New Airspy Review from Radio User Magazine

A new review of the Airspy software defined radio has been published by Mike Richards in the March 2015 edition of the Radio User magazine. Although the magazine is for sale, the publishers have allowed the Airspy team to release the review for free. The review goes over the Airspy architecture, features, use of the software and presents a favourable tone towards the Airspy.

The Airspy is an software defined radio that costs $199 USD and comes with a 24 – 1800 MHz tuning range, 10 MHz of bandwidth and 12-bit ADC.

Previously Mike Richards also reviewed the SDRPlay, a competitor to the Airspy in Radio User and that review is also available for download.

Airspy diagram from the Radio User magzine review.
Airspy diagram from the Radio User magzine review.

Fingerprinting Aircraft with Aircraft Scatter

Over on a Finnish aircraft spotting forum, one poster OH7HJ has been using the “Aircraft Scatter” technique to fingerprint individual aircraft (in Finnish, use Google Translate to read in English). Aircraft scatter is a method that can be used to detect aircraft via strong radio signals that are reflected by the aircraft body. OH7HJ shows that each different type of aircraft will present a different reflection intensity at different points of the reflection, allowing each aircraft to be uniquely identified.

In the thread the original poster used a standard hardware radio, but an RTL-SDR dongle or other software defined radio could also be used. He tuned to a strong analogue TV carrier and plotted the audio spectrograph in Spectrum Lab. If analogue TV is no longer available in your country other strong signals such as amateur radio beacons or radar signal carriers could also be used for aircraft scatter.

Below we show a small selection of some of the interesting images from page 9 of the thread, please see the actual thread for the rest. There is also more information and images contained in the other pages of the discussion thread too.

Fingerprinting a Boeing 777 with Aircraft Scatter
Fingerprinting a Boeing 777 with aircraft scatter
Comparing Aircraft Scatter Intensity Profiles
Comparing aircraft scatter intensity profiles
Comparing large and small aircraft with aircraft scatter
Comparing large and small aircraft with aircraft scatter

RTL-SDR Live Discussion Net at 8pm EDT Tonight

Over on Reddit amateur radio hobbyist K2RWF has posted about a live discussion and QA session that he and some others will be having on a amateur radio net about RTL-SDR dongles. The discussion begins at 8PM EDT (about 2 hours from time this is posted) and will run for about an hour. For non-hams the discussion can be streamed live from On the post K2RWF writes:

We had a pretty successful net last week regarding the RTLSDR sticks that are now widely available. We’ve decided to make the net a weekly occurrence for the time being, every Wednesday at 8 pm.

Tonight, we will be covering basic setup and configuration of the sticks from a software and hardware perspective, answering any questions you may have about getting up and running.

The net originates on W2LI, and tonight, we will be linked to the W2NJR repeater network, covering NJ and parts of NYC. This includes Echolink (21005) and IRLP (4935) capabilities for those wishing to participate from outside the area. The net beings at 8 pm EDT, and is expected to run for about one hour.

All are welcome, from newbies through advanced users. For non hams wishing to participate, you may stream the net using the link provided below. We will also be monitoring this thread to yield and answer questions from the r/rtlsdr community.

Update: Recording of the net can be downloaded here (mp3)

Listening to an NFC Polling Signal from a Nexus 7 with an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube user 2e26tenW has uploaded a video showing reception of the second harmonic of an NFC polling signal with his RTL-SDR. NFC stands for “Near Field Communication” and is a technology that enables smartphones and other devices to communicate with one another and some smart cards simply by bringing the two devices together.

In his experiment he uses a Nexus 7 tablet to poll an NFC enabled transportation card. As the RTL-SDR cannot receive the NFC frequency of 13.56 MHz directly without an upconverter or hardware or software direct sampling modified dongle, 2e26tenW instead tunes to the second harmonic at 27.12 MHz which allows him to receive the signal.

Teensy SDR Updates and User Interface Demo

Last year in April we posted about the Teensy SDR, which is a SDR project that involves running a SoftRock SDR on a Teensy 3.1 Microcontroller. The Teensy is a tiny microcontroller board that uses a 32-bit ARM processor and the SoftRock SDR is a HF only software defined radio kit that is capable of RX and TX. Back then the Teensy SDR has no enclosure and the user interface hadn’t been finished.

