Category: Satellite

Receiving NOAA 19 HRPT with a HackRF, LNA4All and Cooking Pot Antenna

Over on his YouTube channel Adam 9A4QV has uploaded a video that shows him receiving the NOAA 19 HRPT signal at 1698 MHz with his HackRF, LNA4ALL and the simple circularly polarized cooking pot antenna that we saw in his last videos.

HRPT stands for High Resolution Picture Transmission and is a digital protocol that is used on some satellites to transmit much higher resolution weather images when compared to the APT signal that most people are familiar with receiving. The HRPT signal is available on NOAA19, which also transmits APT. However, unlike APT which is at 137 MHz, HRPT is at 1698 MHz, and is typically a much weaker signal requiring a higher gain motorized tracking antenna.

However in the video Adam shows that a simple cooking pot antenna used indoors is enough to receive the signal (weakly). The signal is probably not strong enough to achieve a decoded image, but perhaps some tweaks might improve the result.

Over on his Reddit thread about the video Adam mentions that a 90cm dish, with a proper feed and two LNA4ALLs should be able to receive the HRPT signal easily. User devnulling also gives some very useful comments on how the software side could be set up if you were able to achieve a high enough SNR.

GNU Radio has HRPT blocks in the main tree (gr-noaa) that work well for decoding and then David Taylor has HRPT reader which will generate an image from the decode GR output. http://www.satsignal.eu/software/hrpt.htm

http://usa-satcom.com has a paid HRPT decoder that runs on windows that has some improvements for lower SNR locking and works very well.

– devnulling

On a previous post we showed @uhf_satcom‘s HRPT results where he used a motorized tracking L-band antenna and HackRF to receive the signal. Some HRPT image examples can be found in that post.

Testing the Outernet Dreamcatcher: Linux Based ARM PC with Built in RTL-SDR

Last week we posted about Outernet’s new Dreamcatcher unit which is an RTL-SDR + L-band LNA + computing board all on the same PCB. The Dreamcatcher comes with a new active ceramic L-band patch antenna, costs $99 USD (plus shipping) and can be bought directly from their store. Outernet were kind enough to send us a review unit, and we’ve been testing it for the past few weeks. This post is a review of the unit.

Background

Outernet is a free data service that uses L-band satellites to beam down information like news, weather updates, Wikipedia articles, books and more.

In the past Outernet have used the $9 USD C.H.I.P computing board, an RTL-SDR dongle and an external LNA as the receiving hardware for their data service. However, popularity of the Outernet service has been severely hindered by the huge supply shortages of the C.H.I.P. Over the past year or so it has been almost impossible to get a hold of a C.H.I.P unit if you did not back the Kickstarter or buy one from Outernet’s first initial stock. By manufacturing their own PCB including the computing hardware, Outernet must be hoping to be able to control their stock situation, and not rely on third parties who may not be able to deliver.

At the moment the Dreamcatcher can only be run on their new Armbian image. The older Skylark image has been removed from their servers presumably because the Outernet signal is going to change in the near future and the old demodulator on Skylark may no longer work. The Armbian image is basically just standard Armbian and at the moment does not actually run any Outernet software, and cannot decode their signal, but this is being worked on. Eventually they hope to replace Skylark with a standard decoding app that runs on Armbian.

In this post we’ll review the Dreamcatcher with Armbian and consider it as a general purpose receiver (not just for Outernet), and we’ll also review the new active ceramic patch antenna as well.

Dreamcatcher Overview

The Dreamcatcher is a single PCB that combines an RTL-SDR, Linux (Armbian) based computing hardware, and an L-band LNA and filter. 

On first impressions we noticed that the PCB is relatively large square at about 12 cm by 12 cm. The most prominent chip is the Allwinner A13 SoC. The RTL-SDR circuitry is positioned in the upper right with the RF sections (R820T and LNA) both covered with RF shielding cans. There is no onboard WiFi circuitry, but a small ‘EDUP’ branded WiFi dongle is included and plugs into one of the USB ports on the PCB.

We measured the Dreamcatcher to be using about 400 mA – 600 mA while idle and 800 mA while utilizing the RTL-SDR and 100% CPU. Heat is not an issue as the Dreamcatcher stays relatively cool during its operation even at 100% CPU with the CPU only getting up to about 45 degrees C.

