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.

The Cheap And Available Microwave Playground

There’s something of a mystique about RF construction at the higher frequencies, it’s seen as a Black Art only practiced by elite wizards. In fact, UHF and microwave RF circuitry is surprisingly simple and easy to understand, and given the ready availability of low-noise block downconverters (LNBs) for satellite TV reception there’s even a handy source of devices to experiment on. It’s a subject on which [Polprog] has brought together a handy guide.

A modern LNB has some logic for selecting one of a pair of local oscillators and to use vertical or horizontal polarization, but remains otherwise a very simple device. There’s an oscillator, a mixer, and an RF amplifier, each of which uses microwave transistors that can with a little care be repurposed. The page demonstrates a simple transmitter, but it’s possible to create more powerful  devices by using the amplifier stage “in reverse”.

Meanwhile the oscillator can be moved by loading the dielectric resonators with PVC sleeving, and the stripline filters can even be modified with a fine eye for soldering and some thin wire. Keep an eye out in thrift stores and yard sales for old satellite dishes, and you can give it a go yourself. It’s a modern equivalent of the UHF tuner hacking enjoyed by a previous generation.

See Satellites In Broad Daylight With This Sky-Mapping Dish Antenna

If you look up at the night sky in a dark enough place, with enough patience you’re almost sure to see a satellite cross the sky. It’s pretty cool to think you’re watching light reflect off a hunk of metal zipping around the Earth fast enough to never hit it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work during the daylight hours, and you really only get to see satellites in low orbits.

Thankfully, there’s a trick that allows you to see satellites any time of day, even the ones in geosynchronous orbits — you just need to look using microwaves. That’s what [Gabe] at [saveitforparts] did with a repurposed portable satellite dish, the kind that people who really don’t like being without their satellite TV programming when they’re away from home buy and quickly sell when they realize that toting a satellite dish around is both expensive and embarrassing. They can be had for a song, and contain pretty much everything needed for satellite comms in one package: a small dish on a motorized altazimuth mount, a low-noise block amplifier (LNB), and a single-board computer that exposes a Linux shell.

After figuring out how to command the dish to specific coordinates and read the signal strength of the received transponder signals, [Gabe] was able to cobble together a Python program to automate the task. The data from these sweeps of the sky resulted in heat maps that showed a clear arc of geosynchronous satellites across the southern sky. It’s quite similar to something that [Justin] from Thought Emporium did a while back, albeit in a much more compact and portable package. The video below has full details.

[Gabe] also tried turning the dish away from the satellites and seeing what his house looks like bathed in microwaves reflected from the satellite constellation, which worked surprisingly well — well enough that we’ll be trawling the secondary market for one of these dishes; they look like a ton of fun.

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Snooping On Starlink With An RTL-SDR

With an ever-growing constellation of Starlink satellites whizzing around over our heads, you might be getting the urge to start experimenting with the high-speed internet service. But at $100 or more a month plus hardware, the barrier to entry is just a little daunting for a lot of us. No worries, though — if all you’re interested in is tracking [Elon]’s birds, it’s actually a pretty simple job.

Now, we’re not claiming that you’ll be able to connect to Starlink and get internet service with this setup, of course, and neither is the delightfully named [saveitforparts]. Instead, his setup just receives the beacon signals from Starlink satellites, which is pretty interesting all by itself. The hardware consists of his “Picorder” mobile device, which sports a Raspberry Pi, a small LCD screen, and a host of sensors, including an RTL-SDR dongle. To pick up the satellite beacons, he used a dirt-cheap universal Ku-band LNB, or low-noise block downconverter. They’re normally found at the focal point of a satellite TV dish, but in this case no dish is needed — just power it up with a power injector and point it to the sky. The signals show up on the Picorder’s display in waterfall mode; curiously, the waterfall traces look quite similar to the patterns the satellites make in the night sky, much to the consternation of astronomers.

Of course, you don’t have to have a Picorder to snoop in on Starlink — any laptop and SDR should work, despite [saveitforparts]’ trouble in doing so. You shouldn’t have much trouble replicating the results by following the video below, which also has a few tips on powering an LNB for portable operations.

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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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Radio Free Blockchain: Bitcoin From Space

Cryptocurrencies: love them, hate them, or be baffled by them, but don’t think you can escape them. That’s the way it seems these days at least, with news media filled with breathless stories about Bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies, and everyone from Amazon to content creators on YouTube now accepting the digital currency for payments. And now, almost everyone on the planet is literally bathed in Bitcoin, or at least the distributed ledger that makes it work, thanks to a new network that streams the Bitcoin blockchain over a constellation of geosynchronous satellites.

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See Satellites With A Simple Radio Telescope

Have you got a spare Dish Network antenna lying about? They’re not too hard to come by, either curbside on bulk waste day or perhaps even on Freecycle. If you can lay hands on one, you might want to try this fun radio telescope build.

Now, don’t expect much from [Justin]’s minimalist build. After all, you’ll be starting with a rather small dish and an LNB for the Ku band, so you won’t be doing serious radio astronomy. In fact, the BOM doesn’t include a fancy receiver  – just a hacked satellite finder. The idea is to just get a reading of the relative “brightness” of a radio source without trying to demodulate the signal. To that end, the signal driving the piezo buzzer in the sat finder is fed into an Arduino through a preamp. The Arduino also controls stepper motors for the dish’s azimuth and elevation control, which lets it sweep the sky and build up a map of signal intensity. The result is a clear band of bright spots representing the geosynchronous satellites visible from [Justin]’s location in Brazil.

Modifications are definitely on the docket for [Justin], including better equipment that will allow him to image the galactic center. There may be some pointers for him in our coverage of a tiny SDR-based radio telescope, or from this custom receiver that can listen to Jupiter.

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