HAMNET Report 25th February 2024

The Dischem Ride for Sight is an annual cycle event held in February every year. This year marked the 35th cycle race held at the Boksburg Stadium and attracted 2800 cyclists who participated in one of three race distances: 116 km, 62 km and an 8 km fun ride.

SARL HAMNET Gauteng has been involved with providing communications and other services for the event for a number of years and this year once again excelled at ensuring that the race was successful, enjoyable and safe for all the participating cyclists.

The HAMNET contingent consisted of radio amateurs from Gauteng as well as their neighbours from across the Vaal from Sasolburg in the Freestate. HAMNET Gauteng and Freestate regularly assist each other on either side of the Vaal and between them are quite a formidable team who do not stand back from any challenges. The HAMNET members within the Vaal Triangle encompassing Vereeniging, Vanderbijlpark and Sasolburg areas are known as HAMNET Vaal even though they technically belong to two different regions. Members of Pro-Ethnos Search and Rescue as well as the Chaplaincy also assisted in the event, either as drivers, co-drivers or medical response alongside Dial-A-Medic, who were the official medical support service providers.

The VOC situated at the Boksburg Stadium was already being set up on the Saturday preceding the event where sweep vehicles all driven by radio amateurs were installed with radios and APRS tracking devices, whether RF, GSM or phone based. All medical response vehicles and ambulances were also installed with radio and tracking devices. A number of the HAMNET members who had travelled long distances slept over in the VOC so that they could be up and about by 03h00 on Sunday morning, the 18th February.

There were 4 water points on the long 116 km route that extended from Boksburg down to Alberton, Midvaal, around the south and eastern side of the Suikerbosrand to Heidelberg and back to the Boksburg Stadium via Carnival City. Each water point manager set up a mini-JOC and managed two sweep vehicles that patrolled their section of the route.

The Short 62km route had only one water point at the 30 km mark and one sweep.

As the race proceeded and the back-marker closed the various water points as the last cyclist passed them, the respective sweeps were re-assigned to the next water point and the water point managers escorted their water trucks to the next water point to supplement the rapidly diminishing stocks of water and Coca-Cola. Temperatures along the route on the day were in excess of 30 degrees and all sweeps who had a BLS medic on board were on the look-out for signs of dehydration amongst the riders, and encouraged those who were showing symptoms to abandon the race and rather opt for a free ride back to the finish on a sweep vehicle or one of the two buses that were available.

The event ran seamlessly and no serious incidents were reported, thanks to the sterling work done by the team lead by Leon ZS6LMG and Johan ZS6DMX, the Regional and Deputy Regional Directors of HAMNET Gauteng. Well done to everyone involved.

This report was compiled by Brian Jacobs ZS6YZ, HAMNET Deputy National Director, who on the day performed the duties of water point manager and later a sweep along with his daughter Anja ZS6SJC who was also a sweep and participated in her first HAMNET event on her own. Thank you, Brian, and congratulations to you and Anja on a job well done.

A message from Michael ZS1MJT, HAMNET Regional Director for the Western Cape says that the Western Province Disaster Management Agency is planning a communications system test on Friday the 1st March between 08h00 and 10h00. In anticipation of that, HAMNET will hold a test session today the 25th activating both our Cape Town stations ZS1DZ and ZS1DCC.

The idea will be to confirm good enough links with George, Mossel Bay, Agulhas, Porterville, and possibly Beaufort West. Although HF will be used between these areas, were it to turn out that the disaster management centre in any of these areas cannot hear or be heard, the plan is for local participating amateurs to attempt HF comms with Cape Town, and then relay their messages by VHF to the centres that are not hearing or being heard.

So it will be a combined effort amongst those at the disaster management centres, and local amateurs in the neighbourhood who can relay information on.

Michael notes that “Our performance on Friday 1 March is crucial, and it’s essential that this exercise is meticulously organized. We are under scrutiny, and it’s imperative that we excel.”

Designated HF frequencies will be 7110 kHz LSB and 5410 kHz USB.

I hope to carry a feedback report of this exercise of 1st March on next Sunday’s bulletin.

Three top-tier X-class solar flares launched off the sun between Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The first two occurred seven hours apart, coming in at X1.9 and X1.6 magnitude respectively. The third, the most powerful of the current 11-year “solar cycle,” ranked an impressive X6.3.

Solar flares, or bursts of radiation, are ranked on a scale that goes from A, B and C to M and X, in increasing order of intensity. Solar flares and accompanying coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, can influence “space weather” across the solar system, and even here on Earth. CMEs are slower shock waves of magnetic energy from the sun. Flares can reach Earth in minutes, but CMEs usually take at least a day.

All three of the X-class solar flares disrupted shortwave radio communications on Earth. But the first two flares did not release a CME. And, after careful review, scientists confirmed that the third also did not produce one. Therefore, no additional impact on Earth was expected. Three back-to-back radio blackoutsdidoccur in response to the trio of flares, but primarily over the Pacific and Indian oceans. They were rated “R3” or greater on a 1 to 5 scale.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Centre, such a radio blackout results in a “wide area blackout of [high frequency] radio communication, [and] loss of radio contact for about an hour on the sunlit side of the Earth.”

Thank you to the Washington Post, for this report of solar activity.

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

HAMNET Report 18th February 2024

As we celebrated World Radio Day this week, themediaonline.co.za reported that radio is thriving across Africa. Exact figures are difficult to come by because audience research differs across countries. But studies estimate radio listenership to be between 60% and 80% of the continent’s population of 1.4 billion,according to a group of researchers from the University of the Western Cape, and the Universities of Mauritius, Nairobi, Indiana, Namibia, and the Ghana Institute of Journalism.

In contrast to many western countries, where there has been a shift towards streaming and podcasts, traditional radio continues to be widely embraced in Africa. Because of poor literacy levels and uneven access to the internet and technological infrastructure, old-fashioned radio remains a reliable and inclusive medium.

This year’s celebration of the 100-plus years of radio offered the researchers an opportunity, as African media scholars, to reflect on the historical significance, cultural relevance, political power and social impact of the medium on the continent. In their report, they homed in on examples from the regions they studied to demonstrate this rich history.

In early years, radio in Africa served colonial interests, and allowed Europeans in their colonies to connect to home, their culture and their languages.

In the early 1920s amateur radio enthusiasts had already begun tinkering with the technology. The first official broadcast seems to have been on 18 December 1923 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Western and eastern African countries were quick to follow. Colonial powers such as the UK and France upped their radio transmission efforts after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The 1940s were marked by the introduction of indigenous language broadcasts by colonial powers wanting to influence public opinion and garner support for their war effort. While the British broadcast to Africa in some African languages, France broadcast only in French.

