Tagged: AERO

L-Band Setup with Mini LNA4ALL and Mini Patch Antenna

Over on his YouTube channel Adam 9A4QV has uploaded a new video showing reception of L-band signals with a bias tee powered LNA4ALL and a small patch antenna. The video seems to show a new miniature bias tee powered LNA4ALL device that Adam might be working on. The LNA4ALL is a low noise amplifier that works well with our bias tee capable RTL-SDR dongles.

The patch antenna is made out of a single piece of PCB board which was made by etching out the patch pattern with masking tape. While the patch antenna is not optimal, and tested indoors, Adam is still able to receive some AERO signals.

Later in the video he compares the PCB patch against a GPS patch antenna which gets no reception. He also compares the results when two LNA4ALL’s are used in series. Using two LNA’s improves reception slightly.

Review: Outernet LNA and Patch Antenna

Recently we posted news that Outernet had released their 1.5 GHz LNA, Patch Antenna and E4000 Elonics RTL-SDR + E4000/LNA Bundle. When used together, the products can be used to receive the Outernet L-band satellite signal, as well as other decodable L-band satellite signals like AERO and Inmarsat STD-C EGC. Outernet is a new satellite service that aims to be a free “library in the sky”. They continuously broadcast services such as news, weather, videos and other files from satellites.

EDIT: For international buyers the Outernet store has now started selling these products at http://store.outernet.is.

A few days ago we received the LNA and patch antenna for review. The patch antenna is similar to the one we received a while ago when writing our STD-C EGC tutorial, although this one is now slightly larger. It is roughly 12 x 12 cm in size, 100g heavy and comes with about 13 cm of high quality RG316 coax cable with a right angled SMA male connector on the end. The coax cable is clamped on the back for effective strain relief.

The Outernet patch antenna and LNA
The Outernet patch antenna and LNA

The LNA is manufactured by NooElec for Outernet. It amplifies with 34 dB gain from 1525 – 1559 MHz, with its center frequency at 1542 MHz. It must be powered via a 3 – 5.5V bias tee and draws 25 mA. The package consists of a 5 x 2.5 cm PCB board with one female and one male SMA connector. The components are protected by a shielding can. Inside the shielding can we see a MAX12000 LNA chip along with a TA1405A SAW filter. The MAX12000 (datasheet here) is an LNA designed for GPS applications and has a NF of 1 dB. It has a design where there are two amplifiers embedded within the chip, and it allows you to connect a SAW filter in between them. The TA1405A SAW filter appears to be produced by Golledge (datasheet here), and it has about a 3 dB insertion loss.

The Outernet L-Band LNA
The Outernet L-Band LNA
Inside the Outernet LNA
Inside the Outernet LNA

We tested the patch and LNA together with one of our V3 RTL-SDR Blog dongles, with the bias tee turned on. The LNA was connected directly to the dongle, with no coax in between. The patch antenna was angled to point towards the Inmarsat satellite. A 5 meter USB extension cord was then used to interface with a PC. The images below demonstrate the performance we were able to get.

http://Outernet%20Signal

Outernet Signal

http://Outernet%20Signal%20with%204x%20Decimation

Outernet Signal with 4x Decimation

http://AERO

AERO

http://STD-C%20EGC

STD-C EGC

The Outernet team writes that a SNR level of only 2 dB is needed for decoding to work on their signal. With the patch and LNA we were able to get at least 12 dB so this is more than good enough. Other signals such as AERO and STD-C EGC also came in very strongly. Even when not angled at the satellite and placed flat on a table it was able to receive the signal with about 5 dB’s of SNR.

In conclusion the patch and LNA worked very well at receiving the Outernet signal as well as AERO and STD-C EGC. We think these products are great value for money if you are interested in these L-Band signals, and they make it very easy to receive. The only minor problem with the patch antenna is that there is no stand for it, which makes it difficult to mount in a way that faces the satellite. However this issue can easily be fixed with some sellotape and your own mount.

In the future once the Outernet Rpi3 OS and decoder image is released we hope to show a demonstration and tutorial on receiving Outernet data.

