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Fun To Be Had With a 10-Foot Satellite Dish? 386

An anonymous reader writes "I'm moving to a rural community in the central United States. On the property is a satellite dish in excess of 3 meters in diameter that seems to still be in excellent condition. I already enjoy shortwave radio and was wondering what interesting TV feeds I might be able to catch with the dish. What kind of equipment would I need and how much should I expect to spend? If it's not useful for that purpose, what other fun projects might I use it for?"
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Fun To Be Had With a 10-Foot Satellite Dish?

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  • or listen for military transmissions

  • UVB-76? (Score:5, Funny)

    by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @08:58AM (#33379924)

    UVB-76 [] has been broadcasting new stuff the past few days...

    1. Remove dish from roof or back yard or whatever for this winter
    2. Find ski hill
    3. Group Downhill Saucer

    You might even get airborne, in which case you have a real flying saucer. At the very least, it would scare the crap out of the snow-boarders.

    • by Pojut ( 1027544 )

      ^^^^this. I was going to suggest taking it sledding, but I think hudson's got the right idea here :-)

    • that, or he could bring a new meaning to 'Extreme Frisbee'.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      i have a crazy texan cousin-in-law that ran up against the same dilemma the christmas that they purchased a dish network rig. the ol ~10' dish's newfound uselessness was accompanied by a freak snow storm that dumped 1.5 foot of snow.

      apparently every farmer in texas has an old snowmobile somewhere in their possession. an old tractor seat (with improvised belt) got bolted to the inside of the dish and someone came up w/ 30' of rope for towing.

      we never were able to flip it over, but airborne? yes.

      pe []
    • You are hereby served notice regarding your improper use of the UGI patented "3 Step Process". The UGI (Underpants Gnomes International) have established that all "3 Step Processes" must take the form of

      1. Action
      2. ???
      3. Profit.

      If you continue to use your errant "3 Step Process" legal action may follow.


      The Underpants Gnomes International do wish to make a constructive suggestion. The use of A B C instead of 1 2 3 would not be in violation of the UGI's patent.

      Screw you guys. I'm going home.

  • by elewton ( 1743958 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @08:58AM (#33379934)
    Get a biquad,2.4 GHz amplifier, and an AWUS 036h. Install Backtrack, set to monitor mode and start scanning your town!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by elewton ( 1743958 )
      Then, when you locate your enemies' networks, get a magnetron and build yourself a long range HERF gun.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by SeNtM ( 965176 )
        Or, using the magnetron, get different varieties of bird cooked fresh before they even hit the ground.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Works great if you also happen to have a Silo on the property.
      You could also use it for a really long wifi shot.
      If you are a HAM you could use it for EME shoots.
      Or you could use it for for home radio astronomy.
      And there does seem to be a good number of free channels you can get but they are a little odd.

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:01AM (#33379972)
    You might be able to pick up the feeds to TV companies. I knew someone who did this years back but they might be encrypted now. They would sometimes pick up presenters chatting during advert breaks, people waiting to go on air, etc.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Attached it to the output terminal of a large tesla coil, and see if you can cause electric arcs to form between the ground and metallic objects, at a distance.

  • line it with mirrors and the focus becomes a solar furnace
  • by Parlett316 ( 112473 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:03AM (#33380000)

    Then change it one day and watch the internet implode.

  • Moon bounce (Score:5, Interesting)

    by enigma32 ( 128601 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:03AM (#33380008)

    My boss at the last place I worked had a number of extremely large dishes that he used for moon bounce: []

    Interesting stuff. I don't know how active and interesting the conversations are (as I understand there are relatively few people that do this) but from a technical perspective I think it's interesting to bounce a signal off the moon and listen to the result...

    I've been told that his medium sized dish (approx 10' I suppose) worked best for this purpose...

    I'm no expert on this; have only run into it before at that job...

    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      Wow, that sounds way cooler than my initial thought of what you meant (somehow using the dish to build a giant inflatable carnival bouncing attraction).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by trelf ( 652908 )
      Just don't say anything rude in case you miss the moon. That could come back to haunt you in a few hundred years.
    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      Wouldn't it be a lot easier to use a laser as the transmitter?
      You can use the satellite dish to receive the bounce, if the surface is sufficiently shiny and polished.

    • Re:Moon bounce (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dnahelicase ( 1594971 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @10:09AM (#33380820)

      Moon bounce is the pretty cool. I'm not an expert either, but I am a HAM and have spent quite a few nights outside with friends playing around with a large (handmade) dish. Sure, moon bounce isn't real popular, but there is something very satisfying about being able to bounce a signal off the moon onto some far reaching part of the earth.

      I don't have a powerful enough radio to do it very well, but we could still listen to other people quite well and every once in a while could make contact. Of course, we weren't using a nice manufactured dish like that, but had constructed one out of PVC pipe and wire mesh. I bet a real dish would do a lot better than what we constructed.

