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How Does a Satellite Dish Work?

Saurabha Palekar Oct 23, 2018
A satellite dish transmits data signals, and it is widely used for broadcasting purposes for television, radios, phones, Internet, etc. ScienceStruck will tell you all about how a satellite dish works.

Did You Know?

There was a time when wild feeds of sporting events and news were obtained by satellite TV viewers who used the C-band. Although they came for free, they weren't listed like regular broadcast programming; they had to be tracked down.
A satellite dish is an equipment used for transmitting data signals to the signal receiver or receiving data signals from the satellite located in the space. It has different designs and sizes depending upon its usage. It is primarily used for broadcasting radio or TV signals or even for phones and Internet.
It is actually a parabolic-shaped antenna, which is used extensively for data transmission and broadcasting. It is specially designed to receive and transmit the electromagnetic waves of short wavelengths.
There are various types of satellite dishes, such as DTH (Direct-to-home), motor-driven dishes, VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal), TVRO (Television receive-only) dishes, Ad-hoc dishes, multi-satellite dishes, ATSD (Automatic Tracking Satellite Dishes), etc.

Basic Mechanism

As mentioned before, the basic function of this equipment is to convert electromagnetic signals to electric signals to be used for various electronic devices, like computer and television. The signals can be used for communication anywhere, without any cables.
The working of this device is fairly simple, very much like that of a normal cable connection. A transmitter is used to send the signals to the satellite, which are received anywhere with the help of the attached receivers.


There are various parts of a satellite dish, such as metallic dish, feed horn or feed antenna, support arm, etc.

Broadcast Center

It is not a component, but it is the center of this whole system. Here is where the TV provider receives signals from various programming sources and beams a broadcast signal to satellites.

Support Arm

It supports the feed antenna to receive data signals.

Satellite Dish

It is a special kind of antenna, which is supposed to receive data signals from a particular broadcast.

Feed Horn

It is also called feed antenna. It is a point projected from the central part of the dish, which imparts the data signals between the transceiver and the reflector.

Low-noise Block Downconverter (LNB)

It is the central element in the feed horn. It amplifies the data signals and filters out the noise (for radio broadcasting). Then, it passes the filtered signal to the receiver.

Actual Working

The satellite dish is actually a part of satellite transmitting system. It is an antenna, which receives signals from the satellite and redirects them to a signal receiver.

It comprises a parabolic reflector along with a feed horn at its focus. This feed horn reverberates data signals from the focal points to the low-noise block downconverter.
Data signals are electromagnetic waves. The LNB converts these electromagnetic waves into electrical signals in order to redirect them to the signal transmitter.

The electrical signals are further transferred to the L-band range from a downlinked C-band or Kµ-band.
The signal receiver catches these electrical signals, which are further reproduced in the picture and audio form by the television set or audio form in case of a radio. This procedure enables the television sets to produce a high-quality picture and sound.
Signal coverage depends on the satellite and the transponder, used for the transmitting purpose. Usually, actual gain value for a 60-cm consumer satellite dish at 11.75 GHz is 37.50 dB. This value varies as the shape, feed antenna, or the surface finishing change.

Function of the Receiver

Remember that the dish on the receiving end can only receive data, not transmit it. When it is hit by a beam, the parabola shape reflects the radio signal inward onto a specific area.
In some systems, the dish receives signals from two or more sources, simultaneously. This happens when two transmitters are placed close to each other, and a normal dish with a single horn picks up both the signals together.
Since this method compromises the quality to some extent, the latest dishes have different horns to pick up different signals. As the signals hit the receiver, they get reflected into different angles so that each signal is received by each horn.
The receiver receives the digital data, which it converts in an analog format. It unlocks the encrypted signal, for which it needs a proper decoder chip. This chip handles all the communication via the signal.
To be more precise, consider a situation, like say, you are changing a channel on your television. The receiver sends a signal only for that channel on your TV. Therefore, in order to tape one program and watch it later, you need to buy an additional receiver.

Installation: Know These Factors

There are various factors that one has to consider while installing a satellite dish.


The location is very important for the output quality. The dish should be placed in such a way that there won't be any obstacles in its path. Obstacles such as trees, buildings, and towers reduce the frequency of the transmitted and received electromagnetic waves.

Alignment and Pointing

This is equally important. There are various online satellite dish alignment and dish pointing calculators available on the Internet. There should not be any obstacles in the direction, to which the dish is pointing.
One has to ground the device because of the static electricity development, which restricts the electrical signals. It can even damage the signal receiver. Therefore in some areas, there are laws regarding the grounding. Most of the users install their dishes on the roof of their house.
Satellite dishes are increasingly becoming ubiquitous electronic equipment these days. Larger ones give better quality because of the larger surface area. However, an ideal device should be compact and capable of delivering good-quality results in spite of its size.