L-Band Setup with Mini LNA4ALL and Mini Patch Antenna

Over on his YouTube channel Adam 9A4QV has uploaded a new video showing reception of L-band signals with a bias tee powered LNA4ALL and a small patch antenna. The video seems to show a new miniature bias tee powered LNA4ALL device that Adam might be working on. The LNA4ALL is a low noise amplifier that works well with our bias tee capable RTL-SDR dongles.

The patch antenna is made out of a single piece of PCB board which was made by etching out the patch pattern with masking tape. While the patch antenna is not optimal, and tested indoors, Adam is still able to receive some AERO signals.

Later in the video he compares the PCB patch against a GPS patch antenna which gets no reception. He also compares the results when two LNA4ALL’s are used in series. Using two LNA’s improves reception slightly.

Review: Outernet LNA and Patch Antenna

Recently we posted news that Outernet had released their 1.5 GHz LNA, Patch Antenna and E4000 Elonics RTL-SDR + E4000/LNA Bundle. When used together, the products can be used to receive the Outernet L-band satellite signal, as well as other decodable L-band satellite signals like AERO and Inmarsat STD-C EGC. Outernet is a new satellite service that aims to be a free “library in the sky”. They continuously broadcast services such as news, weather, videos and other files from satellites.

EDIT: For international buyers the Outernet store has now started selling these products at http://store.outernet.is.

A few days ago we received the LNA and patch antenna for review. The patch antenna is similar to the one we received a while ago when writing our STD-C EGC tutorial, although this one is now slightly larger. It is roughly 12 x 12 cm in size, 100g heavy and comes with about 13 cm of high quality RG316 coax cable with a right angled SMA male connector on the end. The coax cable is clamped on the back for effective strain relief.

The Outernet patch antenna and LNA
The Outernet patch antenna and LNA

The LNA is manufactured by NooElec for Outernet. It amplifies with 34 dB gain from 1525 – 1559 MHz, with its center frequency at 1542 MHz. It must be powered via a 3 – 5.5V bias tee and draws 25 mA. The package consists of a 5 x 2.5 cm PCB board with one female and one male SMA connector. The components are protected by a shielding can. Inside the shielding can we see a MAX12000 LNA chip along with a TA1405A SAW filter. The MAX12000 (datasheet here) is an LNA designed for GPS applications and has a NF of 1 dB. It has a design where there are two amplifiers embedded within the chip, and it allows you to connect a SAW filter in between them. The TA1405A SAW filter appears to be produced by Golledge (datasheet here), and it has about a 3 dB insertion loss.

The Outernet L-Band LNA
The Outernet L-Band LNA
Inside the Outernet LNA
Inside the Outernet LNA

We tested the patch and LNA together with one of our V3 RTL-SDR Blog dongles, with the bias tee turned on. The LNA was connected directly to the dongle, with no coax in between. The patch antenna was angled to point towards the Inmarsat satellite. A 5 meter USB extension cord was then used to interface with a PC. The images below demonstrate the performance we were able to get.

http://Outernet%20Signal

Outernet Signal

http://Outernet%20Signal%20with%204x%20Decimation

Outernet Signal with 4x Decimation

http://AERO

AERO

http://STD-C%20EGC

STD-C EGC

The Outernet team writes that a SNR level of only 2 dB is needed for decoding to work on their signal. With the patch and LNA we were able to get at least 12 dB so this is more than good enough. Other signals such as AERO and STD-C EGC also came in very strongly. Even when not angled at the satellite and placed flat on a table it was able to receive the signal with about 5 dB’s of SNR.

In conclusion the patch and LNA worked very well at receiving the Outernet signal as well as AERO and STD-C EGC. We think these products are great value for money if you are interested in these L-Band signals, and they make it very easy to receive. The only minor problem with the patch antenna is that there is no stand for it, which makes it difficult to mount in a way that faces the satellite. However this issue can easily be fixed with some sellotape and your own mount.

In the future once the Outernet Rpi3 OS and decoder image is released we hope to show a demonstration and tutorial on receiving Outernet data.

Testing a Prototype of the Outernet L-Band Downconverter

Outernet are a startup company that hope to revolutionize the way people in regions with no, poor or censored internet connectivity receive information. Their service is downlink only, and runs on C and L-band satellite signals, beaming up to date news as well as other information like books, educational videos and files daily. To receive it you will need one of their official or homemade versions of the Lighthouse or Lantern receivers (the latter of which is still to be released), or an RTL-SDR or similar SDR. Recently they began test broadcasts of their new 5 kHz 1539.8725 MHz L-band signal on Inmarsat I4F3 located at 98W (covers the Americas), and they hope to begin broadcasts in more regions soon too.

The typical RTL-SDR is known to often have poor or failing performance above 1.5 GHz (though this can be fixed to some extent), so Outernet have been working on an L-band downconverter. A downconverter works by receiving signals, and shifting them down to a lower frequency. This is advantageous because the RTL-SDR is more sensitive and does not fail at lower frequencies, and if used close to the antenna, the lower frequency allows longer runs of cheap coax cable to be used without significant signal loss.

Earlier this week we received in the mail a prototype of their downconverter. The downconverter uses a 1.750 GHz LO signal, so any signal input into it will be subtracted from this frequency. For example the STD-C frequency of 1.541450 GHz will be reduced to 1750 MHz – 1541.450 MHz = 208.55 MHz. This also means that the spectrum will appear reversed, but this can be corrected by selecting “Swap I & Q” in SDR#. The downconverter also amplifies the signal with an LNA, and has a filter to remove interfering out of band signals.

The Outernet downconverter circuit board.
The prototype Outernet downconverter circuit board.
Specsheet for the downconverter.
Specsheet for the downconverter.

We tested the downconverter using their patch antenna which they had sent to us at an earlier date (the patch antenna is used and shown in this Inmarsat STD-C reception tutorial). Our testing found that overall the downconverter works extremely well, giving us much better signal levels. Previously, we had used the patch + LNA4ALL and were able to get reception good enough to decode STD-C and AERO signals, but with the requirement that the patch be carefully pointed at the satellite for maximum signal. With the downconverter the signals come in much stronger, and accurate pointing of the patch is no longer required to get a signal strong enough to decode STD-C or AERO.

The downconverter can be powered by a bias tee connection, and this works well with our bias tee enabled RTL-SDR dongles. We also tested with the bias tee on the Airspy R2 and Mini and had no problems. It can also be powered with a direct 5V connection to a header, and they note that the header will be replaced by a USB connector in the production version.

The release date and exact price that these will be sold at is not confirmed, but we believe that it will be priced similarly to upconverters at around $50 USD or less. A good low cost downconverter should help RTL-SDR and other SDR users receive not only the Outernet signal better, but also other satellite signals such as STD-C and AERO. Although the input is filtered and the RF frequency is specified at 1525 to 1559 MHz, we had no trouble receiving signals up to GPS frequencies of 1575 MHz, and even up to Iridium signals at 1.626 GHz, though reception was much weaker up that high.

Below are some screenshots of reception. Here we used the Outernet patch antenna sitting in a windowsill with the downconverter directly after the antenna, and then 10 meters of RG6 coax cable to the PC and bias tee enabled RTL-SDR. We found that with the downconverted ~200 MHz signal the loss in the RG6 coax was negligible. Better reception could be obtained by putting the patch outdoors. In some screenshots we used Vasilli’s R820T driver with the decimation feature, which allows you to zoom into narrowband signals much more clearly.

Some AERO Signals Zoomed in with the Decimation feature in SDR#.
Some AERO Signals Zoomed in with the Decimation feature in SDR#. Received with the Outernet downconverter and patch antenna.
Some AERO and other Signals Zoomed in with the Decimation feature in SDR#.
Some AERO and other Signals Zoomed in with the Decimation feature in SDR#. Received with the Outernet downconverter and patch antenna.
Signals zoomed out.
Signals zoomed out. Received with the Outernet downconverter and patch antenna.

