Sunday, 6 November 2011

Satellite experiments with the YAGI

There were a couple of reasonable passes of the ARISSat-1 satellite predicted this afternoon so I decided to try out the nice new InnovAntennas 4 element 144MHz LFA Yagi which my brother won in the prize draw at this years National Hamfest.

Well this is how it arrived, a big cardboard tube that has been sitting in my workshop since October.

Taking everything out the box, lots of metal work, but no instructions!

It was fairly logical to put together, but wasn't absolutely sure how the folded dipole element went together and the u-shaped end pieces slotted in with no apparent fixings to hold them in place (I assume they are missing along with the instructions) There was also a piece that fitted under the antenna. I am no expert on antenna design so checked the InnovAntenna website but it was no help, lots of graphs and radiation patterns but and not one images of the actual antenna to look at! Looking at a small picture on the Waters and Stanton blog I made a guess as to how it should be put together.

I connected up a bit of coax, and screwed it a short wooden post I had. The end pieces of the folded dipole slipped in and seemed to be fairly secure but probably not brilliant electrically, so will need to secure them properly if I ever use this in anger.

It is lightweight and easy to move about, so I was ready to get going

The satellite passes are from west to east and to the south of my location. So would have to do this at the end of the garden to minimise obstuctions from houses and trees. I would be well away from my normal computer and scanner in the spare bedroom! I decided to use my Realistic PRO-26 hand-held scanner, which is a good performer and has a relatively clean unprocessed audio output (can decode pagers and ascars quite well with it)

I used an old Pentium III laptop running Windows 2000 to capture the audio. I didn't attempt any decoding of the SSTV directly just captured the wav files so I could edit and process them later. The laptop has dead batteries but could be powered from the summerhouse mains and so with a few extension cables I could have a relatively clear view of the sky and have access to the scanner to adjust levels and could monitor the audio from the laptop!

I experimented with the first pass, at around 13:30 UTC and got a decent signal eventually, but it took a bit of trial and error as the polarisation seems to change during the pass. For the second at 15:14 UTC I set up the camera to record my efforts! The audio in the video is just being picked up by the microphone on the camera so has a lot of background noise, but as you can hear it was at times a fairly strong signal! I had my usual unattended setup going in the spare bedroom and got nothing on either pass!

I have uploaded the two audio files of each pass to Soundcloud

ARISSat1 0611111330 by nerdsville
ARISSat1 0611111514 by nerdsville

Here are the images decoded from the audio.. slight sync problems which I suspect is the underpowered laptop - I did have it capturing at 44.8KHz, 32 bit resolution, which was probably an overkill in hindsight!

But on the whole it was a fun way to spend the afternoon with some nice results.

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