  • Get a second... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stakovahflow ( 1660677 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:04AM (#33380018)

    1. Get a second satellite dish.
    2. Attach a bar between the two, facing each other like this: (-)
    3. Turn this setup onto its side.
    4. Then mount the base of one dish, horizontally, so that one is facing up to the other, which is facing down.
    5. Using a roll of 1-2' sheet metal (sheet aluminum works for me).
    6. Attach one end of the sheet metal to the ground with a pair of small metal tent stakes.
    7. Attach the other side of this to the dish that is facing up.
    8. Spray paint the dishes & landing ramp the colour of your choice, if desired.
    9. Presto!

    When complete, you will have yourself a nice flying saucer in the yard, to be the envy of all your neighbors and friends.

    At least, that's what I did once with two of three old satellite dishes in my yard...



  • Radio Astronomy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Murdoch5 ( 1563847 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:04AM (#33380020)
    We did this at my school. We took a bunch of 3 meter dishes like on your property and turned them in to a astronomy farm. Now to be fair the software end of the project was intense to say the least but the pay off was huge. It was a sweet project and we accomplished it in under a year, It might be something for you to take a look at. Here are some links. [] [] []
    • Now to be fair the software end of the project was intense to say the least but the pay off was huge.

      Setup of software or actually coding it from scratch?

      If from scratch that seems like if you/they haven't done so already that would be the perfect type of thing to release as open source. You've already put in the work so it doesn't cost you anything, and the goal was to have functional software, not to sell it.

      If that's the case the worst case scenario you release the code and nobody does anything with it. Best case other people get it, improve it, and your radio array reaps the benefits of it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Murdoch5 ( 1563847 )
        I would LOVE to release it open source, but the school being what they are wont let us keep the code or release it. We had to sign away all the rights to code and yes we did it from the ground up so it was unique crafted code base.

        Also due to the tight constraints I would love go back and now edit the code to actually make it look good, I'm sure it's a mess. I haven't looked at it in over a year now but it's still kicking it.
    • This is what I was going to suggest... Not much aperature in a single 10' dish; but, it's a start.
  • by hamburger lady ( 218108 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:05AM (#33380022)

    and some giant fritos...

  • Solar furnace? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by berryjw ( 1071694 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:06AM (#33380034)
    I've always wanted to line one with Mylar, point it at the sun, and see what temperature you could generate at the focal point. How cool would it be to hang a crucible, and melt bronze?
  • by Peter Simpson ( 112887 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:06AM (#33380036)
    There are loads of unencrypted satellite feeds. Whole communities of people who explore them can be discovered with a little Googling. They'll tell you what the best receivers are and how to set up a mechanism to swing the dish to different satellites. NASA TV comes to mind
  • Place 100's or 1000's of tiny mirrors all over it. Mount it on a cellestial tracking device pointed at the sun. Install a small boiler and use it to produce steam and turn a small turbine. Or, use it to burn insects out of the air!
  • I would have thought anything worth having would be encrypted or encoded (TV station feeds would likely be encrypted to stop new shows being grabbed off the sattelite and uploaded to the internet commercial free before they ever air on the TV)

  • Solar concentrator (Score:4, Interesting)

    by inode_buddha ( 576844 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:06AM (#33380046) Journal
    I've seen a few people make solar concentrators out of them, for thermal energy. Remember that sunlight is good for about 1 kiloWatt per square meter. The best way is to get 1-inch hex-shaped glass mirror - a whole shitload of them. Glue them onto the dish with epoxy until as much surface as possible is covered with them. You will get a few thousand degrees Fahrenheit temps at the focal point. You can use this to generate steam by putting a water block at the focal point - save on your heat bill, or make some electricity. For instance, by using an ordinary air-powered die grinder and run it on the steam instead. You can do a lot with 20 thousand RPM's that way.
  • Lyngsat & Azbox HD (Score:2, Informative)

    by MarkVVV ( 740454 )
    Just buy an Azbox HD and check the feeds on Lyngsat [], its all you need.
  • Start a private setchicks@thefarm project Get inspiration here []. You can at least not do any worse than they have, even though three meters is a little smaller than the Arecibo. You won't be looking for any non-random signals, you can be more specific and look for chick music only [], and remember size doesn't matter!

  • Free transmissions (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:10AM (#33380084)

    You can get DVB listening equipment (or software) pretty easily. There are a lot of satellites out there that broadcast PBS for free, and other stuff. Program/broadcast listings are available variously on the interwebs.

    Basically, you'll have a small receive suite, decide what you'd like to hunt, and calculate the azimuth/elevation for your lat/long/alt. I start by slewing with a sat meter (horizon) in the horizontal axis and locate the strongest point before sweeping vertically to the expected altitude. There's a lot of methods for accurate aiming. Google. There's a host of sat information on It'll tell you things like the bird's location, what it carries, transponder types and configurations, etc.

