New ADS-B Filter with Built in Bias Tee Available

Adam who is the manufacturer of the popular LNA4ALL low noise amplifier (LNA) that is commonly used with the RTL-SDR has come out with a new product for ADS-B enthusiasts. The product is an ADS-B filter with a built in bias tee for providing phantom power. Adam previously sold an older version of the ADS-B filter that came without the bias tee.

The bias tee allows you to inject DC power into the coaxial cable in order to easily power an LNA (like the LNA4ALL) or other device that is placed near the antenna. The antenna could be far away from a power source, such as on your roof or up a mast. It ensures DC power reaches the LNA, but at the same time does not enter the RTL-SDR dongle, as DC current on the antenna input could destroy the RTL-SDR. For best performance it is recommended to use an LNA near the antenna, especially if you have a long run of coaxial cable between the antenna and RTL-SDR.

The filter uses Low Temperature Co-fired Ceramics (LTCC) type components as opposed to the seemingly more commonly used SAW and microstrip filters. Adam writes that each type of filter has its tradeoffs, but he believes the LTCC filter is the best for this application.

Comparison between different filter types.
Comparison between different filter types.

The insertion loss of the filter in the pass band is about 2.4 dB and the filter will significantly attenuate broadcast band FM, TV stations, WiFi and 1.8 GHz+ cell phones. However, it does not do so well with 950 MHz cell towers and possible radar on 1.2-1.3 GHz as the LTCC filter is not as sharp as a SAW filter. In Adams own tests he shows that the addition of the filter improves ADS-B decoding performance by about 20%, but the improvement you see will vary greatly with your RF environment.

The filter is currently selling for 20 Euros + 5 Euros shipping (~$28 USD).

ADS-B LTCC Filter with Bias Tee
ADS-B LTCC Filter with Bias Tee

RTL-SDR vs. AIRSPY on ADS-B Reception: Round 2

A few days ago we posted about Anthony Stirk’s comparison between the RTL-SDR and the Airspy on receiving ADS-B signals. In his first test Anthony used an E4000 dongle, which is known to have inferior performance at the ADS-B frequency of 1090 MHz.

Now Anthony has done his test again, but this time with an R820T2 RTL-SDR. His results show that the R820T2 RTL-SDR is better than the E4000 RTL-SDR, but that the Airspy is still better than the R820T2 RTL-SDR. The R820T2 received at maximum distances more comparable to the Airspy, though still fell short of the Airspy by some 50 kms in some directions. Anthony’s writes that his distance seems to be mainly limited by geography so it is possible that in some other location the Airspy could out perform the RTL-SDR by a more significant distance.

The most interesting part of his last experiment was that over a 28 hour period the E4000 RTL-SDR received only a total of 2.9 million messages whilst the Airspy received a total of 10.3 million messages. In the new experiment the R820T2 received a total of 22.3 million messages whilst the Airspy received a total of 31 million messages, which is a little closer. However, with the R820T2 RTL-SDR, 3 million messages were unusable, versus only 31 unusable messages with the Airspy.

From these results it’s clear that the better design and more ADC bits in the Airspy can significantly improve ADS-B reception. However, there is a cost difference at $199 for the Airspy vs <$20 for the RTL-SDR. The Airspy cost may be soon less of a problem we are aware that an Airspy Lite version is in the works and that will probably cost around $99 USD.

In the future Anthony will do another test with no error correction enabled because the current version of the Airspy ADS-B decoder has no error correction whereas the RTL-SDR ADS-B decoder does. Those results may show that the Airspy is even better that shown here.

Update: Anthony ran the test again with a modified version of ADSB# with not error correction and obtained the following results which show that the Airspy receives about double the messages compared to the RTL-SDR:

Total Messages Received:
Airspy 65,150,313
RTL 32,973,049

Airborne Position:
Airspy 4,615,972
RTL 2,270,810

Unusable:
Airspy 533
RTL 635,549

Airspy vs R820T2 RTL-SDR on Maximum ADS-B Distance.
Airspy vs R820T2 RTL-SDR on Maximum ADS-B Distance.

List of all SDRSharp Plugins from rtl-sdr.ru

Vasilli, an SDR# plugins programmer has released a list of all his available SDR# plugins on his website rtl-sdr.ru (in Russian, use Google translate). Some even which were missing from our own list. The ones we hadn’t seen yet were:

  1. MPX Output plugin. Allows programs like RDS Spy to work with the audio output from SDR#
  2. Aviation band 8.33 calculator. Automatically converts the current frequency input to an aviation one according to the standard 8.33 kHz channel spacing.
  3. Frequency Lock. Simply locks the frequency change settings in SDR# to prevent accidental changes.
  4. SDR Update Script. Not a plugin, but a script that automatically updates SDR# and installs most of Vasilli’s plugins all at once. To use this script, it must be placed in a subdirectory of the SDR# folder.

