N6V MARKS VIKING EXPLORATION OF MARS by W6VIO
[Ed. note: In last month's newsletter, we erred by stating that the QST article on N6V would be in the December issue of QST. It appeared in the November issue, and we apologize for the crossed signals. However, as we alluded to last month, the article in QST bore little resemblance to what was submitted. Without passing judgment on whether the QST article was a meaningful improvement, we thought the original might be of interest to members of our club, if not the QST readership as a whole, and so present it here - unadulterated - for your reading pleasure. Jim Lumsden, WA6MYJ, provided the, copy.]
A special event call is issued by the Federal Communications Commission to commemorate some particular event or activity. N6V was such a call, issued on the occasion of the Viking Mission to Mars. The significance of the Viking mission (to softland a spacecraft on another planet) warranted an equally significant callsign. N6V was the first modern day 1x1 call issued by the FCC to an amateur radio station. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory Amateur Radio Club, W6VIO, is proud to be its owner. We owe many thanks to the Commission for honoring the request for this call.
N6V is the third in a line of commemorative calls issued to the JPL Amateur Radio Club: WP6JPL for the Apollo 16 mission, and WS6MVM for the Mariner Venus Mercury mission (Mariner 10.) Over the period June to November, 1976, N6V became one of the most significant special events ever to be undertaken by a single group of amateurs. The operation united our club more than ever before because a real team effort was required in order to build a completely new station from scratch, and then operate N6V over a five month period.
When the JPL Radio Club undertook this activity, we anticipated an event of comparable size to our previous special events, 2000-3000 contacts. It soon became apparent that we had a tiger by the tail, and would have to work 10,000 or more stations to satisfy the tiger's hunger. Our existing station would not be able to handle the load because of small quarters, high electrical noise, limited-antenna possibilities, and poor location (in a canyon two miles north of the Pasadena Rose Bowl.) The Club's long term goal of a new trailer facility in a better location was now given a deadline for completion - June 18, 1976, the planned first day for N6V, which coincided with the orbit insertion rocket motor burn (45 minutes worth) for Viking I. Dick, K6SVP, was assigned as Facility Manager; the time was now March.
Final site plans were drawn and submitted by Glenn, K6GHJ, to the Laboratory facility engineering people in May for approval; a surplus tower was obtained from the newly formed Goldstone Radio Club, WB6MXU; surplus RG-254 hardline coax (7/8 inch diameter) was found in storage; a TH6DXX 6-element beam and HAM II rotator were purchased, and the race was on. Mr. Murphy reared his head by having the first spool of RG-254 coax delivered Friday afternoon to the trailer location at the bottom of the rough, brush-covered, rattlesnake infested hill on which the antennas were to be located some 650 feet up from the trailer. The work party, including five of the JPL Explorer Scouts working on the Lab sponsored Project Sunfire for Pitcairn Island, was already scheduled for Saturday morning. There was no time to transport the spool of coax which weighed several hundred pounds and was five feet in diameter to the top of the hill, so we gallantly began pulling the coax up the hill. Without a doubt, 650 feet of RG-254 gets very heavy, especially in the hot sun. The next run of hardline waited until the spool was transported to the top of the hill so we could pull the coax down. A second spool of coax was obtained in July and two additional runs of hardline were added. All went smoothly this time until the wooden spool holding the coax disintegrated on the spool stands. The only solution was to unroll the entire spool by removing all the remaining spool wood and carefully unrolling the entire 1700 feet of coax along the ground. We could then pull the line down the hill. Tower installation began six days before the deadline (Murphy said one of the anchors would have to be set in solid rock) and the last guy wire was tightened with the beam 71 feet above the hill the night before N6V went on the air - on time!
In spite of it all, N6V went on the air at 130OZ, June 18, 1976, for the first operating period of five days. The basic plan was to operate for a total of forty days, divided into four periods coinciding with the four major mission events: Viking I orbit insertion, Viking I landing, Viking II orbit insertion, and Viking II landing.
