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Sunday, October 31, 2021

Buy a Real Sputnik Satellite! Let's Put Sputnik Back in Orbit!

Only 85,000 Euros (that's the opening bid).  But hey, it comes with the receiver pictured on the right.  I guess that's so you can listen to the beeps. 

Here's the description: 


Laboratory Test Model of "Sputnik 1 EMC/EMI", 1957
1:1 scale test model of the satellite "Sputnik-1", serial no. "0K6-1/004/1957", with built-in transmitter (including modern 12-volt power supply), polished stainless-steel sphere, consisting of two threaded hemispheres of approx. 23 in. diameter with two pairs of antennae of 95 in. and 105 in. at an angle of 35 degrees to the axis, on stand with O-ring, stand approx. 59 in. high, stand and model together approx. 79 in. high, accompanied by a Tesla Maj 620A radio receiver, manufactured in Prague c. 1956, restored working condition, including replacement of the silver-zinc battery with a modern alternative and a new metal casing for the electronic transmitter. Note: Built at the Experimental Design Bureau-1 (OK?-1/OKB-1) factory, also known as S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, Koroljow, Soviet Union, in 1957, shortly before the launch of Sputnik-1. - An impressive artefact from the dawn of the space age, of which few models are known. - Provenance: From the collection of Dr. Frank Malina, USA/CSSR.

Start Price: EUR 85.000


I'm a bit suspicious of the "modern 12-volt power supply,"  the "modern alternative" battery and the "new metal casing for the electronic transmitter."

Here's the link to the auction: 


Here's my suggestion:  Musk or Bezos or Branson should buy this thing, fix it up a bit, and put it back in orbit.  So we can listen to it again. I know a version of this was done back in 1997.  But I think we should do it again, this time with the actual test model. 

Here are the earlier SolderSmoke blog posts about Sputnik and Sputnik-related projects: 


Steve Silverman sent the auction posting to me.  Thanks Steve. 

It just so happens that earlier in the week I was out at the Air and Space Museum facility near Dulles Airport, where I saw this flight backup of the Vanguard satellite: 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Using Noise to Sweep a Filter with the TinySA

I've been meaning to try this for a long time.  Years ago Tony Fishpool and Graham Firth wrote about using a noise generator and a spectrum analyzer to sweep the bandpass of a filter. The idea here is to send very broadband noise into a filter, and then use a spectrum analyzer to see which frequencies make it through.   

I thought about building a noise generator like the one in Tony and Graham's book, but then it occurred to me that probably had one sitting on my bench.  Sure enough, a look at the manual for my cheap FeelTech function generator revealed that PRESETS 3 and 8 are noise generators.   I quickly pulled out a 9 MHz filter that Dean KK4DAS had given me, put the noise into one end and the TinySA on the other end.  Bob was quickly my uncle.  See above.  

More recently Tony G4WIF built a comb generator as a noise source: 

Thanks to Tony, Graham, and Dean.  And to the folks who developed the TinySA. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Why Does Solder Smoke Always Go Right Into Your Face? Now We Know

Because our podcast and blog is called SolderSmoke, I felt compelled to post about this video in which a fellow does some pretty interesting research into how solder smoke actually moves.  We don't often see this much concern about the behavior of our beloved smoke. 

Thanks to Todd K7TFC for alerting us to this.  

I use a small fan to disturb the airflow pattern. 

How to Listen with your TinySA

We don't get many chances to do hardware work on a piece of gear like the TinySA, but here we have one.  I mentioned this a while back:  Not only will the TinySA display the signals it detects, but it will also allow us to listen to these signals.  Very cool.  I am going to do this.  

Here is the link showing how to do the mod: 

All the cool people listen to classic rock with a TinySA: 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

SETI, Proxima Centauri, The Parkes Dish, and Intermodulation Distortion?



A cosmically interesting troubleshoot.  But I'm not sure about their explanation.  Why would the intermod disappear when they moved the Parkes Radio Telescope off of Proxima Centauri?  

Monday, October 25, 2021

Putting a Ceramic Filter in the "Mate for the Mighty Midget" Receiver

It is really simple.  I had one of the +/- 3kHz (6 kHz wide) 455HT filters on hand.  The spec sheets call for 2000 ohms at both ends, but looking at the schematic it appeared that I already had high impedance on both sides of the filter.  I put a .001 uF cap on the input side to keep the DC voltage off the filter (see above and below). This capacitor allows us to avoid the dreaded problem of electro-migration that is so nicely described by SV8YM here: 

Tasos also provides a good description of the innards of those little black boxes that contain ceramic filters. 

