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Implementing A Satellite Earth Station A Student Project

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.296.1 - 4.296.9

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Paper Authors

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Deborah K. van Alphen

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Sharlene Katz

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Section 2532

Implementing a Satellite Earth Station – A Student Project Deborah K. van Alphen, Sharlene Katz California State University, Northridge

I. Introduction

Since traditional communications engineering courses are largely theoretical and provide little hands-on experience, they often appear dry and impractical to students. Even in lab sections, students may be asked to design and construct simple modulators and demodulators, but they rarely have the opportunity to participate in the front-end design decisions necessary for a complete communication system. Consequently, they often leave the course with little understanding of how communication theory is applied in practice.

In this paper we describe a group project in which students design and implement an earth station capable of satellite tracking and transmitting and receiving signals via existing communication satellites. Using off-the-shelf amateur radio equipment, the entire project can be implemented for less than $4000. The project requires participating students to develop sub-skills and acquire software and hardware needed for satellite tracking and for amateur radio. Once the earth station is complete (i.e., once the students can transmit and receive signals via the satellites), it becomes: • a demonstration station useful for recruitment and retention of students; and • a source for further satellite-oriented student projects.

In the body of the paper we will discuss: • the decision to use amateur radio satellites and equipment; • front-end design choices and trade-offs; • amateur radio satellites; • equipment selection for the project; and • other uses for the resulting earth station.

II. The Decision to Use Amateur Radio

Our goals in initiating this project were to (1) provide a high-interest level communication system design experience in the field of satellite communications and (2) develop a system with transmission capability as well as reception. Due to the plethora of satellite communication systems currently under development or in service (Odyssey, Iridium, Teledesic, etc.), and the resulting abundance of job opportunities in the field, almost any satellite project is inherently of interest to students. Thus, goal (1) is easily achieved. However, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restrictions on signal transmission make goal (2) more difficult to achieve. We note that goal (2) is particularly desirable in spite of this difficulty because transmission capability opens up a whole new arena for future research, particularly in the areas of channel measurement/characterization and propagation studies.

van Alphen, D. K., & Katz, S. (1999, June), Implementing A Satellite Earth Station A Student Project Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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