“I am happy to report that we were able to supply a total of 22 operators covering the areas between Cato Ridge and Westville which were of most concern to the organisers.

Willem ZS5WA was positioned at the Start Control in Pietermaritzburg whilst Provincial Director Keith Lowes ZS5WFD was at Race Control at Kingsmead Cricket Stadium in Durban.

“A special thank you goes to Midlands and Highway Amateur Radio Clubs for the use of their repeaters on race day.  The Midlands UHF repeater at Alverstone which is linked to their 145.750 repeater gave good coverage in the Inchanga/Drummond area where normal VHF repeater coverage is poor.

“Communications at the Durban Joint Operations Centre (JOC) were on Highway’s 145.625 repeater by way of a cross-band link situated at the stadium entrance.  The JOC was about 300 metres away and located on the 2nd floor.

“The Safety Officer and Race Director Mr. Rowyn James expressed his sincere thanks to HAMNET KZN for assisting at such short notice.

“I am pleased to report that no runners suffered any serious injury, but 2 pedestrians were involved in separate accidents with motor vehicles requiring their transport to hospital.”

Keith offers his sincere thanks to all members that pulled together to achieve the successful outcome of the event.  

Thank you to you for all the organising, Keith, and for the reports.

And if you found the HF bands fairly busy this weekend, remember it was Field Day in the Northern Americas. So far, the Planetary K index has been low, so propagation on 80, 40 and 20 should have been good, especially at night. I hope you were able to make a few contacts yesterday and today.

I’ll try to develop a summary of the successes or otherwise of the weekend before next week’s bulletin, as the post mortems start to roll in.

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

HAMNET Report 18th June 2023

Since last Sunday, GDACS has been issuing warnings about Tropical Cyclone BIPARJOY-23 in the north Arabian Sea, aiming more or less at the coastal border between Pakistan and India. Threatening to cross the coast on Wednesday midday (local time), its winds were forecast to reach just less than 200 km/h, and 19 million coastal people were close enough to its bearing to be at risk from tropical storm injury. Heavy rainfall, strong winds and storm surges were forecast from 13th  to 16th June in the area. About 75000 people in India, and 82000 in Pakistan, had already been evacuated away from the cyclone’s direct path by Wednesday. Six deaths had been reported on by Wednesday morning.

And republicworld.com says that, as powerful cyclone Biparjoy threatens to cripple communication networks after landfall on the Gujarat coast on Thursday evening, authorities have turned to HAM Radio for smooth exchange of information.

Learning from past experiences, Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) has deployed six HAM radio teams, two of them in Kutch, and mobile units for seamless communication after Biparjoy hits the shore near Jakhau port.

HAM radio is considered a reliable mode of messaging during emergencies when wirelines, mobile phones and other traditional terrestrial means of communication fail. 

Meanwhile, the south-western portion of this country has been battered by repetitive cold fronts, and heavy rainfall. City of Cape Town departments have been busy since Monday dealing with flooding events.

The City of Cape Town’s disaster risk management centre said on Wednesday that they were ready to respond to any weather-related incidents.

This was as more cold and wet weather was expected in the Mother City and some parts of the Western Cape over the following few days.

The city’s disaster risk management centre’s Sonica Lategan said that “The city’s disaster risk management centre and related city departments and external role players are on standby in the event of any flooding or other weather-related impacts that may occur.”

And since Thursday mountain passes have been blocked, rivers have overflowed their banks, and roads have been washed away in many parts of the Western Cape Province, as record rainfall has been measured in many areas.

The rain is not over yet, with another 36 mm forecast in Cape Town between Saturday and this coming Tuesday. On Friday, the Weather Service issued a Yellow Level 7 warning for disruptive rain leading to further flooding over already severely flooded areas over most of the Cape Winelands and Theewaterskloof Municipality in the Western Cape between Friday and today (Sunday).

A Yellow Level 4 warning for disruptive rain leading to flooding of roads, formal and informal settlements was also issued over most of the Southern parts of the West Coast, City of Cape Town, southern and western Overberg and the Langeberg municipality. Strong winds and heavy seas will lash the coast between Saldanha Bay and Cape Agulhas, moving on to Plettenberg Bay by Tuesday.

