NEWS AND VIEWS
          June 10, 2008

Mike and Laurel Kohl
S-9141 State Road 23
Plain, Wisconsin   53577-9612



June 10, 2008

We'll ignore North American satellite news for May, and provide a report on how I spent my spring vacation.. but first some more timely news:

I was almost recuperated from a 24 day adventure to Far East Russia, when the past weekend arrived.  Record amounts of rain not only threatened to wash out the driveway, but also dropped a tree onto our power pole's transformer, taking out electrical service just as it was getting dark.  The local power company sent a truck out in about an hour;  amazing considering that it was still in the middle of a thunderstorm, and restored service after changing a lightning arrestor and fuse, as well as  removing branches from the top of the pole.  Much of Sunday afternoon (between blasts of heavy rain) was spent with a chain saw, attacking remaining fallen trees and literally cutting my way out to restore access to the driveway.  Monday's weather reports indicated that as much as a foot of rain may have fallen over the weekend in nearby locations.  No complaints from this neighborhood about a lack of excitement!  And then there was the Monday dam collapse at Lake Delton, near Wisconsin Dells, which drained a large lake in less than 2 hours, and took four luxury houses with it.  But we're half an hour away and perched nearly 50 feet above the nearest waterway.

Remember my December trip nearly 18 months ago, which sent me to the northeastern edges of Russia, flying through Moscow to get there?  It was easier this time, with only two days spent each way in traveling through Alaska and via charter aircraft across the Bering Strait.  Madison - Minneapolis - Anchorage - Nome on commercial planes, plus two separate charters, exchanging freight and passengers at the Anadyr, Russia port of entry.  Flying in during the first week of May means that one is going to experience the remnants of winter, which is still holding its icy grip to these extreme northern locations.  Blinding white reflections were what I saw for a couple of hours, flying over the magnificent scenery of eastern Chukotka enroute to the Kupol camp.  Snow everywhere, but promise of warmer things to come.  I arrived at the beginning of literally 24-hour daylight, and over the period of three weeks the snow rapidly vanished at the mine site.  

As a 13-year resident of Alaska, I experienced many seasons of long summer days, but never an extended period of time above the Arctic Circle.  It is one thing to have 24 hour twilight, where there is always a glow of light in the northern sky despite the sun dropping below the horizon for a few hours, but this was my first time dealing with the sun staying up all night.  Even with good window shades, it is quite impossible short of duct tape (I did not go that far) to hide from the all night sun blazing into the window.  After several weeks, it tends to wear one down due to a cumulative lack of sleep.  It took over a week back at temperate latitudes to become adjusted to the time zone differences, but I immediately enjoyed the fact that it actually gets dark at night here in Wisconsin.  Guess it's something you get used to over time, and it does not stay that way forever.  My last trip in December showed the opposite extreme, with little or no light at all.
12:30 IN THE MORNING DURING LATE MAY                                           ROOFTOP VIEW OF THE SNOWFIELDS

This trip was started with a pair of TRUE FOCUS 3.7 meter prime focus antennas, mounted on some superbly crafted towers welded and cemented in advance by mine personnel.  Antennas were pointed at 139 West (AMC-8) and 166 East (Intelsat 8) for C-band reception of television and radio signals from Alaska, as well as some from the Asia-Pacific region.  An existing 2.3 meter (8 foot) mesh antenna was converted with a circular feedhorn for primary reception from 140 East C-band, to get a number of Russian radio and television signals.  Still more Russian signals from the Ku-band side of this satellite, using a separate 90 cm offset dish which literally pointed 15 degrees into the ground.  A 7 degree elevation angle on an offset dish equals a reflector that is pointing 15 degrees past vertical, providing a very unusual and somewhat strange appearance.
VIEW FROM THE FLAGPOLE                                        139 WEST & 166 EAST-C BAND  AND 140 EAST-KU BAND

Over twenty channels are now transmitted, representing English language programming from Alaskan and Asia-Pacific sources, and Russian language on the remainder of channels for the benefit of the majority of people at the camp.  Popular Russian channels are simulcast in NTSC and PAL formats, to allow backwards compatibility for North American sourced big screen TVs and expatriates' televisions that both use the NTSC format, and the PAL signals for use on multistandards as well as locally sourced televisions.  While SECAM is the official TV system in Russia, PAL modulators are much easier to source, and are quite compatible with SECAM TVs.  Topping off the entertainment choices are a few channels of FM radio distributed within the confines of the main building.  In English and Russian, of course.

