Setting up a Remote Station – part 13

The main image shows the installed station – but still in the garden. The top shelf has the Flex 6400 on it, the middle shelf the control system and the bottom has the UPS and power supplies. Hopefully, this will cut down on noise induction.

This image shows the control board before being installed in the cabinet.

Top left is the ancillaries board with an input jack from the ancillary 12V PSU, a couple of Power Poles to feed other 12V devices, the ESP8266 running ESPHome and code for the environmental sensors – an on-board Temp/Humidity sensor for the internal cabinet, and two 1-wire temperature sensors that will be placed in the space between the two cabinets and outside. On the far right is the Teltonika RUT951 router. In the picture it has its internal aerials on, but in the field it will have the 4G antennas and one of the wi-fi antennas connected to external antennas.

Below that is:

  • The Sonoff 4ch switch which controls the Remote On/Off and PTT on the Flex, and the 12V power to the remote auto ATU (not shown)
  • The Geekom Mini IT8 Windows PC
  • The Netgear Ethernet switch, and
  • The Raspberry Pi4 in its smart Argon One case.

Not shown in this image are any power leads. Also not shown in this image, but visible in the main one, are the two Tapo wi-fi switches that control the mains input to the main 12V PSU and the PC’s PSU. The switches are on the middle shelf in case the wi-fi doesn’t penetrate to the bottom shelf. I’m going to try them in the bottom today.

The station is now built, but I’m going to leave it in the garden for a week or so to accumulate sensor readings so I can decide if I need to add forced cooling. It will be located against a north facing wall, so won’t get any direct sun. It’s in a similar north-facing position in the garden, but will get a bit of early morning and late afternoon sun for the next week or so.

Setting up a Remote Station – part 12

I now have the cabinet in which the station will be housed at the remote site. I looked at “designed” solutions for environmentally controlled, waterproof, secure external housings, but we’re talking loads-a-money. Luckily, my wife suggested the above: a “secure” metal office cabinet inside a plastic wheely bin cabinet.

The latter is mainly for protection against the elements. We have something similar for general storage in the garden and we’ve never had a problem with rain penetration. In any case, the equipment will be sealed in the inner cabinet, so a little bit of seepage shouldn’t be a problem.

The next task is to build it up to be, as far as possible, a self-contained and self-managing remote station that needs as little attention as possible whilst being fully accessible and controllable from home.

Setting up a Remote Station – Part 11

I thought I’d add some screenshots of what the control UI looks like.

The one above shows the main screen with the various controls on it. Only two need to be touched in normal circumstances: the Radio Control button and the Windows PC button. These both kick off automations that sequence through turning things on or off – they don’t control things directly.

At the top of the screen are a number of tell-tales that indicate the state of various components, plus basic propagation information.

You can also see the lightning detector and some elementary status info. if Blitzortung reports lightning within 25km, a script runs that sends a Pushover alert, waits a couple of minutes and then kicks off the Radio Power Off script as if the user had tapped the Radio Control button.

Lastly you can see the state of the ATU, you can toggle the Lock function on the ATU to disabled the auto-tune function, and see whether it is tuned or not.

This image shows more comprehensive propagation info.

Lastly, you have a screen with some system status information.

There are more screens accessible via the side menu bar, but these three cover 90% of what’s needed. I’ve seen some remote control screens that are, in my opinion, far too crowded with irrelevant information. All that does is hide important information and controls and overwhelm the user with noise. (again, my opinion).

incidentally, all these screens are produced using the standard controls provided with Home Assistant, plus some useful ham-related plugins (e.g. Blitzortung and HF Propogation)

Setting up a Remote Station – Part 10

Hopefully the image above should help to understand what the station consists of. The station comprises:

  • a 240V network with the UPS at its core and feeding:
    • two Tapo switches (one for the PC and one for the Radio PSU);
    • the permanently-on auxiliary 12V PSU that powers the Sonoff, network switch and the ATU controller; and,
    • the permanently-on PSUs for the Router and the Pi-based Station Controller.
  • A mixed wired and WiFi network connecting most devices.
  • The main Radio PSU – Flex – ATU – Antenna Disconnect RF chain.
  • The Sonoff that switches the Flex on and off and operates the PTT when needed.
  • The Pi-based Station Controller running Home Assistant.
  • The Windows 10 PC used for digital modes.

I hope this all make sense.

