How to run an NCDXF IARU Beacon Monitoring station

The NCDXF and IARU founded the International Beacon Project. It consists of 18 beacons around the world. Each beacon transmits every three minutes, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. A transmission consists of the callsign of the beacon sent at 22 words per minute followed by four one-second dashes. The callsign and the first dash are sent at 100 watts. The remaining dashes are sent at 10 watts, 1 watt and 100 milliwatts.

Beacon monitoring to track HF propagation
These beacons have helped in researching propagation of HF radio waves. Because I am intrigued about propagation, I wanted to build my own station for automatically monitoring these beacons. The radio I own is a Kenwood TS-480. Most of the time it’s doing nothing so I thought it could serve a better purpose listening to those 18 beacon while I am at work. What I needed was software, a computer and antennas.

Beacon Monitor diagramFaros software
The Faros software is designed especially for listening to those beacons. Faros decodes the beacons’ morse signal ans translates it into a visual diagram (a picture in GIF format). It measures the signals strength which is being showed with a colour. FTP software like the freeware WinSCP automatically uplaods the GIF picture to your own custom made website. Faros has a 30-day trail period.

Control your radio via OmniRig
Faros comes with OmniRig software which controls your radio via CAT. It switches the receiver to the different bands where the beacons are active. It also forces the radio to CW mode.

Run it on an old computer
Faros does not require a fast PC. A Pentium 3 at 600MHz and 256MB RAM will do the job. Therefore you can choose an old PC, mini PC or netbook which all don’t consume too much electricity. I am running it on a Pentium 3 1000MHz. An old mediacenter I got from PD7RB. The operating system can be Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7. A 100kbit connection to the internet is sufficient.

Synchronsie with NTP server or GPS
Your computer needs to run at the same time as the beacons. Faros suggests a few NTP servers (time servers) to synchronise with. The delay must be as short as possible. More than 100ms is too long. If you do not have a good connection the an NTP server, you can synchronise with GPS. You need a GPS receiver and special software, which does not come with Faros.

Antenna for 5 bands
Last thing you need is one or more omnidirectional antennas for 10m, 12m, 15m, 17m and 20m band. A vertical is probably the best choice. It doesn’t need to be a high performance antenna as it is only for receiving. For 10m, 15m and 20m I use an elevated commercial trap vertical (Hustler 4BTV). To add 12m and 17m, I made a separate vertical with a 1/4 wave wire¬† for each band with two sloping radials per band. The radio switches between two antennas when switching bands.

Installation
To get the beacon monitor running took me less than 30 minutes. If you download the demonstration webpage from the NCDXF website, you can edit it with a simple HTML-editor to make it your personal page.