Continue reading

Receiving NOAA 19 HRPT with a HackRF, LNA4All and Cooking Pot Antenna

Over on his YouTube channel Adam 9A4QV has uploaded a video that shows him receiving the NOAA 19 HRPT signal at 1698 MHz with his HackRF, LNA4ALL and the simple circularly polarized cooking pot antenna that we saw in his last videos.

HRPT stands for High Resolution Picture Transmission and is a digital protocol that is used on some satellites to transmit much higher resolution weather images when compared to the APT signal that most people are familiar with receiving. The HRPT signal is available on NOAA19, which also transmits APT. However, unlike APT which is at 137 MHz, HRPT is at 1698 MHz, and is typically a much weaker signal requiring a higher gain motorized tracking antenna.

However in the video Adam shows that a simple cooking pot antenna used indoors is enough to receive the signal (weakly). The signal is probably not strong enough to achieve a decoded image, but perhaps some tweaks might improve the result.

Over on his Reddit thread about the video Adam mentions that a 90cm dish, with a proper feed and two LNA4ALLs should be able to receive the HRPT signal easily. User devnulling also gives some very useful comments on how the software side could be set up if you were able to achieve a high enough SNR.

GNU Radio has HRPT blocks in the main tree (gr-noaa) that work well for decoding and then David Taylor has HRPT reader which will generate an image from the decode GR output. http://www.satsignal.eu/software/hrpt.htm

http://usa-satcom.com has a paid HRPT decoder that runs on windows that has some improvements for lower SNR locking and works very well.

– devnulling

On a previous post we showed @uhf_satcom‘s HRPT results where he used a motorized tracking L-band antenna and HackRF to receive the signal. Some HRPT image examples can be found in that post.

Testing the Outernet Dreamcatcher: Linux Based ARM PC with Built in RTL-SDR

Last week we posted about Outernet’s new Dreamcatcher unit which is an RTL-SDR + L-band LNA + computing board all on the same PCB. The Dreamcatcher comes with a new active ceramic L-band patch antenna, costs $99 USD (plus shipping) and can be bought directly from their store. Outernet were kind enough to send us a review unit, and we’ve been testing it for the past few weeks. This post is a review of the unit.

Background

Outernet is a free data service that uses L-band satellites to beam down information like news, weather updates, Wikipedia articles, books and more.

In the past Outernet have used the $9 USD C.H.I.P computing board, an RTL-SDR dongle and an external LNA as the receiving hardware for their data service. However, popularity of the Outernet service has been severely hindered by the huge supply shortages of the C.H.I.P. Over the past year or so it has been almost impossible to get a hold of a C.H.I.P unit if you did not back the Kickstarter or buy one from Outernet’s first initial stock. By manufacturing their own PCB including the computing hardware, Outernet must be hoping to be able to control their stock situation, and not rely on third parties who may not be able to deliver.

At the moment the Dreamcatcher can only be run on their new Armbian image. The older Skylark image has been removed from their servers presumably because the Outernet signal is going to change in the near future and the old demodulator on Skylark may no longer work. The Armbian image is basically just standard Armbian and at the moment does not actually run any Outernet software, and cannot decode their signal, but this is being worked on. Eventually they hope to replace Skylark with a standard decoding app that runs on Armbian.

In this post we’ll review the Dreamcatcher with Armbian and consider it as a general purpose receiver (not just for Outernet), and we’ll also review the new active ceramic patch antenna as well.

Dreamcatcher Overview

The Dreamcatcher is a single PCB that combines an RTL-SDR, Linux (Armbian) based computing hardware, and an L-band LNA and filter. 

On first impressions we noticed that the PCB is relatively large square at about 12 cm by 12 cm. The most prominent chip is the Allwinner A13 SoC. The RTL-SDR circuitry is positioned in the upper right with the RF sections (R820T and LNA) both covered with RF shielding cans. There is no onboard WiFi circuitry, but a small ‘EDUP’ branded WiFi dongle is included and plugs into one of the USB ports on the PCB.

We measured the Dreamcatcher to be using about 400 mA – 600 mA while idle and 800 mA while utilizing the RTL-SDR and 100% CPU. Heat is not an issue as the Dreamcatcher stays relatively cool during its operation even at 100% CPU with the CPU only getting up to about 45 degrees C.

Continue reading

Testing the HackRF and Portapack with an LNA4ALL

Over on YouTube Adam 9A4QV has been testing out his HackRF and Portapack with his LNA4ALL. The LNA4ALL is able to be powered inline via the bias tee on the HackRF. In the first video Adam shows that the HackRF and LNA4ALL is capable of receiving L-band satellites easily. The antenna he uses is a homemade circularly polarized antenna with a cooking pot being used as the reflector.