Anton Bredell, Western Cape Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning issued a warning on Friday to all to avoid all low-level water crossings and bridges in the Western Cape, for obvious reasons.

On the opposite side of the globe, where the weather is a little more obliging at present, radio amateurs are gearing up for the ARRL Field Day exercise, which takes place next weekend, the 24th and 25th of June. Multiple local newspapers in northern America are currently carrying stories of local clubs making preparations for this event. The Americans do this in style of course, having so many hundreds of thousands of licensed operators in their country, that, if even a small percentage of the operators take part, Field Day still involves huge number of clubs and club members. Folks install temporary stations in parks, hospitals, school grounds, farmlands and beaches, to prove the ability of ham radio to transmit messages in situations where they can’t be transmitted in any other way. The exercise also gives operators the chance to try out their portable power sources, radios, transmission lines, and portable antennas, plus any modifications made since last year, to assess the efficacy of said equipment.

Naturally, Field Day is also an excuse for some exceptional socializing, and linking up with old friends, either at the temporary station, or over the air, and a great time is had by all.

So for the rest of this week, the news-lines will be full of descriptions of planned stations, and next week, the same daily journals will be full of happy post mortems of how well or badly the exercise turned out. Of course, there is the small matter of kind cooperation on the part of the sun, which has the capacity to kill the fun, by drowning us in solar particles which ruin our ionospheric conditions and prevent good shortwave propagation. As I write this the Planetary K index is 6, and the shortwave bands are effectively useless. Luckily that can all change within 3 hours, so let’s hope good fortune smiles on the American Field Day Exercise next weekend.

The Radio Society of Great Britain is delighted to announce that Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan has chosen to donate the UK amateur radio equipment of His late Majesty, King Hussein of Jordan to the Society.

His Majesty was a great ambassador for amateur radio and, whenever his official duties allowed him, his radio call sign JY1 could be heard on the amateur bands. His Majesty always operated modestly, never announcing himself as King Hussein, always just ‘Hussein from Jordan’.

A permanent display is being organised at the RSGB National Radio Centre so that the equipment can be used to help inspire people to get involved in amateur radio, and promote communication, friendship and understanding throughout the many countries and cultures of the world.

The RSGB extends its thanks to Her Majesty for this generous donation.

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

HAMNET Report 11th June 2023

Greg Mossop G0DUB of IARU Region One has been advertising a JS8Call Emcomm acivity period, the latest of which will occur today the 11th June between 12h00 and 14h00 UTC.

The exercise will initially be on the standard JS8call frequencies of 7078 and 14078 kHz. Stations should make calls using the group call @R1emcor and then attempt to make direct connection with those stations they hear, if possible exchanging formal messages, Both 40m and 20m are in use to test local and region wide communications paths.

Greg says that, as we move through the year’s activity dates, moving the activity frequency away from the JS8call standard frequencies to the Emergency CoA frequencies will be tried but first we need to have a core of stations known to be available on this mode.

The IARU Region One activity actually falls within the hours of the worldwide JS8 QSO party, between 19h00 UTC on Saturday the 10th, and 19h00 UTC on Sunday the 11th, and is not a contest, so all amateur bands are open for use. These parties are actually held every month on the second Saturday and Sunday of the month.

So, if any of you have an active JS8Call station, consider joining in on standard 40 and 20m frequencies during the IARU R1 activity today.

I have received a report of the Porterville Car Rally held 8 days ago, from one of the participants. Ian ZS1BR writes:

”Saturday the 3rd of June saw a dreary start to the Porterville rally. While the sun peeked through briefly in the afternoon, the general theme of the day was cold, wet, and muddy. However, it was a great exercise for marshals and radio operators alike to test their equipment and operating abilities in less than ideal conditions.

“As usual we had radio officials at the start and end of each stage, as well as one with the Clerk of the Course, and another in the zero car. Roger, ZR1AKK, manned control from a comparatively toasty Porterville high school classroom right next to a pancake and coffee station.

“Eighteen cars started the event, but poor conditions saw this number drop down to half that by the end of the final stage.