Once you get the filter in your receiver, you have to carefully place the BFO signal in relation to the filter passband.  I have trouble properly sweeping 455 kHz filters -- my HP8640B will not go that low.  Nor will my Antuino (I need to modify the code -- someone help me please).  I know the NanoVNA will do the job, but I just couldn't seem to get it to work.  So I went "old-school" and manually swept the filter using my FeelTech sig gen and my Rigol scope.  This gave me a rough idea of where the passband was.  I put the BFO on the low end of the filter passband, at 451 kHz.

With this filter the MMM RX has become a real asset.   The 6 kHz bandwidth allows for nice reception of both SSB signals and AM sigs.   I may try to use one of the +/- 2 kHz filters  (4 KHz wide), but so far I have not been able to find a source for this part. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

WA9WFA's Mate for the Mighty Midget 1966 QST Receiver

Scott WA9WFA and I have been exchanging e-mails about his Mate for the Mighty Midget receiver project.  This morning I finally took a look at Scott's we page on this effort.  There was a lot there that resonated.  For example: 

"I remember the moment very clearly.  June 1966 I was sitting in a lawn chair reading a stack of QST's that I had brought along to the summer cabin.  The February 1966 issue the Beginner and Novice section introduced the "Mighty Midget Transmitter", a 10 watt crystal controlled transmitter.  The April 1966 issue Beginner and Novice section introduced the "Mate for the Mighty Midget" which was a three tube super-heterodyne Novice type receiver.  Over the course of that summer I read and re-read those articles a jillion times.  Being 13 years old, I didn't have the electrical or mechanical skills to pull off such a project so I could only dream about it.  In 1970 I bought a handful of the parts.  In 1976 I bought more parts.  In 2021 I decided to build it while I still had the ability to do it.  This project is only my second homebrew radio project so I am still learning things every second of the way...
While I am not expecting to much in performance, the 13 year old in me is ever hopeful that this 1966 Novice receiver will be the most wonderful radio ever made.   73, Scott WA9WFA"

Scott's MMM RX page: 

Scott and I are now both updating the MMM RX by substituting 455 kHz ceramic filters for Lew McCoy's FT-241 crystal filter.   I have my filter wired in now, and it is working well.  Scott plans on soldering his in today.  I will post on this mod soon. 

On his QRZ.com page, Scott notes the need to fight the temptation to further soup-up this simple receiver:  "I did have to resist the temptation to add another audio stage, a mechanical filter, AGC, 2nd IF amplifer stage, etc..."

Exactly right Scott.  Resist the temptation.   Simplicity is a virtue.  I do use an outboard, powered computer speaker, but I justify this by telling myself that I just don't want to use headphones.  But I could use headphones, so this is OK.  OK?  

Scott's QRZ.com page: 

I must add that I think the yearning of Scott's inner 13 year-old can be fulfilled by the MMM RX.  I think it is pretty wonderful.  It is -- in my view  -- not as good as a Drake 2-B, but it is FAR better than an S-38E, and it is better than a Lafayette HA-600A (wjm).  

Friday, October 22, 2021

Tribal Knowledge: Pete N6QW on "How to Make Things Work"


Yesterday Pete Juliano published a blog post that contains an enormous amount of tribal knowledge and good advice for homebrewers.   As I read Pete's post, I thought back on my own failed teenage efforts at homebrewing -- the Herring Aid Five fiasco came to mind.  I also thought of Farhan's comments about his similar frustrations with early homebrewing efforts (though I find it hard to believe that Farhan EVER had trouble making something work). 

Above we see a large N6QW prototype breadboard.  Note how it is easy to see where the various stages start and stop.  This is key to understanding and troubleshooting a complex rig.   If you want to see the antithesis of this approach, here it is:


This was supposed to be an 80 meter DSB transceiver.   The builder (who will remain anonymous) obviously didn't get it to work.  I think he should try again, using Pete's methodical approach. 

Check out Pete's great advice here: 

Thanks Pete! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Super-Regeneration is Super-Strange

Farhan VU2ESE is largely responsible for this.  He has recently been talking about VHF.  (More about this in due course.).  This started me thinking about my failed effort in London to get on 2 meter AM.   My plan was to use the transmit portion of this HW-30 (above) with a 2-to-10 downconverter and my trusty Drake 2-B for receive.  

Tony G4WIF also bears some responsibility:  When I expressed interest in Farhan's VHF work, Tony sent me two articles from SPRAT.  Both of them were about super-regenerative receivers.  

