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TECHNICAL FEATURE JOHN HEATH


CHESTNUTS, DESFORD LANE, G7HIA
KIRKBY MALLORY,
LEICS LE9 7QF

On the non technical side, but of great

Getting started on importance when you start out, are the


following.
Listen to a few satellite passes to get

amateur radio satellites the hang of how things are done and to
check that your receive side is
working properly.
When you try your first contact, be
It is impossible to cover the subject fully, so you will find plenty patient, it may take you numerous
passes of the satellite before everything
of personal recommendations for information sources and comes together for you. Once it does its
suggested reading, based on experience. like riding a bike.

SATELLITE GROUPS. There are three


basic kinds of satellite, defined by their
orbital paths.
LEO low earth orbit, typically 1000km
altitude in a near-circular orbit that passes
over the poles
HEO high elliptical orbit, typically a few
hundred kilometres altitude at its closest to
Earth, and 40,000km or more at its
furthest point. The orbit describes an
ellipse.
GEO geostationary or, more accurately,
geosynchronous, typically 37,000km
orbits in synchronism with the Earths
rotation, so appearing stationary.
Many of our amateur radio satellites are
LEOs and typically take about 100 minutes
to complete each orbit. The International
Space Station is a special case being a
super LEO at only 300km altitude and an
orbital period of 91 minutes. Without a
Argentinas first amateur satellite, Lusat-1 (LO-19) details at www.lusat.com.ar regular boost from the supply vessels
rocket motors, the ISS would fall back to
WHY SATELLITES? As a class-B licensee satellite, you quickly make friends on air Earth.
under the old rules, I did not have any HF which makes operating very enjoyable.
privileges at all. Satellites offered a Some HF old timers tell me that its like it WHATS UP THERE? There are various
technical challenge and the possibility to was on HF many years ago. kinds of satellites to keep in mind.
work some serious DX using 2m and If you are new to satellites, you probably Amateur Radio Satellites CW, SSTV,
70cm. My first trans-Atlantic contact was have the impression that its very voice, packet, PSK31, APRS and FM
achieved on the now-defunct RS-10 using complicated, needs a degree in science or only single-channel satellites for voice.
10W to a small Yagi for the uplink, and a engineering and costs a small fortune. The International Space Station voice
sloping dipole to receive the RS-10 Whilst its certainly true that you will be (with crew members), packet, APRS,
downlink signal in the 10m band. It took venturing into new territory, satellite (SSTV coming soon).
several months to achieve this first trans- operating looks more difficult when
Atlantic QSO as I needed to build up my explained on the printed page than it is in Cube Sats Telemetry and scientific data,
operating skills and make improvements to practice. Keep in mind that satellites are and possibly a voice transponder on future
my receive set up. To minimise noise like terrestrial repeaters, with four satellites.
pickup from the house, the antenna went fundamental differences.
at the bottom of the garden and a They are constantly moving, so we need Suit Sat a discarded space suit equipped
homebrew RF pre-amp overcame the cable to know where to point our antennas. with radio gear and deployed from an
loss and boosted the signal. It was a great The input and output will be in two airlock. SSTV, telemetry, pre-recoded
sense of achievement to send and receive different bands. message and possibly a transponder.
signals to and from space and to make that Their signals are always drifting rapidly SuitSat 2 will be probably be launched
contact via an orbiting satellite. I still get a in frequency the Doppler Shift. later this year.
buzz from communication via a spacecraft. Communications are full duplex you Most amateur radio satellites have 53
The satellite community is quite small must be able to hear your own beacon transmitters and most send
compared with the number of HF users. transmission coming back from the telemetry. Cube Sats also send spacecraft
When you become a regular on a particular satellite telemetry and scientific data.