    I set up a small hughesnet based ISP in Afghanistan a few years ago with what most people would consider a horribly barebones set of gear (including a wifi mast crafted from a cable spool with a length of pipe stuck through it), and I can tell you that you can definitely get by with some fun and interesting signal grabbing with practically nothing. Rather than explain it with a poorly written slashdot comment, check out for some basic info. Free-to-air stuff is just a fraction of what you can pick up.

    There's also more interesting stuff out thee, with the correct equipment you'll discover amateur repeaters, very capturable simple data broadcasts, meteorological phenomena, and other cool junk. I believe there's even a radio station/repeater on the ISS. Failing satellite reception, it's still just a huge parabola which focuses on the feed horn. Replace the feed element with something from another band and voila. Of course, antenna optimization for something like this is a book in itself, but I imagine you could have reasonable dish utilization by throwing a 2.4Ghz-tuned biquad at the focus point and probably get about 20-30 dBi of additional gain.

    If you live by the border, you can probably pick up the border patrol's predator drone feeds using the correct equipment/software. It's broadcast in plain-jane video most of the time, although since I doubt there's border agents down there with mobile terminals in this case, the area-wide broadcasts are probably disabled in favor of LOS. Might be able to pull it off though.

  • FTA is alive (Score:5, Informative)

    by Combatso ( 1793216 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:11AM (#33380088)
    There are lots of feeds to find, if the dish has a motor.. You may need to get some different LNB;s the polorization of the antenna will determine what you can find... There are many many many lists available.. but for the most part, it will be lame... however, if you subscrive to Dish Network (or Bell ExpressVu if you are north of the border) and the mesh of the dish is less than 1/4" you can mount a Dish500 LNB on it and use it to get 100% signal from the Echostar (or nimiq) birds... even during a huge rainstorm or snowstorm
  • by AbbeyRoad ( 198852 ) <> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:11AM (#33380090)

    Whatever you do, don't make any broadcasts to alien vessels.
    Also, any signals you receive from the alien's should not be made public,
    or else YOU and your satelite dish will dissapear curtesy of secret UFO coverup agencies etc.

    Eat this message.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:12AM (#33380094)

    There are many signals you can receive from space and 10ft is perfect for that.
    With some equipment (preamplifier, receiver that can do 2.3GHz) you can receive signals from interplanetary sondes and classified satellites.
    It's completely new world and if you enjoyed shortwave radio, you will love this.
    For list of signals you can receive check - 10ft will do L-band, S-band, C-band and X-band with correct feed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:14AM (#33380114)

    Point the dish at your nearest neighbors house to make them paranoid.

  • Sound Mirror (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BeardedChimp ( 1416531 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:22AM (#33380198)
    I remember on a trip to jodrell bank playing around with a sound mirror [] where two dishes were placed pretty far apart. Due to the dishes focusing the sound where you stood, it was possible for someone to whisper into the other dish many meters away and for you to hear it.

    One of the astronomers there told me that while calibrating the main 78m dish he started hearing childrens voices. They had coincidently pointed the dish at a local school and were able to hear everything said.

    So may I suggest using the dish for a bit of covert surveillance of neighbours.
  • Weld a black powder-coated tank at the focus, and set it up as a solar steam generator. Be careful, though - the focus is *very* hot. 3rd degree burns hot.
  • by HansKloss ( 665474 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:30AM (#33380284)

    Get yourself good DVB-S2 receiver like PROF 7500 USB or PROF 7301 PCI or Azbox HD
    from ebay or Ricks site []
    and check out all the HD feeds you can watch. []

    Satelliteguys is another good website but their wild feeds subforums is invitation only []

  • Audio Eavesdropping (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:31AM (#33380294)

    A large radio telescope makes a very good audio dish (the wavelengths are similar). If you can point it to the horizon, you might be able to hear conversations a mile or more off. Of course, it works both ways - they can hear you well too.

    I was once working on the receiver of a dish on the Potomac, while the dish was at "service" (i.e., pointed to the horizon, in this case over the water). When a sailboat would go through the beam, I could barely see it, but could hear the creak of the rigging and the slosh of the water, as if I was on it.

  • DIY Radio Telescope (Score:5, Informative)

    by aqui ( 472334 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:33AM (#33380324)

    There's a number of people that have turned old TV antennas into radio telescopes.

    Here's an example: []

    For more just google "DIY radio antenna"

    There's even online stores that sell everything you need: []

    It could be an interesting project.

  • Bird bath (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:34AM (#33380336)

    Set it up as a bird bath, and get yourself a shotgun. With the size of the birds that would visit, you could feed your whole family.


