Here at SARCNET we are really into satellites, mainly because our students just think they are really cool: Being in space and whizzing around all the time! They can’t get over the fact that we can listen to them, download data and images from them, and sometimes even talk through them. Unfortunately most of the really interesting satellites are in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO), meaning that they have a good overhead pass maybe only once per day and then you can only interact with them for maybe up to 15 minutes.
We communicate with these satellites using radio signals, of course, but some of the satellites are really tiny and we need a good, high-gain, directional antenna to pick them up. If you need to use such an antenna, you have to keep it pointed at the satellite all the time or you won’t hear it. You could do this by hand, but it turns out that an automatic, computer-controlled, satellite-antenna rotator is big, big advantage. Not the least for little kids who have trouble holding the antenna still!
Now satellite-antenna rotators are usually big and expensive, so we decided to come up with our own, portable design, which can be set up quickly at any of our schools, without any complicated on site calibration. Our original and novel design uses two, 3D Micro Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) sensor arrays. By combining both accelerometer and magnetometer readings, measuring the Earth’s gravitational and magnetic fields, we can figure out just where the antenna is pointing. And, by using a little Arduino-compatible computer and some small motors, we can make the antenna point in any direction we want. Just connect this rotator to a Windows laptop or a Raspberry-Pi Linux computer running a satellite tracking program and you have a workable, hands-free system.
And here it is:
In this topic we will discuss all sorts of hints and tips to building and using this rotator. It should be a lot of fun!
Satellite tracking, remote sensing and communications systems.
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