Tracking Satellites: The Nitty Gritty Details

If you want to listen to satellites, you have to be able to track them as they pass over the sky. When I first started tracking amateur satellites, computing the satellite’s location in the sky was a part of the challenge. Nowadays, that’s trivial. What’s left over are all the extremely important real-world details.Ā  Let’s take a look at a typical ham satellite tracking setup and see how it all ties together.

Rotators for Steering

The popularity of robotics, 3D printing, and CNC machines has resulted in a deluge of affordable electric motors and drivers. It’s hard to imagine that an electric motor for rotating an antenna would be anything special, but in fact, antenna rotators are non-trivial engineering designs. Most of the challenges are mechanical, not electrical — the antennas that they drive can be huge, have significant wind loading and rotational inertial, and just downright weigh a lot. A rotator design has to consider bearings, weather exposure, all kinds of loads, not just rotational. And usually a brake is required to keep the antenna pointed in windy conditions.

There’s been a 70-some year history of these mechanisms from back in the 1950s when Cornell Dubilier Electronics, the company you know as a capcacitor manufacturer, began making these rotators for television antennas in the 1950s. I was a little surprised to see that the rotator systems you can buy today are not very different from the ones we used in the 1980s, other than improved electronic controls. Continue reading “Tracking Satellites: The Nitty Gritty Details”

Antenna Rotation Arduino Style

Back in the days when you didn’t pay for your TV programming, it was common to have a yagi antenna on the roof. If you were lucky enough to have every TV station in the area in the same direction, you could just point the antenna and forget it. If you didn’t, you needed an antenna rotator. These days, rotators are more often found on communication antennas like ham radio beams. For terrestrial use, the antenna only needs to swing around and doesn’t need to change elevation. However, it does take a stout motor because wind loading can put a lot of force on the system.

[SP3TYF] has a HyGain AR-303 rotator and decided to build an Arduino-based controller for it. The finished product has an LCD and is able to drive a 24 V motor. You can control the azimuth of the antenna with a knob or via the computer.

Continue reading “Antenna Rotation Arduino Style”