Category: Applications

A Tutorial on Using a Raspberry Pi Zero Wireless for ADS-B Flight Tracking

Allaboutcircuits.com contributing writer Mark Hughes has recently posted a tutorial that shows how to use an RTL-SDR dongle with a Raspberry Pi Zero Wireless to track aircraft with ADS-B. As a bonus he also shows how to program and wire up a 64×64 RGB matrix screen to display currently tracked flight numbers.

The Pi Zero is one of the cheapest single board computers available, costing only $5 USD, and the wireless model with WiFi connectivity only costs $10 USD. It is powerful enough with its 1 GHz CPU and 512 MB of RAM to run an RTL-SDR and run several non CPU intensive applications such as ADS-B decoding.

The tutorial starts from the beginning by installing a fresh Raspbian image onto the Pi Zero. He then goes on to show how to install the PiAware tracking and feeding software from flightaware.com. Later in the tutorial he also shows how to collect data straight from the flightaware.com API, and also how to build and control an RGB matrix which can display live flight numbers.

It also seems that FlightAware themselves have recently released PiAware 3.5, which now directly supports the Raspberry Pi Zero Wireless.

Using a HackRF as a Beacon Transmitter on a Drone for Antenna Calibration

Over on his Twitter feed Sylvain Azarian (@sylvain_azarian / F4GKR) has been tweeting about his new antenna calibration method which involves the use of a HackRF SDR and Raspberry Pi mounted on a drone.

The idea is to use the drone as a remote beacon which can move all around the antenna. As the drone flies around, the HackRF on the drone emits a data chirp containing GPS telemetry of the drones position. The receiver on the ground decodes this data and also determines the SNR of the received signal. By plotting the received SNR together with the drones GPS position, the radiation pattern of the antenna under test could be determined.

The software is called “RadiantBee” and is developed by both F4GKR and F5OEO. It is available over on GitHub. The flying hardware consists of a quadcopter, GPS, Raspberry Pi 3, HackRF, 10 GHz upconverter, band pass filter and horn antenna. The base station consists of an RTL-SDR dongle, 10 GHz downconverter, GPS and the antenna under test.

[Also seen on Hackaday]
The RadiantBee Quadcopter.
The RadiantBee Quadcopter

A New Meteor M LRPT Image Decoder for Windows, Linux, MacOS and Raspberry Pi

Thanks to twitter user @LinuxSocist for submitting a link to this new Meteor M weather satellite LRPT decoder called ‘meteor_decoder’ which can be run on both Linux and Windows. Pre-built binary of the software for Windows, Linux Raspberry Pi and MacOS are available at orbides.org.

This software decoder appears to be an excellent choice for those people who want to perform their reception and decoding of Meteor M satellites all in Linux. Previously as explained in this previous post, you were able to receive the QPSK data in Linux with an RTL-SDR and a GNU Radio program, but then you’d still need to boot into Windows or run Wine to run LRPTofflinedecoder in order to generate the image. Now it appears that the image generation can be performed natively in Linux too with meteor_decoder. This help with creating portable automated Raspberry Pi based Meteor M decoder servers.

Meteor M is a class of Russian weather satellites that transmit live weather images of the earth as they pass over your location. They are somewhat similar to the NOAA satellites, although the Meteor satellites transmit higher quality images via a digital LRPT signal, rather than the analog APT signals used by NOAA. With an RTL-SDR, an appropriate antenna and decoding software they can easily be received.

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 M-N2 Satellite.

Amateur Pulsar Observations with an RTL-SDR

Back in September 2015 we made a posted that discussed how some amateur radio astronomers have been using RTL-SDR’s for detecting pulsars. A pulsar is a rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. If this beam points towards the earth, it can then be observed with a large dish antenna and a radio, like the RTL-SDR.

In their work they showed how they were able to detect and measure the rotational period of the Vela pulsar, one of the strongest and easiest to receive pulsars. They also noted how using several RTL-SDR dongles could reduce the required satellite dish size.

