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Taking Control

Manual techniques with the Datastorm and Direcway software

by Don Bradner

This is an expansion of a session at the Tampa rally. I am grateful for notes of the session provided by Don and Jade Smucker, which are better than my own. Since the only time you are likely to need this information is when you can't get online, you may want to print it out for reference, or save it as a web page on your computer.

Why manual control? Isn't the point of the Datastorm to automate everything?

Automation is wonderful. It works most of the time. Unfortunately, the nature of the satellite world is that things are always going wrong, and when they do you have a couple of choices. First is to wait it out and hope you are able to get online in a reasonable time, and the second is to take manual control and attempt to solve the problem more quickly. You won't always succeed, but you will often enough to make understanding the process worthwhile.

Examples of such situations:

a) The dish fails to find the satellite at all, and you can see that it is searching in the wrong location.

b) Pointing has succeeded, but the Datastorm software is unable to pass cross-pol, or is taking an inordinate amount of time to cross-pol.

c) The dish has been pointed and cross-polled, but you are still not online, with errors such as TX15.

Before we talk about manual pointing of the dish, let's take a look at the Datastorm software. The screen you use to find the satellite is the Datastorm Administrator. This screen is just a window into another program called Datastorm Server, running in the background as a service. While this program runs, there is constant communication between it and the dish controller. Among other things, if there is a loss of signal of more than a minute the Server will tell the controller to stow the dish. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing you will have to decide for yourself, but if you decide you don't want it running when you are not using the Administrator, here's the procedure:

First, set the Server to manual operation so it won't start whenever Windows starts. Go to Start/Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Services. If the services are not listed alphabetically, click the "Name" header to sort them that way, then locate the Datastorm Server. Double-Click it, and you will see screen like the one shown at right. In the middle of the screen is "Startup type:" Change that from Automatic to Manual and OK to close the properties. Any time you install an upgrade version of the Datastorm software it will revert to Automatic, and you will need to repeat this procedure to make it manual.

Stopping the Server after you are online should be an easy process, but isn't always. My first choice of methods is to use the Services screen that you accessed above via the Control Panel. I do it so often that I have a shortcut to services on my desktop. To stop DSServer from the Services screen, right-click it and choose "Stop" from the menu. Stop won't be available unless it is running.

This works about 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, the server will fail to stop and the only alternative is to "Terminate" it. To terminate, which is not a nice thing to do to any program but which DSServer handles reasonably well, open the Task Manager. Lots of ways to open Task Manager, but one of the easiest is to right-click your clock and choose Task Manager there. In task manager you want the Processes tab; again set it to alphabetical by clicking "Image Name" and then look for "dsserver.exe." Click to highlight it, then click "End Process." You will get a warning message which you can ignore if you are sure you didn't highlight some critical Windows process! That should end the server.

Don't worry about starting the server again. The next time you open the Administrator the Server will start on its own.

Manual pointing of the dish:

When we talk about Manual in this sense we don't mean going up on the roof and actually turning the dish, but rather using the Administrator in a manual mode. If you normally have the Administrator in Basic mode you need to click the Advanced button. On the Advanced screen, if the dish is trying to find the satellite but failing, click the Stop button. Now you can move the Elevation, Azimuth and Skew using the arrow buttons. The amount you move them is controlled by the settings below the buttons. They can be as fine as one motor count, or as gross as 360 degrees. If I know I need to move the dish all the way around I will normally set an approximate number of degrees and click the Azimuth button one time; otherwise I find movement in 1 degree or 0.5 degree increments to be adequate for minor adjustments to Azimuth or Elevation, and 1 motor count for Skew adjustments.

When moving Elevation and Azimuth to find the satellite, always have the Skew reading approximately the same as the "Dish Skew" value found at the lower left of the screen. Adjustments in Skew are not normally made during the pointing process; they are used during Cross-Pol. Adjust the Elevation and Azimuth as necessary to get the best possible Signal Quality. You should be within a few degrees of the predictions found at the lower left of the screen for Dish Elevation and Dish Azimuth. Note: Dish Azimuth will probably only show when the dish is stowed, so if you are truly having to manually point the dish, start from stowed.

More commonly, the dish will have gotten on signal and failed to pass cross-pol. For manual cross-pol adjustments you will need both the Datastorm Administrator and the Hughes Pointing Utility.

Using the Pointing utility:

You have a Hughes-Supplied pointing utility on your computer. To see it:

    Click on "Start"
    Mouse to "All Programs"
    Mouse to "DirecWay"
    Click "Antenna Pointing"

To use it

    Enter Zip Code where indicated OR
    Enter Latitude and Longitude

Go through next two (2) screens (click on "next") WITHOUT MAKING ANY CHANGES.

Your screen should now have a "Signal Strength" display on it.

If you exit from this screen without making any changes (on the Signal Strength Meter screen), the software will force a re-range of the dish. This will fix a TX15 error, although you may have to do it multiple times depending on how bad things are at Hughes.

For Cross-Pol testing, proceed to the next screen NOTE: Some screens/versions have an "ACP" box to check before the "Next" button is enabled. IF this box exists on your version of the software, check the appropriate box next to "ACP" in order to get a Next button that will work.

Further note: Not all versions of the Direcway Pointing Utility will have an option to continue on to the ACP screen. If that is the case for you, click on Start/All Programs/Direcway, then right-click the Antenna Pointing item and choose properties. You should see a shortcut target that looks like this:

"C:\Program Files\DIRECWAY\BIN\websetup.exe" /POINTING

Add a space and /MANUAL to the end of that line, so it reads:

"C:\Program Files\DIRECWAY\BIN\websetup.exe" /POINTING /MANUAL

OK the dialog and try the pointing utility again. The quotation marks in the lines above are important and must remain where they are.

The first thing to try is "Start Test" in the automatic mode. Make sure that the Datastorm Administrator and Server are not running using the techniques above, since they will override a successful test.

You will have one warning to OK, then the test will proceed. When it concludes, the bar will be Red with "Failed" or Green with "Passed" next to it. If you have passed, you are done; exit the pointing utility. You should see normal ranging and be online. If your test failed, but the number is in the 70s, I would recommend a couple of more automatic tests to see if you can pass before proceeding with a manual test.
Open Datastorm Administrator and position its screen above the Pointing Utility so that you can see the Transmitter Isolation bar of the Utility

Start the manual test, which will involve 3 warning screens. This test is continuous, and you will always see regular changes in the value. If you are close to passing, you may see occasional green bars, followed by more red ones. Start adjustments with Skew, in single counts. Monitor the Transmitter Isolation, and move the skew in the direction that appears to give higher readings. If you get to the point that half your tests are green, stop the test, close the Datastorm Administrator (and Server!), then do a few automatic tests. Manual tests will never get you online - you must pass an automatic test one time.

If you move the skew too far in a manual test, you may lose signal entirely, and the manual test will abort. You will need to move the skew back a ways and start testing again. If you find that the best skew still isn't quite enough to pass, stop the test and use the azimuth and elevation arrows to try for a better signal quality at that skew point, then test again.

Good luck!

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