  • As someone who had one of these, I can tell you they make excellent lightning rods... Not so good for the electronics, however.
  • The website with all the satellites, all the transponders and all the frequencies []

    You'll need some sort of receiver (lots are linux based), aim for a Dreambox, or equivalent. It's likely yo'll need to replace the LNB and cabling if it's been neglected for any length of time. You should also check to see if the dish is steerable (doubtful for that large size - too hard to stop it moving in the wind) and also get a satellite alignment meter and a compass to point to whichever satelli

  • Make a huge solar concentrator / death ray [] with it

  • It's called FTA.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:50AM (#33380570) Homepage

    Look up "FTA Free to Air satellite "on google. start reading.

    you will have to buy new feed-horns and I recommend also getting a decent HD FTA receiver. that can do both MPEG2 and MPEG4.

    In about 1 month, you will have all the knowledge you need to find a crap-load of free TV. some strange, some normal, if you are into soccer then all the South america feeds will delight you as it seems there are about 987 channels of nothing but soccer... Oops sorry. Futbol!

    the C band dish will allow you to watch some of the older stuff, but you can get a dual feed-horn to put both a C band and Ka band LNB on there to get all channels. add in a high end one that will do both polarization types and you expand your channel choices even further.

  • Put a speaker at the focal point.

    Aim it at your neighbor's house.

    Play recordings of devil worship, or islamic call to prayer, a Tammy Faye Baker show, or whatever else.

    Watch your neighbor get taken away by the men in white coats.

  • Put a Biquad antenna at the focal point and a wifi usb reciever connected to it... and use it to steal WiFi from the ISS as it flys over.

  • Hint. Don't stand on your head wearing it when the sun's out.

  • by iago ( 4917 )

    'Nuff said

  • A 10 foot wok can fry a lot of chinese food.

  • Idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ilsaloving ( 1534307 )

    Worlds biggest stir-fry?

  • Big dish can be a blast to play with!

    You will need to know if it has both C and Ku band in it (You can look up online what to look for)

    Then use lyngsat to look up the satellites that are available and what is out there.
    Here is a link to lyngsat for the us.

    You will need to get a DVB receiver for the mpeg encoded DVB transmissions.

    All in all it is fun and you can get just over 3000 channels with the right equipment

  • Replace the current receiver components with a WiFi antenna. Then, point it at neighboring farms/homes and hope to find an unencrypted WiFi connection.
  • Free to Air C Band? (Score:3, Informative)

    by n2rjt ( 88804 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @10:15AM (#33380884) Journal

    I wonder if that's an old C Band free-to-air satellite TV dish? It sounds like it's on the large side, but it might work. Search "free to air" and you'll find the required LNB (low noise block converter) and receiver. Couple that with a small Ku-Band dish (one meter or less) and you'll have all the free-to-air your dishes can see. Check out for lists of satellites, frequencies, and TV stations available. Big dishes give you more gain (stronger signal, was important back in the analog days, and still helps for C-Band), but bigger dishes have much smaller look angles (like a telescope versus binoculars) and are harder to aim.

    I just have a one meter Ku Band dish. I recommend even smaller, to be easier to aim, unless you live really far from the equator. When I lived in northern New York the extra gain of a one meter dish helped a lot. We mostly point to the bird at 97 degrees west, and pick up about a hundred free channels. Many different languages, some good music and sometimes movies. But the only English-language channels are news and religion. If you are Chinese or Iranian, there is an excellent variety to choose from. Other satellites have more Spanish language, from what I've seen on lyngsat.

    The receiver is the most expensive part, and it can be had for $100 or $200. If you want one that accepts smart cards, to descramble the pay channels, it might cost a bit more.

    I added some of the detail above not for the original poster but for anyone else who might be interested.

  • Junk. Seriously. (Score:3, Informative)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @10:19AM (#33380914) Journal

    It's aluminum. Take a six pack and some wrenches and take out your frustrations on it one afternoon. Then take it to the scrap yard and sell it. Aluminum has been going for $0.80 to $1.00 per pound the past year. Make sure it's "clean" with no ferrous metal still connected or you'll get maybe half that. While you're at it, take out the pipe it's set on and sell that too. Not much per pound, but lots of pounds. And then cover the hole over. And buy something nice with the money. And bring me some. You never take me anywhere anymore.

  • by SpaghettiPattern ( 609814 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:30AM (#33381720)
    Use it for assertiveness. Carry it around and when some idiot starts nagging you, throw it onto him/her, cause a mini-eclipse and speak the utterly cool words "Talk to the dish 'cause the universe ain't listenin'." Wiggle your head and impress your buddies.
  • Protest! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Polo ( 30659 ) * on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:12PM (#33385254) Homepage

    Protest HBO's rates by interfering with their signal!

    $12.95/MONTH? NO WAY ! []

The greatest productive force is human selfishness. -- Robert Heinlein