Recently we came across Hannes Fasching (OE5JFL)’s work where he shows that he has detected 15 pulsars so far using RTL-SDR dongles. His detection system specs include:

Antenna: 7.3m homemade offset dish, OE5JFL tracking system
Feeds: 70cm (424 MHz) dual-dipole with solid reflector, 23cm (1294 MHz) RA3AQ horn
Preamplifiers: 23cm cavity MGF4919, 70cm 2SK571 (30 years old!)
Line Amplifier: PGA103+
Interdigital filter: designed with VK3UM software, 70cm 4-pole, 23cm 3-pole
Receiver: RTL-SDR (error <1ppm), 2 MHz bandwidth
Software: IW5BHY, Presto, Tempo, Murmur

Furthermore, from looking at the Neutron Star Group website, it seems that the majority of amateur radio astronomers interested in pulsar detection are currently using RTL-SDR dongles as the receiver. Some of them have access to very large 25m dishes, but some like IW5BHY, IK5VLS and I0NAA use smaller 2.5m – 5m dishes which can fit into a backyard.

If you are interested in getting into amateur pulsar detection, check out the Neutron Star Group website as they have several resources available for learning.

OE5JFL's 7.3m pulsar detection dish with an RTL-SDR receiver.
OE5JFL’s 7.3m pulsar detection dish with an RTL-SDR receiver.

New Outernet Hardware “Dreamcatcher”: An RTL-SDR with Embedded Computing Hardware

Over on the Outernet forums Outernet CEO Syed has just released pictures of the latest upcoming Outernet receiver called “Dreamcatcher”. The new receiver is an RTL-SDR, LNA, filter, and embedded Linux capable computing hardware all on board a single PCB. The full specs are pasted below:

  • L-band SAW filter (1525 – 1559 MHz)
  • Two-stage L-band LNA with 34dB gain
  • 0.5 PPM TCXO
  • RF bypass for tuning from 24 – 1600 MHz – use as a regular RTL-SDR!
  • USB ports
  • GPIO forest
  • UARTs, I2C, SPI headers (unpopulated) for driving external hardware
  • Two microSD card holders – for boot and storage!
  • 1 GHz CPU
  • 256 MB RAM Now 512 MB RAM
  • USB wifi dongle (not shown) – STA+ AP mode capable!
  • Lots of LEDs! and Switches!
  • microUSB OTG
  • microUSB power port
  • Audio In/Out
  • Speaker with 1.4 W integrated audio amplifier
  • Fully mainline (4.10) Kernel and (2017.01) Uboot support!
    *** JST battery is being removed

On the Roadmap:

  • armbian/debian support

This is a fully-integrated SDR receiver – RF frontend, SDR, Compute, Wifi – Everything!

Outernet is an L-band satellite service that aims to be a download only “library in the sky”. Currently they are broadcasting from Inmarsat and Alphasat geostationary satellites which can be received from almost anywhere in the world. We have a tutorial on receiving and decoding their signal here. Every day almost 20 MB of data is sent down, and this includes data like news, weather forecasts, APRS, wikipedia articles, books and more. In the future you will be able to pay to upload private files or messages. This could be useful for sending messages to people isolated from cell phone reception, or for operating remote hardware.

Previously Outernet sold a DIY version of their receiver which included an RTL-SDR V3 or E4000 dongle, LNA+filter, a C.H.I.P embedded computer, and a patch antenna. Recently they have changed to their custom RTL-SDR hardware which is called the “SDRx”. The SDRx includes the RTL-SDR, LNA and filter on a single PCB. Over time it seems that they are moving in the direction of integration of all components onto a single PCB and this can be seen in the Dreamcatcher which now also includes the computing hardware. This is especially good news as the $9 C.H.I.P computing hardware has been almost impossible to acquire since its release.

The Dreamcatcher looks to be also not just useful for Outernet, but also for general projects that can be done on embedded hardware as there is a port which bypasses the L-Band filter.

Back in 2014 we posted about the XiOne. This was also to be an RTL-SDR and computing hardware built onto the same PCB. It would have been controlled via a WiFi connection and apps on a smart phone/tablet. Unfortunately the XiOne Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign never reached its target so the project faded away. The Dreamcatcher is somewhat similar in that both are RTL-SDRs with onboard computing hardware and WiFi connectivity.

The Dreamcatcher is not yet for sale, but it is currently under production. From the looks of the discussion on the forums, it looks like it will sell for $149 USD. Outernet have said that they are sending us a review sample, so keep an eye out for the review in the coming weeks.

The Outernet Dreamcatcher: RTL-SDR + LNA + Filter + Computing Hardware on a single PCB.
The Outernet Dreamcatcher: RTL-SDR + LNA + Filter + Computing Hardware on a single PCB.