In the second video Adam shows the HackRF, Portapack and LNA4ALL receiving a telemetry signal on 442 MHz.

Finally in the last video Adam shows himself making a full QSO contact using the HackRF, Portapack and LNA4ALL. The software he uses on the Portapack is Furtek’s ‘Havoc’ firmware which has microphone to TX functionality. The LNA4ALL is able to work in transmit mode without trouble. Adam has written instructions for modifying the LNA4ALL so that it can transmit and use the HackRF’s bias tee power at the same time over on his website lna4all.blogspot.com.

The Outernet Dreamcatcher: A Linux Based ARM PC with Built in RTL-SDR

Recently Outernet released their new ‘Dreamcatcher’ hardware which is an RTL-SDR + L-band LNA & filter + computing board all on the same PCB. The Dreamcatcher costs $99 USD and can be bought directly from their store. For your $99 you get the Dreamcatcher board, as well as a new ceramic L-band patch antenna which has a built in L-band LNA and filter. The built in LNA is useful as it allows you to use a few meters of extension cable in order to get the patch antenna in a good position outdoors.

At the moment the Dreamcatcher can be run with two different SD card images: the Skylark Outernet software, or Armbian (Linux). The Armbian image is basically just standard Armbian and at the moment does not actually run any Outernet software, and cannot decode their signal – but this is being worked on. Eventually they hope to depreciate the Skylark image and instead use an Outernet receiver app that runs on Armbian.

When running on the standard Armbian image, the Dreamcatcher can be used as a regular RTL-SDR connected to Linux, as there is a bypass port which bypasses the built in L-band LNA and filter. This port is enabled by default, but can be software switched to the L-band port if desired. There is also a 4.8V bias tee on the bypass port that can be turned on in software and used to power external devices via the coax cable. Currently there is no display support on the Dreamcatcher so the unit must be run headless, meaning that you must connect to it via UART or SSH from another PC.

The Outernet Dreamcatcher
The Outernet Dreamcatcher

The Dreamcatcher is advertised with the following specifications:

  • L-band SAW filter (1525 – 1559 MHz)
  • Two-stage L-band LNA with 34dB gain
  • 1 PPM TCXO
  • RF bypass for tuning from 24 – 1600 MHz – use as a regular RTL SDR!
  • Software switchable bias tee
  • 3 USB ports
  • GPIO forest
  • UARTs, I2C, SPI headers (unpopulated) for driving external hardware
  • Two microSD card holders – for boot and storage!
  • 1 GHz CPU
  • 512 MB RAM
  • USB wifi dongle (based on RTL8188CUS chipset) – AP mode capable!
  • Lots of LEDs!
  • Switches!
  • microUSB OTG
  • microUSB power port
  • Audio In/Out
  • Fully mainline (4.10) kernel and Uboot (2017.01) support!

Also as explained on the forums, Dreamcatcher uses an Allwinner A13 SoC, which has inside an ARM Cortex A8 @ 1 GHz CPU. They’ve also added 512MB of RAM. The PCB measures 12 cm x 12 cm.

Currently the Dreamcatcher is being advertised as beta hardware, as they give the following warning:

Although some assistance can be found on our forums, Outernet provides no direct support for this product. If you are not a tinkerer, hobbyist, or hardware hacker, you may be disappointed with your purchase.

The Dreamcatcher also comes with Outernet’s latest L-band patch antenna. The new patch antenna uses a ceramic patch and a 12 cm x 12 cm PCB ground plane. The antenna is ‘active’, as it has a built in L-band LNA and filtering. It is powered by the bias tee on the Dreamcatcher, and can also be powered by the bias tee on our V3 RTL-SDR’s. An active antenna is a good idea as this allows you to place the antenna outdoors (you’d need to waterproof this antenna in a plastic box though), and run a coax cable inside. The LNA should help overcome the coax cable loss which can be quite high at the L-band Outernet frequency of 1.5 GHz.

Outernet has provided us with a sample of this kit, and we plan to release a full review of the unit within the next few weeks.

