Using WSJTX to test your antenna system with your main rig and a PC is relatively easy, we've documented how to do this here: WSPRX. But you many not want to tie up your transmitter for this task, particularly if you want to run a test over a log period of time.
QRP Labs sells the Ultimate3S which is a self contained multi-band and multi-mode beacon kit. Just connect the U3S to your antenna and switch it on, the beacon will then transmit regular digital mode message on the bands of your choice. These transmissions are picked up by other Hams around the world and reported on the WSPRnet website: http://wsprnet.org/drupal/wsprnet/map
This US3 beacon can be left running continually, it's perfect for testing antenna systems over time. It is highly configurable to suite your own needs (like adding multiple antenna connections for example).A receiver and amplifier options are also available to complement this kit. For more info go to: QRP Labs.
I have really enjoyed making and operating this kit. When completed, the Ultimate3S is a robust, useful and good looking addition to the shack.
There are no surface-mount components, the assembly is straight forward. However, care is needed during the build as there is little room for error. Components will need to be soldered to the PCB's, terroids will need to be wound. The final configuration can be a little tricky, for example: Plugs can be connected the wrong way round, it's easy to apply 12v and damage critical parts! With care issues can be avoided. If you do make an error then fixing problems can be tricky.
It took me over four months to get this kit working correctly (because I made mistakes), the basic unit could be completed in a day if you're careful and good at these things.
The instructions that come with the kit are excellent and need no further explanation. Below I've made some notes on how to avoid potential pitfalls and improve your building enjoyment of this great kit.
Here is a list of the mistakes I made whilst building this kit:
Tip: Don't make these mistakes!
Plan to fit a protect ion diode across your incoming power socket and add a fuse to your supply cable from the start of your project.
The diode should be fitted so it will conduct if power is applied the wrong way round, blowing the fuse before anything else goes pop.
The Ultimate3S requires a 5V supply. Exceeding this may blow up the GPS board and processor. There is no forgiveness, so be very careful!
To get a regulated 5V supply I used a variable regulator module purchased from ebay. This module is able to step down a 12V supply to a smooth 5v:
This device regulates the voltage regardless of the input voltage, so it will protect your U3S. It will also provide a nice stable supply.
Note: You may need to turn the adjuster screw many times to achieve 5V
The the Low Pass Filter filter boards are tricky to make and they're easily damaged when handling. To avoid damage, use hot melt glue to secure them in place after testing.
It's easier to use header pins and sockets to connect this kit up, soldering wires directly to the board can make things difficult during future testing and modification. Boxes of header pins and sockets are easily available from Amazon and are handy to have around the shack.
It's easy to connect things the wrong way round, or plug things in the wrong slot:
The enemy of those WSPR spots is drift. As soon as your Q3S starts to transmit, it'll heat up the crystal and you will get drift, this could stop you from logging any WSPR spots. So this is important.
There are two ways around this:
Protecting your Si5351A from heat is well documented on the QRP Labs website, but it not obvious and can be missed. This is what I did:
Add a heat sink
To protect your Si5351A from heat you can glue a lump of metal to the crystal to slow and absorb any temperature variations.
Add a heat box
I also built a box around my Si5351A using thick plastic card to make a small box. This worked very well.
Either way, solving heat related drift is going to be required for those WSPR modes, so you'll need to address this right away.
If you fit the programming pins during initial assembly you'll be able to flash your own micro controller very quickly should you ever need to do this. Much easier than having to add the pins later on.
I've included instructions on how to flash the AT328P below.
I did damage a couple of the micro controllers when setting up the U3S. It is far easier and cheaper to flash you own replacements, here's how to do it:
The following hardware is required to flash your own Ultimate3S micro controllers:
Install the AVR programming lead driver
1) Install the usbasp driver for the AVR programming lead: https://zadig.akeo.ie/
2) Select the USBASP device, then install the lbsub driver
Install AVR dude
1) Install AVRdude: http://www.ladyada.net/learn/avr/setup-win.html
2) Here is the manual: http://www.ladyada.net/learn/avr/avrdude.html
Flash a new ATMEGA328p
avrdude -B10 -c usbasp -p m328p -U flash:w:v3.12a.hex
avrdude -B10 -c usbasp -p m328p -U lfuse:w:0xF7:m
avrdude -B10 -c usbasp -p m328p -U hfuse:w:0xDF:m
avrdude -B10 -c usbasp -p m328p -U efuse:w:0x04:m
You should see the script run and program the Atmega328p chip
If you see an error, the check your settings and try again!
Simply replace the 14 pin chip, the GPS chip and other components will probably be okay:
To remove this you'll need a solder sucker pump. The IC and pump can be purchased from Amazon or eBay. If you don't fancy doing this then use an alternative GPS as shown in the next section.
You will need to replace the power transistors if you apply voltage the wrong way round to the U3.
Re-flash the firmware.
Here is a suitable alternative GPS module available from Amazon for $10 USD (including next day delivery!). It is smaller and easy to setup, but not quite as sensitive as the QRP-Labs GPS receiver kit:
Not only does this GPS option leave much more room in the case for the receiver kit, it's also easier to mount the antenna to the top of the box. It is not quite as sensitive as the QRP labs version, but worked well for me,
Setting up the GPS board
Now, you may not need to change any settings and your GPS may work as soon as it is plugged in. However, I needed to activate the time message, to do this I had to install the GT-U7 GPS software that is available for free (U-Center). I connected to the GPS board to my PC using a regular USB lead and configured the following items (very easy to do):
Tip: I also purchased a bigger GPS antenna which multiplied the satellite locks by 3!
Here are the U3S settings I used to get my first 20m, 40m and 80m WSPR spots.
Note: All other settings can be left as they are
If all is okay you will instantly receive spots following your first TX cycle.
The regular BS170 transistor provides enough power to get lots of spots. But you made need a little more power, maybe to test a Mag loop or compromised antenna.
The QRP-Labs Amplifier is the best way to go, but there are other options. You can swap the BS170 transistors with a power transistor (Mitsubishi RD06HHF1) which can be bolted to the chassis, eliminating the need for heat sinks three matched transistors.
The power transistor simply replaces the BS170 transistor as a direct swap, it will need to be located in a suitable place and connected by wires to the original transistor holes:
The base current can be set higher when using the power transistor, I set mine to 90mA (60mA + Quesent current). I was easily able to achieve a couple of Watts of power, enough to trigger my ATU.
I was able to turn the power up further but have stuck with the 90mA. Finding how far this can go will require some experimentation. I was happy with the 2 watts output.