Here’s an example video of SDR# running the MPX plugin so that RDS Spy can be used.

Determining the Radiant of Meteors using the Graves Radar

With an RTL-SDR or other radio it is possible to record the echoes of the 143.050 MHz Graves radar bouncing off the ionized trails of meteors. This is called meteor scatter and it is usually used to count the number of meteors entering the atmosphere. Amateur radio astronomers EA4EOZ and EB3FRN decided to take this idea further and synchronised their separate receivers and recordings with a PPS GPS signal in order to determine the radiant of the meteors they detected. They write:

The idea was to analyze the Doppler from the head echoes and and see if something useful can be extracted from them.

We detected a meteor from two distant locations and measured Doppler and Doppler slope at those locations. The we tried to find solutions to the meteor equation by brute force until we obtain a big number of them. Then we plotted those solutions in the sky and we see some of them pass near a known active radiant at the time of observation. Then, we checked the velocity of those solutions near the known radiant and found they are quite similar to the velocity of the known radiant, so we concluded probably they come from that radiant.

But they can come from everywhere else in the sky along the solution lines! There is not guarantee these meteors to be Geminids, although probabilities are high. Once all the possible radiants of a meteor are plotted into the sky, there is no way to know who of all them was the real one. Doppler only measurement from two different places is not enough to determine a meteor radiant. But don’t forget with some meteors, suspect to come from a known shower, the possible results includes the right radiant at the known meteor velocity for that radiant, so there seems to be some solid base fundamentals in this experiment.

Initially they ran into a little trouble with their sound cards, as it turns out that sound cards don’t exactly sample at their exact specified sample rate. After properly resampling their sound files they were able to create a stereo wav file (one receiver on the left channel, one receiver on the right channel) which showed that the doppler signature was different in each location. The video below shows this wav file.

Using the information from their two separate recordings, they were able to do some doppler math, and determine a set of possible locations for the radiant of the meteors (it was not possible to pinpoint the exact location due to there being no inverse to the doppler equation). The radiant of a meteor shower is the point in the sky at which the meteors appear to be originating from. Although their solution couldn’t exactly pinpoint the location, some of the possible solutions from most meteors passed through the known radiant of the Geminids meteor shower. With more measurement locations the exact location could be pinpointed more accurately.

Possible solutions for the radiant of the Geminids meteor shower.
Possible solutions for the radiant of several meteors detected during the Geminids meteor shower.

Wireless Door Bell 433 MHz ASK Signal Analysis with a HackRF

Paul Rascagneres, an RF experimenter has recently uploaded a document detailing his efforts at reverse engineering a wireless doorbell (pdf file) with a 433 MHz Amplitude Shift Keyed (ASK) signal with his HackRF software defined radio. The HackRF is a SDR similar to the RTL-SDR, but with a wider available bandwidth and transmit capabilities.

To reverse engineer the doorbell, Paul used GNU Radio with the Complex to Mag decoder block to receive and demodulate the ASK signal. Once demodulated he was able to visually see the binary modulated waveform, and manually obtain the serial bit stream. From there he went on to create a GNU Radio program that can automatically obtain the binary strings from the ASK waveform.

In order to replay the signal, Paul found that the simplest way was to use the hackrf_transfer program, which simply records a signal, and then replays it via the HackRF transmitter on demand. With this method Paul was able to ring his doorbell via the HackRF.

Paul also confirmed his SDR results with an Arduino and 433 MHz transceiver. He then took it a step further and used the Arduino to create a system that could automatically receive and replay signals at 433 MHz and 315 MHz.

Decoding an ASK modulated bitstream.
Decoding an ASK modulated bitstream.

Receiving SSTV from FleetSatcom Pirates

Radio pirates often make use of the Fleetsatcom satellites to send and receive slow scan television (SSTV) pictures over a wide distance. Fleetsatcom is a satellite communications system used by the US Navy for radio communications. Since these satellites are simply radio repeaters with no authentication mechanisms, pirates soon discovered that they could take over the satellites for their own use.

Over on YouTube user LEGION ELMELENAS has uploaded a video showing his reception of some pirates transmitting a SSTV image at a Fleetsatcom frequency of 252 MHz. To receive the image he used a home made turnstile antenna, an RTL-SDR dongle, SDR# and the RX-SSTV decoder. The image appears to be a photo of a pirates son.

