Sunday, 29 April 2018

CTARC Remote Station at Morningstar - 28 April '18

Exciting news! After at least a year of secret preparations, the CTARC can now announce that its remote controlled amateur radio station at Morningstar in the northern suburbs of Cape Town is operational. We were treated to a very interesting talk about this by Allan / ZS1LS at the CTARC April 2018 Meeting.

The station consists of a suitably modified container and a fold-over crank up tower (that had belonged to Martin / ZS1SM /SK) which supports a rotatable 9-element Optibeam yagi antenna for the 10, 12, 15, 17 and 20 metre ham bands. On top of that sits a 6m yagi beam. There is aso a 2m antenna. Dipole wire antennae for 30, 40 and 80 metres are also planned.

Central to the system are a Kenwood TS-2000 transceiver, a Metron solid-state linear amplifier (capable of 1kW PEP on phone and 500W on CW), various modems, web-switches, SWR monitors and control equipment. The station links to the outside world via a microwave link to an internet hub at Dolphin Beach. It will be continuously operational, 24/7.

The system will enable an operator with an internet connection and a PC to connect to the station, log in, monitor a frequency (by default), change frequencies within a band, change ham bands, rotate the beam antenna towards a desired direction, and operate  in PTT mode via their PC’s keyboard or suitable interface.

Minimum PC requirements are:
  • A PC desktop or laptop computer or Android smartphone
    with at least a 1 GHz CPU and 1 Gb of RAM;
  • Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 10 operating system, or Android if you use a smartphone.
    Windows 7 or better is preferred.
    (Sorry - the system will not work with Apple Macs or iPhones);
  • .NET Framework 4.0 installed
    (The remote control software setup will inform you of this requirement and install if needed);
  • Adobe Flash Player Active X.
Your internet connection should be at least 2 Mbit speed, which does work, but 4 Mbit is better

Third party software integration with logging programs and interfaces such as Ham Radio Deluxe are possible. One can even rig up a foot switch connection to the PC via a DB9 connector.

While only one operator can transmit at a time, others may log in and monitor the station in use at the same time. An operating protocol for this is being developed. All operations (operators, frequencies used and times) are continuously logged by the system.

The Morningstar station is the creation of Fred Ziss / ZS1FZ who’s relationship with both our club and with Cape Town goes back many years. We are extremely fortunate to have Fred’s highly professional design input and generously substantial financial contributions to the establishment of this unique facility for the CTARC. Fred has implemented this project as a “thank you” to our club, our city and our country, for providing him with, as he puts it, “some of the best years of my life and career”. We are honoured by his kind and very generous contribution, completed in spite of an inconvenient medical operation along the way. Allan will run the maintenance of the station.

Some practical matters

  • Operation of the Morningstar remote station is only available to paid-up members of the CTARC.
  • As the CTARC pays the running costs of this station, including rental and electricity, operators will be required to pay an annual fee for access. The committee feels it is only fair that payment is made only by users of the system, as opposed to non-users. We need at least 30 operators each contributing R200-00 p.a. (at current rates) to make this financially sustainable. Until the CTARC AGM in July, as a special deal, those club members who wish to operate the remote station must please pay R50-00 to the CTARC Secretary Anne. She will then e-mail you the necessary setup instructions. After the July AGM, access rights to CTARC club members will cost R200-00 per annum.
  • As with the operation of repeaters on our frequencies, it must be emphasised that as this is an experimental station, access and operation cannot be absolutely guaranteed 100% of the time.
  • All operators must, of course, be fully licensed radio amateur operators. Part of the setup of the remote control software requires you to upload a copy of your ICASA radio amateur license to the server.
  • As creator of the project, Fred /ZS1FZ has the right to operate the station at his convenience. In practice this will provide plenty of “free” time for others to operate the station too.
  • As administrator of the station, Alan / ZS1LS has similar operating privileges.
  • While it can monitor digital modes, the station can’t at present transmit them, owing to software codec and latency issues. It is hoped that future versions of the software will address this issue.
  • The response time of the station for some contesting formats is not instantaneous. This is, however, a small disadvantage for so fine a station and antennae in a quiet radio environment.
Further details will be published presently