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One Day in the Life of the Starlink System
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE STARLINK SYSTEM
After the stormy weather on Tuesday night, July 20th, the 146.700/444.275 repeaters ceased operations. Along with the two analog repeaters, the DMR repeater at the same site also stopped working. Strangely, the two digipeaters, W5STX-2 and W5RGV-2 also located at the same site continued to operate.
Did the AC power fail? Well, why are the two digipeaters working? Was there a lightning hit? Possible, but since all of the STARS radios systems are in the same room connected to the same AC mains, one would think that a lightning hit would take out all of the systems. Also, the DMR repeater and the 145.770 digipeater share the same antenna and feedline. A lightning hit was ruled out.
Then what? Well, it was unknown and there was no way of knowing until a site visit occurred. The heavy rainfall in the area precluded an immediate visit as the area was a virtual lake.
Without 444.275, the STARLINK system reverts to independent repeaters each covering a local area. 147.14 was linked using an ICOM ID-5100 to 147.04 one evening for the duration of the Valley Information Net. I don’t know if that effort helped, but it was an attempt to return the system to some sort of “normal”
On Thursday, the spare 444.275 repeater was moved from storage and along with a duplexer system and connecting cables was installed at the Harlingen 911 Center and the STARLINK came alive. Unfortunately, reception on the 147.04 repeater was poor from the 444.275 spare repeater due to the fact that link antenna, a yagi, is pointed at La Feria and the 911 Center is off the side of the antenna. The spare 444.275 repeater outputs only about 12 watts.
Since the reception at 147.04 was poor, Ray, KD5ZZE made a special visit to the site in Brownsville and moved the link radio to the UHF vertical antenna that is normally used by 444.400. It was felt that one good repeater, 147.04, is better than two noisy repeaters. The road into the site was firm, but the area adjacent to the repeater building was a bog.
Friday evening the dirt road into the La Feria repeater site was checked to see if it was passable. There were a few water-filled potholes, but the main canal road looked passable. There was no way of telling the condition of the road from the canal to the repeater building.
After a long discussion, Ray felt he could make it to the repeater building despite the flooding and if not, he was prepared to walk to the repeater building from the canal just to get the system operational again. If he could restore operation to 444.275, I had to be ready to turn off the spare 444.275. Two repeaters on the same frequency would be RF chaos.
Saturday morning, Ray departed Brownsville in his 4 wheel drive truck and I made my way to the Harlingen, 911 Center. The canal road did have several muddy potholes, but Ray’s truck made it to within 100 yards of the repeater building only to be stopped by water and mud. Rubber boots on and “Off” spray in hand, Ray braved the alligators, snakes, high water, deep mud, and hungry mosquitoes the size of grackles and made it to the repeater building.
Once inside, he found that the 70/275 repeater was receiving but not transmitting. He reset the controller and EUREKA! The repeaters started to repeat. A phone call to me at the 911 Center alerted me to turn off the spare 275 repeater and things were right with the world again. STARLINK was back on the air. I tested STARLINK by contacting all of the VHF repeaters in the system from the 911 Center and I informed Ray all was well.
Ray then reset the DMR repeater and it came to life. The two digipeaters did not require attention as they were working.
Ray now has to return to the 147.04 site and return the feedline to the 444.400 repeater. Until then, only 147.14 will be in service in Brownsville. At the 911 Center, I removed the spare 444.275 repeater and its associated duplexer and cabling. It will be returned to storage to wait for another day when its service is needed to salvage the system.
Thus ended the day with all systems GO!
What is the lesson here? When you use the STARLINK system, a voice communication system that covers the entire Rio Grande Valley, you are using a complex network of linked repeaters. Any complex system such as STARLINK, requires maintenance, repair, and occasional replacement of vital parts. Maintenance and repair don’t occur by magic and magic doesn’t pay for parts.
Please join STARS and please give some thought to making a donation. Any contribution is appreciated and it will help to keep the system operational. In the meantime, enjoy the system and have fun!