How to Acquire Used Satellite Earth Station Antennas – Part 2 – Saving Money with Pre-owned large uplink dishes
Pre-owned satellite earth station uplink antenna system can offer 50% cost savings compared to new systems, and can be installed sometimes within weeks when a new system would take months. How do you assess a used system for purchase? What makes a good dish versus a rusted piece of junk?
In the previous issue of Satcom Post, we looked at the equipment considerations in purchasing pre-owned large earth station antennas, based on New Era Systems’ decade-plus experience helping earth stations successfully acquire used C and Ku-band large antennas for projects around the world. In this part 2, let’s look at the de-installation, and re-installation process, site preparation considerations, and supplier terms:
De-Installation/Re-Installation: There must be an equal amount of care during the de-installation as there is when the antenna is installed at the new site. We have seen reflector panels damaged during faulty takedown, sloppy packing leading to shipping damage and motors rusted solid. In nearly all cases we only buy antennas where we can use our own crew to remove, with quality control as the first priority.
Supplier Terms & Due Diligence: Used earth station antennas are not always trouble free. Torn boots, broken tracking receivers, and non-working electric motors, are some common problems seen when inspecting used equipment. It is clearly important to perform some due diligence on your potential supplier. It is a good practice to ask your used satellite equipment suppliers what testing they perform, and what guarantees they offer on the items they ship.
In our case, we make sure that the units we ship are rigorously tested, and guarantee the items’ performance. We certify the tested results prior to shipment and provide full documentation.
The greatest piece of advice that we can offer to anybody buying used antennas is to know your supplier. Be sure that they will stand behind anything that could go wrong, because if you have to go back to the manufacturer for help, it will be very costly and time consuming.
Shot-in or Bolt-Together?: Large transmit antenna reflectors typically come in one of two types, the “bolt-together” or the “shot-in” theodolite variant. The bolt together is much easier to install, the reflector panels bolt into pre-made holes in the radials. The shot-in has panels that rest on radials that have adjustment screws along their length and each screw must be adjusted to give each panel the exact curvature called for in the specifications.
As antennas get larger, the exact shape of the reflector surface is critical. Typically, reflectors greater than 7 meters need to be “shot in.” This is a process where a theodolite is placed at the center of the antenna reflector, and markers are placed at exact locations on the reflector surface and the reflector surface is adjusted to the exact shape recommended by the manufacturer using the theodolite.
Manufacturers have a device called a drill tape that allows accurate positioning of the reflector panels. Unless the original manufacturer is performing the re-installation, the drill tape is typically not available for used systems. In this case, your supplier must make a new data set before taking down a standing antenna. This data-set is sent with the antenna to the new owner, and it is this data that allows the exact replication of the antenna transmission and receive characteristics.
Taking theodolite measurements is a time-consuming process, and requires considerable technical skill and expertise. When performed by an original equipment manufacturer, it can incur a $20,000 bill. Another technique is a system called Photogrametry.
Civil Works, Pad and Foundation Kit: A foundation kit usually consists of a series of very large bolts, matching nuts and a template to show the exact placement of the bolts in the concrete foundation. Because the bolts can often be ordered directly from a local machine shop, some used antenna buyers choose to buy their own foundation kit. In certain countries where hardware is not readily available the buyer will ask suppliers to sell them a foundation kit for their re-commissioned antenna.
Packing & Shipping: Careless packing can ruin all of the careful work of take down and refurbishing a pre-owned antenna system. A king post can weigh up to 10,000 pounds and can roll over and damage other antenna components if packed improperly in a shipping container. To avoid this, shipping containers need to be built out with wooden supports and shelves that will hold the components safely in place, whatever happens during transportation. High quality packing ensures that in most cases there is no damage in transit.
When we sell an antenna, the terms of payment are full cash price prior to shipment. The client’s price includes careful loading of the antenna into their custom-built shipping container. This is a crucial step in the overall sale. Because we guarantee our products, we make every effort to ensure perfect condition prior to shipping.
Installation: Successful installation depends on the skills of the installers. The same care and accuracy required for a new installation must be followed with a pre-owned antenna, even if it only costs fifty percent of new price. Typically installations require a crane, a man-lift, as well as skilled installer/technicians. If a theodoliting is required, the installer will need to re-align all reflector panels and the sub reflector.
Pre-Install Prep: When we send our team to handle antenna installation we expect that certain work has been completed in advance. For example most of the antennas are set on concrete pads with the bolts already in place. Conduit for AC voltage and signal cables needs to be run underground or if overhead waveguide trays are used they should already be in place.
Satellite operator’s authorization: Satellite carriers require transmission tests that measure transmit parameters for side lobes, cross-pol, and other signal characteristics. After such testing on a satellite, the operator will record the patterns of the transmit antenna to accept or deny authorization to transmit. Assuming all civil works are done before arrival on site, it can typically take a week or so for acceptance testing to be completed.
Questions to Ask Your Used Antenna Supplier:
- What do you certify?
- Who else has purchased systems from you
- What do you test and guarantee?
- What will you replace if the system fails testing, and under what conditions?
50% Savings Are Worth A Look
When you have a large antenna project, the potential for over 50% cost savings plus quick delivery with a pre-owned antenna can be an attractive option worth considering for many projects. In that case, your best bet for acquiring used systems is to work with an experienced, reputable supplier that follows test procedures, and provides delivery and performance assurances. Earth station managers who have reaped these kinds of savings constantly tell us they are glad they saved our contact information.
- Cost-savings: used C and Ku-band satellite uplink antenna systems can offer large capital savings (e.g. 50%-plus discount) compared to new units.
- On top of the cost-savings, pre-owned systems can usually ship fast, and be installed in weeks, compared to months for installation of new systems from original equipment manufacturers.
- This article explains what to look for in used antennas, with some successful examples.
- Ask your pre-owned satellite equipment supplier about testing, packaging and delivery guarantees.
- In addition to permanent services, pre-owned antennas can work for business cases including: temporary services, Low-budget services, test and trial services, Occasional use or ad-hoc services, disaster recovery systems, short-term contracts (e.g. 1-3 years).
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