We previously posted more information about Fleetsatcom SSTV pirates in this post.

YouTube video showing Meteor-M2 being decoded in real time

Yesterday we posted about a tutorial showing how to decode Meteor-M2 LRPT weather satellite images in real time with a new QPSK decoder plugin for SDR# and a modified version of Lrptdecoder. 

Over on YouTube user max30max31 (a.k.a IZ5RZR) has uploaded a video showing some of the steps in the tutorial as well as the real time result of decoding of the weather satellite image.

RTL-SDR Tutorial: Decoding Meteor-M2 Weather Satellite Images in Real-Time with an RTL-SDR

Back in September last year we posted a tutorial written by RTL-SDR.com reader Happysat which showed how to receive and decode high resolution Meteor-M2 LRPT satellite images. The tutorial required several offline manual processing steps to be performed and therefore could not decode the image in real time.

Now Vasili, a SDR# plugins programmer, and Oleg who is the coder of Lrptdecoder have combined ideas to create a new QPSK demodulator plugin for SDR# that allows the real time reception and decoding of Meteor-M2 LRPT images (in Russian use Google translate). The demodulator also offers the advantage of faster and longer signal locking, and also works much better with weak signals compared to the old method. 

At the same time Vasili has also released another plugin called DDE Tracker which allows a satellite tracking program such as Orbitron to interface with and control SDR#. The plugin can be downloaded on the same page as the QPSK plugin. This is similar to the already existing DDE plugins, but now also comes with a scheduler which allows users to automatically schedule recordings of Meteor-M2 and NOAA satellite passings.

Tutorial

To help users get set up with this new method, Happysat has again come forth with another tutorial which can be downloaded here (.pdf) (.docx) (.txt w/ images in .rar). At first glance the tutorial may seem more complicated than the old method, but in the end it is a much faster and more efficient way at decoding LRPT images. The basic steps involve setting up Orbitron and the DDE plugin to automatically track the Meteor-M2 LRPT satellite and signal, and then setting up the QPSK plugin and the new version of Lrptdecoder to talk to one another in real time via a local TCP connection.

Real time decoding of Meteor-M2 with two new SDR# Plugins.
Real time decoding of Meteor-M2 with two new SDR# Plugins.
QPSK Decoder SDR# Plugin
QPSK Demodulator SDR# Plugin
DDE Orbitron Interface SDR# Plugin.
DDE Orbitron Interface SDR# Plugin.

AMIGOS

One more Meteor-M2 related thing to look forward to in the future is the AMIGOS project which stands for Amateur Meteor Images Global Observation System. This will be a system where users around the world can contribute LRPT images through the internet to create a worldwide LRPT receiver. Oleg of LrptDecoder writes:

There is an idea to merge LRPT receive amateur radio stations in a network through the Internet and create a super LRPT receiver.
I see the benefit of professionals from the control center in the operational monitoring of the condition of the equipment MSU-MR, and for fans of the fullest reception of images from Meteor-M.

All is in testing phase and need some setup for the servers,  data is beeing shared thru a VPN connection to a central server which will have a continous flow of images from all over the world.
Users can join and share in realtime the data more info on:
http://meteor.robonuka.ru/for-experts/amigos/

What is Meteor-M2?

If you don’t understand what all this is about: The Meteor-M N2 is a polar orbiting Russian weather satellite that was launched on July 8, 2014. Its main missions are weather forecasting, climate change monitoring, sea water monitoring/forecasting and space weather analysis/prediction.

The satellite is currently active with a Low Resolution Picture Transmission (LRPT) signal which broadcasts live weather satellite images, similar to the APT images produced by the NOAA satellites. LRPT images are however much better as they are transmitted as a digital signal with an image resolution 12 times greater than the aging analog NOAA APT signals. Some example Meteor weather images can be found on this page and the satellite can be tracked in Orbitron or online.

A software defined radio such as the low cost RTL-SDR, or the higher end Airspy and Funcube dongles can be used to receive these signals.

An Example LRPT Image Received with an RTL-SDR from the Meteor-2 M2.
An Example LRPT Image Received with an RTL-SDR from the Meteor-2 M2.

Updates

The DDE plugin can also be used for tracking NOAA satellites. Some people have been having trouble with set up. Happysat writes a solution:

Download TLE from: http://www.celestrak.com/NORAD/elements/noaa.txt. Make sure the names are the same in DDE Sat Tracking Client schedule. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/124465398/NOAA_Setup.jpg. Same one as i post in the howto – https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/124465398/DDESchedule.rar