Fri. Dec 8th, 2023
A Handheld Weather Satellite Tracking Device: Combining a Cyberdeck with a Parabolic Dish Antenna

Gabe Emerson, known for his unique projects on the Saveitforparts YouTube channel, has recently developed a handheld weather satellite tracking device by combining a cyberdeck with a parabolic dish antenna.

The project began with Emerson utilizing old parts he had lying around. He started with a 30-inch parabolic dish that was originally meant for networking purposes. The dish serves as the foundation for the antenna, specifically designed for L-band frequencies. The L-band is ideal for satellite frequencies as it offers a reasonable antenna size, ample bandwidth, and greater resilience against interference caused by weather conditions.

Notably, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) frequencies can be found around 1.2GHz, 1.3GHz, and 1.5GHz, while weather satellites can also be found in the L-band, including the NOAA weather satellite operating at 1694.1MHz.

To receive signals from these weather satellites, Emerson needed to design an antenna suitable for the 1.5 – 1.7GHz range. He employed a helical antenna made of copper wire wrapped around a PVC pipe. The wire was wrapped around the PVC with consistent spacing of 40mm between each turn, following a design proven to be effective in a previous project. The helical antenna was placed on the feed point, held in place by a lid from a cookie can.

To enhance the received signal’s noise, an LNA (Low-Noise Amplifier) was added to the antenna. With this, the antenna construction was completed.

Next, Emerson incorporated an old MobileDemand tablet with a keyboard to the back of the dish. The tablet would run SDR (Software-Defined Radio) software for data processing. However, this presented some challenges. Initially, when the tablet was attached with Velcro, its case broke apart. The issue was resolved by using hot glue, but an alternative method of mounting the device had to be devised. Additionally, the tablet featured an older 32-bit Intel processor, which posed difficulties in acquiring compatible operating systems, drivers, and software.

Despite these challenges, the designed system successfully received satellite signals during testing. To aid in tracking, Emerson mounted a smartphone on the back of the dish running the Stellarium mobile app. This app enables users to identify celestial objects when pointing their phones at the sky, including stars, planets, and, in this case, weather satellites.

However, the tablet encountered problems decoding the received data reliably. This issue was attributed to the tablet’s hardware limitations. Nevertheless, the overall design approach was proven effective. Future improvements to the project involve using a more reliable tablet for processing signals and software. Additionally, a stand or a mount for the dish is necessary to alleviate the burden of holding it above the head for prolonged periods.