This laid the groundwork for future developments. After the war, the British officially adopted a policy of extending broadcasting services across most of its African colonies.

The 1950s saw the expansion and transformation of radio in Africa. Radio stations across British, French and Belgian colonies rapidly increased as people under colonial rule increased their efforts to achieve independence.

From the late 1940s to the early 1960s the number of radio-receiving sets increased fivefold, from 90 sets per thousand people in Africa to 450.

In some respects the 1960s was a golden era for African radio. A wave of independence movements birthed new nations as radio technology was becoming more affordable.

Many newly independent countries established national broadcasting services. This expanded the reach of radio and the opportunity to embrace local languages, music and cultural programming.

These days, digital convergence is reshaping radio consumption, blurring audience patterns.

This isn’t happening uniformly across the continent. Digital platforms face challenges, such as the digital divide and economic inequality.

Radio’s influence is likely to endure, with podcasts complementing rather than replacing traditional broadcasts. A 2022 survey across 34 African countries found radio was “overwhelmingly the most common source for news”. This is a testament to its enduring influence and unique ability to connect with diverse audiences – even a century after its introduction.

Thank you to themediaonline for this summary of their article.

Associate Professor Nathaniel Frissell of the University of Scranton’s Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering is a well-known radio amateur in America, with call sign W2NAF. He has built a science of using amateur radio to study propagation and ionospheric characteristics, and has drawn a large cohort of amateurs into the studies.

In April this year, a large portion of the central USA will experience a total solar eclipse, and Frissell has created a set of interesting studies to determine the effect of the eclipse on our atmosphere, and on our communications and on natural science. The studies consist of 4 fields.

Chron.com news says that amateur radio citizen scientists will be focused on listening to the eclipse rather than watching it. In Earth’s ionosphere, the upper region of our planet’s atmosphere, the Sun’s energy knocks out electrons from atoms, making the region electrically charged, or ionized. This helps radio transmissions travel long distances. However, once the Sun gets blocked out by the Moon during the eclipse, those communications will be affected. 

Radio amateurs making as many contacts as they can during the eclipse will test the strength of radio signals to observe how the ionosphere changes. The studies should lead to a better understanding of the interactions between the Sun, the ionosphere, and radio wave propagation. That research should benefit hams, professional broadcasters, satellite operators and many other users of radio spectrum.

In a second study, eclipse viewers on or near the path of totality can help scientists map out the Sun using nothing but their smartphone camera. Photos of the solar eclipse uploaded to the database of an app called SunSketcher, which was developed by students at Western Kentucky University, will be analysed to allow scientists to sketch out the true shape of our nearest star. Doing so will help study flows in the solar interior since material flowing within the star is what alters its shape. The project also aims to gather more information about the Sun’s gravitational effects on the planets. 

Thirdly, crowdsourced images of the total solar eclipse will be stitched together to create a film of the once-in-a-lifetime event. The NASA funded Eclipse Megamovie 2024 seeks to “discover the secrets of solar jets and plumes,” according to its description. These solar phenomena tend to disappear or change as they form on the Sun and move out in solar wind. Photographs taken by volunteers will be used to identify solar jets as they leave the Sun’s surface and solar plumes as they grow and develop.

The movie is a sequel to Eclipse Megamovie 2017, in which citizen scientists reportedly submitted tens of thousands of photos of the last solar eclipse visible in the U.S. Their work aided studies of the Sun’s corona, which can only be studied during total solar eclipses. 

And fourthly, the NASA-funded Eclipse Soundscapes Project will study how solar eclipses affect life on Earth, revisiting research from the 1930s that observed the effects the sky’s sudden darkening during the day had on wildlife behaviour. During the upcoming total eclipse, experts will collect audio recorded by citizen scientists on or near the path of totality to analyse the affects disruptions in light have on circadian rhythms and ecosystems. 

So there is plenty to study, and lots to gain from observing the effect of the eclipse on our earth. What a pity very little of the research can be done from South Africa. We can of course attempt to make DX contacts during eclipse time, and aid studies of the potential collapse of the ionosphere during totality, but that’s about it.

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

HAMNET Report 11th February 2024

Hamnet around the country in general, and the Western Cape in particular have been concerned with the major storm that hit the little Karoo a week ago, resulting in major disruptions in electricity to lots of towns, which in turn resulted in inability to pump water to the affected areas, and manage sewage disposal there.

The Western Cape Provincial Administration’s disaster management processes were swiftly activated, and HAMNET members from both sides of the country surrounding the Klein Karoo watched and attended virtual meetings held by the senior disaster managers of the areas.

The ZS4 members from the Vaal triangle monitored radio activity radiating towards them, while Western Cape HAMNET members attended all the disaster meetings held while the large area of the Karoo suffered without any amenities.

Water was trucked in, and large sized generators were swiftly installed in the Laingsburg, Matjiesfontein and Prince Albert areas to supply electricity, as well as keep cell-phone towers operational. Smaller generators were installed in central business areas.

The power outage affected large parts of the interior of the Western Cape when Eskom suffered multiple powerline failures due to the thunderstorms.

Eskom confirmed that 7 powerline towers collapsed over last weekend, and ground crews were currently assessing the damage. In the Central Karoo, Leeugamka, Roggeveld, Merweville, Laingsburg, Matjiesfontein, and Prince Albert were affected. In the Northern Cape, Sutherland and Fraserburg were affected, while in the Garden Route District, the town of Ladismith was affected. In the Overberg District, Napier, and a substantial portion of the surrounding rural farming community, including the area between Wolwengat and Pearly Beach, was also affected.

Expecting no communications between areas around Beaufort West and surrounds, Michael ZS1MJT put out a call for volunteers to run the Western Cape’s two local emergency stations, ZS1DZ at Tygerberg’s Provinicial Emergency Management Centre, and ZS1DCC, the station at the City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management Centre in Goodwood.

Humanitarian aid was brought in to the affected areas by volunteer organizations and, by Tuesday, matters were starting to improve. ZS1MJT asked all HAMNET members who could, to monitor 3,760MHz LSB, 5,410MHz USB, 7,110MHz LSB, 10,135MHz USB and 14,300MHz USB, for signs of systems breaking down further.

Obviously, the provision of drinking water, and then of functional sewage management were the two main concerns requiring possible assistance. Thank you to Michael for supplying these details and for his concern.

Grant ZS6GS, our National HAMNET Director, reported the incident to the IARU Region One Emcor authorities.

Meanwhile, the Western Cape Provincial Disaster Management Centre is planning a blackout exercise on 1st March this year, with a view to testing its own internal systems and effectiveness. HAMNET will be involved to test communications between the disaster centres, so the two stations ZS1DZ and ZS1DCC will again be activated.