In his latest YouTube videos, creator of the Teensy SDR rheslip20 (aka VE3MKC) shows his latest improvements to the project and in the second video shows off the user interface. In the future he hopes to implement TX capability too.

Low Pass Filter for RTL-SDR Direct Sampling Mode

Over on his blog (in Japanese) Nobu has been working on prototyping a 14 MHz low pass filter (LPF) product for direct sampling modified RTL-SDR dongles (in Japanese, use Google Translate). Direct sampling mode is a hardware modification that allows the tuner chip in RTL-SDR dongles to be bypassed, allowing reception of signals between 0 – 14 MHz. However, after performing this mod there is no filtering and images from higher frequencies such as broadcast FM can be problematic. To fix these problems a low pass filter is required.

Another product Nobu is working on is an isolation transformer (aka Galvanic Isolator) which can be used together with an upconverter to help reduce noise generated from common ground sources such as the PC. The isolation transformer is inserted between an upconverter and antenna.

Low Pass Filter (Top), Isolation Transformer (Bottom)
Low Pass Filter (Top), Isolation Transformer (Bottom)

In the image below Nobu shows the effect of inserting the LPF . An interfering FM broadcast band signal is removed after inserting the LPF.

Effect of inserting the Low Pass Filter
Effect of inserting the Low Pass Filter

The image below shows the effect of the isolation transformer showing a clear decrease in noise floor and increase in signal strength.

Effect of an Isolation Transformer when used with an Upconverter
Effect of an Isolation Transformer when used with an Upconverter

Video Showing Decoding of DGPS Beacons with SDR# and MultiPSK

Following on from our last post where dewdude showed how to decode DGPS signalsFrank K2NCC has uploaded a video on YouTube showing DGPS decoding in action. In his video Frank uses an Airspy plus ham-it-up upconverter, a Sirio discone antenna and for software he uses SDR# with audio piped into MultiPSK for decoding.

In the video you can clearly see the decoded DGPS messages showing the pseudorange corrections and station numbers. To decode DGPS with MultiPSK you will need to use the paid version which costs approximately $50 USD, however in the free version the DGPS will run for 5 minutes each time MultiPSK is opened before expiring.

Below is an example of a decoded message.

24/03/2015 02:06:09
Message type        : 9 (GPS partial correction set)
Station number      : 172 (Appleton WA USA 300.0 Khz TXID 871 100bps)
Z-count             : 4215 ( 42 mn 9.0 s )
Sequence count      : 2le factor=0.3)

Sat. ID|SF|UDRE|Pseudorange corr.  |Range rate corr.|IOD|CRC
25     |0 |1-4m|      -7.68 m      |   0.000 m/s    |62 |OK
31     |0 |1-4m|       1.54 m      |   0.000 m/s    |27 |OK
32     |0 |1-4m|       0.70 m      |   0.000 m/s    |99 |Error

Decoding Differential GPS Beacons with an RTL-SDR, Speclab and SDR#

Over on his blog “RTL-SDR DX” dewdude has been exploring the reception and decoding of Differential GPS (DGPS) signals. DGPS signals are transmitted by government authorities in the long wave band at around 300 kHz. These beacons are used to dramatically improve the accuracy of GPS (Global Positioning System) devices from their default accuracy of about 15 m down to about 10 cm. Unlike GPS signals which originate from satellites, the DGPS signal is terrestrial based and is broadcast from multiple known fixed positions. The signal itself contains information about the difference between the DGPS stations received GPS position and it’s known exact position. These differences can be used to correct other GPS receivers that receive DGPS signal.

By using his RTL-SDR (with upconverter or HF modification) dewdude was able to receive the DGPS beacon in SDR#. Then by piping the output audio into SpectrumLab’s DGPS decoder he was able to decode the data contained within the DGPS signal. His post contains a tutorial showing how to set up SpectrumLab to decode DGPS. If you’re interested in hearing what a DGPS signal sounds like, dewdude has uploaded a sound sample at the bottom of another post of his.

Decoding Differential GPS (DGPS) signals in SpectrumLab
Decoding Differential GPS (DGPS) signals in SpectrumLab