Summary of 2016 SARA Western Conference ~ ERAU: Prescott, Arizona

The 2016 SARA Western Conference was held on the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus a few miles outside of Prescott, Arizona USA over the weekend of 11~13 March. Ray Fobes was our host and he, Dave Westman, Keith Payea, and Lorraine Rumley worked hard to setup and manage the event. We had 33± attendees and speakers at this year’s conference, including many familiar members and several new members from the local Yavapai Amateur Radio Club. The conference agenda included a tour on Friday afternoon of the ERAU Radio Observatory, built under Ray Fobes’ supervision, and presentations by SARA members and outside speakers on Saturday and Sunday. The weather was very sunny and pleasant.



ERAU campus from 3 km altitude; the radio observatory is near the top edge right of center


Our guest speakers were Adam Beardsley and Chris Groppi, both from Arizona State University, and Brian Rachford from ERAU. Adam’s presentation, The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), The Next Step in Radio Cosmology, told us a brief history of the universe followed by a description of the array of dish reflector antennas to be deployed in South Africa. There will be 350 antennas, each 14 m diameter and covering the frequency range 100 to 200 MHz. The feeds will make use of the MWA (Murchison Widefield Array) and PAPER (Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Reionization) antenna designs by hanging the smaller antenna upside-down over each dish reflector. He also discussed the challenges of foreground subtraction – the process of removing man-made and natural radio contamination from the data. The remaining data hopefully contains red-shifted emissions from what is thought to be the reionization of the universe’s ubiquitous hydrogen when the first stars and galaxies were formed. Chris’ presentation on Terahertz Frequency Radio Astronomy in Antarctica was a very interesting photo essay on his travels to Antarctica to launch balloon payloads with extremely short wavelength radio instruments. Brian is primarily an optical astronomer but his presentation, Using High-Bandwidth FM Broadcast Band SDR Recordings for Meteors, covered a type of radio observation very familiar to many SARA members – using relatively inexpensive software defined radio receivers to capture spectrums from the FM broadcast band for later analysis of meteor trail reflections. Brian’s data files often exceed a terabyte, and he obviously has plenty of storage capacity.



The 2-day conference was packed with many other presentations, including a presentation by two high school students, Xander Pickard and Collin Miller, from Colorado who presented their measurements of both red-shifted and blue-shifted neutral hydrogen emissions from two celestial sources, Cassiopeia A and Rosette Nebula, using the 20 m dish at the NRAO facility in Greenbank, West Virginia. Ray Fobes gave us a rundown on the relatively inexpensive miniVNA Pro and miniVNA Tiny vector network analyzers and also updated us on the many activities and new instruments at the radio observatory since our last conference at ERAU in 2011.


One of the presentations by Skip Crilly will be of interest to attendees of future SARA Eastern Conferences at Greenbank. Skip is responsible for upkeep on the 40 ft radio telescope at Greenbank and he recently made major changes to the link from the dual polarization low noise amplifiers at the feed to the detectors. He installed RF-over-fiber signal cables and associated interfaces and removed the unused right-hand relay rack in the underground observation hut. Observers can now use their own receivers if they wish or continue using the on-site detectors (the conference proceedings provides a detailed description of Skip’s changes).


Bogdan Vacaliuc setup a poster and equipment display and also made a presentation on the RASDR3, which evolved from the RASDR2. The RASDR3 layout has been revised to allow easier expansion and accommodation of Raspberry Pi Hats. This will allow users to customize their RASDR3 receivers using readily available or customized components and printed circuit boards. To take advantage of volume component pricing, the RASDR3 project requires about 100 pre-orders. Jay Wilson’s presentation, Practical Systems for Remote Control of Amateur Radio Telescope Installations, provided information on his experience at Little Thompson Observatory using TeamViewer, Ham Radio Deluxe, Remote Rig and other remote control interfaces. Remote control of radio telescopes is often necessary because they must be located in areas with low RFI, usually far off the beaten path. Our inimitable SARA President Ken Redcap compared SDR-Sharp and ra_simple software in total power radio telescopes and the challenges associated with installing ra_simple on a Linux PC (conclusion: ra_simple is not simple to install).


We had a total of 14 presentations, all at the Student Union building (“The Hangar”). The above reviews only a few of the presentations but all were relevant and informative. See the photo gallery and conference schedule immediately following this narrative and also refer to the conference proceedings (each attendee received the proceedings in printed copy and CD, and these are available from the SARA store).


One of the many activities associated with SARA Western conferences is the drawing for items related to amateur radio astronomy, such as the SuperSID and SARA document CDs. Each registered attendee wrote a card with their name on it, which was pulled from Ken Redcap’s red cap until everything was given away.


