LoRa, TinyGS and satellites

Another new toy, only small this time. This is a 433MHz LoRa transceiver with TinyGS firmware loaded. More about that below. The device has radios built in – WiFi and BLE built in via an ESP32 chip and LoRa via an SX127x transceiver. It comes pre-loaded with software which I did not investigate as I planned to flash it anyway. It can be powered from a supplied connector or via a micro-USB and has an SMA socket on board.

There is a wealth of info on the web about these devices and some include GPS capabilities.

I got this because I came across the TinyGS project. Quoting directly from their website:

TinyGS is an open network of Ground Stations distributed around the world to receive and operate LoRa satellites, weather probes and other flying objects, using cheap and versatile modules.

This project is based on ESP32 boards and currently it is compatible with sx126x and sx127x LoRa módules but we plan to support more radio módules in the future.

The TinyGS firmware basically does everything. Installation is straightforward provided you have a supported board. The first board I got was a Heltec and sold as V2 but was a V3 when it arrived and would not accept the firmware. The second board worked fine. Instructions are all on GitHub.

One flashed the board sets itself up as a WiFi AP to which you can connect and set basic parameters including access credentials for your own WiFi and credentials for the central MQTT server which aggregates results from every other ground station. Once those are set and it reboots, connects itself, throws up its own web server for status and configuration changes, and gets on with things.

At first I had it connected to the Big Wheel in the loft (hardly big at 70cm) but received nothing at all. Next, I tried the collinear. Again, nothing. So I set the Arrow up for 70cm, mounted it horizontally and about 20 degrees up and pointed south-ish avoiding the house next door and left it all night. Overnight it received 41 packets – success for very little effort.

An example of received data
How that is displayed on the website (list of all stations)

The Arrow was in the way so the board is now connected to the Big Wheel again pending me making an antenna to go outside.

TinyGS is a fascinating project, very easy to get in to for little outlay.

Update: having left the board connected to the collinear it seems to like GaoFen-7 even though at 400.45MHz it is a way off the bottom end of the antenna’s range. Other than that, it has picked up signals from FEES (437.2MHz), Norbi (436.703MHz) and Sapling2 (437.4MHz). 128 confirmed packets as of 12:30 on 27/5/23, not a lot, but some at least.

70MHz FT8

I had a dabble with 70MHz FT8 these past few days seeing I have been moving stuff about and can now connect the 70Mhz transverter to the FT817 and not be worried about blowing it up. Only one confirmed QSO but a couple of reception reports today via pskreporter… one in Wales at 181 miles but an incomplete QSO despite me sending several RRR’s though we did at least exchange signal reports, and then one reception in EI at 298 miles, plus one more local in England at 56 miles. Not too bad given this is all via a halo in the loft.


Late to the party as always I recently looked in more detail at POCSAG and that led me to DAPNET. I spotted this a while ago but somehow it didn’t register as interesting back then. Signing up to DAPNET was seamless. You first sign up for an account and the only thing that threw me there was the need to specify a RIC. A document suggested just using one’s DMR ID which I did. You need to send a copy of your licence and I keep a PDF handy for just this. I received account information early the next day. You then need a transmitter ID, same form, different option. That came back almost immediately. Details of that go into pi-star and it all worked in that the DAPNET website could see my pi-star, and pi-star started to display incoming DAPNET connections.

Given my desire for new toys for old technology I purchased an Alphapoc 602R pager from an eBay trader. This arrived in a couple of days but despite me programming it all up it never received any pages despite pi-star displaying some test ones directed at my RIC. Firmware perhaps? After soldering the wire pi-star could not update the image no matter what I tried (which after all was simply to try again!). Reading various posts indicated some older DVMEGA boards would not update this way. The DVMEGA website mentioned that one can update by removing the chip from the board and inserting it into an Arduino Uno, having removed the chip from that. That worked fine, although I have to admit it failed the first time as I forgot to chose the correct board in the DVMEGA website’s x-loader that comes with the firmware.

So, the DVMEGA is now on HR3.26 but still no DAPNET. Now here it seems my ability to permutate search terms (‘dvmega’, ‘dv-mega’, ‘dv mega’) clearly failed me as I eventually found a few posts suggesting that the DVMEGA firmware doesn’t support it anyway. By now this was all a bit of a straw clutching exercise as I had already ordered an MMDVM Pi hat which the DAPNET website itself suggests.

Amazon to the rescue. I ordered a AURSINC ‘MMDVM Duplex Hotspot Module Dual Hat’ on next-day delivery and it arrived at lunchtime today (30th April). This came with pi-star specific instructions which was very handy. Out with the DVMEGA and in with the MMDVM_Duplex hat, booted the Pi, chose the modem [STM32-DVM / MMDVM_HS – Raspberry Pi Hat (GPIO)] and it worked straight away radio-wise. After shutting down the radio modes so DAPNET could get a word in another test sent to my RIC and the pager worked. Success.

As this new board is duplex I have set up pi-star to use split 70cm frequencies for the radio side of things and it seems to work well now I have reprogrammed the FT2D. I did have pi-star connected for DMR, D-Star and YSF but I have now only enabled YSF to calm things down a bit. I hardly ever used DMR or D-Star.

Yes, pagers are old tech. I used to carry two for work, one that my team could use and which seemed to work anywhere in the UK, and another that would send me pager messages in response to emails to a specific address and which had rather less coverage – the Yorkshire Dales was lost to it. Those are long gone now, but why not? After all, this is yet another facet of the whole amateur radio experience.

