Satphone Blogging — Resurrection


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 13, 2013      

Some of you may recall the lower budget satphone blogging system we used during our 2010 Denali ski expedition. I still use the Iridium 9555 satphone, but the other ingredients came back from Denali a bit ragged and I had most of the stuff just stored away or put into use in other applications (the solar panels come in handy for temporary use at Field HQ, for example). Louie says he’ll file dispatches from some glacier in Alaska at the end of the month, so I resurrected the system and sent it up to him. It took quite a bit of work and money to put it all back together. Hopefully it’ll be worth it!

WildSnow satphone blogging 2013.

WildSnow satphone blogging 2013.

The basic ingredients:
— Acer netbook, same one used on Denali, rebuilt, SSD hard drive
— Iridium 9555 satphone
— Brunton Solo battery acts as charge and voltage controller
— Anker battery (smaller) for spare, runs satphone and charges iPods, can be connected directly to panels or to main battery
— Miscellaneous connectors made in WildSnow modshop, standardized to either cigarette plugs or one size electrical jack
— Brunton fold-up solar 26 watt arrays, 2, jumpered together or can be operated separately
UUplus optimized satphone email service
— Optional satphone external antenna (not pictured) improves performance in fringe areas or when phone needs to be used in RF blocking shelter

Basically the system works like this: you set up the solar system so it keeps everything charged up, then on the computer you write your blog copy and process your photos. Using the UUplus satphone data service, you upload everything as email to a ground person back in civilization who assembles the blog post and publishes it. It’s possible to go all the way to publication from the remote location, but doing so requires many more expensive satphone minutes and preferably more bandwidth. Thus, using a ground person is much more efficient and practical.

It takes quite a bit of care and expertise to successfully use the system. On Denali, I was surprised at how much time it took me, and how easily things could be broken or otherwise disabled. Problem is, you don’t have a desk and you don’t have a repair shop.

Setting up the solar is simple. Always use plenty of panel wattage, as there is nothing worse than having slightly less power than you really need. Hook up a fairly large battery pack to the panels, for storage and to act as charge/voltage regulator. Hook everything else to the battery, being careful of how much load you ultimately put on the system (be sure there are various fuses in the system, and check equipment and wires for overheating).

Extensively test everything at home, and bring as much redundancy as possible to the field. For example, our system doubles up on just about everything except the satphone (though on Denali we did have two satphones of the same model, which was good).

There are many ways to remote blog (with photos) these days, with more or less money, different gear and so forth. Our system still seems to be one of the most efficient in terms of weight and cost, though it’s still pricey and the weight does add up.



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Comments

7 Responses to “Satphone Blogging — Resurrection”

  1. Lee Lau March 13th, 2013 12:48 pm

    Lots of food pictures please Tyler and Louie. Looking forward to it

  2. Samuel Savard March 13th, 2013 1:19 pm

    Amazing set up! You guys are geniuses…Can’t wait to see the blog posts!

  3. Jesse March 13th, 2013 1:22 pm

    16 pounds according to the previous post… Yikes. Well, your readers appreciate it!

    I know that your gear choices are always incredibly well thought out, but I’m sort of surprised you still use a full laptop for this. I would have thought an ipad mini or even a touch would be enough, and you wouldn’t just cut down on the computer weight but also power requirements. Especially if you still have someone back at “HQ” actually publishing the posts.

    (It occurred to me that it might be hard to get photos directly from a camera onto a tablet, but I just checked and apparently there are SD card readers for ipad)

  4. Lou Dawson March 13th, 2013 2:04 pm

    Jesse, the idea is total capability with Photoshop to really process/compress the photos before they get sent on the expensive/slow satphone connection. Also, a real keyboard for real writing, card reader built-in instead of yet another accessory, and so on. We even pack a mouse along in case that might be useful instead of the touchpad. More, the SSD drive in the netbook has plenty of storage space, and so on. Believe me, for real publishing content work it’s much better than trying to use an iPad and actually not that much heavier. More, we pack two batteries for each netbook, so if a battery bricks or just runs out of power, more power is available without needing the solar.

    I’d agree there might be tablet options, but cost is a concern as well. The customized netbooks still only end up costing about $350 to $400, that’s with SSD drive, RAM upgrade, and a monster 10 hour battery. I’ve also priced out small hardened computers that can even be used underwater. They’re way too expensive, though if we did this all the time I’d probably spring for one.

    Lou

  5. Lou Dawson March 13th, 2013 2:06 pm

    I should have mentioned that on Denali we did haul the system up the mountain and back down, but Louie’s trip is base camping. They’d perhaps move camp a short distance by ferrying loads, but it’s not a mobile expedition. Nonetheless, due to shipping cost and weight charges from the air service, one still has to be weight efficient and the system in that way is pretty similar to what we hauled on Denali, in fact, nearly the same. Lou

  6. Jesse March 13th, 2013 3:41 pm

    That makes sense. Now that I think about it, I’m sure you explained all this at the time. Thanks!

  7. Jack March 13th, 2013 3:58 pm

    Lou, Looks like an amazing rig. The 12-V cigarette-lighter plugs look heavy and clunky, but then again those cables are all good for plugging into a vehicle, or somebody else’s battery source. Still very cool.

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