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TECHNICAL FEATURE

COMMUNICATING VIA SATELLITE. The other analogue modes. Looking at the


TABLE 1: Uplink and downlink frequencies
principal bands used are 2m and 70cm. for VO-52.
frequencies for VO-52, the uplink band is
FM satellites are generally phone and/or Beacon 1 145.936MHz carrier 435.220 435.280MHz and the
packet. The SSB satellites carry CW, phone, Rx (MHz) USB Tx (MHz) LSB corresponding downlink is 145.930
SSTV and PSK31. The newer generation of 145.930 435.220 145.870MHz (see Table 1). The
145.928 435.222
satellites can operate on various modes and convention on SSB satellites is to receive
145.926 435.224
bands, controlled by the ground station. 145.924 435.226 on USB and transmit on LSB.
Most satellites have a beacon transmitter 145.922 435.228
which gives the satellite ID and in general, 145.920 435.230 DEALING WITH DOPPLER. The Doppler
data about the condition of the satellite and 145.918 435.232 Effect is usually illustrated by referring to
145.916 435.234
its on-board systems. This is called 145.914 435.236
the change in tone of the siren as a police
Telemetry and capturing and studying it can 145.912 435.238 car speeds by. As the vehicle approaches,
become a major interest. 145.910 435.240 its speed shortens the wavelength of the
145.908 435.242 signal, so the note seems high. As it goes
145.906 435.244
WHAT RADIOS DO I NEED? Whether you away the speed of the vehicle increases the
145.904 435.246
intend to operate portable with a 145.902 435.248 wavelength and the note becomes lower.
handheld, or from a base station, its 145.900 435.250 The magnitude of the effect depends on
essential that you have full duplex 145.898 435.252 the speed of the vehicle relative to the
capability. That means that you can hear 145.896 435.254 observer, and the frequency of the signal.
145.894 435.256
your own signal coming back from the 145.892 435.258
The orbital speed of satellites is such that
satellite whilst you are transmitting. This 145.890 435.260 Doppler Shift is very marked, creating the
feature is not available on all dual-band 145.888 435.262 effect of a constantly drifting signal. This
radios. An FM radio will enable you to 145.886 435.264 affects the signal we receive from the
145.884 435.266
operate through several satellites, AO-51, satellite, and the signal we send to the
145.882 435.268
SO-50, AO-27. A multi-mode transceiver 145.880 435.270 satellite. During a contact, we will be
will give capabilities for the SSB satellites 145.878 435.272 adjusting transmit, and receive frequencies
as well: AO-7, FO-29, VO-52. Several 145.876 435.274 constantly by small increments so that we
modern rigs have true dual-band capability 145.874 435.276 keep our contact on frequency. With a bit of
145.872 435.278
on 2m and 70cm. Rigs with a VHF 145.870 435.280
practice this can easily be done manually.
heritage seem to have good features for At zero Doppler Shift With radios that have CAT computer ports,
satellite operating. If you are planning a the control can be done by computer and
portable operation, using a dual-band the satellite tracking program. A satellite
hand-held radio, your choice will be Check the operating schedule on the that orbits at 1000km altitude will be
limited, as duplex capability is not a AMSAT NA website. SO-50 needs a about 1000km away when it passes
