Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Working the impossible-to-work grids

By now everyone knows about the high-altitude circumnavigating balloons and the Ocean Floater. As I write , the Floater is still transmitting, as are 3 balloons, on JT65 and WSPR. Such feats were impossible for individual hams a few short years ago.

These long distance voyagers belong in the "Things We Thought Impossible a Few Years Ago" category. But what might be possible in the years ahead that don't seem feasible now?

First, here are the givens:

  1. "Remoting" will become more common among regular hams and DXpeditions
  2. SDR will further blur the lines between radios and computers
  3. Batteries will improve with new chemistries; electronics will miniaturize even further
  4. New modes will be developed that will make JT65 seem as efficient as AM phone

Rich KY6R's latest posting reveals some behind-the-scenes info on the remote operation that took place in conjunction with regular operations at VK0EK (Heard Island). Rich briefly mentions Elecraft's involvement and interest in the project. FlexRadio recently announced an upcoming release of their software, SmartSDR, and its promise to make remote operation easy for everyman. No need to be a techie anymore.

But let's take that concept a step further, dispense with an internet connection, and utilize the 3rd and 4th items mentioned above.

The Ocean Floater is built into a PVC pipe. In addition to the transmitter, it also contains 18 D-cells for power. What if, instead of being a beacon transmitter, something similar was capable of two-way communications and had an onboard processor similar to a Raspberry Pi that controlled transmitting, receiving and decoding of whatever data mode was being used.

In this scenario, Ocean Floater II is drifting around in the Atlantic Ocean with its whip antenna for 20m glistening in the sun. Its receiver is decoding numerous callsigns on even minutes on 14.073 MHz. On odd minutes, a response to those decoded callsigns is transmitted on another frequency. That response contains the Maidenhead gridsquare of the 'Floater's location.

Upon receiving your response, you will have worked gridsquare GM22PO.

But you've been tracking Floater II for several hours and know that in about 30 minutes, it will drift into GM22PP. Another chance at a new gridsquare. Who knew that collecting grids would become as fun and addictive as chasing new DXCC entities?

Here's a slightly different scenario:

To speed the process along, the Floater II could operate as a reverse beacon or cross-mode QSO partner. It listens on CW for a period of time, say on 14.030. Then, maybe once every 10 minutes, it transmits a QRPp signal in some data mode yet to be invented. That data stream contains all the callsigns heard in the previous 10 minute period as well as date, time, gridsquare QTH.

That transmission could be decoded by you directly for a valid QSO or you could simply look online to see if your callsign was among those decoded by other stations whose decoding software would automatically upload them just as WSPR and JT65 do now. This wouldn't count as a QSO but such stations will have made a confirmed one-way transmission to a specific gridsquare.

Be heard in 100 gridsquares and collect an award. Two-way QSOs with 100 gridsquares earns another award. Or maybe they could be called Passive and Active contacts.

Whether or not anything similar to this will come to pass is anyone's guess but the technology to do it inexpensively is really already here. The data mode and controller software are waiting to be written. Regardless, it's fun to ponder where the the efficiency of data modes, battery technology and ham ingenuity will take us in the years ahead.

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