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.

Low-Cost RF Power Sensor Gets All The Details Right

Dirty little secret time: although amateur radio operators talk a good game about relishing the technical challenge of building their own radio equipment, what’s really behind all the DIY gear is the fact that the really good stuff is just too expensive to buy.

A case in point is this super-low-cost RF power sensor that [Tech Minds (M0DQW)] recently built. It’s based on a design by [DL5NEG] that uses a single Schottky diode and a handful of passive components. The design is simple, but as with all things RF, details count. Chief among these details is the physical layout of the PCB, which features a stripline of precise dimensions to keep the input impedance at the expected 50 ohms. Also important are the number and locations of the vias that stitch the ground planes together on the double-sided PCB.

While [Tech Minds]’ first pass at the sensor hewed closely to the original design and used a homebrew PCB, the sensor seemed like a great candidate for translating to a commercial PCB. This version proved to be just as effective as the original, with the voltage output lining up nicely with the original calibration curves generated by [DL5NEG]. The addition of a nice extruded aluminum case and an N-type RF input made for a very professional-looking tool, not to mention a useful one.

[Tech Minds] is lucky enough to live within view of QO-100, ham radio’s first geosynchronous satellite, so this sensor will be teamed up with an ADC and a Raspberry Pi to create a wattmeter with a graphical display for his 2.4-GHz satellite operations.

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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 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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Es’hail-2: Hams Get Their First Geosynchronous Repeater

In the radio business, getting the high ground is key to covering as much territory from as few installations as possible. Anything that has a high profile, from a big municipal water tank to a roadside billboard to a remote hilltop, will likely be bristling with antennas, and different services compete for the best spots to locate their antennas. Amateur radio clubs will be there too, looking for space to locate their repeaters, which allow hams to use low-power mobile and handheld radios to make contact over a vastly greater range than they could otherwise.

Now some hams have claimed the highest of high ground for their repeater: space. For the first time, an amateur radio repeater has gone to space aboard a geosynchronous satellite, giving hams the ability to link up over a third of the globe. It’s a huge development, and while it takes some effort to use this new space-based radio, it’s a game changer in the amateur radio community.

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