The $50 Ham: WSPR-ing Around the World

The $50 Ham: WSPR-ing Around the World

Everybody has a bucket list,  things to be accomplished before the day we eventually wake up on the wrong side of the grass. Many bucket-list items are far more aspirational than realistic; very few of us with “A trip to space” on our lists are going to live to see that fulfilled. And even the more realistic goals, like the trip to Antarctica that’s been on my list for ages, become less and less likely as your life circumstances change — my wife hates the cold.

Luckily, instead of going to Antarctica by myself — and really, what fun would that be? — I’ve recently been getting some of the satisfaction of world travel through amateur radio. The last installment of “The $50 Ham” highlighted weak-signal digital modes using WSJT-X; in that article, I mentioned a little about the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter, or WSPR. It’s that mode that let me test what’s possible with very low-power transmissions, and allowed me to virtually visit six continents including Antarctica and Sweden-by-way-of-Alaska.

Whispers in the Noise

Ask a random amateur radio operator what’s on his or her mind at any given moment and chances are pretty good the answer will be, “How are the bands right now?” That’s shorthand for what the current state of the ionosphere is, which largely determines how well RF signals will bounce off the various layers of charged particles that wrap around the planet. These layers shift and move in diurnal cycles, and undergo longer-term cycles of strengthening and weakening that depend on the cycles of magnetic activity on the Sun.

Assessing the state of the ionosphere and finding out which bands have a path to which points on the globe used to be somethi ..