Aerotime.aero reports that an SAS Scandinavian Airlines Airbus A320 was intercepted and escorted to Manchester Airport following the loss of radio communications between the aircraft and air traffic controllers. The aircraft was en route from Oslo to Manchester at the time of the incident. 

On the morning of February 5, 2024, the Airbus A320 took off from Oslo Airport at 11:19 local time for the two-hour 15-minute flight to Manchester in the north of England. However, as the aircraft crossed the east coast of England and descended towards Manchester, it lost contact with air traffic controllers, and a pair of Typhoons from the RAF QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) force was scrambled to intercept the aircraft. 

Once a rendezvous was made between the three aircraft, communications were re-established by flight SK4609 and the plane eventually landed at Manchester Airport at 12:40 local time, 30 minutes after its scheduled time of arrival. As is standard practice in such circumstances, the SAS plane was escorted by the Typhoons all the way down the approach until it was safely on the ground at Manchester Airport. An airport spokesman explained that it is common practice to escort planes that have lost communications to their final destinations. 

“We understand there to have been a technical fault and comms have now been restored. The flight was destined for Manchester so passengers haven’t been displaced but we have put on extra staff to provide support to any passengers that may need it,” said a spokesperson. 

The RAF QRA force equipped with their supersonic Typhoon crews remains on 24/7 constant standby to respond within minutes to any aircraft experiencing difficulties or to rogue aircraft in or near UK airspace.

3183 cyclists took part yesterday in the second biggest cycle race in the Western Cape, the Gryphon 99er, out of Durbanville northwards to Malmesbury and back to Philadelphia via the old Malmesbury Road. Unlike last year when the weather was so hot and the heat index so high, that the race was stopped more than an hour before the official cut-off time for fear of serious medical complications amongst riders, Saturday dawned cool, with a medium southwester blowing. Skies were clear as the first riders set off at 6am, monitored by a team of ambulances cruising with them, and HAMNET roving marshals stationed strategically along the way.

We had a total of 11 operators grouped in 8 roving vehicles, and another 6 in 3 sets of two, before and after risky areas, with narrow bridges or dangerous corners, warning traffic police to stop advancing cars as the riders swarmed through the danger spots. The JOC was manned by 4 operators, monitoring APRS beacons in three different types of software, as well as choreographing the routes our rovers took, and fielding news of injuries or riders wishing to give up and be picked up by sweep vehicles.

The medical despatch was manned by a Mediclinic doctor, an ambulance service and its despatch officer, the sweep vehicle coordinator, members of the provincial traffic departments of the area, and a safety officer.

The race reached its natural conclusion without major mishap, in spite of a headwind the riders from Malmesbury to Philadelphia struggled against, and the cut-off at 12h30 was achieved

There were two shorter races; one of 57km on tar, and a 60km trip on tar, on gravel and on bike tracks through farmlands. They set off later of course, and finished in amongst the long race riders.

I’d like to thank all our volunteers, too numerous to mention individually, for joining us, having fun, and most importantly helping to make the race a safer one for the 3000 odd riders.

This is a very sleepy Dave Reece ZS1DFR, not having recovered from the lack of sleep yet, as I report for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 4th February 2024

GDACS has been reporting all week on the wildfires ravaging areas around the Western Cape, in the presence of the current heatwave. They note evacuations and widespread damage.

According to the JRC Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS), as of 31st January, the total burnt area across the affected region was approximately 25,000 ha. A number of these wildfires are currently still under containment.

Media report, as of 1st February, around 250 displaced people and dozens of damaged houses in the Overberg District Municipality and the Cape Winelands District Municipality. Over the next 24 hours, according to the JRC GWIS, the fire danger forecast is still expected to be from high to extreme across the already affected areas.

The Western Cape government has approached the National Disaster Management Centre for Disaster Classification.

“A provincial disaster classification will empower the premier and the minister of finance to move funding as and when we need it to sustain our firefighting efforts,” said local government MEC, Anton Bredell.

According to Bredell, the hot and windy weather conditions, combined with several wildfires burning in the Cape Winelands and Overstrand districts, necessitated a large and co-ordinated firefighting effort.

“We have the necessary resources available to address the wildfires, but the disaster declaration will give us the ability to co-ordinate optimally. We are doing everything to protect lives and property,” he said.

Since Monday, fires have engulfed Hangklip between Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay, destroying several homes and forcing evacuations.

Overstrand municipal manager, Dean O’Neill, reported on Thursday that the fire in Hangklip had flared up again.

On the other side of the province, the Cape Winelands District Municipality’s (CWDM) Fire Services and teams spent an anxious night monitoring and battling multiple fires in Rawsonville, Worcester and Wolseley.

Massive flames have been burning throughout the area for nine days.

CWDM spokesperson, Jo-Anne Otto, said over 30 000 hectares of land had already been destroyed there.

“At Kluitjieskraal and Wolseley, 27 200 ha have been burned. The Brandvlei fire, which is ongoing, has so far seen 3 700ha, and the Fairy Glen fire 2 200ha,” Otto confirmed.

The South African Weather Service yesterday also cautioned that extremely high fire danger conditions were expected over the West Coast and Cape Winelands on Friday.

Otto said: “The hot weather impacts our ability to fight the fire, it’s hot and there are real dangers of dehydration and heat exhaustion.”

These reports come from various sources.

Writing in universetoday.com about the rocky materials retrieved from the Asteroid Bennu and delivered back to earth last year, Evan Gough says that Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid, a primitive chunk of rock that forms a link to the past when the rocky planets were forming. Scientists have already found carbon and water in the previously removed material. In fact, according to initial analysis, its carbon concentration is close to 5%. That’s among the highest non-terrestrial carbon percentages ever measured. “The OSIRIS-REx sample is the biggest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever delivered to Earth and will help scientists investigate the origins of life on our own planet for generations to come,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

Once scientists get their hands on more of the material, they’ll doubtlessly find other interesting components. Maybe even some of life’s building blocks like amino acids. Bennu’s water and carbon content could indicate that life’s building blocks originated in asteroids like Bennu.

The sample also gives researchers an opportunity to test their findings against previous observations of Bennu. Astronomers studied the asteroid’s composition with OSIRIS-REx’s instruments as it approached Bennu, and the samples will tell them how accurate their efforts were. It’s an opportunity to verify and improve spacecraft instruments and remote sensing methods.

Scientists suspect that Bennu could actually be older than our Solar System. If that’s true, then it’s a window into the distant past when only the solar nebula and the proto-Sun existed. It may contain insights into how everything formed, including the Sun.

