Minimal Mods Make Commodity LNBs Work For QO-100 Reception

A word of advice: If you see an old direct satellite TV dish put out to the curb, grab it before the trash collector does. Like microwave ovens, satellite dishes are an e-waste wonderland, and just throwing them away before taking out the good stuff would be a shame. And with dishes, the good stuff basically amounts to the bit at the end of the arm that contains the feedhorn and low-noise block downconverter (LNB).

But what does one do with such a thing once it’s harvested? Lots of stuff, including modifying it for use with the QO-100 geosynchronous satellite (German link). That’s what [Sebastian Westerhold] and [Celin Matlinski] did with a commodity LNB, although it seems more like something scored on the cheap from one of the usual sources rather than picking through trash. Either way, these LNBs are highly integrated devices that at built specifically for satellite TV use, but with just a little persuasion can be nudged into the K-band to receive the downlink signals from hams using QO-100 as a repeater.

The mods are simple — snipping out the 25 MHz reference crystal on the LNB board and replacing it with a simple LC bandpass filter. This allows the local oscillator on the LNB to be referenced to an external signal generator; when fed with a 25.78 MHz signal, it’s enough to goose the LNB up to 10,490 MHz — right about the downlink frequency. [Sebastian] and [Celin] tested the mods and found that it was easily able to detect the third harmonics of a 3.5-ish GHz signal.

As for testing on actual downlink signals from the satellite, that’ll have to wait. For now, if you’re interested in satellite comms, and you live on the third of the planet covered by QO-100, keep an eye out for those e-waste LNBs and get to work.

Bringing Some Discipline To An SDR Transmitter

The proliferation of software-defined radio (SDR) technology has been a godsend for RF hobbyists. SDR-based receivers and transmitters have gotten so cheap that you’ve probably got a stick or two lying around your bench right now — we can see three from where we sit, in fact.

But cheap comes at a price, usually in the form of frequency stability, which can be prohibitive in some applications — especially amateur radio, where spectrum hygiene is of the utmost concern. So we were pleased to see [Tech Minds] tackle the SDR frequency stability problem by using a GPS-disciplined oscillator. The setup uses an ADALM-PLUTO SDR transceiver and a precision oscillator from Leo Bodnar Electronics. The oscillator can be programmed to output a rock-solid, GPS-disciplined signal over a wide range of frequencies. The Pluto has an external oscillator input that looks for 40 MHz, which is well within the range of the GPSDO.

Setup is as easy as plugging the oscillator’s output into the SDR’s external clock input using an SMA to UFL jumper, and tweaking the settings in the SDR and oscillator. Not all SDRs will have an external clock input, of course, so your mileage may vary. But if your gear is suitably equipped, this looks like a great way to get bang-on frequency — the video below shows just how much the undisciplined SDR can drift.

Like any good ham, [Tech Minds] is doing his bit to keep his signals clean and on target. His chief use case for this setup will be to work QO-100, amateur radio’s first geosynchronous satellite repeater. We’ve got to say that we hams living on the two-thirds of the globe not covered by this satellite are just dying to get a geosynchronous bird (or two) of our own to play with like this.

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A Satellite Upconverter Need Not Be Impossible To Make

Those readers whose interests don’t lie in the world of amateur radio might have missed one of its firsts, for the last year or two amateurs have had their own geostationary satellite transponder. Called Es’hail-2 / AMSAT Phase 4-A / Qatar-OSCAR 100, it lies in the geostationary orbit at 25.9° East and has a transponder with a 2.4 GHz uplink and a 10.489 GHz downlink. Receiving the downlink is possible with an LNB designed for satellite TV, but for many hams the uplink presents a problem. Along comes [PY1SAN] from Brazil with a practical and surprisingly simple solution using a mixture of odd the shelf modules and a few hand-soldered parts.

An upconverter follows a simple enough principle, the radio signal is created at a lower frequency (in this case by a 435 MHz transmitter) and mixed with a signal from a local oscillator. A filter then picks out the mixer product — the sum of the two — and amplifies it for transmission. [PY1SAN]’s upconverter takes the output from the transmitter and feeds it through an attenuator to a MiniCircuits mixer module which takes its local oscillator via an amplifier from a signal generator module. The mixer output goes through a PCB stripline filter through another amplifier module to a power amplifier brick, and thence via a co-ax feeder to a dish-mounted helical antenna.

The whole thing is a series of modules joined by short SMA cables, and could probably be largely sourced from a single AliExpress order without too much in the way of expenditure. It’s by no means easy to get on air via Es’hail-2, but at least now it need not be impossibly expensive. Even the antenna can be made without breaking the bank.

We covered Es’hail-2 when it first appeared. May it long provide radio amateurs with the chance to operate worldwide with homebrew microwave equipment!

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A Hybrid Helical Antenna For The Es’hail-2 Geosynchronous Repeater

Amateur radio operators like to say that working a contact in space can be done with a simple handheld transceiver and a homemade antenna. And while that’s true, it’s true only for low Earth orbit satellites such as the ISS. If you want to reach a satellite in geosynchronous orbit it’ll take a little more effort, and this dual-feed helical “ice cream cone” antenna could really help.

Until recently, the dream of an amateur radio repeater in geosynchronous orbit remained out of reach, but that changed with the launch of the Qatari satellite Es’hail-2 last year. Since then, hams from Brazil to Thailand have been using the repeater, and UK-based [Tech Minds] has been in the thick of the action. The antenna he presents is a hybrid design, needed because of the 2.4-GHz band uplink and 10-GHz downlink on the satellite, also known as QO-100. Both require a largish dish antenna, with the downlink requiring a low-noise block downconverter (LNB) and feed horn. The uplink side of [Tech Minds]’ antenna is a helical design, with three-and-a-half turns of heavy copper wire and a tuning section of copper strapping that attaches directly to an N-type connector. The helix is just the right size for the feed horn of an LNB for the downlink side, nestled in a hole in the helical antenna’s aluminum reflector disc. There are 3D-printed parts to support everything, plus a cone-shaped radome to keep it all safe from the elements.

It looks like a great design, but sadly, North American and East Asian hams can only dream about building one, since QO-100 is below the horizon for us. We’re jealous, but we’re still glad the repeater is up there. Check out this article for more on how Es’hail-2 got the first geosynchronous ham repeater.

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