common feature of hand-helds. The 67.0Hz CTCSS tone in your transmission overhead. On the other hand, the same
Kenwood TH-D7 with built-in TNC is full to access the satellite. One of the satellite, if its near the horizon, will be
duplex and very useful for satellite voice, commonest causes of frustration for around 4,000km. If its that much further
packet and APRS. Andy Thomas, G0SFJ, beginners is the wrong use of the squelch. away, its speed will appear to be much
has mounted several mini-DXpeditions Keep it fully open, the satellite signal may less; think of an express train viewed in the
with a Kenwood and had good results. not be strong enough to open it for you. distance compared with one passing you
Full duplex can be achieved easily of Use an earpiece or phones, thus preventing on the platform. Its all about speed
course by using two radios, one for you from creating a feedback loop out into relative to observer. Use this to advantage
transmit and the other for receive. This space and back. It also makes operating by practising on low-elevation passes
may be a cost-effective option and avoids easier. Use a recording device of some sort where the effect of Doppler Shift will be
the complication of learning your way for logging. On busy single-channel FM less.
around a fully-featured multi-mode. A good satellites, make one or two short contacts With a bit more room to spare on SSB
receive rig for 70cm and a second-hand then leave the channel for others. With satellites, its possible to find a quiet spot
2m rig will get you going and enable you to only a 10 15 minute operating window, near the top end of the band and try a few
get some valuable experience before you its antisocial to dominate the satellite. test transmissions. Wear headphones for
buy an all-bells-and-whistles radio. This During weekends, the satellites carry a lot satellite operating, it makes life easier and
solution is particularly valid for the FM of traffic. When starting out, choose avoids creating feedback to the satellite.
satellites when working portable. The satellite passes where mainland Europe is Whistle [your call sign] and say Test, test,
transmit radio on 2m can be set to the not in the footprint. I have had some very is perfectly acceptable and can go in the log
uplink frequency, and not adjusted enjoyable contacts with GM and LA under as a test transmission. This is very useful
throughout the pass. With 5W to a small these quieter conditions. Try working the way to practise operating and staying on
hand-held Yagi or quad antenna, it will be satellite late at night or weekdays during frequency. A useful trick is to set the
easy to access the satellites. Check out the the daytime. transceiver and receiver to CW and send a
advertisers in RadCom; older style single- few dots, rather than whistle. On my FT-
band 2m FM handhelds can be purchased OPERATING HINTS SSB SATELLITES. 847, I have a footswitch plugged into the
new for around 80. AO-7, FO-29 and VO-52 all use SSB and key jack. A brief press on the switch gives
54 have a pass-band covering several me a nice CW note to tune up with. Switch
OPERATING HINTS FM SATELLITES. kilohertz. By convention, the lower one- to sideband and follow up with your call
AO-51 has several operating modes, so third of the band is used for CW and data sign to give that final adjustment.
you need to know which transponder is on. modes, leaving the remainder for voice and Table 1 is useful when working the