Bennu may also be one of the remaining pieces of a much larger body. Scientists think that the parent body broke apart between 700 million and two billion years ago. Scientists hope to learn more from the Bennu sample about its parent body and how Bennu migrated to the inner Solar System.

In a notable act of foresight, 75% of the sample will be stored for the future. Instruments and analysis techniques will only improve over time, and these pristine samples will be available when they do. NASA has done the same with other materials like lunar samples, and it’s paid off.

The Bennu samples can only enhance our understanding of our Solar System and how everything came to be. From its ancient early beginnings in the solar nebula to its present-day location in the inner Solar System, Bennu is a well-travelled message-bearer. Now that we have some of that message in our labs, scientists can reveal what Bennu has to say.

This coming Saturday the 10th of February sees the riding of the Gryphon 99er cycle race out of Durbanville in the Cape, in the general direction of Malmesbury, on a 100km round trip back to Durbanville again. HAMNET Western Cape has assisted with rover duties and communications for about 17 years now (except for the Covid years), and will be at it again this week.

Nineteen HAMNET members will be involved with eight roving stations, three danger points which will occupy 2 members each, one before, and one after each danger point, and 3 members in the JOC. APRS trackers will be utilised to keep track of course marshals, and roving hams, and two different APRS software methods will be tested in comparison with each other, to attempt to identify the better one.

February in Cape Town is notorious for hot weather, as I noted in the previous report above, and last year’s race was stopped due to extreme temperatures at about 11am, with an hour of riding still to go. We sincerely hope the same won’t happen this year. I hope to be able to include a report-back in next week’s bulletin.

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

HAMNET Report 28th January 2024

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination System reports that, following the earthquake of 7.0 M that occurred in Wushi County, Aksu Prefecture, in western Xinjiang Province, north-western China on 22 January at 18.09 UTC, the number of casualties and damage is increasing.

According to media reports, at least three people died, five have been injured across Akqi and Wushi Counties, and 12,426 people have been displaced. In addition, dozens of houses have been destroyed in Ahetch County in Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture.

More than 70 aftershocks with magnitude greater than 3 have been registered in the area.

Last Monday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service issued a Geomagnetic Storm Watch for Monday and Tuesday as the largest solar flare since 2017 headed our way as we near the peak of Solar Cycle 25.

Officials said a coronal mass ejection was “observed lifting off the Sun” on Saturday and could cause moderate geomagnetic storming on Monday and Tuesday.

The X5 solar flare was observed by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Centre and officials said it could impact high-frequency radio communications, which are used by ham radio operators, some commercial airlines and by several government agencies.

Quite exciting finally to see an X5 class solar flare this solar cycle, because it does herald the arrival of solar maximum later this year and next, but in fact the coronal mass ejection delivered merely a glancing blow to our magnetosphere, and RF signals were not compromised much.

Professor David L Mills, one of the original wizards who built the internet, has died at the age of 85, leaving a remarkable technological legacy.

He is perhaps best known for his work on NTP, the Network Time Protocol, which he both invented and first implemented. This technology, which addresses an exceptionally thorny technical problem, allows computers to synchronize their time clocks with one another. For this, he was often referred to as the internet’s “Father Time.”

Mills was born with glaucoma, although an operation in childhood saved some sight in his left eye. His vision started to fail in 2012 and a decade later was altogether lost. However he became one of the engineers who built the internet. Later in life, he was the first chair of the Gateway Algorithms and Data Structures Task Force (GADS), and then of the Internet Architecture Task Force (INARC), the forerunner organization of today’s Internet Engineering Task Force.

Theregister.com reported on the loss of this internet legend.

The ARRL letter of this week says that ARRL Member and active radio amateur Dr. Philip Erickson, W1PJE, is the new director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Haystack Observatory.

The prestigious scientific appointment is the continuation of a radio interest that began in his youth. “I started as a shortwave listener in the mid-1970’s as a middle school student. So, in some sense, I was always fooling with antennas in the back yard and trying to understand why signals got to me at different times — why were they different in the day and at night? What was the farthest place I could hear, or the closest place?”

That early interest led him to an electrical engineering degree and ultimately, a doctorate in space plasma physics from Cornell University that he earned in 1998. Erickson was first licensed as a ham only about 10 years ago, but he says the professional hardware he worked with daily scratched the itch until he could gain amateur privileges. Erickson enjoys home-brewing gear, learning from the foundations of vintage equipment, and using amateur radio in the scientific space.

“An intense interest to me that crosses the boundary of what I do professionally and what I do as a radio amateur is what’s happening with the HamSCI Collective… Can you use the observations that are already being made in the process of conducting the hobby and extract information from them? It turns out you can — there’s a lot of ionospheric information buried in there,” he said.

The mission of the Haystack Observatory is to develop technology for radio science applications, to study the structure of our galaxy and the larger universe, to advance scientific knowledge of our planet and its space environment, and to contribute to the education of future scientists and engineers, according to MIT. The facility is home to research projects that span spectrum from VLF to 388 GHz.

He noted “We are almost a completely radio and radar observatory… We have a geospace group, which is most-closely associated with ARRL type ideas: the dynamics of the ionosphere and neutral part of the atmosphere, all the way out into near-Earth space. We are an observational group, so we use a bunch of different tools — radars, radios, sometimes data from satellites, and mostly data from ground-based observations.”

Techxplore.com notes that Conventional search and rescue operations after major disasters face many problems. A team from Malaysia writing in the International Journal of Vehicle Autonomous Systems, now suggests a practical solution that involves a real-time human detection system using a fixed-wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

Researchers from two universities in Malaysia have brought together UAV technology with readily available small-scale tools such as the Raspberry Pi computer. This allows them not only to manage system functions better than with conventional technology but also to stream aerial imagery from an attached camera.

What makes this novel approach particularly attractive is the ability to offload the computationally intensive human detection tasks to a server at the edge, enabled by 4G cellular network technology. The team explains that the server employs the YOLOv3 deep neural network, trained on VisDrone and SARD datasets, and can precisely identify people from the images gathered by the UAV’s camera and transmit results to ground control. With a positive identification, a rescue team can then be sent to the exact spot where a rescue is needed.

The system brings together deep learning algorithms and mobile-edge computing and represents a shift away from conventional search and rescue approaches that could speed up the whole process during a major incident. There are also benefits to precluding the need for manned aircraft or people to cover a lot of ground in hazardous environments.

The researchers initially designed the system for human search and rescue scenarios, but it could be adapted to other applications, such as public safety and crime prevention. It could be repurposed for patrolling a site vulnerable to criminal activity or even used in tracking criminals.

