ARK is currently working on a project that will allow us to work Earth-Moon-Earth, satellites and various scattering modes on the amateur bands between 1 and 10 GHz. Our solution uses a 3 m parabolic dish together with a set of discrete amplifiers, the entire system is excited by a USRP SDR.

We have split the 1 to 10 GHz project into four sections. Up until now we have completed stage one and two, while stage three and four are still remaining. The stages are roughly:

Stage 1: Literature study, ordering of components – Further details in “An update on the 1 to 10 GHz project”

Stage 2: Construction of the parabolic dish and mast – Further details in “3m parabole dish ready”

Stage 3: PCB development and integration onto parabolic dish – Further details in this blogpost ūüėÄ

Stage 4: Long term projects with the dish, software, amplifiers, new antenna feed – Further details in the future.

This is a good time to elaborate more on our plans for stage 3 as the amplifiers that will be used for the project just arrived! We have purchased:

144/432 MHz IF to 10.5 GHz mixer –¬†MKU 10 G4, 3 cm Transverter
6 cm (5.8 GHz) PA –¬†MKU PA 6CM-50W A, GaAs-Power Amplifier

To keep the work more organised we have split stage three into four sections. The sections are three PCB-design projects and one final assembly of all the components at the back of the parabolic dish.

1: Wideband driver amplifier
The Kuhne amplifiers and transverter seen in the previous section, will bring the output power to the level that is required to achieve Earth-Moon-Earth communications in the amateur radio bands. In order to be able to excite the Kuhne amplifiers and transverter from a USRP SDR with 10 mW max output power, an intermediate stage is required. The next step is to design and construct this amplified.

Very simplified schematic of 1 W driver.

We have conducted a study of available parts, and concluded that it is indeed possible to create an amplifier that will deliver 1 W across the frequency band from 0.1 GHz to 6 GHz.

In the figure above an example schematic using Guerilla RFs GRF4001 together with Analog Devices HMC637LP5 is shown. The device will deliver 1 W across 0.1 GHz to 6 GHz. This will allow exitation of all amplifiers, as well as the transverter that enables 10 GHz coverage. The gain should be on the order of 30 dB in order to avoid operating the USRP at its saturation power, where it is known to be quite noisy.

2: Wideband low noise amplifier
Another component that we want to develop ourselves is the low noise amplifier (LNA). There are not many good and cheap LNAs available for the amateur radio market, despite there being integrated circuits that boast very good performance for this application. If we are able to make an LNA and provide the design notes as open source, it will likely be beneficial for many people.

The LNA is one of the more challenging circuits. It needs to work using relatively cheap equipment while being largely immune to electromagnetic noise. A lot of work will likely be spent on making the supply-lines that power the HMC753 LNA circuit noise free, as well as ensuring that the metallic shielding is sufficiently tight. Another consideration is that the amplifier must be able to sustain relatively high input powers that will leak through the coaxial relays during transmit.

Outline of LNA.

The figure above shows a draft for a test assembly for performance testing of HMC753, which is a device that could be used in our LNA.

3: Controller board
Interfacing with the amplifiers will be handled through a controller board that communicates with either a computer or the USRP directly over the serial protocol RS232. The interface board is responsible for managing power supply states for all amplifiers as well as startup sequencing.

A set of RF relays are used to select which of the discrete amplifiers should be connected to the different points along the circuit. These are available as surplus devices on auction sites such as eBay.

Essentially, the interface board is responsible for ensuring that all connections and devices in the figure below are connected and powered correctly for a given configuration. It should also be able to alter the configuration in a rapid way.

Relays, amplifiers, transverters and SDR connection diagram.

 

4: Mechanical integration

After the three sections above are complete, the mechanical integration of the RF system onto the dish can start. This is an extensive effort as there are many concerns to deal with. Thermal management and waterproofing are two likely issues. So far we have an idea revolving around a gutter heater solution to keep the system from freezing during the winter. To keep the system cool enough we are experimenting with different heatsinks and weatherproof fans (IP68).

We hope to have the first three stages finished by the end of november, and the mechanical work started and delivered some time early next year. The time it takes to develop the PCBs gives us a good chance to secure the final funds that are required for the mechanical work (cabinets, fans, heatsinks). Overall we are really excited to see the project taking shape.

Before we finish all the sub-projects in stage three we might try to work some contacts using the 23cm module on our IC-9100, a MKU 131 AH 23 cm LNA, coaxial relays and the 200 W 23 cm PA we just bought. More on that in a later post.