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memories with 5kHz steps. As the satellite


TABLE 2: Memory settings for AO-51. comes over the horizon, it will be higher in
Memory Rx Tx
AOS 1 145.890 435.250 frequency so the steps might look like this:
2 145.885 453.275 +10kHz, +5kHz, Nominal Frequency,
TCA 3 145.880 435.300 -5kHz, -10kHz, satellite out of range.
4 145.875 435.305 When operating, its a simple matter to
LOS 5 145.870 435.310
AOS = Acquisition of signal
click through the memories during the pass
TCA = Time of closest approach to keep a good receive signal.
LOS = Loss of signal Table 2 shows the memories for both
uplink and downlink.
satellite; we can quickly see that if we are
listening on 145.900MHz we will need to ANTENNAS AND FEEDERS. A frequently-
transmit on roughly 435.250MHz. I say asked question is What antennas do I
roughly, because the table is constructed at need for a home station?. Here are some
zero Doppler Shift. A few test calls and hints and tips based on my own operating
small frequency adjustments should get experience, and from fellow enthusiasts.
you on frequency quickly. Draw up a table One of the best pieces of advice is to put
for all of the satellites you want to work money and effort into the receive part of Antennas at G7HIA.
through. Satellite operators are very your satellite ground station. It will pay off
tolerant, welcome newcomers and expect a handsomely. connectors. If you anticipate having long
few mistakes, we were all beginners once. The main frequencies in use for the runs of feeder cable, you will need to make
You can do your bit by following these Satellite Service are: some estimates of signal losses. Here are
suggestions. Please dont whistle like crazy 144 146MHz, ground stations and some typical loss figures for 30m of cable
whilst whizzing your transmit frequency up satellites expressed as attenuation in dB.
and down the pass-band trying to hear 435 438MHz, ground stations and Loss at Loss at
something. Its very antisocial and will satellites Cable 100MHz(dB) 1000MHz(dB)
trample over other peoples contacts. Use 1260 1270MHz, Earth to Space only RG-213 2.26 8.0
the table, pick low-elevation passes for 2400 2450MHz, ground stations and Westflex 103 0.85 2.7
practice and try at less-busy times. satellites EchoFlex 15 0.28 2.9
For FM satellites SO-50 and AO-51, Several satellites, either in orbit or in the (Source: RSGB Radio Communication
Doppler correction is much more planning/building stages, will carry Handbook 8th Edition, Appendix A)
straightforward. Since the signal is FM, the experimental payloads using higher The transmit side is seldom a
onboard receivers pass-band is wide frequencies. See Web Search at the end of consideration. Modern rigs have plenty of
enough to compensate for Doppler Shift, this article for URLs that give full details. power available at 146 and 436MHz so a
and the frequency could be set to the The ground station system should be few dB cable loss can easily be made up by
nominal frequency for the satellite and not looked at as a whole, not just the antenna. increasing the transmit power. Also in our
adjusted for Doppler Shift. For the receive Careful consideration is needed to decide favour, receivers on the satellites are very
frequency, you could program some on the most suitable feeder and sensitive, so just a few watts to a small beam
antenna will produce plenty of contacts.
Feeder loss is particularly important on
the receive side as the relatively weak signal
from the satellite will be attenuated in the
feeder leaving you with a very little signal at
the shack, and consequently a very poor
signal-to-noise ratio. The practical
consequence of this is that stations are
difficult to hear and what would have been a
pleasant contact with a 56 signal report is
spoiled. If you have >30m feeder runs, you
will probably need to install a masthead pre-
amplifier (see below).
Use good quality connectors. N-type is
preferred as it is low-loss, mechanically
strong and, if fitted carefully, is watertight.
Take extra time and attention to fit
connectors very neatly, spreading out the
braid evenly and taking care to cut
everything to the recommended lengths. A
well set-up system will last 10 years or
more. For receive-only applications, low-
loss satellite TV cable saves cost and 55
performs very well.
Combined azimuth and elevation
Homebrew 2m/70cm Yagi by G6LVB. control for the antennas is far from