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

HAMNET REPORT 21ST JANUARY 2024

KwaZulu Natal is still not out of danger from heavy rain and its consequences. GDACS reported on Thursday that the number of casualties increased after the floods due to heavy rainfall and thunderstorms that affected KwaZulu-Natal province, since 12th January.

Media report, as of 17th January, at least 13 fatalities due to overflowing rivers in eThekwini municipality and Durban city area. Six people were injured by severe weather-related incidents and three people have been rescued in Tongaat. Across eThekweni, KwaDukuza and Ndwedwe municipalities, people in the flooded areas have been evacuated. Moreover, roads, bridges infrastructure and electricity networks have been severely damaged.

On Friday, the Newcastle area was being threatened by oncoming storms and heavy rain, so the summer rainfall areas are certainly suffering a lot.

In a summary of the Tropical Cyclone’s path, GDACS says that BELAL made landfall over Reunion on 15th January and passed close to Mauritius on 15th and 16th January, bringing heavy rainfall and strong winds, that caused floods and resulted in casualties and damage.

In Reunion, civil protection reported four fatalities and more than 700 displaced people. In Mauritius, according to the United Nations, at least two people died, over 1,000 others were evacuated and approximately 100,000 were affected.

The Government of Mauritius is leading the response coordination with support from humanitarian partners.

BELAL has moved eastward as a tropical storm and was located 910 km south-east of Mauritius on Thursday. It was forecast to change direction moving south-westwards over the southern Indian Ocean and weaken. 

Meanwhile, large areas of Japan affected by the New Year’s Day earthquake are still without water and power, particularly in the evacuation centres, where 20000 people are still trying to keep warm in icy winter conditions.

As of Monday the 15th, the death toll stood at 222, with 22 people still unaccounted for and 1025 suffering injuries. The tsunami waves, while small, nevertheless inundated some 190 hectares of land in three municipalities mostly in the north-eastern part of the Noto Peninsula in the Ishikawa province, wrecking houses and port facilities, including the town of Shika, but the full extent of the destruction is yet to be assessed.

In an editorial carried on the Mainichi newsline, it is noted that the communication network broke down. This was due to equipment malfunctions and power outages rendering mobile phone base stations inoperable.

Service providers swung into action to provide alternatives. Major mobile carriers NTT Docomo Inc. and KDDI Corp. set up joint mobile base stations on ships, transmitting signals from the sea. SoftBank Corp. is using special drones as mobile base stations — a system introduced based on experiences from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

However, communication coverage remains limited in some disaster-stricken areas, making it difficult for phone and internet services to function properly. Delays in restoration could impede vital information gathering through drones and online medical consultations.

Strengthening disaster prevention capabilities is an urgent task. In the Great East Japan Earthquake, about 29,000 base stations went offline, with roughly 80% attributed to power outages.

Carriers have improved backup power for base stations, extending their operational life from three to around 24 hours in the case of a blackout. Considering that the first 72 hours after a disaster are crucial for life-saving efforts, further performance improvement is needed.

In the Noto quake, satellite phones played a significant role. The government sent terminals to affected areas, supporting recovery efforts. KDDI provided equipment to medical facilities and evacuation centres to tap into U.S. firm SpaceX’s Starlink communication system.

Communications are a lifeline during disasters. The government and network providers have a responsibility to establish essential universal services to protect the people.

Amateur radio enthusiast Tony Falla is encouraging community members to consider having a radio on hand to assist in times of emergency when all other forms of communication fail.

Tony has been an amateur radio enthusiast for more than 50 years and established the local Facebook group ‘Mt Alexander Radio Watch‘, in Australia, to encourage people to set up their own radio network for use in times of power cuts, mobile outages and other unpredictable situations. 

But his skills and equipment were recently put to the test when simultaneous power and Optus network outages plunged homes across the region into darkness and saw many unable to communicate via phone. 

The storm event on January 2 saw 24,000 homes across the central and western regions without power after 90,000 lightning strikes across the state damaged infrastructure. 

“Despite having to look for an alternative source of lighting, I was able to use my car radio transmitter set up to reach out to other Mt Alexander Radio Watch members across the region and to gauge how widespread the issue was and if everyone was okay,” Tony said. 

“After confirming everyone was okay, one of my colleagues offered to drop me off some spare car batteries to extend my lights’ duration. However, they weren’t required in the end as fortunately the outage only lasted a couple of hours.” 

Point-to-point radio enables an ‘open mesh’ network to form. This means participants can hear each other and are able to talk to everyone. It’s an efficient way of solving problems or calling for help. 

Thank you to midlandexpress.com for reminding us of the value of being “radio-active”. The message does bear repeating.

In this connection, Stanford News reports that researchers from Stanford and the American University of Beirut have developed a lightweight, portable antenna that can communicate with satellites and devices on the ground, making it easier to coordinate rescue and relief efforts in disaster-prone areas.

The antenna, described recently in Nature Communications, packs down to a small size and can easily shift between two configurations to communicate either with satellites or devices on the ground without using additional power.

The antenna, is made of fibre composites, and consists of multiple strips of material crossing each other in spirals, and able to be concertina’ed down to a 2.5cm tall 12.5cm ring, or stretched out to 30cm and considerably narrower.

Technically it is a bi-stable deployable quadrifilar helix antenna, and needs a ground plane to be used either for satellite communications with a high power directional signal, or for lower power omnidirectional signals, rather like a router’s antenna. The frequencies it resonates on obviously depends on its general dimensions. However it weighs just 40gms, so is easy to carry and use in portable situations.

Thanks to news.stanford.edu for this snippet.

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

HAMNET Report 14th January 2024

On Friday, GDACS started reporting on a tropical cyclone called BELAL, which had arisen in the Indian Ocean, and is currently threatening Mauritius and Reunion, with winds currently in excess of 230km/h and travelling from Northeast to Southwest, more or less parallel to the Madagascan east coast. The two French islands are directly in its path, and the storm should pass over Mauritius and Reunion on the 16th of January. There are at least 958000 people in its predicted path, and we must hope the cyclone disperses a bit before Tuesday, to reduce likelihood of casualties.

KYODO News in Japan is reporting that in all likelihood the pilot of the small coast guard plane that was struck by the landing Japanese Airlines passenger craft on the runway did not hear the landing instructions given to the JAL aircraft because he was listening on another frequency. He therefore thought it safe to taxi on to the runway to prepare for take-off.

It was the third flight of this coast guard aircraft, ferrying assistance to the northwestern coast of the main island to help with earthquake mopping up operations. The JAL passenger aircraft was completely burnt out, but not before all passengers and crew safely disembarked. All four runways at Haneda airport were temporarily closed, but the three unaffected runways were reopened the same day.

