Satellite Setup Tips

Somebody asked me the following:

I just got my hands on a really nice sat antenna, an arrow 146/437-10WBP. I also have a Yaesu Vx8-DR. What else would you recommend to help me in the field?

Here are some things to consider:

A real compass not the compass on your phone
One of the mistakes I made when I first got back into satellites was looking up the predicted direction where the sat was coming from and just using Google Sky’s compass on my phone to figure out where to point my antenna.

Later I found much more accuracy by looking up the specific degrees the satellite was coming from (azimuth) and using an actual compass to find the exact direction. Then I looked for an object in that direction in the distance and marked it in my mind. I did this for the beginning of the pass (AOS), the middle of the pass, or max elevation (TCA), and the end of the pass, (LOS). (AOS/TCA/LOS definitions)

Don’t forget to lookup your local difference between magnetic north and actual north so you can calibrate your compass properly. Mine is -8 degrees here in North Carolina on the east coast of the United States.

Something you can record the audio of the pass with
This is almost a necessity because QSOs happen very fast on a satellite and while holding the antenna you won’t have time to log contacts by hand. This could be as simple as an app on your smart phone or a standalone voice recorder or audio recorder. I use a Zoom H1. If you hook the recorder directly into the audio out of the radio you may need an audio splitter so you can record and listen to the audio at the same time.

A camera bag
With a camera bag you can put your radio, audio recorder or anything else you need and hang it around your neck. That way your hands are free to hold the antenna and hand mic…

A hand mic or a headset, or at least some headphones
At the very least get some headphones so you can hear the signal very well. It will help when aiming the antenna. You can hear the noise go down as the satellite comes in and when it’s stronger you can hear the crackle get worse, indicating to you that you need to adjust the antenna. I use a handmic and headphones but some people prefer a headset. Use whatever you’re comfortable with.

It should be noted I don’t mount my antenna on a tripod. If I did the setup would probably be very different and some of these recommendations wouldn’t be relevant. Some people prefer to hold the antenna and some prefer to mount it on something. Neither is right or wrong. Use what works for you.

Here are two picture albums of my setup.

I use the commercial Arrow II Satellite antenna. I have both the standard boom version with no duplexer and the backpacker version with a split boom and a duplexer that feeds into an SMA connector. You can get one that feeds into a BNC connector as well.

All of these choices are available at the following link. The standard one is listed as 146/437-10 for $83 and the backpacker one with split boom and duplexer is listed as 146/437-10WBP for $149. For what it’s worth, I actually purchased the backpacker and the duplexer separately, which you can do too. The duplexer alone is available here.