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TECHNICAL FEATURE

essential; you will be able to do some pre-amplifier or to the shack. This is


space radio with simple fixed verticals, fully explained on the AMSAT NA
but results will be much better with website together with the diagram
small beam antennas that can be shown in Figure 1; the COMET CF-
rotated in azimuth. Tilt the antennas 416C duplexer is said to work well.
so that they point upwards by about Duplexers are not waterproof, so you
15, and you will be able to work all will need to arrange some sort of cover
but the highest-elevation satellite or box.
passes. Text books recommend circular
Recently, I checked 100 consecutive polarisation for space communications
passes of AO-51 from my home. as it helps to reduce fading caused by
34% did not rise more than 10 reflections. Many of the satellites have
above the horizon. 42% were between transmit antennas which produce
10 and 30. Only 8% were above Texas Potato Masher circular polarisation. Having the
70. Keep in mind that the best DX is corresponding circular polarisation at
available when satellites are low to the antenna its easy to see that even with a the ground station is the ideal to aim for,
horizon. The situation will be different third harmonic at -60dB the sensitive but its not essential. Most of the stations I
when the HEO satellites AMSAT NAs front-end of the receiver can easily be work on the satellites are using linearly-
Eagle and AMSAT DLs P3E are in orbit. overloaded, making it very difficult to copy polarised antennas. If you do use circular
For these satellites, some elevation the signal from the satellite. De-sense can polarisation, make sure your antenna is
capability will be an advantage. affect pre-amps as well as receivers. There compatible with the satellite right hand
Avoid very high-gain antennas as used are several remedies, some or all of which (RHCP) or left hand (LHCP) otherwise
by terrestrial DXers. The high-gain figures may be needed and will require some trial you could have 60dB of loss. For
are attractive, but this comes with a and error as the circumstances of each transmitting to the satellite, and receiving
correspondingly large antenna and narrow station will be different. the downlink, circular polarisation is
beamwidth. A narrow beamwidth antenna The first, and simplest, is to reduce your generally used at the higher frequencies of
must track the satellite very accurately transmitter power. Satellite operators are 1.2GHz, 2.4GHz and upwards. Take care
across the sky, otherwise the signal will be often guilty of running more power than with RHCP and LHCP when making dish
lost. Smaller, lower-gain antennas have necessary. Secondly, try increasing the feeds. The polarisation of the signal
benefits. A four-element cubical quad, or a separation between the transmit and reflected from the dish will be the mirror
quagi, is easy to make, will have about receive antennas. If an even more robust image of the incoming signal.
10dB of gain and can be used with a low- solution is needed, there are several good You can homebrew some great antennas
cost TV aerial rotator costing about 40. designs for small cavity filters made with for satellite working. Quads, Yagis and
If using masthead pre-amplifiers on 2m copper tube and N-connectors. If you have quagis for 2m and 70cm are easy to make
and 70cm, dont pay a lot of money for workshop skills, these will give a good and are reproducible. A simple two-
amplifiers with very high gain figures. You rejection figure. element quad for 436MHz made with
only need enough gain to offset losses in An even simpler solution uses coax thick wire will receive the downlink from a
your coax feeder and improve the system cable stubs as filters, with the simplest whole range of satellites. Helical antennas
noise figure. If static doesnt fry the first method of all being to use a commercial and patch antenna are good for 1.2GHz
device in the pre-amp then its almost duplexer (diplexer) at the antenna. The and 2.4GHz and there are plenty of good
certain that at some stage you will Common port is connected to the 70cm homebrew designs around.
accidentally send RF up the wrong feed- receive antenna. The 2m port is terminated Put any of the following call signs into
line. Simple pre-amplifiers, in which you with a 50 load. The 70cm port goes to a your browser to find good practical designs
can replace the front end device that have been tested on antenna
yourself, are ideal. FIGURE 1 ranges or live on satellites: G6LVB,
A problem often faced by satellite K5OE, W0LMD, G3RUH.
newcomers is receiver de- G6LVBs site has a very good
sensitisation (commonly called de- construction article for building a
sense). hand-held dual-band Yagi designed
Here is what happens. When for working the FM satellites with a
working satellites, we are using full 5W hand-held transceiver (final
duplex. We can hear our own signal product shown in the photograph).
coming back from the satellite while K5OEs site has some easy-build
transmitting. For some satellites Texas Potato Masher designs based
FO-29 is a good example the uplink on PVC pipe (see the photograph).
frequency (our transmit ) is in the Other interesting antenna
band 145.900MHz 146.000MHz. construction sites include WA5VJB
The signal received from the satellite and VE3CVG. Check out the design
is between 435.800 435.900MHz. frequencies for the antennas on
The third harmonic from our these sites. Many of the Yagi designs
56 transmitter will be at 3 x are optimised for terrestrial DX at
145.950MHz, ie 437.875MHz. RADCOM 432MHz. For satellite use, a design
With, say, 20W to a beam which is frequency of 436MHz is best. Quads
in close proximity to our receive Figure 1: Desensitisation filter using a diplexer. are less frequency-critical. For

