I put together an HEO station on the cheap. I even contributed an article to the Journal on how I did it. If you take your time, shop around, pick up some used gear, and do some work on your own, it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg.
One problem is we keep talking HEO vs LEO and we forget what used to be in between. The RS birds were very easy to work. They had a much lower Doppler shift than the FM birds and didn't even need a VHF antenna that was steerable in elevation, just azimuth; or even an egg beater with enough power. I used a G5RV and an ARR preamp in the shack along with my HF transceiver for receive.
When I got my WAS OSCAR I worked my last state on an RS bird during a <1 minute pass! When I submitted my application for the award, I did some analysis and figured out that over 50% of contacts were on RS birds, mostly RS-10.
At a couple of the Symposia I brought up the idea of a VHF/10m satellite built from two sets of multiple cubes, separated by the HF antenna made of spring steel, like measuring tape, with the VHF antennas at the end of one stack. The 10M transmitter in one stack, 2M receiver and control in the other, batteries in both, solar cells all over. Nobody was interested.
If you walk to talk price barriers, list price on a new MFJ 2M SSB transceiver is $359, and a CW module is available, too. I used a used Kenwood 2M multimode rig to start with.
I didn't contribute a fortune to AO-40, but I put in all I could afford a bit more besides. Not only was I terribly disappointed when it died, I was even more disappointed when everything but LEO seemed to vanish from our goals. Whoever is on the board, I want to see that back!
David Reinhart, W4DSR (ex-WA6ILT)