PBS Revamps Satellite Transmission Facility

The newly renovated PBS satellite uplink facility. The building is now completely wrapped in an environmental barrier.

ALEXANDRIA, VA.—PBS has completed renovation and expansion of its 37-year-old Northern Virginia Satellite Operating Center or “SOC.” The project was undertaken as part of a program to update PBS operations, incorporate new technologies and add features to help make the facility more environmentally friendly.

The original building dates back to 1977 and was a key element in PBS’ pioneering efforts to deliver programming to member stations via satellite.

One of the more visible improvements to the facility is a layer of environmental shielding that now covers the original cinder block construction. This was done to ameliorate some long-term moisture incursion problems that made it difficult to control humidity and temperature levels. A new roof membrane was also added.

The makeover includes a 3,000-square foot addition to accommodate a new HVAC system and additional office space. Other changes and improvements included shoring up of the building’s foundation, installation of barriers to divert groundwater and relocation of much of the electrical distribution outside of the building to gain space. Stephen Francis, PBS’ director of project management for engineering and technical maintenance, noted that the electrical service was upgraded to increase efficiency and two 1 MW diesel generators were installed as backup power sources.

This master control facility is part of the SOC. In addition to monitoring of satellite feeds to PBS member stations operations, operators are also able to keep tabs on building systems.

The new HVAC system replaces several roof-mounted units and consists of three 100-ton units. It’s designed to provide normal cooling even in the hottest months with just two of the three units operating.

The renovation also reflects the facility’s changing role from strictly satellite uplinking to that of a combined playout and transmission unit that includes a massive file server array. Content is received from the main PBS facility several miles away and stored on hard drives until air time.

According to Chris Homer, PBS’s vice president of operations and engineering, the evolving nature of broadcasting has also resulted in another change in the way things are done. While there’s been a movement underway for some time to merge audio/video engineering with IT, technicians at the SOC also perform RF engineering duties.

“Because we’re moving to an all-IT architecture in the future we’re all going to need to be IT people,” said Homer. “Everyone has to be trained to do both.”

James E. O'Neal

James E. O’Neal has more than 50 years of experience in the broadcast arena, serving for nearly 37 years as a television broadcast engineer and, following his retirement from that field in 2005, moving into journalism as technology editor for TV Technology for almost the next decade. He continues to provide content for this publication, as well as sister publication Radio World, and others.  He authored the chapter on HF shortwave radio for the 11th Edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook, and serves as editor-in-chief of the IEEE’s Broadcast Technology publication, and as associate editor of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. He is a SMPTE Life Fellow, and a Life Member of the IEEE and the SBE.