Farhan's comments caused me to pull the HW-30 out of storage.  I started poking around the transmitter.  But then I noticed something:  On receive, the AF amplifier was obviously working.  Then, when I tuned through the 2 meter band, the rest of the receiver seemed to be working too.  I fired up the HP-8640B sig gen on 2 meters and turned on the AM modulation.  Indeed, the old receiver was inhaling!  

This launched me into an effort to understand how super-regenerative receivers work.  There are a lot of really weak explanations out there. You get the distinct impression that the person explaining the circuit does not understand it himself.  This makes explaining it very difficult.  I am not the only one to notice this phenomenon:  Mike WU2D commented on this in one of his excellent super-regen videos.  This one:  

Mike very kindly said the operation of this circuit seems like "magic."  I was thinking more in terms of Voodoo.  

Howard Armstrong discovered super-regeneration years after he invented plain old regeneration.  The new discovery came around 1921.

It looks like VHF guru Frank Jones had very early misgivings about super-regeneration.  In his 1934 classic 5 Meter Radio Telephony, Jones seems unenthusiastic about the circuit and about our ability to understand it:  "To explain, simply, exactly how this form of detection takes place is not a simple matter, but some of its characteristics are easy to visualize."  In this book, Jones goes on to predict that super-regens will be superseded (!) by superhets.  Indeed, in his 1961 book VHF for the Radio Amateur there are no super-regen circuits; all the receive systems are down-converters to HF receivers. 

Still, with that HW-30 hissing away right next to me, I feel I need to understand how the super-regen works.  I'm not there yet, but I'm trying.  Here are some good resources: 

A good article from Wireless World 1946:  

A student's write up of his effort to understand: 

But the best so far (for me) is from Frederick Terman (one of the founders of Silicon Valley) in  his 1943 classic Radio Engineer's Handbook.  Click on the images for a clearer view. 

I will definitely try to get the HW-30's 5 watt AM transmitter going.  I am not so sure I'll do anything with the receiver.  I think this is a matter of picking your battles and "finding joy."   I didn't find joy in FT-8, so I stopped working with it.  Same with my HA-600A, DX-40 Novice rig.  Same with CW in general.  And the same with SDR.  I suspect that super-regen receivers may also fall into this category.  I mean, let's face it, if you are not fond of ordinary regens, is there any real chance that you will like SUPER-regens?  Even Frank Jones seems to have disliked them.  And there is a reason Howard Armstrong moved on to superhets -- they are better! But still, that receiver is hissing away at me...  Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Homebrew Tiny Space Telescopes from the Netherlands

It is good every once in a while to step back from our electronic work benches and take a look at what other kinds of builders are making.   Hack-A-Day led me to this wonderful video from Holland.  There is great background information on telescopes, but the really great part is the interview with the Dutch fellow who is actually making -- in his home workshop -- these tiny telescopes.  Icing on the cake:  One of them will be used in a student Cube-Sat project in Oregon.  

Be sure to stay to the end for an intriguing presentation by Dr. Liam Fullersheit. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

No Longer On the "Shame Shelf" -- Pete Fixes His KWM-1


I think a good troubleshoot is almost as satisfying as a successful homebrew.  And we can sense that high level of satisfaction in Pete N6QW's description of his repair of a Collins KWM-1:   

I liked Pete's troubleshoot/repair story, but -- as is often the case -- I struck by his turn of a phrase.  I think Pete has added something important to the SolderSmoke lexicon: 


Most of us have a shelf like this. I have an HW-101 on mine.  Pete shows us that there is hope -- there is path off of the shame shelf.  You just have to know stuff.... Or have IBEW friends like Pete who can advise you. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

2 Meter Homebrew: The Fredbox (Video)

I predict a rebirth of interest in 2 meter homebrew.  This will probably hit around Christmas time.  The impetus will come out of Hyderabad, India.  At this point, I can say no more. 

I was thinking about all of this today.  I remembered "The Fredbox."  G3XBM's report on this fantastic rig was carried on this blog before it was even a blog.  And the Fredbox goes back much further in time -- back to the mid-1970s.  It must have been great fun to have QSOs with this rig in Cambridge England back in the day.  G3XBM actually crossed the English channel with this 10 mW rig.  FB.  

When I was in London (2003-2007), G3XBM's post on the Fredbox got me interested in 2 Meter AM.  I had a down-converter that let me listen, and I went as far as modifying a Benton Harbor Lunchbox for the proper AM transmit frequency.  I don't think I made any contacts, but I still have the bits and bobs of this rig, so if anyone in the Northern Virginia area wants to get on,  please let me know -- I will blow the dust off this project and will build a 2 meter antenna.  