YouTube Videos: NOAA Satellite Tutorial and Building a Radio Telescope

Over on the Thought Emporium YouTube channel the team have uploaded two videos that may be of interest to radio hobbyists. The first video shows a nice overview about receiving NOAA weather satellite images. They explain everything from scratch for complete novice, so the videos are great for almost anyone to watch and learn about radio and SDR concepts. The blurb of the first video reads:

Over the past 2 months, me and my friend Artem have been building antennas to receive signals from weather satellites as they pass overhead. This video chronicles our progress through this project and goes through some of the science involved in working with radio and receiving transmissions. We explore how dipoles work and how to build them, and how we built our final double cross antenna. We used an SDR (software defined radio) called a HackRF to do the work of interpreting the received signals and then decoded them with some special software. We pulled images from 4 satellites: NOAA 15, 18 and 19 as well as METEOR M2. The satellites broadcast immediately as they take the images and no images are stored, so we’re likely the only ones on earth with these images.

The second video is about building a radio telescope. Like the NOAA video, they explain all concepts in a simple and easy to understand way, so that anyone even without any radio knowledge can understand what the project is about. In the video they also show how they use a 3D printer to create a tracking mount which can point a satellite dish. They then use the dish to create a satellite heat map. The blurb reads:

Over the last 2 months me and my friend Artem (you met him in the last video) built our first radio telescope. It was built mostly out of off the shelf components, like a satellite dish and Ku band LNB, as well as some parts we 3d printed. When all was said and done we had a system that could not only take images of the sky in radio frequencies (in this case 10-12ghz), but could also be used to track satellites. With it, we were able to see the ring of satellites in geosynchronous orbit, over 35,000km away, This is only the first of what I suspect will be many more telescopes like this. Next time we’ll be building ones that are far larger and can see things like the hydrogen lines so we can image the milky way.

YouTube Talk: Hunting Rogue WiFi Devices using the HackRF SDR

Over on YouTube a video titled “Hunting Rogue WiFi Devices using the HackRF SDR” has been uploaded. The talk is given by Mike Davis at the OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) Cape Town. The talk’s abstract reads:

Rogue WiFi Access Points are a serious security risk for today’s connected society. Devices such as the Hak5 Pineapple, ESP8266-based ‘throwies’, or someone with the right WiFi card and software can be used to intercept users’ traffic and grab all of their credentials. Finding these rogue devices is a very difficult thing to achieve without specialised equipment. In this talk Mike will discuss the work he has been doing over the past year, to use the HackRF SDR as a RF Direction-finding device, with the goal of hunting down various malicious RF devices, including car remote jammers.

The talk starts off with the basics, explaining what the problems with WiFi devices are, what the HackRF and SDR is, and then goes on to explain some direction finding methods that Mike has been using. 


welle.io: A New RTL-SDR & Airspy DAB/DAB+ Decoder Available for Windows/Linux

Thanks to Albrecht Lohofener for submitting to us his new software package called ‘welle.io’ which is a free DAB and DAB+ decoder and player that supports the RTL-SDR (directly or also via rtl_tcp) and Airspy software defined radios. The software can be run on both Windows and Linux, and also supports Raspberry Pi 2/3 and cheap Chinese Windows 10 tablets.

Albrecht writes that his software is a fork of the qt-dab codebase, with the development goal being to create an easy to use DAB/DAB+ software receiver. The software is still under heavy development, and Albrecht mentions that he is looking for fellow developers and testers to help improve the software and report any bugs. Albrecht writes:

I’m proud to introduce a new open source DAB/DAB+ reception application welle.io https://www.welle.io. welle.io is a fork of qt-dab http://github.com/JvanKatwijk/qt-dab (old dab-rpi and sdr-j-dab) with the goal to develop an easy to use DAB/DAB+ reception application. It supports high DPI and touch displays and it runs even on cheap computers like Raspberry Pi 2/3 and 100€ China Windows 10 tablets. As input devices welle.io supports rtlsdr and airspy.

Currently daily Windows binary builds are available over on the projects GitHub. For Linux and Raspberry Pi users you’ll need to compile the code from source, but in the future he plans to provide Ubuntu snaps.

We gave the welle.io software a brief test and it ran as expected. There is an automatic channel scan feature which scans through all the possible DAB channels and an advanced mode for seeing technical information such as the frequency, SNR and error rates. The software also has a nice touchscreen friendly GUI which automatically downloads and displays the DAB/DAB+ program guide information.

Welle.io DAB/DAB+ decoder for the RTL-SDR and Airspy.
Welle.io DAB/DAB+ decoder for the RTL-SDR and Airspy.