Another tradition of the SARA Western conferences is the social gatherings at local restaurants in the evenings. On Friday evening many attendees met at the Prescott Station Grill & Bar (not the Prescott Station Bar & Grill) in downtown Prescott for a variety of southwestern style food. On Saturday evening we all met at Augie’s Restaurant in the Frontier Village Center on Highway 69. Our daytime breakfast and lunch meals were provided as part of the conference through the ERAU on-campus Dining Hall.


If you did not attend the 2016 SARA Western Conference, you missed wonderful technical sessions and a chance to learn from and talk to your friends and colleagues and scientists. We are grateful to ERAU and especially Ray Fobes for his help and hospitality.




Western Conference Schedule ~ March 11-13, 2016, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, AZ






Friday, March 11




1:00 PM


Lorraine Rumley


3:00 PM

Tour of ERAU RA facility

Ray Fobes


6:00 PM

Dinner at Prescott Station Grill & Bar







Saturday, March 12




8:00 – 9:00 AM

Registration, Breakfast

L. Rumley

Student Union Lower Hanger

9:00 – 9:15 AM

Introductions, etc.

Ken Redcap


9:15 – 10:00 AM

Speaker 1

Adam Beardsley

The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array: The Next Step in Radio Cosmology

10:00 – 10:45 AM

Speaker 2

Chris Groppi

THz Frequency Radio Astronomy in Antarctica

10:45 – 11:15 AM

Morning Break



11:15 – 12:00 PM

Speaker 3

Ray Fobes

The miniVNA Tiny Vector Network Analyzer

12:00 – 1:00 PM




1:00 – 1:45 PM

Speaker 4

Students from Berthoud High School, Colorado

Investigating Simultaneous Red and Blue Shifts in HI Emissions from Nebula.

1:45 – 2:30 PM

Speaker 5

Ken Redcap

Portable SuperSID / Portable Radio Jove Review

2:30 – 3:00 PM

Afternoon break



3:00 – 3:45 PM

Speaker 6

Skip Crilly

Narrow Bandwidth Radio Bursts Observed using the Green Bank Forty Foot Telescope and a Home-built Five Meter Telescope

3:45 – 4:30 PM

Speaker 7

Tom Hagen

21 cm AdventuresBuilding Antennas and Using SDR's to Detect HI and Continuum

at 1.42040571..... GHz

4:30 PM




6:00 PM

Dinner at Augie’s Restaurant







Sunday, March 13




8:30 – 9:00 AM




9:00 – 9:45 AM

Speaker 8

Ken Redcap

Off The Shelf Radio Telescope (continued) Using SimpleRA (instead of SDRSharp)

9:45 – 10:30 AM

Speaker 9

Whitham Reeve

Geomagnetic Activity during Alaska’s 2015 Autumn

10:30 – 11:00 AM

Morning Break



11:00 – 11:45 AM

Speaker 10

Brian Rachford

Using high-bandwidth FM broadcast band SDR recordings for meteors

11:45 – 12:45 PM




12:45 – 1:30 PM

Speaker 11

Jay Wilson

Practical Systems for Remote Control of

Amateur Radio Telescope Installations

1:35 – 2:05 PM

Speaker 12

Skip Crilly

NRAO Greenbank 40 ft Radio Telescope Update

2:05 – 2:50 PM

Speaker 13

Bogdan Vacaliuc

RASDR3 Update

2:50 – 3:15 PM

Afternoon break



3:15 – 4:00 PM

Speaker 14

Ray Fobes

ERAU Observatory Update

4:00 PM







ERAU radio observatory building
ERAU radio observatory building
Long view of some antennas
Long Wavelength Array antenna
Crossed wire dipole antenna
Several dish reflector antennas
Dish reflector antenna
Loop antenna for SID monitoring
President Ken Redcap admiring the Yagi array
Ray Fobes describing the MWA tile
One of three MWA tiles
Close-up of MWA antenna and ground grid
Vice President Tom Hagen and Director Keith Payea
One of several equipment racks in the observatory
One of several equipment racks in the observatory
Main observatory equipment room
Callisto receiver with Ham-It-Up converter
Optical observatory adjacent to radio observatory
Chris Groppi from Arizona State University
Adam Beardsley from Arizona State University
Bogdan Vacaliuc describes the RASDR3
Bogdan Vacaliuc describes the RASDR3 evolution
Attendees from Berthoud High School, Colorado
Conference attendees
ERAU Student Union building where conference was located
Ken Redcap describes the SuperSID and Radio Jove
L-R: Ray Fobes, Lorraine Rumley, Dave Westman, Ken Redcap
Conference attendees during break