Notes on home brewing your own NOAA weather satellite receiving station.

During November 2002, I was contacted by an Australian school teacher who was interested in building a weather satellite receiving station for his school.  The following is my reply.  Sometime I'll work these notes up into a more detailed account, including photos, but in the mean time should you be considering growing-your-own satellite receiver station for educational purposes, and require further information, please contact me.

Andre




Text of my email, November 2002

Further to your inquiry regarding a weather satellite receiving station for your high school, I have recently put together such a system for myself (at home), and have some suggestions. The quality of the imagery I an now receiving is stunning, and the cleverness of the image processing, and overall simplicity with running the station, is largely due to a superb piece of software called 'wxtoimg'. My recent tests have been so successful that I will shortly be setting up an automatic receiving station at the UNSW's Automated Patrol Telescope here at Siding Spring Observatory, to give astronomers a better indication of incoming cloud. Initially I started receiving satellite pictures with an old VHF receiver that I happened to have, but this week I took delivery of another receiver much better adapted to weather satellite transmissions. The results are superb. So... if you seriously wish to put together a system for your school, my suggestions are:

* Download the satellite tracking/observing program called 'SatScape' from www.satscape.co.uk, and become familiar with the motion of the NOAA series of low-earth-orbit weather satellites. SatScape is also handy when running wxtoimg, as it gives an excellent graphical indication of the terrain being overflown.

* Download the wxtoimg program from www.weather.net.nz/wxtoimg. Once you have determined that this program does what you wish, I strongly suggest you pay the US$49.95 'Standard Edition' licence fee. This makes the program somewhat more versatile.

* Buy a receiver, Icom model IC-PCR1000. Details of this receiver are linked on the wxtoimg site. It can be purchased for around $890 from:

Amateur Transceiver Radio Centre
141 Gilba Road Girraween Sydney, NSW 2145
tel: (02) 9896-2545
email: inquiries@atrc.com.au
website: http://www.atrc.com.au/index.html

Talk with Les Bercich. I've bought several things for this outfit before, and the prices are reasonable, and sales service very good.

* You may need to make a simple cable to connect the receiver's speaker jack, to your computer's line-in jack.

* Use a computer running Linux, MacOS X or Windows 95/98/ME/XP/2000/NT. It doesn't need to be a particularly flash machine, but the image processing could take a very long time on a 'dunga heap' especially one low on memory. Also a hard disk with at least a few Gb capacity would be useful, as automatic operation (where one wishes to retain data/images), quickly generates a lot of data.

* Build yourself a Lindenblad [fencing-wire] antenna (for Right Hand Circularly Polarised VHF reception). I'll shortly write some notes for this. In the mean time, and while you are getting the rest of the system together, you can use the little antenna which comes with the ICOM receiver. You can see what a Lindenblad antenna looks like at: http://www.amsat.org/amsat/articles/w6shp/lindy.html

* Buy a television masthead preamplifier. The Kingroy brand unit sold by Dick Smith...

http://www.dse.com.au/cgi-bin/dse.storefront/3dcb179b0a35433c2740c0a87f9c06df/Product/View/L4213

 ...for $90, can be recommended. If you're shopping at Dick Smith, buying an in-line lightning arrestor...

http://www.dse.com.au/cgi-bin/dse.storefront/3dcb22bc0af625722740c0a87f9c0748/Product/View/L4665

... is probably a wise move. And that should have you on the air. This should make a slick little educational system, as well as providing oneself with a genuinely useful forecaster of incoming weather... or at least incoming cloud. Let me know how you get on.

Andre Phillips
UNSW
Siding Spring Observatory
Coonabarabran, NSW
Australia, 2357