Scientists at Tel Aviv University are proposing a radio astronomy telescope on the moon to detect radio waves emitted from the hydrogen gas that filled the universe millions of years ago, and which may contain clues about the cosmic dark ages before the first stars started forming.

Writing in ISRAEL21C, Abigail Leichman says the Tel Aviv group could be able to measure the weight of Neutrino particles and add to scientists’ limited knowledge about dark matter, the mysterious building block of outer space.

This study was led by Prof. Rennan Barkana’s research group, including the postdoctoral fellow Rajesh Mondal. Their novel conclusions have been published in Nature Astronomy.

The researchers explain that while every car has an antenna that detects radio waves, the specific waves from the early universe are blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere. They can only be studied from space, particularly the moon, which offers a stable environment, free of any interference from an atmosphere or from radio communications.

They say that putting a telescope on the moon isn’t an impossible dream, given that the United States, Europe, China and India are engaged in an international space race to return to the moon with space probes and, eventually, astronauts. Their research may intrigue one of these countries to try detecting radio waves from the cosmic dark ages.

Barkana explained: “NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope discovered recently distant galaxies whose light we receive from the cosmic dawn, around 300 million years after the Big Bang. Our new research studies an even earlier and more mysterious era: the cosmic dark ages, only 50 million years after the Big Bang.”

Barkana said that conditions in the early universe were quite different from today and that using radio observations to determine the density and temperature of hydrogen gas at various times can reveal what is still to be discovered.

Furthermore, a radio telescope consisting of an array of antennas could accurately determine the amount of hydrogen and of helium in the universe. Hydrogen is the original form of ordinary matter in the universe, from which stars, planets, and eventually life began.

Since the end of 2023, HAMNET Western Cape has developed closer ties with the Western Cape Repeater Working group, which maintains and repairs the repeaters we have dotted around here. After all, although the VHF and UHF repeaters are available for all amateurs to use, the grouping that really needs the repeaters to be working flawlessly, is HAMNET, because we are the most likely to be involved in search and rescue comms, or management of regional disasters of any sort.

HAMNET therefore regards it as essential that our repeater system does not fail. Maintenance and repair of repeaters requires the time of the volunteers who repair them, and funds to replace equipment or provide parts.

To this end, the company who advertises on the front page of your SARL website, Bombastik Radio Accessories has sponsored three groups of prizes so that the Repeater Working Group can run a raffle. Each ticket costs R99 and only 200 tickets will be sold. The raffle will be drawn once all 200 tickets are indeed sold.

The prizes? Well, first prize is a Bombastik 80-40-coil-5-6m-whip part number p609509252, plus a 1.2m copper spike and connectors and radials for the whip antenna, part number p611033292 (if you want to go and look on their website).

Second prize will be an end fed half wave antenna covering 10-40m, part number p607418904; and there will be three third prizes, of 2 antenna wire winders each, part number p611037766. The total value of all the prizes is more than R3550.

The raffle is open to anybody in South Africa, and you will see Bombastik’s email address and raffle contact details on their advertisement on the SARL webpage. Thank you to Marius ZS1ML, for the generous sponsorship. There are still some tickets available, so feel free to enter for the draw.

It appears that Curation team members at the Johnson Space Centre have been struggling to gain access to some of the sample material brought all the way back to earth from Asteroid Bennu last year.

NASA now says that the team successfully removed the two fasteners from the sampler head that had prevented the remainder of OSIRIS-REx’s asteroid Bennu sample material from being accessed. Steps are now underway to complete the disassembly of the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or TAGSAM, head to reveal the rest of the rocks and dust delivered by NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

The remainder of the bulk sample will be fully visible after a few additional disassembly steps, at which point image specialists will take ultra-high-resolution pictures of the sample while it is still inside the TAGSAM head. This portion of the sample will then be removed and weighed, and the team will be able to determine the total mass of Bennu material captured by the mission.

How ridiculously frustrating? You bring a sample of asteroid material back after a multi-million kilometre trip, and then you can’t get at it, because the lid is stuck closed! I think I would long-since have resorted to a hammer by now!

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

HAMNET Report 7th January 2024

Well, here we are on the first Sunday of 2024, and I’ll seize a final opportunity to say Happy New Year to you all. May your knowledge, experience and fun playing radio only increase this year!

I mentioned, half in passing last week, the Ladysmith floods of the Christmas weekend, and now discover that the death toll from those torrential rains has risen to 23. The authorities have apparently stopped their searches for missing persons as of Wednesday this week.

A hidden tragedy unfolds, as it does every year this time, in the Eastern Cape, where deaths during the initiation ceremonies at mostly unregistered initiation schools now stands at 34. One can perhaps understand that there is a tradition related to this ceremony, and we all know how important tradition is to all people, but surely there is a more reliable, safe and hygienic way to go through with this event every year, reducing the number of needless deaths, usually of recently matriculated young men? This is 2024, after all, and there are more hygienic ways to perform this ritual.

Japan seems to have stuck to its tradition of dealing its nation with dramatic natural disasters during the festive season, by delivering an earthquake of magnitude 7.6 on New Year’s morning, luckily on the northern coast of the main island. Fortunately there were no nuclear reactors on that stretch of Japanese coastline, but damage was severe, and the death toll on Friday evening stood at 94, with 200 people still unaccounted for. Damage to buildings has resulted in 32000 people being housed in temporary shelters, as rescuers scramble to move rubble and search for more survivors.

The quake was felt as far away as Tokyo, on the other coast of the main island, and would you believe it, my daughter had just got airborne out of Tokyo on her way to Hokkaido Island when the shaking started. I can assure you that this worried Dad was watching the newscasts very closely until he got news that she was safely on Hokkaido.

And an even huger disaster was averted when a passenger plane flying back to Tokyo from Sapporo airport, the very airport on Hokkaido my daughter had alighted at, struck a small plane on the runway at Tokyo, killing all its passengers, and then bursting in to flames.

Apparently, the crew of the passenger aircraft from Sapporo behaved most coolly, and safely evacuated all 400 people on the plane down the inflatable shutes, with no injuries to anybody. The fire was extinguished on the runway, and the country mourns the passing of the people on the light aircraft, who were actually on their way to assist with search and rescue operations at the quake’s epicenter. All in all, not a good start to the Japanese New Year!

Here’s some better news for us oldies with grey hair or no hair at all. In what seems to me to be an obvious correlation, a large team of medical researchers affiliated with several institutions in Denmark analysed data from a national health information database and found evidence that hearing aids could reduce the risk of developing dementia in older people with hearing difficulties. Their study is published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery.