The first period of five days netted 2250 contacts toward the goal of 10,000 and gave us the confidence that N6V would achieve its goal. We were very pleased at this initial achievement, since the station was manned almost entirely during non-working hours. Because we were a bit late getting the publicity out to some of the publications and missed the June issue, we were met with a bit of amazement and uncertainty as to the legitimacy of the call, but word spread pretty fast. Most worked modes were 20 cw. 20 ssb, and 2 fm, accounting for approximately 85% of the total contacts. The lowest count was 2 fm cw with one contact (what a surprise that contact was.) Other bands and modes were worked, but seemed to be worked out pretty fast. Admittedly, our "ears" were not too good on 40 and 80 meters, mostly because those antennas for the first period were fed through 700 feet of RG-9 coax with the consequent signal losses.
One of the biggest surprises while working 2 meters was being linked to the Kingman, Arizona, 146.16/76 repeater some 600 miles away through a remote link on 146.52 simplex. Most of us were totally unaware that such a link existed. The next surprise was to hear that the entire link was controlled by Jerry, WB6NQE, while sitting on a diving board at Huntington Beach! Later connections into the remote link put us into locations like Las Vegas, Nevada, El Paso, Texas, Santa Barbara, California, and other points over the mountains north of us. Tremendous! Another highlight of two meters was the contact Bill Pickering, retired JPL Director and ex-Z2BL, made while visiting the shack. He was put in contact with the giant Goldstone 64 meter (210 feet diameter) antenna control station console which was being manned by one of the Goldstone Radio Club members. The link to the High Desert was made possible through WR6ALH, Rosemead, California, and WR6AFX, Table Mountain, California.
The reception that N6V received on the repeaters was tremendous and much appreciated, In most cases, N6V operation on repeaters was minimized during commuting hours. Initially, we had only two simplex and four repeater crystals; however, we soon realized that proper coverage of 2 meters required a synthesizer, which the club quickly purchased. It was like adding a new band because we could now work all repeaters that we could reach, as well as other simplex frequencies. The Ensenada Radio Club XE2BC, met us on one of the now available frequencies on sked one evening and we worked most of the guys in the Ensenada Club.
Novice response was, at first, one of bewilderment and disbelief. A three character call? That just did not fit the pattern! Frequently, the return call after a CQ would be to WN6NBV (N6V end to end, almost.) As word got around, things got easier and response got better. Ralph, WB6YMF, put in many hours at the Novice key.
The most fortuitous station worked early in the event was Mel, W6VLH, who asked if we would be on SSTV. Our answer was negative, that no one in our club had the equipment. A couple of days later, we received a call from Robot asking what equipment we needed for SSTV operation and if they could loan it to us! Thus began one of the most wanted SSTV operations in the world. Jim, WA6MYJ, and Stan, K6YYQ, operated most of the SSTV (since the equipment was on loan, we were sensitive as to its use.) Pictures of Mars from both the Viking Orbiter and Lander were aired over N6V, occasionally into areas where there was little or no news coverage of the mission. A most memorable QSO was: "N6V de CZ20 ... What are those pictures you are sending? They look like the surface of Mars!" "CZ20 de N6V ... That's what they are!" We felt good that the pictures were recognizable. We are grateful to the JPL Public Information Office for providing us with the high quality photographs for our transmissions. We also had a direct video feed to the shack which allowed us to monitor and transmit some of the photos "live" from Mars as they were received here on Earth and processed by the computers. Jose', YV5FBL, Caracas, Venezuela, was late to a ham club meeting when the XYL said the rest of the club would not believe him unless he had tapes to prove it. At least one ham, Bill, W1PFA, was able to have his Polaroid photo of our transmissions published in the local newspaper, and then sent us a clipping. Bruce, VK3VF, sent impressive photos of a couple of pictures he received and also submitted to the newspaper. VE3AXC arranged to have TV news coverage live while receiving SSTV. Our local KABC-TV news team covered our operation in the Los Angeles area. We would greatly appreciate receiving any clippings you have managed to have published.
