As I was driving south of Omak, Washington on my way from Idaho to Wenatchee on Monday I saw this group of satellite dishes on the top of a hill about a quarter mile off the highway. Those of you that know of my connection to, and fascination with, radio telescopes know that I’d be all over this….
These were taken with my Canon camera given the distance from the road.
This is the former ComSat Earth Station, now owned by US Electrodynamics Corporation. These are very similar in appearance to telescopes at the radio astronomy observatory near my mother’s hometown in West Virginia. ComSat is short for Communications Satellite. These dishes are receivers which collect signals from satellites orbiting the earth. Most of these are “fixed”, meaning the don’t move and only point at one source (the same way a DirecTV or Dish Network satellite dish attached to your house lets you watch tv). The largest dish you see can be moved (remotely, with a series of motors) to point at different sources the way most radio telescopes do.
There are more than 50 dishes at this location which receive communications and other data for a variety of companies and agencies. TV video feeds, radio and computer data, etc. all flow through here. These dishes also collect signals from GPS (Global Positioning Satellites) which help air traffic controllers track aircraft. This facility also provides data to the Department of Defense (and probably other, undisclosed agencies). There are Earth Stations like this all over the world. It is a private facility and not open to the public. The dishes and receivers can be operated remotely and the facility itself is probably only manned by maintenance and security personnel.
Those of you who travel up and down Route 81 in western Virginia probably have seen the telephone Earth Station next to the highway near the Mt. Jackson/Bayse exit. Those much larger dishes (probably 4-5 times the size of the largest one you see here) are for companies like AT&T and Verizon to support their telephone and data systems.