Phys.org reports that prior research has suggested that there may be a link between hearing difficulties in older people and the development of dementia, suggesting that gradual hearing loss may be a risk factor for developing one of the many types of dementia. Scientists are still trying to understand the link better, but in the meantime, some in the field have begun to wonder if the use of hearing aids may slow or stop the onset of such diseases.

To learn more about this possibility, the research team turned to the Hearing Examinations in Southern Denmark database, which, as its name implies, is a database that monitors hearing issues in people living in southern parts of Denmark. It contains hearing data for approximately 573,088 people aged 50 years and older and was collected between the years 2003 and 2017.

In analysing the data, the researchers looked for associations between hearing loss and dementia. They found that older people experiencing hearing loss who did not use a hearing aid were 20% more likely to develop dementia than those without hearing loss. They also found that older people experiencing hearing loss who did use a hearing aid had just a 6% chance of developing dementia, which was close to the average for ordinary people who did not experience hearing loss.

The researchers point out that their findings do not prove that the use of a hearing aid can prevent the onset of dementia, just that more study needs to done to find out if that is the case.

In other words, there is a connection between increasing hearing loss, and an increased likelihood of developing dementia if you don’t use a hearing aid, but the one does not necessarily cause the other. Correlation, but not causation!

It is a sad fact that many people who are becoming hard of hearing are resistant to the idea of wearing aids, mostly I suspect because it is an admission of progressive decline. A bigger problem actually, is the fact that hearing aids non-selectively amplify everything, making it difficult for one’s brain to focus in on the one conversation or audio input one is particularly interested in.

A person with hearing aids will tell you the aids are useless at a gathering or social occasion, because the general hub-bub makes appreciation of the important stuff impossible. However, I think that is not a good reason for not wearing aids. Wear the aids, avoid the parties, and allow your brain to continue to listen to what is important to you. Visual and auditory stimuli will keep your mind active, and prevent senile decay. Put the other way round, becoming hard of hearing cuts you off from society and the world more and more, and causes you to sink into a lonely existence

I for one can’t wait for AI to improve hearing aid technology to the point that one can cancel out general noise, and allow only the audio you are actually interested in, to get through. In the meantime, wear your headphones, switch on the ordinary noise cancelling, and enjoy your amateur radio!

Thanks to Phys.org for that report.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR, reminding you all to be willing to volunteer to assist your families and society in general in times of need, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 31st December 2023

Extreme weather in the forms of storms and heavy rainfall in the eastern half of the country has seen the forecast I mentioned of floods in the Newcastle region last week almost take place.

But it wasn’t Newcastle that bore the brunt, it was Ladysmith in northern KZN, where mopping up operations are still taking place. At least 14 people have been identified as killed by the floods, but there are at least 10 still missing, and their names are likely to be added to the list of lost souls after rescue work is over. The rain and flooding started on Christmas Eve, and now, a full week later, the tragedies of lost family members are still unfolding.

With roads from KZN back in the general direction of Gauteng Province starting to get busier this coming week, we don’t need more extreme weather to make those roads more treacherous, and the drivers lose their skills.

There is a saying here in the Western Cape that, when it rains, as it does all winter, people forget how to drive safely. I hope the same isn’t true of the rest of the country.

Talking of water and flooding, I wonder how many of you remembered the 19th anniversary of the Indonesian earthquake and Tsunami of 2004 that claimed over 230000 lives around the rim of the north Indian Sea.

And the remarkable use that amateur radio was put to on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands? The effort to reunite families on the islands was led by a New Delhi housewife, Bharathi Prasad VU2RBI. She was visiting the islands’ capital, Port Blair to set up its first ham radio station when the disaster struck, and the chain of 570 islands was cut off from the world.

But within hours, Bharathi Prasad put up her radio with the use of a hotel generator, and reached out to other ham operators. Soon she and six colleagues were conveying thousands of messages to and from the islands.

In similar vein, hams from the Indian subcontinent, from Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other parts of Indonesia did what they could, often without structured electricity grids to carry the messages of hope, survival, and often tragedy, as the death tolls mounted.

That all happened on Boxing Day 2004. It is amazing to think that 2024 will see the 20th anniversary of that disaster.

News from airtrafficmanagement.net is that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has approved the use of satellites to support voice and data communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. The approval was announced in Dubai at the World Radio Congress in December 2023. This approval will lead to substantial improvements in the safety, sustainability, efficiency and passenger experience of air transport.

Voice and data radio communications in the VHF band are used for communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. VHF radios are standard aircraft equipment around the world and are vital in ensuring the safety of air travel. Currently, VHF voice communications services are only available when the aircraft is within range of a ground-based radio. This means that large areas of the Earth’s surface, including much of the world’s oceans, are not covered. The use of satellites in place of ground-based radio systems will enable seamless global real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers for the first time.

The use of space-enabled services supporting pilots and air traffic controllers will:

  • Improve safety by providing real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers to maintain correct separations between aircraft.
  • Reduce environmental emissions from aviation by allowing the most efficient routes to be flown by aircraft.
  • Increase efficiency of the aviation industry by reducing fuel consumption and reducing flight delays.
  • Improve the passenger experience by improving on-time performance. The cost of flight delays in the United States, Europe and Australia has been estimated at US$67.5 billion per year.

The approval follows [a company called] Skykraft’s world-first demonstration of space-to-ground voice communications systems operating in the VHF band, carried out in south-western Australia in July 2023. Skykraft’s trial of space-based voice communications in the VHF aviation band demonstrates the feasibility of satellite communication directly with aircraft using existing equipment.

Skykraft is developing a constellation of satellites to provide VHF-band communications services and surveillance services to track aircraft from 2025.

Thanks to airtrafficmanagement.net for the news. Hopefully, Skycraft’s systems, or others like it, will quickly span the globe and make air transport communications even more safe and guaranteed.

In a news item dated the 27th December, the ARRL says that 2023 has been a remarkable year for amateur radio. There were many noteworthy opportunities for hams to use their license privileges for the greater good. An annular solar eclipse saw radio amateurs engaging in projects of scientific research about our ionosphere, devastating firestorms gutted entire cities and saw Amateur Radio Emergency Service member-volunteers rise to activate, hurricanes threatened life and property, bicycle races spread across the desert necessitated robust communications provided by hams, and high school students led and executed contacts with the International Space Station. Many amateur radio operators stood to serve in ways that made headlines, and all of them were volunteers.

Commenting further, the Relay League reminds us of volunteer examiners who supervised amateur licensing exams, traffic net managers who handled traffic from hams checking in, and even the unsung mentors who helped newcomers on a one on one basis. Most of these volunteers did not get their names in lights.

The ARRL designated 2023 as the Year of the Volunteer to recognize these people’s efforts, and to encourage new prospective volunteers to follow their lead.