(edited 16:15)

Odd tuner issue

Well that was annoying. I very rarely do phone so I thought I would have a go at the 50MHz UKAC today. I could only hear one station so called and… nothing. The audio from the FT450D went very quiet and no reply heard. I moved the dial and checked that the tuner had cycled and got audio back, so went back to try the station again. Same thing.

Then I noticed (I really need to move kit about so I can see it all at once!) the tuner having issues when I spoke. It had knocked the tuning right out.

Time to run some coax down from the fan dipole in the loft which is still there and has one dipole cut for 50MHz… I did catch the tail end of the station I had called talking to another station (not heard) saying I must have blown a fuse… yeah, well nearly that anyway! Oops.

Tiger tiger burning bright…

So I need 28V at 15A for a 2.4GHz linear so I can finally do DATV via QO100. Meanwell do a 27V PSU that is sufficiently adjustable to get the 28V needed and they have a good reputation. I finally got round to ordering one from one of the suppliers I use.

I was rather surprised to be told they cannot sell it to me because of the CE / UKCA business caused by good old Brexit. I would need to be a VAT registered business and be purchasing for business use.


I found the same PSU from a UK supplier but again I cannot buy from them as I do not have a business account.

Double drat.

Ok… they (the UK supplier) have a PSU from a different manufacturer, Tiger, which has the same rating as the Meanwell one. I am hoping that this is of similar quality to Meanwell, has EMC components (rather than just a space where they would be!) and holds up under load. Time will tell.

These Brexit benefits just keep on coming…

FT818 progress

Getting dangerously close to being portable… after having wired a cable for the Signalink (I have three now!) because the Yaesu cable is always out of stock everywhere and realising that the FT818 was set for RTTY as digital, not User-U, which is why it would not decode any FT8, I have all the bits ready except for a power pack. I do have a lead for the car, and a 40m whip antenna and magmount.

The antenna is 2.2m long – don’t worry it won’t be used mobile, just put on the car once parked up!

It all works with wsjt-x on the MacBook. So, I have just two things to sort out (apart from the power pack); how to stop the 6-pin mini DIN plugs falling out whenever they want, and why the MacBook only manages about 20 minutes on battery. While that is long enough for a few test QSOs I really want longer. Unfortunately it’s not actually mine so I can’t just replace the battery. Maybe an inverter, which I bet would wipe out the band… the car (electric) only has a tiny 12V battery sufficient for short periods of electronics and to ‘start’ the car, so for prolonged use the main battery needs to be on (i.e. the car switched on), and I bet that will also produce a load of hash.

A driveway experiment is called for…

New tuner

The latest toy, an LDG Z-11Pro II autotuner. I acquired this because I want to use the FT817 and a linear on the HF antenna from time to time – usually the only HF set is the FT450D which has a YT-1200 autotuner sat on top.

So why the new one? Primarily because the YT-1200 is matched to the FT450D and when the button is pressed it commands the rig to send 25W AM. The FT817 puts out 2.5W the way I run it and even if the YT-1200 would tune on just 2.5W I would need to press the button and then transmit via the radio. Ok, FT8 would do that but then there is the matter of fiddling with antenna connections to get the ‘817 connected to the tuner input. With the new tuner it’s more straightforward.

The YT-1200 will now be sold.

All I need do now is mount it somewhere convenient, and that, unfortunately means moving a bunch of wires and rigs and other stuff about until I get it all where I want it. So for now it will stay where it is!

Worked All Britain (WAB)

Just recently I’ve been getting into Worked All Britain (WAB) and so logging a lot more UK stations rather than those further afield. While keeping an eye out for POTA calls (I am now up to the dizzy heights of double figures as a hunter – 11!) I believe I have made contact with sufficient UK stations for a couple of the WAB basic awards.

WAB (there’s loads of information on the website) uses map squares for points, with contacts in each square adding to your score. Large 100x100km and small 10x10km squares are used and three mapping systems – National Grid Reference for Great Britain, Ordnance Survey of Ireland for Northern Ireland and the Universal Transverse Mercator Grid for the Channel Islands. This is all far better defined at http://wab.intermip.net/Definitions.php

Points are also available for each Book Number – basically when one joins WAB you get a WAB Record Book which has a number which is allocated to you. You can have multiple books and working someone with, say 5 books gains 5 points provided those books were issued before the QSO took place. Again, the WAB website has all the info. My square is SE23 and book is 24586. (Funny thing there, I’ve been reading maps since I was a kid plus having to read them accurately in my motorsport years. My home QTH is in square SE23 and yet having checked than twice I managed to use SE26 when I signed up to WAB!)

I updated my logging software to include WAB details and it seems to be working things out correctly.

Radio moves

I’ve had the FT817 attached to the MacBook of late, just for VHU/UHF use, but the poor old Mac struggles if I dare to use anything other than wsjt-x. I want a Mac Mini… but anyway, that aside I decided to move the radio over to the Windows PC now. wsjt-x installed easily as usual and all works. The only issue I can see is how Windows messes up its USB ports if I switch the FT450D in. Currently I have that configured to switch between the Linux PC and the Windows PC so I can use VARA / VarAC and other such things on HF via the FT450D. I just use a USB switch obtained via Amazon which seems to work ok. The FT450D side of things comes in as COM6 and the FT817 now comes as COM4, no idea how Windows decides to allocate those. Time will tell…

My first /A

So I finally managed to set up and work /A for a couple of days. The setup failed really as the house we were in had very thick stone walls and no opening windows so the antenna was literally a bit of wire diagonally up from an un-un on the floor, around the back of a sash window cord and across to a picture. But I managed 4 FT8 QSOs, one on 24MHz and three on 21MHz. Better than nothing, and time to learn better about portable compromise antennas. I could have set up in the garden but it was mostly raining and I didn’t bring any batteries.



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