The previous use of the above Chinese SVEC 2.3 meter mesh antenna was for Alaskan reception from AMC-8.  Prior to converting this dish to Russian C-band reception with a circular feedhorn, I had the privilege of doing
some sky scanning on other C-band satellites.  This allowed me to second-guess the data provided by official satellite footprint maps found in otherwise well respected sources such as Lyngsat.  Our highest elevation angle was a fraction over 14 degrees, and local terrain does permit a view of satellites as low as 1.5 degrees above the horizon.  The results confirm reception at this far northern location is better than official predictions on some satellites, as well as agreeing with the other maps that reception is out of range on others.  I was not able to clear terrain to receive Asiasat at 105.5 East (1.2 degree angle), but had some fascinating observations on low-angle satellites from North America such as 127 West and 133 West.  North American elevations range from 1.5 degrees on 127 West to 5.5 degrees on 139 West.  There's no prayer for weaker satellites at 129, 131 and 135 West, but we have very usable signals from 137 and 139 West, and absolutely smokin' levels on 127 and 133 West, despite their 1.5 and 3.5 degree elevation angles.  I used the 2.3 meter mesh antenna, which gave me the advantage of a wider beam than larger antennas, which more or less compensated for the large variations in atmospheric changes at those low elevations.  Had I tried reception on a larger antenna with more signal capability, it is likely that changing propagation may have actually worked against me when the narrower beamwidth of the antenna is considered.  Past experience with analog signals in the 1980s and early 1990s in Alaska showed me that reliable reception could be had without major propagation problems on C-band down to about 3.5 to 4.0 degrees elevation.  Fairly constant digital reception on 133 West (G-15) continue this theory's validity, with even the California Channel matching the mid-20 quality reading that I get in Wisconsin on a similar 8-foot antenna, while not quite dropping out.  Other channels on 133 West were typically around a 70 quality reading.   I was absolutely shocked to initially get usable reception on the 2.3 meter dish from 127 West.  BBC World and RFD-TV initially had quality levels from 50 to low 60s at first glance, using a trusty Traxis DBS-3500 MPEG-2 free-to-air receiver.  Just for grins, I left the receiver on RFD-TV for almost 2 hours, with the quality meter function on screen, and recorded the output onto a DVD.  I have since carefully analyzed that recording, and now report some amazing results.  During that time, I never lost the signal, or had pixelization, but saw quality readings vary anywhere from 28 to 72.  Reception could vary as much as 12 to 15 points during a 60 second period.   It might drop down into the 30s and 40s, but rapidly restore itself into the 60s and 70s within a short period of time as little as three to five minutes.  There appears to be a fine line in keeping uninterrupted C-band signals at these elevations.  Have just enough signal so that the worst case quality reading is still above threshold.  What the tradeoffs might be with a larger antenna remain to be tested.  An overall increase in signal may slightly outweigh the losses from the tighter focus and narrower beamwidth found on C-band.  Hurricane force winds are common in these parts, so you really do not want to install a larger antenna than necessary.   It does prove that reliable reception is possible with enough signal burning into the ground.  These satellites pushed +38 to +40 dBw signals at the camp location.  Look at the C-band spot beam levels on newer Russian satellites, which can provide as much as +48 dBw to a wide geographic area.  A cheap consumer antenna of 1.8 meters literally has tons of signal to throw away, and many users get by with 75 to 90 cm antennas for everyday C-band reception.  This will never be a common situation in the crowded 2-degree spacing environment of North America, but it should be a cost-effective method of serving other widespread geographic areas, especially those in high rainfall climates.  A former initiative to alternate satellites and use higher power in the previously unused areas between 3400 and 3700 MHz while continuing with normal power levels on the established 3700 to 4200 MHz band is a great idea.  Perhaps it should be explored further by our own FCC, given the potential of what I see in my observations during the last month from the Russian Far East. 

Until next time,