Satellite Groundstation at the Virginia Air and Space Center

For up-to-date information, see The Amateur Radio Group, Inc., at the Virginia Air and Space Center's Satellite Station KE4ZXW page.

Charles A. Richard, KM4EM
October 10, 1995

The satellite groundstation at the Virginia Air and Space Center, after some delays, is now on the air. The display itself had a ribbon cutting ceremony on 21 September 1995, and we commenced automatic digital operations the next day. We have had a bit of a problem on the uplink (the feed got caught in the tower and ripped the connector out of the preamp), but we expect to be in the Queue on KO-23, 25, and UO-22 by this weekend.

The display, a cooperative effort between 6 clubs in the Tidewater area of southeast Virginia, has been assembled, and is in place on the museum floor. It features three interactive displays, a collection of antique radios, an excellent 1/4 scale model of Phase 3D, and other graphic items. The three interactive displays, accessed via push buttons from what we refer to as the visitor interface unit, include a backlit, voice narrated, 8.5 x 11 slide show consisting of 10 slides, describing the evolution of amateur radio from Spark to Space. Each slide is visible on the display, and is backlit in sequence with its voice narration. A small microprocessor controls the sequencing for the lights and the digital voice recorder. A second button activated a special VCR, showing short (30 sec) video clips of AMSAT, ARRL, and SAREX operations. DTMF tones wired to a modified IR remote controller sequence the videos, which are displayed on a monitor in the upper center of the display. The third button controls a display computer, via an LPT port, which first calls a satellite tracking program to show the current position of six birds, then exits to call one of twenty messages, selected at random, that were sent to the center earlier this year. Text screens in between explain to the visitors what they are about to see. This monitor is located below the TV monitor. The display is of professional quality and construction, equal to any other at the center.

The satellite station is capable of mode B and J analog and digital operations. The station callsign is KE4ZXW. The station features the Yaesu FT-736 and G-5400 rotator, Daiwa amplifiers, AEA ST-1 controller and PK-96 TNC, Landwehr preamps, and the HyGain 218S antenna package. Software includes SatSked and SatLink, running on a 286 computer.

To those of you that responded to the February request for greetings, thanks. They have been up and running on the display computer for about four weeks. The project ran into some considerable delays in obtaining the necessary zoning permissions necessary to erect the antennas, and they are currently in a temporary configuration waiting final approvals and construction.

Several improvements are planned, including remote telecommand of the station, display software improvements to allow showing pictures from the birds, and a mechanism to allow visitors to respond to greetings. Several pictures have been taken of the display, and we are digitizing them for upload here in the near future. The picture above shows the display itself.

We would really like to receive new greetings messages for the visitors at the center. To date, the visitors have most enjoyed those that tell who and where the upload occured, what you do, and why you enjoy amateur satellite operations. Only one screen full of text can be displayed, please keep that in mind when uploading. Msgs can be sent via the 9600 bd birds to KE4ZXW, or to WB4GCS (all birds) and KD4YLX (9600 bd). I am, unfortunately, moving, so my station is now in boxes in the garage.

Looking forward to your greeting messages and comments about the display. 73 de Chas, KM4EM,, Norfolk, VA.

Feedback to KB5MU.