Moving on, the station has been operating from my home QTH for some time now whilst I scout out a suitable remote location. I’m glad to say that a local farmer has agreed to let me site the station on their land. The only downside is that the station needs to be outside, so I now need to source a suitable IP65 or IP66 (but ventilated) wall-mounted cabinet to house it all in. Not easy to find!

For the antenna, there is a convenient line of trees close by and a 10m high barn; to which they have agreed I can mount a 20m pole to be one end of the doublet antenna I intend to use – the other end being one of the trees. With luck I’ll be able to erect a decent doublet at 20m off the ground and fed by balanced feeder from the SG-230; which will be mounted 2-3m off the ground at a convenient location midway between the ends of the doublet – probably somewhere on the wall of the aforementioned barn. I’ll use a 12V combiner to feed power to the ATU and the antenna disconnect unit.

Setting up a Remote Station – Part 9

Let me start with an apology. This site has been off the air for some weeks due to a server move initiated by my hosting provider. They gave me plenty of warning, but unfortunately the move took place whilst I was away and unable to react. Hopefully all is well now.

Nearly complete

It’s been some time since I last posted on this topic because I have been away on an extended trip. However, I’m back now and am now very nearly (hopefully) at the point where I can move the completed station to its new location. Since the last update, I’ve been able to:

  • Resolve the networking issue I grappled with in the previous post by adding an intermediate Ethernet switch.
  • Rebuilt the Station Control Computer to run Home Assistant on its preferred operating system – Home Assistant OS. HAOS is a stripped down Linux built using BuildRoot: which is optimized for embedded devices.
  • As a consequence, I’ve also migrated a couple of the additional systemd services I used before, to use Home Assistant Addons, viz: The code to monitor the UPS, the code to monitor the Pi, and the code to control the fan in the Argon40 case I am using. For the UPS, I am now using NUT rather than APCUPSD. This forced me to change the code in the Windows PC as well.
  • I’ve also added integrations to display the current RF conditions and provide warnings of any local thunderstorms.

My main tasks still outstanding are:

  • To source an auto-disconnect for the antennas.
  • To build a 12V injector to feed power to the SG-230 ATU that will be located at the base of the antenna.
  • To enable the MQTT service on the router, so it can report status to Home Assistant
  • To work on the Home Assistant dashboard that will be used to control everything.
  • Develop automations to disconnect the antennas and power off the ATU if lightning is detected close by, or when the radio is off.

Once I have fixed the final location I can also:

  • Decide on what is needed to house everything, which will also let,
  • Lay everything out on a plywood base board,
  • Finalise cable lengths and source screened cables for everything.

So, actually there’s quite a lot still to do.

In the next post, I’ll summarize where we are and include some diagrams that should hopefully make everything clearer.

Setting up a Remote Station – Part 8 networking issues

I’m seeing some strange networking issues. On a couple of occasions, I’ve lost communication to the remote station.

Currently, the remote station is sitting on the bench, and the RUT-951 router is connected to my home LAN via Wi-Fi. This is also the desired final situation.

On one occasion, the Pi and Windows PC lost comms to the Internet, even though I could access them remotely using ssh or Microsoft Remote Desktop respectively. The only interpretation is that the router lost its default route (which is to the home LAN’s gateway). However, running the route command on the router showed the proper routing table. All very odd.

The most likely cause is that I had the router sitting on top of the 12v PSU. I’ve moved it now.

Luckily, one of my reasons for choosing this router now comes to the fore. Being a router designed for remote installation, it has services built in that enable it to recover from some problems:

  • One is a service to ping a defined IP address (in my case and reboot if a pre-determined number of attempts fail to get a response.
  • The second is that you can set the router to reboot on a schedule.

I have now enabled both services, with the router rebooting at 3AM.

New Antenna System – pt 2, What?

See for part 1

Garden Plan

I started off by seeing how I could get the best from using the fibreglass mast in the middle of the back fence. Unfortunately, the internal angle would be too small for a dipole erected in a horizontal Vee, so that left me with 13m to play with. Not much.

I could put a 30m dipole in (with the ends drooped) and could then have 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10m dipoles in a fan; but this would be a nightmare to set up, and the weight would probably be too much for the fibreglass mast . Also, conditions are still declining IMO, so I really want 40m (at least).

