QO-100 Satellite Ground Station Build

Over the long bank holiday weekend I started putting together my QO-100 ground station. To start with I’ve concentrated solely on the receive path. I’ll start the transmit path once I have the receive path operational at a satisfactory level.

A few weeks ago I purchased a 1.1m off-set dish antenna and a Bullseye LNB. These have been sat in my garage waiting for the weather to improve so that I could start the build in the dry.

Fortunately we’ve had a mini-summer for the last 2 days and so I started work on getting the dish mount built. Using some timber from the local saw mill I made a braced 3m tall post which I screwed to the side of the cabin to provide a stable fixing platform. I used a couple of threaded bars to bolt through the walls of the cabin to ensure a solid fixing.

Next I mount the metal dish bracket to the top of the wooden post taking the total height up to around 3.2m above ground. This gives plenty of head clearance down below.

Next I assembled the dish and and attached it to the metal dish bracket at the top of the wooden post.

QO-100 1.1m dish mounted on the 3.2m AGL fixing

Attaching and cabling the Bullseye LNB was an easy job. I used some high quality coax cable that I purchase from the Satellite Superstore when I purchase the dish. I also had to set the LNB skew to -17.8 degrees. The marking on the LNB are tiny and go up in fives and so it’s pretty much impossible to get exactly -17.8 degrees so I turned it to 15 and then a tiny bit. It was as close I could get it!

Next I needed the information on where to point the dish. Fortunately there is a great web app on the BATC website where you can move a pin on a map to your location and all the information you need to align the dish is automagically calculated for you.

Armed with this info I set about aligning the dish. Getting it as close as possible I lightly locked off the dish and continued getting the coax in to the radio room so that I could connect it to my Funcube Dongle Pro+ (FCD) SDR receiver. Since the LNB needs a 12v DC feed I had to put inline a “Bias Tee” unit. This unit allows you to inject 12v onto the coax going up to the LNB but, stops it from coming back into the receiver. I used a Bias Tee that I purchased from Amazon with the Bullseye LNB.

Bias Tee mounted under the station desk

Connecting the coax to my Funcube Dongle Pro+ I was really pleased to see that I was receiving signals from the satellite perfectly well. I decided to take my laptop up onto the roof of the cabin and see if I could improve the reception further. To my amazement with very tiny changes in elevation and azimuth I was able to improve the QO-100 beacon signal by a further 10dB.

Being pleased with the dish alignment I started to tighten it so that it couldn’t move in the wind. Unfortunately this caused the dish to move a tiny amount which reduced the signal strength. I loosened the bolts off again and realigned the dish once more. This time when I tightened the clamps I did it a bit at a time on each bolt working my way round them so that the dish didn’t move. Doing it this way I still lost 1dB off the QO-100 beacon signal due to tiny amounts of movement but, decided I could live with the 1dB reduction.

QO-100 dish successfully mounted & aligned with HF antennas in the background

Below is a very short video clip showing a German station talking on the QO-100 satellite. As you can see the signal is nice and strong and extremely clear. I did find that the output from the LNB was actually too much for the FCD SDR and so I reduced the LNA setting in GQRX to 0dB. This reduced the background noise level considerably as the receiver was no longer being overloaded and made the signals much more prevalent above the noise floor.

Short video clip showing signal clarity from the QO-100 Satellite

I’m really pleased at the performance of the receive path and have now ordered the 2.4Ghz hardware from DXPatrol and Nolle Engineering so that I can build the transmit path.

I have also made some improvements to my QO-100 Node Red Dashboard so that I can work split on the satellite using my IC-705 and FCD SDR.

QO-100 Node Red Dashboard with ‘Split’ capability

Once the 2.4Ghz hardware arrives I’ll update the blog with progress.

More soon …