Webmaster Note: If you are a Slow Scan TV buff you can access MP3 copies of two sides of the special JPL ARC Viking SSTV cassette recording here. It has narration by Stan Brokl (K6YYQ) and Jim Lumsden (WA6MYJ).
One contact, KC4AAB/MM Reg 2 off the coast of South America, expressed more than the usual interest in the Viking mission progress during one of the SSTV operating periods. It turned out that the ship was an icebreaker on its way back from Antarctica with several Viking Project Biologists on board. They had heard no news of Viking's success and were most appreciative of the information heard and vowed that before the next trip out they would have SSTV on board.
The station at N6V is not yet equipped for working OSCAR, so Skip, W6PAJ, came to the rescue with his mobile setup for working the satellites. Murphy caused an aluminum plate in the roadway to tilt and lodge under his van chassis as he drove by, literally launching all the equipment from the seats onto the floor. Remarkably, all equipment worked afterward. The only other problem encountered while working OSCAR was the high received noise level so that many stations returning Skip's CQ could not be heard. Several stations did get through, however, and we were very pleased that Skip braved the hill to set up on the Mesa a few feet from the rattlesnakes (they were heard.)
QRP was occasionally exercised, with George, K6YGN, braving the QRM most of the time. A 5/9 signal from Hawaii on 2-1/2 watts and 5/8 from the East Coast on 1 watt are not bad reports.
"Please QSL to W6VIO, Whiskey Six Viking In Orbit" became a catch phrase. QSL-ing finally got underway about a month late when we received the cards from the printer (not entirely his fault) and we began filling the SASE's (first, as promised.) The hardest QSL's to deal with were those that included the SASE and a note saying, "Please send me the QSL card for contacting N6V." No time, date, band, or call sign. At the time we received that card, we had over 6000 entries in the log book(s), Another QSL was a bit better; he at least included his call sign. Because we hope to QSL 100%, they will both receive their cards, just a bit later than hoped for. We received cards from several SWLers, and even one from an experimenter who copied SSTV.
The effort involved in conducting an event the size of N6V is more than significant; it is major, as Jim, WA6MYJ, found out. When volunteering to head the activity one year ago, the magnitude of N6V was not even dreamed of. Although painful (literally) at times to many who participated, the event was very successful, very satisfying, and enabled the JPL ARC to realize one of its long term goals ... a new station. Many friends were made both within and outside the club. This event will be remembered as a unique experience for many years.
A 'clique' you say? All who came and participated became a part of the 'clique.' The list below cannot possibly cover all contributions of every individual; N6V was a Team effort and everyone helped in many areas:
- Jim Lumsden WA6MYJ N6V Activty Chairman
- Dick Piety K6SVP Facility Mgr. & opr.
- Stan Brokl K6YYQ Facility & operator
- Ralph West WB6YMF Facility & operator
- Chuck Weir W6UM Equipment & operator
- Norm Chalfin K6PGX Photographer & operator
- Merril Burnett K6BER QSL Manager
- Glenn Berry K6GHJ Facility
- George Williamson K6YGN Operator, QRP
- Jack Patzold KDT6574 Facility & operator
- Warren Dowler KNX8341 Operator
- Skip Reymann W6PAJ OSCAR
- Gordon Crawford WB6DRH Publicity
- Jim Longthorne WA6KFW Operator
- Rich Ward WA6VOG Operator
- Merv MacMedan W61UV Operator
- Bob Brodkin WA6TBH Operator
- Bob Biswell W6MZR Operator
- Stan Sander WB6MPM Operator
- Joe Berry WA6FCE Operator
- Stan Hench WB6JMP QSL Design
- Bill Carpenter WA6QZY Video Feed
- Waldo Brown W6QJO Video Feed
- Jay Holladay W6EJJ Trustee
A NEW EMERGENCY FUNCTION FOR REPEATERS
Amateur Repeaters could provide life-saving support to the FAA's Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) program under a plan being discussed in Indianapolis. ELTs are activated by crash shock, transmit a distinctive signal on the 121.5 MHz aircraft distress frequency. Local FAA officials met with K9DUR and area Civil Air Patrol representatives last week to discuss the feasibility of adding ELT receivers to Amateur repeaters, tying them into the repeater so that reception of an ELT signal would key up the repeater and alert listeners that a plane was down and FAA and CAP should be notified.