Here are more details from G3XBM on The Fredbox:  

Hans G0UPL got into the Fredbox in 2009 and 2016: 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

SolderSmoke Podcast #233: PIMP, Boatanchors, Novices, MMM, Heathkits, DC Receivers, Mailbag

SolderSmoke Podcast #233 is available. 


Travelogue: Cape Cod. SST. Marconi Site.

The WFSRA:   The World Friendship Society of Radio Amateurs.

Pete's Bench:

The Pimp.
The NCX rig.
The Collins.
The many DC receivers built worldwide.
The parts shortages are real! Several key radios on hold. Si5351 sub.
Talk to G-QRP convention

Bill's Bench:

FT-8. Not for me. I tried it.
Novice Station Rebuild.
Globe V-10 VFO Deluxe.
Selenium rectifier removal CONTROVERSY?
Not crazy about my Novice station. Not crazy about CW. 
Mate for the Mighty Midget. Again. 
Mike W6MAB -- Detector problems LTSPICE Check
One more mod for MMM RX. Ceramic filter at 455.
Dropped screw inside tubular cap on Millen 61455 transformer. 
Talk to the Vienna Wireless Society
Thinking of a Moxon or a Hex beam.

BOOK REVIEW Chuck Penson WA7ZZE New Heathkit Book. http://wa7zze.com


-- New SPRAT is out! Hooray!
-- Todd K7TFC sent me copy of Shopcraft as Soulcraft. FB.
-- Dean KK4DAS building an EI9GQ 16 W amp. FB.
-- Jack NG2E Getting close on Pete's DC receiver.
-- JF1OZL's website is BACK!
-- Tony K3DY sent link to cool books. 
-- Sheldon VK2XZS thinking of building a phasing receiver.
-- Peter VK2EMU has joined the WFSRA. FB!
-- Ned KH7JJ from Honolulu spotted the Sideband Myth in the AWA video.
-- Chris M0LGX looking at the ET-2, asks about the variometer.
-- Pete Eaton Nov 64 anti HB rant in november 1964 QST. Wow.
-- Josh Lambert Hurley spreading FMLA stickers in the UK. FB
-- Stephen VE6STA getting ready to melt solder.
-- Got a great picture of Rogier PA1ZZ back on Bonaire.
-- Farhan reading the manual of Hans's new digital rig.
-- Paul G0OER wonders if FMLA getting ready to move on 5 meters.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Recent Homebrew Projects from Jan PA3GSV (of "Mate for the Mighty Midget" Fame)


Recent talk of the Mate for the Mighty Midget receiver and Pete's PIMP SSB transmitter brought me back in contact with the work of Jan, PA3GSV.  I took a look at his QRZ.com page and found that he has some projects that rival even his seemingly unbeatable MMM RX project. 

Check it out for some real homebrew eye candy: 


Friday, October 8, 2021

Bill's 52 year-old Apollo 11 Time Capsule -- What Should I Do?

When I was a kid, I was an Apollo 11 fanatic.  I was ten years old when they landed on the moon.  I was convinced that the newspapers and magazines from that event would someday be worth A FORTUNE! So, as a ten year-old, I double or triple wrapped a bunch of them in plastic and put the package up in the attic of my parents' house.  Where they sat undisturbed for more than half a century.  

We were recently getting ready to sell the house, and I asked if my Apollo 11 newspapers were still up in the attic.  They were!  So the time capsule has come back to me after all these years (see above).  It remains unopened.    

Obviously this is not worth the fortune that my ten year-old self thought it would be worth. (Hey, I was 10!)  But it is worth something to me.  I know we have a lot of fellow space geeks reading the blog, so let me ask for advice:  What should I do with this?   

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Another M^3: The Michigan Micro Mote

Move over Michigan Mighty Mite and Mate for the Mighty Midget.   There's a new M^3 in town.  And it is SMALL. 

Hack-A-Day had an article on this today, and while it seems only tenuously connected to ham radio, I found it intriguing.  

Check it out.  Who knows, someday people may be operating in "dust mode":  

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Dean KK4DAS Builds an EI9GQ 16 Watt RF Amplifier (and Noodles in the Process)


I really like Dean's description of the building process, especially where he describes the need to sit down with paper and pencil for some noodling.   We see that in the picture above.  Too often we hear from guys who seem to be looking for detailed, step-by-step instructions, and then get frustrated and stuck when this kind of detail isn't available. Dean shows what to do in this situation:  noodle! 