Outernet active ceramic patch antenna (Front)
Outernet active ceramic patch antenna (Front)
Outernet active ceramic patch antenna (Rear)
Outernet active ceramic patch antenna (Rear)

A Tour of Satellites in the QB50 Experiment

Over the last two weeks the QB50 experiment was launched from the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment consists of 36 cubesats built by various universities around the world, with the main science goal being to make measurements of the thermosphere (an upper atmospheric layer that the ISS orbits in). All the cubesats broadcast their telemetry in the 70cm (420 – 450 MHz) amateur band and they are expected to stay in orbit for about 3 months before falling back to earth. In a previous post we made a point to mention Lilacsat-1, which is one of the most interesting QB50 satellites due to its implementation of a FM to digital voice repeater on board.

The QB50 Experiment Launch
The QB50 Experiment Launch

Over on his blog destevez has been following these satellites, and has uploaded a post that shows him receiving and decoding several of the satellite telemetry packets. His gr-satellites GNU Radio package provides a means to decode many of the satellites in the experiment.

Some packets from QB50 and other satellites in the 70cm amateur band.
Some packets from QB50 and other satellites received by destevez in the 70cm amateur band.

YouTube Video: A Tutorial on Receiving and Decoding NOAA and METEOR Satellites

Back in March we posted about The Thought Emporium’s YouTube video that explained weather satellites and demonstrated that images could be downloaded from them using an SDR like a HackRF or RTL-SDR. Now The Thought Emporium have uploaded part two of the video series, which is a tutorial that shows exactly how to use the free software to receive, demodulate and decode NOAA and Meteor satellites.

The first part of the video shows how to use SDR#, Audacity and WXtoIMG to receive NOAA APT weather images. The second part of the video shows how to use SDR#, Audacity, LRPTrx, LRPTofflinedecoder, SmoothMeteor and LRPT processor to receive Meteor M2 LRPT images.

Decoding the LilacSat-1 FM to Digital Voice Transponder

LilacSat-1 is an educational CubeSat built by students from the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) in China. It was recently launched from the ISS on 25 May 2017 as part of the QB50 science experiment to explore the lower thermosphere, and it is expected to stay in orbit for about 3 months. Apart from BPSK telemetry at 145.935 MHz, LilacSat-1 is interesting because it contains on board an FM to Codec2-BPSK digital voice amateur radio transponder at 145/436 MHz (uplink/downlink). It is probably the first amateur radio satellite to contain an FM to digital voice transponder.

To decode LilacSat-1 digital voice and telemetry you can use a Linux live CD provided by HIT, or download the GNU Radio decoder directly from the LilacSat-1 information page on the HIT website. The GNU Radio program can be used with any GNU Radio compatible SDR, such as an RTL-SDR.

Over on his blog, destevez has also created a lower latency digital voice decoder for LilacSat-1 that can found in the gr-satellites GNU Radio package, which contains decoders for multiple satellites as well. Destevez has also written about the Codec2 implementation used in LilacSat-1 in one of his previous posts.

An example of LilacSat-1 being decoded has also been uploaded by YouTube by Scott Chapman. In his test he used an RTL-SDR to work the pass live, but in the video shows an offline decoding received by his SDRplay which was also monitoring the same pass.

XRIT Decoder for GOES Satellites: Supports Airspy R2/Mini and SDRplay RSP2

Over on his blog USA-Satcom has released his XRIT (LRIT/HRIT) decoder for GOES satellites. The software requires a licence and costs $100 USD. GOES-13 (East), GOES-15 (West) and the new GOES-16 are geosynchronous orbiting satellites that broadcast very nice high resolution weather images of the entire visible disk of the earth. The transmit their LRIT/HRIT signals at about 1.7 GHz at fairly weak power, which means that a good LNA and dish set up is critical to be able to receive them. A dish size of about 1 meter, or an equivalent grid or Yagi is recommended as the lowest starting point.

GOES Full Disk Image of the Earth
GOES Full Disk Image of the Earth

USA-Satcom’s decoder is Windows based and comes with a nice GUI. Some portions of the code are based on the Open Satellite Project created by Lucas Teske. It currently supports the Airspy R2/Mini and the SDRplay RSP2 software defined radios.

The software is not free, it costs $100 USD for the licence. To help curb illegal distribution of his software which has been rampant in the past, USA-Satcom also requests that you show some proof of a working setup which is capable of receiving the GOES signal before inquiring about the software.

If you are also interested, USA-Satcom did an interesting talk at Cyberspectrum a few months ago, and he has also recently uploaded his slides.

Screenshot of USA-Satcoms GOES XRIT decoder.
Screenshot of USA-Satcoms GOES XRIT decoder.