Satellite Antennas Off The Tower
Sometimes we learn from problems and mistakes. We all go through this from time to time. It is part of the learning aspect of Amateur Radio. My most recent experience came while integrating our new tower-based satellite antenna system. After the antennas were up, initial testing revealed the following problems:
After an initial attempt to correct these problems with the antennas on the tower, we decided to take them down again to resolve the problems. The removal was enabled, in part, via rental of a 50 ft boom lift.
The lift made it relatively easy to remove the Satellite Antenna Assembly from the tower. We placed it on the Glen Martin Roof Tower stand that was built for the Portable Satellite Station 3.0. Once down, the Satellite Antenna System was completely disassembled and a replacement Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator was installed.
Cross Boom Truss System
The photo above shows the reassembled cross boom and associated truss supports. Note the tilt in the truss tube on the left side. This allows the antennas to be flipped over 180 degrees without the truss contacting the mast.
As mentioned in the previous article, polycarbonate reinforcement bushings are installed in the fiberglass parts to prevent the clamps from crushing the tubes. The photo above shows one of the bushings installed at the end of one of the truss tubes.
The bushings are held in place with small machine screws. This ensures that they remain in the correct locations inside the fiberglass tubes.
Thorough Ground Test
With the Satellite Antenna Array back together and aligned, we took a few days to operate the system on the ground. This allowed me to adequately test everything to ensure that the system was working correctly.
Tower Integration Using A 50 ft Boom Lift
With the testing complete, the antennas went back up on the tower, and the integration and testing work resumed. Having the boom lift available made the remaining integration work much easier.
Control Cable Interconnect Boxes On The Tower
There are quite a few control cables associated with the equipment on our new tower including:
A combination of junction boxes near the top of the tower and at the base make connecting and testing of the control circuits easier and more reliable. Tower mounted junction boxes were used to terminate the control cables near the rotators and antennas.
Control Cable Junction Box at Base of Tower
A combination of heavy-duty and standard 8 conductor control cable from DX Engineering was used for the cable runs from the top of the tower to a second junction box at the tower base.
Control Cable Junction Box Internals
The junction box at the base creates a single interconnect and testing point for all of the control cables. We’ve used this approach on both of our towers, and it makes things very easy when troubleshooting problems or making upgrades. Control cables for all of the tower systems were run to the temporary station set up in our house and terminated with connectors that are compatible with our Portable Satellite Station 3.0 system.
Satellite Preamp System
We built a tower mounted Preamplifier System for use with the egg beater satellite antennas on our 100 ft tower a while back. The Preamp System is being reused on our new tower. A set of Advanced Receiver Research 2m and 70cm preamplifiers are mounted in a NEMA enclosure to protect them from the weather and to make connecting the associated control cables easier.
Tower Mounted Preamp System
The Preamp System was mounted near the top of the new tower and the feedlines from the 2m and 70 cm Satellite Antennas were connected to it. LMR-400uF coax is run from the Preamp System as well as from the Directive Systems DSE2324LYRM 23 cm Satellite Yagi and the M2 6M7JHVHD 6 m Yagi on our new tower to the station in our house to complete the feedlines. These LMR-400uF feedlines will be replaced with 7/8″ hardline coax to our shack in the spring when warmer weather makes working with the hardlines easier.
Temporary Station Setup
With all of the tower integration work done, we set up the station in our house for testing. This is the same station that is our Portable Satellite Station 3.0 with two additions:
Both of these additions will become part of the final Satellite Station 4.0 when it is moved to a permanent home in our shack.
The rotator setup on the new tower provides two separate azimuth rotators. The lower one above turns both the 6 m Yagi and the Satellite Antenna Array together. The upper box controls the Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator for the satellite antennas. Using two separate rotators and controllers will allow us to integrate the 6m Yagi into the microHam system in our station and will allow the MacDoopler Satellite Tracking Software running on the iMac to control the Satellite Antennas separately. When we are using the 6 m Yagi, the Satellite Antennas will be parked pointing up to minimize any coupling with the 6 m Yagi. When we are using the Satellite Antennas, the rotator that turns the mast will be set to 0 degrees to ensure accurate azimuth pointing of the Satellite Antennas by the Alfa-Spid Az/El rotator.
PSK Reporter View using the M2 6M7JHVHD 6 m Yagi
So how does it all perform? With WSJT-X setup on our iMac, I was able to do some testing with the new 6 m Yagi using FT8. The IC-9100 Transceiver that we are using can produce 100W with WSJT-X. The 6m band is usually not very open here in New England in January so I was quite pleased with the results. As you can see from the PSKReporter snapshot above, the new antenna got out quite well on 6 m using 100W. I made several contacts during this opening including one with W5LDA in Oklahoma – a 1,400 mi contact. The 6M7JHVHD is a much quieter antenna on the receive side which helps to make more difficult contacts on 6 m.
MacDoppler Tracking AO-91
We’ve made a little over 100 satellite contacts using the new system so far. With the satellite antennas at 45 feet, it’s much easier to make low-angle contacts and we can often continue QSOs down to elevation angles of 5 degrees or less. I have not had much of a chance to test 23 cm operation with AO-92 but I have heard my signal solidly in AO-92’s downlink using the L-band uplink on the new tower. This is a good sign as our IC-9100 has only 10W out on 23 cm and we are using almost 100 ft of LMR-400uF coax to feed our 23 cm antenna.
Satellite Grids Worked and Confirmed
I’ve managed to work 10 new grid squares via satellites using the new antenna system including DX contacts with satellite operators in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Northern Ireland using AO-07 and FO-29. These were all low-angle passes.
So what did we learn from all of this? Due to concern over possible snow here in New England, I did not take the time to fully ground test the satellite antennas and new rotator before it went up on the tower the first time. My thinking was that the setup was the same as that used on Portable Satellite Station 3.0 for over a year. The problem was the replacement parts and new control cables were not tested previously and both of these created problems that were not discovered until the antennas were at 45 feet. While it would have made increased the risk that the antennas would not have gotten up before the first winter snow storm here, it would have been much better to run the antennas on the ground for a few days as I did the second time. Had I done this, both problems would have appeared and have been easily corrected.
The next step in our project will be to add transverters to our FlexRadio-6700 SDR and integrate the new antennas into our shack. You can find other articles about our Satellite Station 4.0 project here: