RTL-SDR for Budget Radio Astronomy

With the right additional hardware, the RTL-SDR software defined radio can be used as a super cheap radio telescope for radio astronomy experiments such as observing the Hydrogen Line and meteor detection.

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Cheap AIS Ship Tracking

Large ships and passenger boats are required to broadcast an identification signal containing position, course, speed, destination, and vessel dimension information to help prevent sea collisions. This system is known as the “Automatic Identification System” or AIS for short. AIS can be decoded with an RTL-SDR dongle and right software.

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POCSAG Pager Decoding

Decode POCSAG pager messages with an RTL-SDR. Even in the modern day pagers are still popular with doctors, some fire and ambulance agencies and various service companies, as they tend to be more reliable and have greater coverage.

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Receiving NOAA Weather Satellite Images

Everyday multiple NOAA weather satellites pass above you. Each NOAA weather satellite broadcasts an Automatic Picture Transmission (APT) signal, which contains a live weather image of your area. The RTL-SDR dongle combined with a good antenna, SDRSharp and a decoding program can be used to download and display these live images several times a day.

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Decoding Inmarsat STD-C EGC Messages

With an RTL-SDR dongle, a cheap $10 modified GPS antenna or 1-2 LNA’s and a patch, dish or helix antenna you can listen to Inmarsat satellite signals, and decode the STD-C NCS channel which contains information such as search and rescue (SAR) and coast guard messages as well as news, weather and incident reports.

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Receiving Weather Balloon (Radiosonde) Data with RTL-SDR

Use your RTL-SDR to decode data from weather balloons (aka Radiosondes) that are launched twice daily by meteorological agencies all around the world.

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JAERO: A RTL-SDR compatible decoder for Inmarsat AERO signals

AERO is a system that provides a L-Band satellite based version of VHF ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System). ACARS is typically used by ground control and pilots to send short messages and is also sometimes used for telemetry. With JAERO and an RTL-SDR these signals can be decoded.

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Following Trunked Radio with Unitrunker

Follow trunked radio conversations with your RTL-SDR and a program called Unitrunker. Also decode digital communications like P25 and DMR using the Digital Speech Decoder (DSD+) software.

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Listening to TETRA Radio

Use your RTL-SDR in Linux to listen to TETRA, a digital trunked radio communications system that stands for “Terrestrial Trunked Radio”.

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List of SDRSharp Plugins

There are a number of SDRSharp plugins that extend its functionality. Here is a collection of all the plugins and download links that we know of.

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SiDRadio: RTL-SDR Kit including Preselector & Upconverter

The Australian Silicon Chip magazine has written an article about a kitset for a 100KHz to 2 GHz receiver based on the RTL-SDR that they are selling. Note, you will need to pay in order to be able to read the entire article.

Completing the kit gives you a radio with two antenna inputs, a 5-band preselector, an RF amplifier and an upconverter for the HF bands.

SiDRADIO Overview
SiDRADIO Overview



  1. Longjohn

    This is similar to something I’m setting up for my fishing boat next year using an TRTL and Ham It Up HF converter. I was going to leave the front end open and use a variation of the PA0RDT Mini Whip for HF and the onboard Marine Band antenna for the VHF which should give be most of the band so I can find signals easier. Current radio only scans 3 channels and 2 of them are preset.

    I’m tempted to embed a striped RTL dongle in my homebrew Chartplotter/Depth Mapping setup just so I can say it has a Marine Band monitor and NOAA weather radio built in, just attach an antenna. I’d also like to use one with my Nexus 7 and a yagi cut for 433 Mhz and see if I can find some fish tagged by the DNR (I’m on the Upper Mississippi River in Iowa) I’m not even sure what I’m looking for as to a signal and having a bandscope will help a lot compared to using an Icom PCR-100 like I was thinking of trying.

  2. Zach

    How cool! Wish it went up to 3Ghz.
    They were nice enough to include the full text of the article in the source code of the web page. Obviously if you’re going to build one you should buy the article so you can get all the diagrams etc.

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