Luckily, a change in the garden provided me with more options. We’ve just put in a new shed in the bottom SE corner of the garden, and this gave me the idea of mounting a pole on the end of the shack (B on the plan) and another on the end of the shed (C on the plan). Add in a stub mast on the gable end (A) and I now have 36m to play with (albeit in an odd shape). Plus, the middle is roughly above the shack (see plan).

80m Doublet

This led me to the antenna I am actually building: an 80m doublet (with one drooped end) fed with ladderline from the shack. One side runs in a straight line from the gable end (A) to the shack (B). The other runs at right angles to the shed (C) and then back to the house (D). I’m going to model this to see if there are any reasons not to follow this path, but it looks good.


The problem of course is that I really need a balanced tuner for this to work. Even without modelling, I foresee that the feedline will be unbalanced because of the odd shape. Putting this straight into an unbalanced tuner would be foolish. However, I do have the SG-230.

What I am doing is to install a 1:1 Guanella (Current) Balun on the end of the ladderline and connect the unbalanced output direct to the SG-230. The Balun should force the ladderline to be balanced and reduce radiation from the ladderline.

Provided the impedance swing is not beyond the capabilities of the SG-230 (and I’ve no clear idea of what those are), this should work. As the tuner will now be “hot” I’m installing an RF Choke on the coax from the tuner to kill any RF that wants to go down the outside of the shield.

The next part will cover building the antenna.

New Antenna System – pt 1, Why?

We moved to the current QTH in 2009. We thought that we’d be here for about 10 years and then move on once I retired. As such, I didn’t take too much notice of the suitability of the QTH for amateur radio. Big mistake. The QTH is in a lovely location, but it’s hemmed in by other properties, it’s down near the River Great Ouse, and has a 20m high ridge running SW-NE behind it.

All of the above makes for a sub-optimal RF environment; mainly due to locally generated noise. On 40m and using my current antenna, I regularly get a noise level of S9+10dB.

We’ve now decided to stay here, so I need to make the best of what I have.

Current Antenna

Garden Plan

The plan of the property (dimensions in cm) shows my shack in the SW corner of a 13 x 8m back garden. There was a convenient concrete washing line post in the middle of the back fence, so up until now I’ve been using a long wire antenna made of Flexweave running in a wonky inverted-L from the shack, to the top of a fibreglass mast lashed to the washing-line post and thence to the back of the house. The Long-Wire is tuned with my trusty SG-230 SmartTuner; which I used at my previous QTH. There are also a set of tuned counterpoises that run around the fence.

It’s not a bad antenna, but it does pick up a lot of noise. It’s also been deteriorating over the last year or so. See later for why.

Options for improvement

As I see it, I have several avenues to pursue.

  1. Replace the current antenna with something better.
  2. If still no improvement, install a dedicated RX-only antenna (e.g. Magnetic Loop such as the Wellbrook
  3. As per option 2 but move the RX antenna to a quieter location and operate it remotely.
  4. Move the TX antenna (and K3S) to a quieter location and operate remotely.
  5. Move 🙂
  6. Give Up.

I’m going to start with Option 1.

Potential new antennas

I started off by exploring installation of a beam of some sort on a tower. This would have the advantage of directionality and reduced noise (if only from being higher). The challenge is the limited space. Even if I installed the tower in the middle of the garden, I’d only have 8m diameter to play with. I could get a Hexbeam or a Cobweb in without infringing on neighbouring properties, but nothing bigger.

Even without discussing this with the XYL, I discarded this notion, but did explore mounting a mast on the back of the house. Something like the Tennamast or something from MM0CUG This could have worked, but after discussions with neighbours, I realised I would get objections and decided to explore other avenues first.

The alternative is to installed a better wire aerial, and that’s what I’ll cover in the next part.

Building the QRP Labs QCX CW Transceiver – parts 1, 2 and 3

As well as being a keen constructor, I am also a member of the Shefford & District Amateur Radio Society (SADARS). Recently, some of us decided to piggy-back on a construction project being run by the Norfolk Amateur Radio Club and build the QCX CW Transceiver kit produced by QRP Labs.

To assist some of our members, I agreed to take some pictures of my build and provide them with assistance. In fact, I’ve decided to go one better and attempt my first series of YouTube videos.

I’ve just uploaded parts one two and three to YouTube. These set the scene, unpack the kit and show how I set the bench up prior to starting construction.

I probably won’t be uploading part four until next week.