Such a system could literally be a life saver as many parts of the U.S. are remote enough from active airways and FAA facilities that an ELT signal there would likely go unheard indefinitely. Interfacing an ELT receiver to almost any repeater should present little problem, and it has already been suggested that the CAP might be able to provide the receivers and interface.
Comments or Alternative suggestions from Amateurs particularly those who operate repeaters or are pilots -will be welcomed by K9DUR. [Tnx HR Report 1231
STATUS REPORT: JPL ARC REPEATER PROJECT, WR6APQ
The repeater project is progressing on schedule. WR6APQ should be in operation on the Mesa in late December. The COR, CW IDer and automatic timeout are completed, integrated, and checked out, The repeater is now undergoing mortality tests. [Typical space hardware approach - Ed.] The duplexer has been built and preliminary tuning completed. The antenna will be assembled next week and then the repeater, duplexer, and antenna will be integrated,
We wish to acknowledge the many members who have been helping in this project, as well as those who have volunteered to help with upcoming phases of the project:
[Tnx Walt Diem, WA6PEA]
OSCAR PHASE 3 LAUNCH ARRANGEMENTS COMPLETED
ESA, the European Space Agency, has approved the AMSAT/OSCAR Phase 3 satellite as its first secondary payload to be launched on the second test flight of Ariane, ESA's heavy launcher. The launch will take place from Kourou, French Guiana, in December, 1977.
It should be noted that AMSAT/OSCAR was selected over 80 other competing proposals for secondary pay loads received by ESA. [Tnx K6PGX..]
AS IF THE TAX COLLECTOR'S OUTSTRETCHED HAND ISN'T ENOUGH
... that time of the year has come when dues are due. But stop and consider what your $2 last year gave you, and I'm sure you will agree that it was well worth it. If not, then consider it just another seasonal donation. But be sure you send your $2 to the Treasurer, who will send you a receipt and eventually a membership card. Send tot JIM LUMSDEN, WA6MYJ, Mail Stop 233-103.
SLATE OF OFFICERS FOR 1977 ANNOUNCED
The Nominating Committee, after many hours of diligent (and sometimes frustrating) work, has finally rounded out a high-quality slate of officers to present to the membership to provide the club's leadership through 1977. Elections will be held at our next meeting, at which time members may, if they wish, nominate additional candidates for each office from the floor. The Committee is particularly pleased to announce the following candidates:
- PRESIDENT: Jim Lumsden, WA6KYJ
- VICE-PRESIDENT: Dick Piety, K6SVP
- SECRETARY: Jack Patzold
- TREASURER: Ron Ploszaj, WA6TPW
One wag called this slate the "LP3" slate. (He must have been a JPLer!) Please be sure and attend this election meeting ... your vote is important. Put DECEMBER 8th ON YOUR CALENDAR NOW!
HAM HELPING HAND
During a recent attack of highpoweritis, brought on by visions of slow scan (both incurable,) I was lucky enough to locate a used Henry 2K linear. AB Murphy would have it, the ham I bought it from had no manual. Not wishing to melt the finals (expensive) and afraid to guess, I started asking on the air for anyone with a manual. A W7 in Washington suggested that I contact Cliff Frazer, WB6FYW, in Santa Ana who he knew had a 2K. I wrote to him asking if I might borrow, beg, or steal the manual. A few days later a first class package arrived with a Xerox copy of the manual, free! Cliff said he knew how it was to try and find manuals, as he himself had been looking high and low for a manual for the Heathkit SB-610 Monitor Scope, Well, guess what! I just happened to have a SB-610, and, more important, I even had the manual! A few minutes of Xerox time and a visit to the post office had a copy on its way to Cliff along with a note saying "Surprise." Yes, friends, there is a God that looks after hams after all! [Dick Piety, K6SVP.]