Check out Dean's blog post on this project: 

Dean's post made me think about the origin of the verb "to noodle."  We know it has its origins in music.  Google provided this interesting explanation: 

To noodle around on something, while it does make use of the noodle (head), may derive from the regional German nudeln, to improvise a song, or from the late-19th-century Scottish sense of noodling as humming a song to oneself. By 1937, to noodle was to fool around with notes to create music.

We noodle around with parts and schematics to create rigs. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Scott WA9WFA's Mate for the Mighty Midget Receiver is WORKING! (Video)

Wow, Scott got his Mate for the Mighty Midget receiver to work and he is obviously overjoyed with the result.  All of us who have struggled with a homebrew project know just what this feels like.  And it is very cool that Scott got some useful guidance from Charlie Morris in far-off New Zealand.   Congratulations Scott.  I'm really glad you stuck with it.  

Scott's success comes at a good time:  Pete N6QW is building W4IMP's three tube "IMP" SSB transmitter (also from the 1960s).   I accept responsibility for naming Pete's project:  It will be known as "Pete's IMP" or, memorably,  "The PIMP."  For a look at Pete's rig go here: 

Scott had problems getting Lew McCoy's 455 kc crystal filter to work.  So did I.  It turns out that this is a very old problem, going back to World War II.  In Don Stoner's 1959 "New Sideband Handbook" on page 54 he writes of homebrew filters in the 400 to 500 kc range:  

"Inexpensive crystal filters constructed from war surplus FT-241 type low frequency crystals are very popular with the 'do it yourself' hams. These CT cut crystals have been plentiful and relatively cheap for a number of years and are in the hands of many Amateurs. The general run of war surplus crystals may or may not be good. Experience has shown that one out of four of these crystals are usually defective in one way or another." 

Stoner was writing just 14 years after the war.  Add another six decades to the age of these crystals -- often decades spent in musty basements -- and you can imagine the percentage of bad 455 kc FT-241  crystals increasing.  So I think Scott is wise to seek an alternative to McCoy's crystal filter. 

Scott's original build of the MMMRX receiver is just so nice.   In the video he says he plans to go back to it after he gets the expanded version fully functional.  He should definitely do that -- his  original version looks so good.  I think it is probably very close to working properly. 

Thanks Scott, and again, congratulations OM. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021


Selenium rectifiers. The name kind of sounds like Dilithium crystals, possibly related to flux capacitors. 

Anyway, there were two of them in the Globe Electronics V-10 VFO Deluxe that I recently bought.  Obviously they had to go, so I took them out yesterday, replacing them with a 1N5408 silicon rectifier.  

The new diode had a significantly lower voltage drop than the selenium rectifiers -- this pushed the output voltage from the power supply up to around 200V.  It is supposed to be around 185 V.  So I put a 470 ohm,  5 watt resistor (found in the junkbox) in series.   This brought the output voltage to 167 V.  Close enough.  VFO seems to be working fine.  

I'm glad I did the extraction before these aging components released their nasty toxic smoke. 

W3HWJ has a good article on replacing these nasty old parts, with some interesting info on their history:   http://www.w3hwj.com/index_files/RBSelenium2.pdf

Backgound on the element Selenium:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selenium

Friday, October 1, 2021

Chuck Penson's Amazing New Book about Heathkit Amateur Products


I was very pleased to read that Chuck Penson WA7ZZE was publishing a book about Heathkit's amateur radio products.  His book is a really great guide, providing a lot of fascinating information, stuff that even those of us who have spent decades with pieces of Heath gear didn't know.  For example, I never knew that an after-market dial had been available for the HW-101.   And I didn't know that the Indian names used for many of the Heath rigs (Comanche, Apache, etc.) resulted from a suggestion from Roger Mace's wife, who was Native American. 

Chuck's book arrived just as I was putting my DX-40 novice transmitter back on the air after almost 50 years.  TRGHS.  Who knew that there were TWO versions of the DX-40?  I didn't, but Chuck did, and his book explained how to spot the difference (flashlight through the side vents -- I have the very slightly more modern version). 

When I opened the book for my first peek inside, the page opened to the QF-1 Q multiplier.  I immediately felt guilty about having brutally cannibalized several (well maybe more than several) of these things.  But right there in the text Chuck repeats my justification for the carnage:  He notes that the tuning cap has a nice 14:1 turns ratio.  Exactly.  How could I NOT pull those beautiful variable caps out of that old regen device, for re-use in superhet receivers and BITX transceivers?  

This is a wonderful book that belongs in the workshop libraries of all those who have used and loved Heathkits over the years.   

Order yours here:  

Thanks a lot Chuck for making such a great contribution to the radio art and to ham radio literature. 

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