Can I use a satellite dish as a ham radio antenna? I was thinking that because there are two unused, working satellite dishes that have all appropriate wires attached conveniently to the roof of my house. Would there be a way to use the dish as a ham antenna? Maybe it cn be used with a few modifications. All google searches came up blank.
3$\begingroup$ Please tell us the size and shape of your dish - round or oval, dimensions of major axes. $\endgroup$– Brian K1LIMay 1, 2020 at 20:52
2$\begingroup$ !Satelite Dish. I found this online. It is basically the exact model/year/shape/company. Is that pic enough? $\endgroup$– hopefulhacker-Reinstate MonicaMay 1, 2020 at 20:55
Most TV satellite signals are between 915-MHz and 2.1-GHz. The 23-cm band (1240-MHz to 1300-MHz) does fall in this range, and a few hams have repurposed dishes for things like EME (Earth-Moon-Earth or "moon bounce") operation, but it's not a band many hams use.
The feed line for TV is usually 75-$\Omega$, not the 50-$\Omega$ typically used with ham radios. The LNB (Low Noise Block, TV downconverter) probably has filters that reject most ham frequencies to cut down on interference.
In short, for traditional 2-meter VHF and 440-MHz UHF it would not work and would require extensive modification. It would be far simpler to put a J pole or maybe a Yagi if you want a directional antenna.
$\begingroup$ could you clarify what EME means? $\endgroup$ May 1, 2020 at 20:37
4$\begingroup$ Earth - Moon - Earth, more commonly called moon bounce. $\endgroup$– JimMay 1, 2020 at 20:41
1$\begingroup$ In the USA a technician class license have full privileges above 50 Mhz. Getting a reliable EME exchange takes a good antenna and a fair amount of power. It has been done with power at or even below 10 watts, but most people recommend using 500 watts to the full limit of 1500 watts. You also will not find many commercial radios that work at 23 cm so you usually have to make a converter to go along with your radio. $\endgroup$– JimMay 1, 2020 at 20:50
1$\begingroup$ @Nick_F Just as much as seeing the moon, which is also reflected electromagnetic radiation. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2020 at 2:28
2$\begingroup$ "Most TV satellite signals are between 915-MHz and 2.1-GHz." - no. Most TV satellite signals are between 10750 GHz and 12750 GHz. You are probably thinking about downconverted signal from the LNB, but that is quite irrelevant here. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2020 at 13:41
You can use a satellite TV dish antenna for amateur radio use but how you use it depends on what frequency you want to operate on.
The satellite dish antenna is two basic parts, the parabolic reflector and the feed (at the focal point of the parabola). The gain of the dish depends on what frequency you are using and the diameter of the dish.
A typical satellite TV dish probably has a LNA (low noise amplifier) at the focal point, along with a block down converter to change the received TV signal down to around 1 GHz so that it can be sent over a long coax cable to the TV with less loss (losses in cheap coax at 10 Ghz are pretty high).
Unfortunately you can't easily reuse the satellite TV LNA and down converter (LNB) because it is designed for receive only and you will want be able to transmit. So you will have to build your own feed for the dish.
Those satellite TV dishes are about 20 inches in diameter, too small to use for 220 or 144 Mhz VHF (unless you want to make a slot antenna, more below). It could work for 440 Mhz UHF but the gain would be so low (~6 dB @440 Mhz) that it would be easier to just build a yagi. It's much better at 1200 Mhz, where the gain would be around 14 db, or at 2.4 Ghz about 20 db. A small dish works great at 10 Ghz where you get about 32 db of gain. There is a gain chart is this answer here.
There are articles explaining how to convert a satellite TV antenna to a stealth 2m (146 Mhz) slot antenna, such as here and here. You cut a slot in the parabolic dish which changes the dish from a passive reflector into the active element of the antenna. A horizontal slot gives you a vertically polarized antenna. Search for "ham radio slot antenna satellite dish" to find other examples and instructions.
Apart from using it as a ham radio satellite antenna (eg. for QO-100) or a microwave terrestrial antenna, you can turn it into a VHF slot antenna. Here is an example: https://w6nbc.com/articles/20xx-dishslot.pdf (keyword: "satellite dish slot antenna").
1$\begingroup$ Wow - brilliant idea! $\endgroup$ May 2, 2020 at 11:18
I want to point out an important aspect that is only implicit in the other answers. At the frequencies at which they can be efficiently used, dish antennas are (by design) highly directional. That is, you have to point them quite precisely in the direction you want to transmit and/or receive; the benefit is that less power is needed for communication because power isn't "wasted" sending radiation in other directions. This is what it means to have high gain (mentioned in progrmr's answer).
Such antennas are convenient for receiving satellite TV because the signal is from a geostationary satellite, so the dish can be accurately pointed once and then left in place. (The satellite transmits in many directions, but as seen by each individual receiver it is a distant, weak source in a fixed direction.)
While ham radio antennas are often somewhat directional (somewhat high-gain) in order to work better with less power, taking this to an extreme can make them very difficult to get pointed right, especially if you don't know in advance exactly where you're trying to talk to. In the presentation linked by Brian K1LI about dish communication, note the statement "Making a QSO [a contact] is a very special event."
In other, lower frequency bands, it is normal to make many contacts in various places with a low-gain (more omnidirectional) antenna that does not have to be re-aimed as much or at all. That is the type of ham radio experience that may be more appealing to beginners.
So the big picture is that use of a satellite dish is a niche area of ham radio, for those looking for more of an exotic challenge.
The dish itself is pretty much universal - it will reflect and focus any radio waves that are short enough not to go around (say, 1/4 of the dish radius) and long enough not to be scattered off the paint (say, centimeter and up, but the particular dish may be good down to 1mm).
This interval contains few amateur bands.
It is up to you to fit some transmitter and/or receiver at the focus.
It appears that the contemporary-sized satellite dish is popular with X-band operators - that's the 10GHz band! See this presentation from the San Bernardino Microwave Society for some examples.
$\begingroup$ The roof mounted satellite dish is probably designed for Ku band (12-18 GHz), so could work OK on 10 GHz ham band. That "presentation" link is quite informative on microwave operation. $\endgroup$– WA9ZZZMay 1, 2020 at 21:13
$\begingroup$ From what I see from that presentation, the cost could run above $1500. That defeats the whole purpose of using a satellite dish for radio. My only purpose for that is to save money. I $\endgroup$ May 1, 2020 at 21:13