“The race was brought to a halt during stage 5 when one of the BMWs hit the concrete base of a gate, leaving the navigator trapped in the vehicle with a fractured ankle. Thankfully the ambulance crew were on scene in short order to assist. Both driver and navigator are reportedly in high spirits and on the mend. The car may take quite a bit longer to repair though!

“The stoppage caused a delay of approximately an hour, but thankfully there were no further incidents, and we were able to pack up and head home by 18:00.

“Special thanks go to Davy, ZR1FR, for briefly coming out of retirement and organizing the radio team. And thanks to the other operators ZR1AKK, ZS1CQ, ES, JFK, JM, and YT for braving the elements.”

Thank you, Ian for your participation, and for the report.

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination System daily report issued on Thursday refers to the devastating humanitarian and ecological consequences of the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River in Ukraine. Water levels have risen to 5m in the Kherson region, flooding 30 settlements. Water levels are expected to keep rising possibly reaching 6m, according to Ukrainian authorities.

GDACS says that, while evacuations of affected populations are underway, Ukraine has requested further support from the EU Civil Protection Mechanism in the form of equipment and machinery needed for relief efforts. Austria, Chechnya, Denmark, Finland, France,  Germany, Lithuania, and Poland made offers of assistance, including water pumps, filters, flood containment equipment, but also water purification and stocking means, as well as shelter equipment and generators.

EU humanitarian partners mobilised in the first 24 hours to provide immediate critical needs of the population, in coordination with the authorities. This includes supplying drinking water, food and non-food items such as hygiene kits. In addition, they provide emergency cash transfers, psycho-social support, legal assistance, as well as protection (including child protection) and mine risk education.  

Do note that GDACS does not concern itself with the merits or demerits of the cause of the collapse of the dam wall. GDACS is solely concerned with disaster relief.

In passing, there is no current danger to the nuclear power plant that gets coolant water from the Dnieper River, because it has a retention reservoir alongside the dam that supplies the water to the power plant. However, that reservoir gets filled from the river, and there may come a time when there is insufficient water in the river at that site to refill the reservoir immediately. The nuclear power plant has been turned off and is basically not generating power at present, so the high demand for coolant water is not being experienced now.

TechXplore reports that researchers at Flinders University have developed a low-cost thermal imaging lens that could be scaled up and brought into the lives of everyday people. Their findings are published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials. Until now, thermal imaging technology has remained too expensive to be used in consumer products.

The high cost comes, in part, from the materials used to produce the camera lenses. These lenses need to have special properties that allow them to be used with infrared radiation in a way standard lenses can’t.

Most glasses and plastics will absorb infrared radiation, so expensive materials such as germanium or zinc selenide must be used. Both materials can be difficult to manufacture and maintain; germanium is a critical element in short supply, and zinc selenide contains toxic elements.

The team developed a new polymer made from the low-cost and abundant building blocks of sulphur and cyclopentadiene (which is an organic compound that takes the form of a colourless liquid).

The cost of the raw materials for the lens developed is less than one cent per lens. In comparison, some germanium lenses can cost many thousands of Rands. The lenses could be integrated into consumer electronics such as smartphones, computers and home automation systems, to name a few. This would enable users to take thermal images or videos at any time from their phone.

Great news indeed – I’ve often wished I could afford a thermal camera.

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

HAMNET Report 4th June 2023

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, Regional Director for HAMNET KZN, has mentioned in two separate posts that he and his band of merry ZS5 operators will be busy today the 4th, assisting at the Isuzu Ironman event, along the coastal margins of Durban. He says 8 operators will be deployed, and he will be based at the Venue Ops Centre on the beachfront opposite the old Natal Command building. They are using the 145.625 Highway Amateur Radio Club repeater as well as 145.550 simplex. We look forward to one of Keith’s thorough report-backs on the event later. Good luck to HAMNET KZN for the day.

Then, next Sunday the 11th is the day of the Comrades Marathon, this year to be run from Pietermaritzburg to Kingsmead in Durban, and HAMNET KZN has been asked at very short notice to assist again with this race. We’ll allow Keith some leeway in getting his reports of these two events out afterwards, because he and his team will have had a busy 2 weeks of it! Best wishes for the Comrades, Keith – I don’t know how they thought they were going to manage without HAMNET.

