A scan of the SkyNet-5C transponders.
What can be found on the X-Band?
There is a lot of interesting traffic that can be found on the X-Band. I will be covering the frequency range between 7.2GHz and 8.5GHz which contains the milband and the DSN band. Next to all the military traffic you can find a few weather satellites and some other low earth orbiting satellites operating in that band. In general there is a lot of interesting traffic, including exotic waveforms (lots of PSK stuff) and some UHF -> X-Band relays. And the best thing – it changes regularly!
What hardware do I need to receive X-Band signals?
Here is a brief summary of the components you will need:
- a frequency downconverter consisting of a local oscillator (LO), a frequency mixer and an IF amplifier
- a good front end LNA (low noise amplifier) with a low noise figure
- a waveguide antenna for 7 – 8 GHz
- a big enough satellite dish
- a bandpass filter for the frequencies of interest
- high quality low-loss coaxial feeder for the high frequency part
I will now describe every bit of this list in detail down below.
1. The frequency Downconverter and filters
The frequency downconverter is the most complex part to understand in this system. It basically consists of a frequency mixer and a local oscillator. So why does a local oscillator connected to a frequency mixer convert the frequency down? Have a look at this image:
The basic concept of a downconverter is relatively simple once you understand it. You usually need a local oscillator (LO) and a mixer. The mixer usually has 3 ports, one of them being the input from the local oscillator, the second one being the RF input and the third one being the IF output. In this case the local oscillator has a frequency of 7000MHz, if our RF input signal would be 7500MHz for example, both of these signals would mix and create two IF frequencies. One of them would be at 14500MHz and the other one would be at 500 MHz which is exactly want we want. 500MHz is a lot easier to detect with most SDRs or other receivers compared to 7500MHz. To summarise:
Input frequency (RF) +- local oscillator frequency (LO) = output frequency (IF)
Most mixers that are available usually have a conversion loss of 6db (a quarter of the original signal). To overcome this issue it is recommend to use another low noise amplifier right after the IF output port of the mixer. That way you overcome the loss and you get a bit of extra gain for long cable runs.
The frequency passband of your bandpass filter mostly depends on the frequencies you intend on receiving. For the milband you’ll need a bandpass filter with a passband of 7250MHz – 7750MHz, for most LEOs including WX sats you’ll need a filter with a passband between 7800MHz and 8400MHz and for the DSN band you’ll need a filter that covers 8400MHz – 8500MHz. Of course you can also include multiple filters in your converter and switch between them with a relay – that’s totally up to you.
My personal downconverter
2. The font-end LNA and waveguide antenna
In order to pick up the signal from your dish you’ll need a waveguide antenna and a good low noise amplifier. Your satellite dish you be reasonable big, everything that is bigger than 1.6m in diameter should work quite well. My personal recommendation would be to use a prime focus dish as they are lot easier to feed compared to offset dishes.
For very high frequencies you should start using waveguide antennas as they have a low loss and are depending on the design quite easy to make. For 7GHz – 8GHz you should use 28mm copper pipe which is available at most plumbing shops. At some point you will have to convert the waveguide back into coaxial feeder, for that you need to make a waveguide to coax transition. Here is a picture of how that should be made: