March 2021 Satellite Operations Gear

At the time of posting, I’m actually in the midst of changing my satellite gear so it is no longer my current setup. That said, I wanted to document it before I forgot about it and pass along my thoughts in case anyone else finds the information useful in the future.

In general, the radios and antennas for my ham radio satellite operations I’ve used have not changed since my last gear update (February 2020 Satellite Operations Gear). Check out that post for more details, but basically I use a Kenwood TH-D74 for a receive radio, an Yaesu FT-817ND as a transmit radio, an Arrow Antenna (now a custom-drilled version by WY7AA), with a variety of cables and adapters in between. In the last six months, I added a 3 Ah Bioenno battery pack to power the FT-817ND as well as a David Clark PC headset to replace the cheap PC headset I previously used.

For holding the gear during a pass, I previously used a chest strap rig with two MOLLE pouches to hold the gear. I eventually decided to move away from that for a few reasons: 1) the chest straps are notoriously cheaply made and break – I had one strap snap (luckily not while using it), and others on Twitter have complained of similar quality issues, and 2) the MOLLE pouches were clunky and didn’t really hold the radios well. I tried to address this with my Remote Display over USB for Kenwood TH-D74 project, which worked fairly well. However, I found that certain USB battery packs (needed to power the display) introduced enough boost-converter noise to drown out some FM satellites. This could certainly be remedied with some higher-quality battery packs and/or mitigation techniques, but I decided to try something different altogether since it was also a bit bulky.

I ended up buying the venerable Amazon Basics Camera Bag that many satellite ops use with the aforementioned chest straps (and I had also tried a few years back before giving it away). This bag is fairly inexpensive, large enough to fit two FT-817s (aka FT-1634), a Bioenno battery, and more. I decided to use it with just the shoulder strap (the weight is not an issue for me personally) and use the internal dividers in a way as to hold my TH-D74 at an angle as shown to the right. This actually worked fairly well for me despite some wasted space in the bag. I was able to rest my PTT switch on the lid when not using it and could store items (like KE0PBR’s frequency cheat sheet I laminated and have under the PTT switch in the photo) in the other compartments. When traveling, I could store chargers and the TH-D74 in that large open space below the FT-817ND.

This setup has served me well for linear and FM satellites, but I’ve recently been eyeing the Icom IC-705 as it will be a better radio for my VHF contest interests and serve double duty for satellites. I also like the idea of the integrated, USB-chargeable battery pack in the IC-705, so the standalone Bioenno battery and charger will no longer be needed (less weight for travel!). I just sold my Yaesu FT-817ND to put the funds towards the IC-705, so that will likely come into the equation very soon. In the meantime, I am stuck to just FM satellites using my TH-D74 and my Ailunce HD1 radio, although I haven’t been very active on the birds this winter anyway. Once I get the IC-705, I’m hoping I can make it fit into the Amazon Basics bag and keep a similar workflow, but it is wider than the 817 so this might change yet again. I’ll also have to make a microphone adapter as the IC-705 has an unusual microphone connector pinout and the David Clark headset has an electret mic which needs power. I find these integration issues a fun challenge, so I don’t mind trying to find a solution to them and making the setup my own. More to come with the new 705-based setup so stay tuned!

I’ll continue to make these semi-regular updates on my gear setup as I enjoy seeing how other hams organize their operations. Like I mentioned, several of the items I’m using are based on recommendations from other hams, so it is always good to document experiences for the benefit of the ham community! Let me know if you have any questions about my setup or ideas as I move toward the Icom IC-705. 73!

3 thoughts on “March 2021 Satellite Operations Gear

  1. Giordy

    Hi Tony,

    First of all thank you for all the info you are sharing, I’m a newbie ham trying to work satellites and it has been very helpful.
    I have a similar setup as you described in this post (ic-705 and th-d74) but I am still figuring things out…Did you ever manage to get the 705? If so do you mind sharing how do you use it (or plan to)? Do you rx with the th-d74 and tx with the 705 or do you rx with both in order to take advantage of the waterfall?

    thanks and 73 de Giordy IU2OZH

    Reply
    1. Tony Post author

      Hi Giordy,

      I’m glad you are finding my posts helpful! Yes, I did get the IC-705 and have used it on a few satellite passes. I use the 705 for TX and D74 as RX, so I don’t reap the benefits of the waterfall on the linear satellites. I know of some people who have two 705s to take advantage of the waterfall on RX, but I can’t justify the cost personally, and I don’t have an issue tuning around on the D74 to find stations. I’m also often chasing a specific operator on a pass, so I know generally where on the passband they will be anyway. If you’re not already, I’d recommend getting onto the Twitter satellite scene since most ops will post their frequency ahead of time when on the linear sats. All to say, I am very happy with my setup so far since it works well for satellites and when I want to do portable HF or VHF/UHF operations. I’ll likely make an update to this post in the near future as well since my equipment bag and other peripherals have changed a bit.

      Reply
      1. Giordano

        Hi Tony, thanks for the reply! Glad to hear you got the combo going.
        After many tries with a home made yagi I bit the bullet and was able to source an arrow antenna here in Europe and I did my first sat QSO a few days ago.
        I was inspired by your external display so I put together a solution similar to yours but that adds some functionalities to remotely tune both radios and handle the doppler shift as well, here is the GitHub page, please let me know what you think!

        https://github.com/giordyb/doppler_shifter

        thanks,

        Giordano

        Reply

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