We have a small squad of like-minded volunteers in this country, and I’m sure the SARL, and especially HAMNET would encourage more to become volunteers in the hobby. It is a funny fact that you get more OUT of an activity when you put more IN to it, and this is also true of amateur radio. So, make only one New Year’s resolution this year, and let that be to volunteer your services to ham radio more than you already do! On behalf of us all in the hobby, I thank you.

I now grab this opportunity to wish you all a healthy, happy and safe New Year, and look forward to seeing the spirit of volunteerism even stronger amongst the amateur radio community, as we use our knowledge and experience to be of assistance to our fellow South Africans. Thank you to all our volunteers who give selflessly of their time, with the surreptitious knowledge that their hobby is more fun when they do!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa, and looking forward to serving you again in 2024.

HAMNET Report 24th December 2023

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all those for whom this time of year is very special, a very happy festive season, no matter your faith. May your time spent with loved ones be memorable, and your relaxation complete.

If you are on holiday, and driving, please take extra special care, because you have no idea what the state of mind of the oncoming driver is. Drive carefully and defensively, and arrive alive, as the saying goes.

GDACS reports on the earthquake of magnitude 5.9 at a depth of 10 km which occurred in Gansu Province in China on 18th December at 15.59 UTC. The epicentre was located approximately 37 km west-northwest of Linxia Chengguanzhen and 100 km south-west of Lanzhou City, the capital and the largest city of Gansu Province.

At least four aftershocks of magnitude between 4.2 and 4.6 have been recorded in the area. USGS PAGER estimates that up to 117,000 people were exposed to very strong shaking and up to 158,000 to strong shaking.

National authorities are in the field with rescue and emergency operations. At least 4,000 firefighters, soldiers, and police officers were dispatched in the rescue efforts.

According to the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, as of 20th December, at least 127 people died, of whom 113 were in the Gansu Province and 14 more across the Qinghai Province. In addition, media also report more than 700 injured people and approximately 5,000 damaged buildings across both the affected provinces.

Meanwhile, there have been tropical cyclones affecting parts of Australia and Philippines, flooding in India and KZN (in the Dundee area), severe weather in eastern states of the USA, and floods and flood warnings reported for Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and the UK. So weather extremes continue to affect the globe. It appears that dramatic weather has no regard for holiday seasons amongst mankind.

And, as I write this, the air in Cape Town is heavy with the smell of burnt fynbos, and the sky takes on an orange hue from the extensive fire which is still burning above Simonstown and beyond to Glencairn . The Southeaster has been accentuated by the up-currents of hot air from the fires, resulting in the rapid spread of the fire in the deep south of the Peninsula. As you probably know, fynbos needs regular fires to remove ragged old bush, and allow the germination of new flora, so all is not lost, but the speed of spread of the fire has been very alarming.

GDACS notes that more than 300 firefighters have been involved, of whom 7 have been injured, and at least 96 families have been evacuated from their homes in one area. By Friday, an area of 1430 hectares had already been burnt in the fire.

Now here’s some space age technology for you. Interestingengineering.com says that Rydberg Technologies Inc., a leading company in Rydberg quantum technologies and radio frequency (RF) quantum sensing, has announced the successful demonstration of the world’s first long-range radio communications using an atomic quantum sensor with their small size weight and power (SWaP) atomic receiver. This demonstration, Rydberg Technologies announces, took place at the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) C5ISR Centre Network Modernization Experiment 2023 (NetModX23) event, which serves as a proving ground for next-generation technologies for communications and intelligence.

An atomic quantum sensor is a highly advanced type of sensor that utilizes the principles of quantum mechanics. It specifically uses the properties of atoms in quantum states to measure physical quantities with exceptional precision and accuracy.

Atomic quantum sensors have a wide range of applications, including fundamental physics research, navigation systems such as advanced versions of gyroscopes, geological surveying for measuring gravitational variations, medical imaging, and more. They are particularly useful in environments where traditional electronic sensors might fail or be less effective.

Rydberg Technologies has developed atomic quantum sensors that utilize something called “Rydberg atoms.” These atoms are excited to extremely high energy levels, which makes them incredibly sensitive to electromagnetic fields. Rydberg Technologies explains that this sensitivity is particularly beneficial for communication and electromagnetic field sensing applications.

“The Rydberg atomic receiver device exhibited unparalleled sensitivity across the high-frequency (HF) to super high-frequency (SHF) bands and demonstrated over-the-air atomic RF communication at long range,” Rydberg Technologies said in a press release. “This historic demonstration occurred in an operationally relevant environment, with the atomic receiver setting new industry standards in size, performance, and environmental resilience for Rydberg atom quantum sensors,” they added.

Rydberg atomic receivers are a new type of receiver with several unique features. They are highly sensitive and selective and can cover a wide range of frequencies using a single atomic detector element. These devices can significantly change RF surveillance, safety, communications, and networking capabilities from long-wavelength RF to millimetre-wave and THz bands.

The technology demonstrated signal selectivity, low detection probability, and immunity to interference in contested electromagnetic environments. The successful deployment of this technology in real-world conditions, as noted by Rydberg, indicates a significant step forward in transitioning quantum technologies from laboratory settings to practical applications.

Thank you to interestingengineering.com for those excerpts from their report. I wonder how tiny our handheld radios will become if we start using a Rydberg Atom to sense the electromagnetic radiation from a distant transmitter. Dick Tracy’s wrist-watch radio will well and truly become real!

In a similar area of communications experiment, jpl.nasa.gov says that NASA succeeded in sending ultra-high definition streaming video on 11th December from the satellite Psyche, a record-setting 31 million kilometres away. The milestone is part of a NASA technology demonstration aimed at streaming very high-bandwidth video and other data from deep space – enabling future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

The demo transmitted the 15-second test video via a cutting-edge instrument called a flight laser transceiver. The video signal took 101 seconds to reach Earth, sent at the system’s maximum bit rate of 267 megabits per second (Mbps). Capable of sending and receiving near-infrared signals, the instrument beamed an encoded near-infrared laser to the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, where it was downloaded. Each frame from the looping video was then sent “live” to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the video was played in real time.

Uploaded before launch, the short ultra-high definition video features an orange tabby cat named Taters, the pet of a JPL employee, chasing a laser pointer, with overlaid graphics. The graphics illustrate several features from the tech demo, such as Psyche’s orbital path, Palomar’s telescope dome, and technical information about the laser and its data bit rate. Tater’s heart rate, colour, and breed are also on display.

Do bear in mind, it is only about 120 years ago, that Marconi and his pals were battling to get an RF signal from England to Newfoundland!

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