Interestingengineering.com is reporting that the Mars helicopter, called Ingenuity, went silent for a full 6 days at the end of May. It has been operating on Mars for about 765 Martian days, and appears to be experiencing communication problems.

The Mars chopper has only been communicating with NASA scientists intermittently over the last few days, making it difficult for the Ingenuity team to perform another flight.

Ingenuity was only ever supposed to fly about five times. It has far exceeded those initial mission parameters, though, having taken to the skies for the 50th time in April.

In a status update posted on May 26 by Ingenuity’s chief engineer, Travis Brown explained that the recent communications problems arose before Ingenuity’s 50th flight and just after its 49th on April 2, 2023.

After the downlink of data from the 49th flight, the Ingenuity team was unable to uplink instructions to the rotorcraft for its 50th flight. “That downlink was the last time the team would hear from the helicopter for an agonizingly long time,” Brown explained in the update.

The problem actually began earlier, though, after flight 40 in January 2023 when the Ingenuity team started experiencing “brownouts” — meaning parts of the helicopter were receiving less power than required and it would go into low-power mode.

On Sol 755 (the 755th Martian day of the mission), the team completely lost contact with Ingenuity. “In more than 700 sols operating the helicopter on Mars, not once had we ever experienced a total radio blackout,” Brown wrote. “Even in the worst communications environments, we had always seen some indication of activity.”

Thankfully, though, on Sols 761 and 762, two small radio communications came through, showing that Ingenuity was alive. The team later determined that a rocky ridge between Perseverance and Ingenuity was obstructing communications. When the rover got within 80 meters of the helicopter, they were able to uplink instructions and go ahead with flight 50.

Ingenuity is now a fully-fledged aerial scout for the Perseverance mission as it has gone beyond initial expectations by helping the ground team to plan the rover’s path.

In his post, Brown did state that dust build-up on the helicopter’s solar panels will likely lead to more brownouts. “We are not yet done playing this high-stakes game of hide and seek with the playful little helicopter,” he wrote.

Every Ingenuity flight is a major achievement and every flight might be the historic helicopter’s last.

I know what it feels like when you lose contact with a rover radio op during a critical part of a sporting event or rescue, so I can imagine what it must feel like thinking you’ve heard the last from the little chopper at a distance of more than 300 million kilometres, in its current orbital position relative to Earth.

In a report back from the little island called Rockall, it appears that the 3-man team managed to get on to the rock on Tuesday. James Bertram of Largs, was reported in the Largs and Millport News to have said that their ascent up the granite rock was tougher than expected because the waves were so challenging.

The expert mountaineer in the team from Bulgaria, Emil, was the first officially to land on the rock to fix the lines needed in order for Chris (known as “Cam”) and Adrian to join him. 

But the swell was so great that he was twice washed into the sea before he was able to make it up on the third attempt.

James says he’s delighted to hear that the trio have overcome the adversity to begin broadcasting from the summit in the historic visit.

“I made contact with the expedition for the first time and was able to let the guys’ families know they are on the rock and are OK,” James added.

A week of radio operating is on the go now, and then Chris Cameron starts his attempt at 60 solo days perched on top of the most inhospitable island in the world!

Meanwhile, the ARRL is organizing its summer Field Day, to take place over the weekend of 24th and 25th June. Official National Radio Societies around the world all hold similar Field Days, and America is no exception. Hams from across North America will participate in Field Day by establishing temporary ham radio stations in public locations to demonstrate their skill and service. Their use of radio signals, which reach beyond borders, brings people together while providing essential communication in the service of communities. Field Day highlights ham radio’s ability to work reliably under any conditions from almost any location and create an independent, wireless communications network.

The two most important rules of Field Day are that, firstly, portable power must be used to drive the station in the field, and secondly, that all antennas must be temporary or portable, and not based on any permanent mast structure. These rules help to prove to onlookers that radio amateurs are capable of setting up an emergency station, out in the sticks so to speak, and providing a means of communication during any kind of emergency.

After all, that capability is a core function of HAMNET as we know it.

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