[amsat-ne] Cornell Satellite Team Needs Help

Nathaniel S. Parsons nsp25 at cornell.edu
Sun Apr 20 18:32:33 PDT 2008

Hello everyone,

I am a student at Cornell University, and a member of the Cornell
University Satellite Project Team (http://cusat.cornell.edu).  We are
preparing for a launch in June, but problems were found with our RF
system, so I'm trying to solicit help from those with experience,
expertise, and/or equipment related to spacecraft
communication/antenna design on the amateur 70-cm band. If you have
any or all of this, please read on.

Some backstory: last year, we won the University Nanosat-4
competition, and the prize was a free launch.  Right now, we are
aiming to be put on the next launch of the Falcon 1 rocket by SpaceX.
Both parts of the satellites have been assembled, and are undergoing
further testing with the AFRL in Albuquerque.  While that seems to be
going along well, our latest test of the RF system doesn't look good,
and we don't have the equipment or expertise to correctly diagnose the
problem or find a solution, nor do we have much time.  So, I apologize
if this email is rather disjointed, but there are many things going on
at once. I'll be glad to clarify anything I can. Also, I think it
would be best if you assumed that we don't know anything about
anything, because something that is obvious to you may not be very
obvious to us.

The problem surfaced on Friday, when we performed a ridge test to
verify that our RF system was adequate, and found out that it is not.
We had a the satellite's antenna attached to a structural prototype of
the satellite, and brought it to a hill roughly 4km from our ground
antenna. We stuck attenuators on the ground station, between the
antenna and the pre-amp in order to simulate the path loss we would
experience in space (LEO, 330x685, 9.1 degree inclination), and
transmitted from the satellite.  By our calculations, we needed
roughly 57 dB of attenuation in order to be confident that we could
hear the satellite while it was at the edge of the horizon, but we
lost signal after 10 dB. It is possible we made mistakes in the design
or construction of the satellite's antenna, or in the configuration of
the ground station, so I would greatly appreciate if you could look
over what we have and did, and see if you could point out what we've
done wrong, what we can do to further test this, and what potential
solutions are. If anyone is in the Ithaca area, I would be more than
willing to show you our setup.

On each satellite, we have two square loop antennas made of 12-gauge
copper wire, 8.3125 cm per side, corner fed.  At the feed point of the
antenna, we have a matching circuit as follows:



According to our EZNEC model, this comes pretty close to matching
impedence with our 50-ohm, RG316  coax, 1/2 wavelength long, which
feeds into a Kenwood TH-D7AG, modified to fit in a metal box suitable
for flight. For the test, we didn't use the flight radio, but
connected the same antenna to an unmodified TH-D7 held outside the
prototype structure (if that has any significance). Since the best SWR
meter we have is an MFJ 269 we don't really know how to use, we have
not been able to verify that the antenna + matching circuit perform
the same as in the simulation, or have the same impedance.  I just now
found someone at Cornell with a network analyzer, and I hope he will
let me use it. What else should we do to test the antenna? Did we even
choose the 'right' kind of antenna for what we want to do?

On the ground station side, we have the following equipment:

Antenna: M2 436CP30 70-cm, circularly polarized Yagi
Coax: RG-8, 50 ohm
Pre-amp: KP-1-440 70 cm in-shack GaSa FET Pre-amplifier (Oops, just
found out from ARRL Handbook we need a mast-mounted one. What
mast-mounted pre-amps are available for 70-cm? Can we simply weather
proof what we have and stick it on the antenna's mast?)
Transceiver: Kenwood TS-2000
TNC: Kantronics KAM-XL
Rotator: G-5500 with GS-232B controller
Rotator control software: NOVA for Windows
Radio control software: Ham Radio Deluxe

Unfortunately we're not entirely sure about how to fully use all of
our equipment, or if we're using them correctly.  It's possible that
we have something off and we aren't able to fully step back and see
all the 'little things.'  Would it be possible for someone to take a
look at what we have and show us best practices and/or help us with a
sanity check?  We can flip through several different manuals and check
different websites for help but it might be better to have some
grizzled experience working alongside us.

Thanks for any advice or help you can provide.  We're excited to be
working on this and learning as we go along, but we could really use a
guided push towards success.

-Nate Parsons

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