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Soumac Award 2015: Satellite Signal Strength Meter by Christian Mesmar

Christian is our second finalists of the Soumac Award and has submitted his final project overview. Below Christian has outlined his project and the highlights and difficulties he faced upon completing the project.

“My project was to design and build a tool to be used as an aid for the installation of satellite dishes for domestic television reception. The project was undertaken over the course of just over six months as part of an undergraduate degree and handled alongs ide other taught units and extra-curricular voluntary work within and outside the university. Previously I have never dealt with systems involving the handling of signals with such high frequencies (>1 GHz), nor have I ever designed a PCB, therefore this project involved a lot of new areas which I have never experienced before. Consequently, I have gained valuable experience in these areas and as a result I am much more aware of the considerations surrounding the design of such systems. Since this project was based around the design of a commercial product, a certain degree of manufacturing procedures and guidelines had to be considered as the end goal is to make the product as cheap and efficient as possible to manufacture. I have also enhanced my knowledge of satellite downlink reception in the field of broadcast television, this was an area of interest for myself but I had limited practical knowledge prior to the undertaking of this project.

The biggest challenge was estimating and allocating the amount of time that certain tasks within the project would take, this is due to there being many elements in which I had little experience in. As a result, a considerable amount of time was spent conducting research and therefore less time remained for designing and building. Even though the research proved to be very helpful, it led to the final product of this project not being as fully developed as I had hoped. However, I was very pleased with the progress that I had made and I am thankful that I had managed to get a working proof of the concept for the day of the project. Additionally, I was able to draw many conclusions and future plans for the next phase from concept to design to final product.

If this project was to be completed again, I would have focussed more on the output elements of the system, the enclosure and the ‘big picture’ (ie. taking this design to a fully commercial project). The theory, signal conditioning and detection stages were always going to be the main focus of this project, however with the actual amount of time spent on those areas, minimal attention was paid to the output and aesthetics of the product, thus distancing the submission from becoming a final product. Personally, I enjoyed designing the PCB and being able to see a board that I designed being manufactured, assembled and operating in a manner that I expected.

Prototype MK1 which was the final demonstrated stage of this project was a useful proof of concept and a useful verification of the research and design stage. It provided the foundation for obtaining the specifications for Prototype MK2. This prototype was demonstrated to guests of the University of Portsmouth School of Engineering’s Project Open Day 2015. The set-up, shown in the image below, included the system connected to a satellite dish which was receiving a test signal from an RF generator a couple of metres away. The system constantly outputted a tone of a certain pitch (frequency) based on the strength of the signal received. This set-up provided guests with a visual and illustrative display of the use of the product as they were able to perform the action of angling the satellite dish towards and away from the transmitter antenna and as a result, hearing the indication from the product. The attached video demonstrates this set-up. The fact that this device uses a tone to convey the information, ‘frees’ up the hands of the installer as he/she would most likely be using them to perform fine adjustments to the position of the satellite dish especially if up a ladder, this, combined with a low-power, low-cost device provides a solid foundation to continue to develop this into a commercial product.”




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