TWO METER FM IN COLOMBIA
On a recent vacation trip to Colombia, I had the good fortune to visit with some hams active on 2m FM and compare notes on our mutual problems. I did not have any 2m FM gear with me, so could not really get the feel of it except second hand; but I'll pass along what I learned for your interest.
In Colombia, a much more system-engineered approach has been taken to the establishment of repeaters than in this country. For example, to conserve crystal purchases, 7 of the major cities all have their local repeaters on 34/94. Seven other standard ARRL-plan channels (such as 16/76 and 39/99) are used to access repeater relays on those extremely high Andean mountaintops for inter-city communication. By choice of frequency, one chooses which city he wishes to communicate with.
Such an organized approach was possible because the LCRA (Colombia's equivalent of our ARRL) owns all the repeaters ... which facilitates equipment importation immensely! Those using the repeaters past the trial period of 3 months pay a surcharge of $20 per year in addition to the regular LCRA dues of $17 per year. We share many common troubles, which I hope to discuss in another issue soon. [W61UV]
BOARD MEETING HIGHLIGHTS
While contemplating the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, your hardworking board of directors got together on November 24 as usual to discuss club business. Your editor was present and records for posterity the following, unofficial notes, so that our readership may also know what's up, Doc:
At the meeting of Nov. 24, the following members were present;
- Stan Brokl, K6YYQ President
- Marshall Fong, K6AOC Vice President
- Ralph West, WB6YMF Secretary
- Jim Lumsden, WA6MYJ Treasurer
- Walt Diem, WA6PEA Director-at-large
- Norm Chalfin, K6PGX Member (Club Photographer)
- Merv MacMedan, W61UV Member (Newsletter Editor)
With Stan Brokl presiding, Jim Lumsden gave the Treasurer's report. Highlights were that the club spent some $235 making 150 slow scan Viking picture tape cassettes and already has sold 100 of them for $300; an FT101EE and accessories was purchased for $650 and a Clegg 76 was purchased for $146 to upgrade our HF portable capability (e.g., Field Day) and 220 MHz FM capability at the Trailer. ERC helped us achieve these ends with a grant of $350. Photo expenses of $102 for N6V was unanimously approved for disbursement to Norm Chalfin, K6PGX.
At this point, cheers went up as Vice-President Fong entered. No one could remember the last time he had attended a board meeting, but he had his excuse note travel orders!
It was announced by Walt Diem, WA6PEA, that the Repeater Project had been donated a 220 MHz Ringo Ranger antenna by member Len Kudravy, WA6HHU. The antenna will be used for the 220 MHz rig at the trailer, and we are all grateful to Len for the gift,
Jim Lumsden presented the pro-forma budget for 1977. After a few changes, the board unanimously approved the budget for presentation to the membership for approval at the December 8th meeting.
President Brokl proposed Bob Akers, K6CYY to be Chairman of the Repeater Project. While board endorsement of such appointments is not mandatory, a vote of confidence is perfectly in order. The vote in this case was 3 for, 1 against. Congratulations to Bob!
Discussions about the relationship between this club and the Table Mountain repeater were started at the meeting, but had to be curtailed due to lack of time. No conclusions were reached and further discussion was evident. President Brokl tabled the matter for the next board meeting.
The meeting was adjourned at 1 pm. [W6IUV]
SB-102 transceiver (with CW filter and fast VOX mod) EP-23B power supply and Heath External VFO (Same as in SB-102.) Excellent condition. $250. Elmer, W6RBR, Ext. 2086.
THE REAL WORLD - HOW BUSINESS GETS DONE
With George Williamson, K6YGN, leaving the Lab, a body was needed fast to fill his spot as NASA Emergency Radio Net Team Chief. W6IUV needed antenna help from the Emergency Comm. Mgr, K6GHJ; so an even trade took place. W6IUV is the new NASA Radio Net Team Chief at JPL, and the Repeater Project got a new antenna!
Updated September 10, 2000
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