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VHF/UHF homebrewers, the quagi is well Having heard your first signals from frequency at the start of the pass, as the
worth looking at as it combines the simple space you are on your way to your first satellite approaches. As it passes you tune
mechanical design of the Yagi with the contact. Have a celebratory cup of tea and slowly LF to follow the signal. This
increased bandwidth of the quad. join AMSAT-UK so that you can be part of frequency drift is the sure sign you are
An important point for home the international AMSAT community which listening to a signal from a fast-moving
construction when making Yagis and other designs, builds, funds and launches source (a spacecraft). If the signal is
multi-element antennas. A design may give satellites for all radio amateurs to enjoy. steady, its probably terrestrial or a
the spacing between elements, dont be spurious signal in your receiver. Be patient,
tempted to mark it out from element to TIPS FOR COPYING SATELLITES. Here it may take you a few attempts to hear your
element. Work from a fixed point such as are my tips for working satellites, divided first signals from space. If you dont seem
the driven element, otherwise your according to the equipment youre using. to be succeeding make sure you have
measuring errors will accumulate and FM hand-held or base station that can accurate time in your shack. Be prepared
reduce the performance. tune 137 138MHz. This is the to listen carefully and tune around on
downlink for the NOAA series of either side of the anticipated frequency; the
GOOD OPERATING PRACTICE. I regard American weather satellites. Signals are signal may be weak on your setup.
my licence and the access it gives me to strong and have a distinctive tick-tock
the bands as a privilege. I also feel a duty sound like a clock. There are several, AND FINALLY. As a raw beginner, I had
to uphold the fine amateur radio traditions and they pass over the UK several times lots of advice from experienced satellite
of gentlemanly conduct when operating. a day. They are easily copied, even with users, for which I was most grateful.
After all, this is a shared resource, and 2m-band antennas. More information at Similarly, I will be happy to answer any e-
especially so on satellites. The easy-to- the GEO website. mail or postal request from RadCom
work FM satellites do get rather chaotic at FM hand-held with 70cm. SO-50 and readers for advice on any aspect of setting
weekends as everyone is trying to make AO-51 should be easy to copy with a up a satellite station.
contacts on just one channel. I am happy small hand-held Yagi outdoors. AO51 is
to say that, in contrast, operating manners sometimes switched to other bands, so
are good on the other satellites and we can check the AMSAT website for the current RECOMMENDED READING
all play a part in keeping it that way. operating schedule. Guide to OSCAR Operating by Richard Limebear,
G3RWL, published by AMSAT-UK.
Hand-held with wide-band receive. Try The Radio Amateurs Satellite Handbook by Martin
WHAT NEXT? Log on to the AMSAT-NA some of the suggestions below for base Davidoff, K2UBC, published by ARRL.
website and get the frequency details for station multi-modes, Listening outdoors WEB SEARCH
FM or SSB satellites depending on your with a hand-held antenna. AMSAT-NA
www.amsat.org
available equipment. Find the information 2m and 70cm Muti-mode. Assuming
by clicking on Sat Status in the top that you have steerable antennas for Satellite predictions
www.heavens-above.com
navigation bar. When you get the status terrestrial work, you should copy most
page click on the name of the satellite in satellites at low elevation. Check the AMSATUK
www.uk.amsat.org
which you are interested. predictions for suitable low-elevation Weather satellites
Have your latitude and longitude (or passes that wont have the satellites www.geo-web.org.uk
your grid locator) ready and go to the signal path obscured by trees or buildings.
Passes section of the website, (its in the
navigation bar along the top of the home The VO-52 beacon is a strong carrier on
page) or go to the Heavens Above website. around 145.936MHz. Contacts will be
This will give you the next few passes for heard around 145.900MHz USB.
the satellite of your choice. FO-29 has a CW beacon on
Study the passes and pick those that 435.795MHz, with contacts around
look favourable for your location. Check to 435.850MHz USB. Signals are weaker
see which direction gives the best view of than those of VO-52.
the sky for your antennas. Look to see if the LO-19 has a CW beacon on
satellite will be obscured by trees or 437.125MHz. It runs at about 750mW
buildings. Probably go for passes with and should be easy copy with any small
about 20 30 of elevation. outdoor Yagi.
Check that your shack clock is accurate If you have a suitable radio but only a
to about 20 seconds or better. Make sure VHF/UHF white stick colinear or other
the time zone is right. All satellite work is omnidirectional antenna, dont give up. Its
done in UTC. worth listening, although signals will be
A few minutes before the pass, point well down on what you could expect from a
your antenna towards the direction of the small Yagi. Look for passes that put the
satellite and tune your receiver to the satellite signal in the best part of the
satellite beacon frequency +10kHz maximum lobe of your antenna. Two UK
(approximately). Tune gently back and stations with omnidirectional antennas
forward around this frequency until you received the recent test transmissions of
hear the beacon ( or contacts in the case of SSTV from the International Space Station. 57
FM satellites, squelch fully open).
Remember to move your antenna as the TO RECAP. All the frequency tables show
satellite comes over. the nominal frequency. Tune above that Andy Thomas, G0SFJ, satellite-portable from Riga.

RadCom March 2007