How to Acquire Used Satellite Earth Station Antennas – Saving Money with Pre-owned large uplink dishes

December 10, 2013 | By More

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.

antenna installation

On the other hand, with used equipment, buyers can be concerned about the risk of failure of the equipment to perform as advertised  How do you assess and manage the risk?   What makes a good dish versus a rusted piece of junk?

This series of articles will share findings gained from our decade-plus experience helping customers successfully acquire and deploy used C and Ku-Band systems for projects around the world.  Here are key considerations we recommend:

  •  Include Pre-Testing and Refurbishment in the Quote:  When making a price comparison, it is advisable to include the costs for refurbishment, and for pre-testing that you would not need to perform with a new antenna.  If the costs savings are large, then you may have to consider the used antenna option.
  • Environmental Conditions: The specific structural and civil construction standards and conditions of your local site are important. “The first lesson I learned was that you have to consider your local conditions for operating your antenna, such as the effect of humidity and air salinity on corrosion,” says a Middle Eastern earth station operator. “We had an old antenna outside and the paint looked fine, but we found that the inside of the tube was completely rusted. So now we prefer flat iron antenna supports so we know if it’s corroded or not.”

Very humid, and saline environments can put more stress on structural parts.  Paint thickness and galvanization of the structure to resist corrosion can be important.

  • De-icing:  In icy, snowy and rainy areas, de-icing systems may be required for continued operation.   What is your de-icing system, or de-icing system options, and how will they work with your antenna?
  • Wind survival:  Wind tolerances are also key specifications.  In high-wind, hurricane and typhoon-prone regions, very high wind resistance is critical.  In addition, for large systems, the foundation pad supporting the structure, and bolting system to keep the antenna intact during wind are very important.
  •  Mechanical systems and motors: Do the motors work mechanically, and with the control system?    The mechanical system reliability in your particular environment is important over the lifetime of the antenna.    Test the motors to ensure they are in good working condition before they ship.    The motor can be rusted from use or lack thereof, depending on the local conditions.
  • Check the motor for AZ/EL (azimuth and elevation) and also the motor for polarization switching. Some buyers replace the motor/drive/tracking with new subsystems. A new motor may still be required, but even with a new motor, the speed of delivery and cost-savings with a used system can be extremely beneficial.
  • Hardware Kit: After antenna takedown, depending on the previous location of the antenna, its age and the climate, the hardware may be corroded, or in good condition.  The items most subject to deterioration are the two rubber boots that protect the elevation and the azimuth screw jacks.    We typically replace anything that looks to be in poor condition, but with some clients that is not sufficient, and they order a completely new hardware kit.  When necessary we replace the boots before shipping the antenna.  In some cases, a replacement hardware kit can be ordered from the original manufacturer, and cost as much as $8,000, for large antenna systems.
  •  Electronics: Big antennas can have outdoor systems, usually in a shell enclosure, e.g. the AZ/EL motor controls and polarization controls.  Your supplier should test the controllers, and guarantee they work as well, or a new controller needs to be added to the solution.
  •  Test Patterns: when possible, have a full set of test patterns taken with the antenna prior to shutting it down.  When the antenna is re-installed, a new set of patterns should be produced to compare the “before and after” patterns and confirm that the antenna has been assembled correctly and will comply.  It may not be possible to run test patterns before take down.

When you stand to save over 50%, taking a quick look at your options with pre-owned antennas can be well worth the trouble.  With a system as specialized as large earth station transmit antennas, your best bet for acquiring used systems is to work with an experienced, reputable supplier which follows test procedures, and provides adequate refurbishment services, delivery and performance assurances.

Key points:

  • 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).

In the next issue, Part 2 of this Article, we’ll look at considerations for successful de-installation/re-installation, delivery and supplier terms.

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Category: COLUMNS

Phil Thomas

About the Author ()

Phil Thomas is President of New Era Systems. New Era Systems sells and stocks new & used equipment, offering deep discounts and faster worldwide delivery of large and small satellite antennas, modems VSATs, BUCs, transceivers, amplifiers and more. The company helps earth stations turn their surplus equipment into cash, with gear refurbishing, resale, and antenna system de-install/install services. New Era Systems is also a full service satellite communications provider to Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

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