Comparing Home Made Inmarsat Antennas

Over on his blog “coolsdrstuff”, the author has uploaded a new post showing his comparisons of various home made Inmarsat antennas. In his post he tests a tin can helix antenna, a 10-turn helix antenna, and a LHCP helix feed on a 81cm DirecTV dish.

His results show that the dish outperforms the helix antennas by a significant amount, but only once he took it outdoors. The 10-turn helix antenna also worked better than the tin can helix, although he found that it required very accurate pointing.

Inmarsat are geostaionary satellites that transmit signals on L-band at around 1.5 GHz. They transmit signals that can be decoded with an RTL-SDR, such as STD-C EGC (weather, messaging and safety messages for boats), as well as AERO (the satellite version of ACARS for aircraft).

Good Inmarsat reception with the dish.
Good Inmarsat reception with the dish.

Receiving Inmarsat L-Band AERO with a DVB-T Antenna, Amplifier and Airspy Mini

To show that a specialized antenna is not required to receive L-band Inmarsat AERO satellite signals, YouTube user SkyWatcher has uploaded a video showing how he was able to receive these signals with a cheap DVB-T antenna. SkyWatcher writes:

I’ve recently upgraded from my RTL-SDR sticks (E4000, R820T2) to an Airspy Mini.

I did some testing during the last week and found it very interesting that I was able to receive Inmarsat L-Band signals indoors, with just a DVB-T antenna and amplifier behind the window, no downconverter, no special antenna, no super low-noise amplifier. The window is facing south, with a few degrees to the east and the satellite I’ve received was Inmarsat 15.43W. So, angle antenna to satellite should be estimated 20 degrees.

I’ve used a 18dB DVB-T/Satellite-TV inline amplifier as a ‘LNA’ (noise < 5dB) and a VHF/UHF DVB-T antenna which seems to be a stacked dipole, and therefore should be quite wideband and should make a reasonable general purpose antenna. Anyway, I did not expect it to work on 1.5GHZ at all. Also, I want to mention that the inline amplifier is rated 5 to 18V, but it works just fine with the 4.5V from the Airspy Mini.

It seems that with 10dB S/N, Aero reception is possible and with about 12dB S/N, it is getting reliable.

In general, I am very satisfied with the upgrade to the Airspy Mini. It has a much lower noisfloor and a much cleaner spectrum, compared to my old RTL SDRs. Also, I am very happy with the CPU-usage which is only about 12% on my i5-3210M when using 2.4MHz bandwith, and 18-20% with a bandwith of 4.8MHz.

Together with the ability to use SpectrumSpy and the very useful decimation-feature, the Airspy Mini is the best option to upgrade from a RTL-SDR for me at the moment. Anyway, of course this is just my very personal opinion… 😉

AERO is essentially the satellite based version of ACARS, and the L-band signals contains short ground to air messages with things like weather reports and flight plans intended to be transmitted to aircraft. To decode it with an SDR, the JAERO software can be used.

Recent Updates to the JAERO L-Band and C-Band AERO Decoder

JAERO is a program by Jonti that was released late last year which allows us to use a SDR such as an RTL-SDR to receive L-band and C-Band AERO messages. AERO is essentially the satellite based version of ACARS, and the L-band signals contains short ground to air messages with things like weather reports and flight plans intended to be transmitted to aircraft. The C-band signals are the air to ground portion of AERO and more difficult to receive as they require an LNB and large dish. However they are much more interesting as they contain flight position data, like ADS-B.

Over March JAERO has had some minor updates. It is now possible to display planes on a map by using it’s SBS1 protocol output and outputting the data to Virtual Radar Server. The second more recent update now allows JAERO to simultaneously monitor up to two C-band AERO channels. To do this you will need to use the AUX VFO plugin for SDR#.

If you enjoy JAERO, please remember consider donating to Jonti.

Plotting flights positions out of regular ADS-B range which were demodulated from C-Band AERO signals by JAERO.
Plotting flight positions that are out of regular ADS-B range. Demodulated from C-Band AERO signals with JAERO.
Monitoring two C-Band channels in SDR# with the AUX VFO plugin.
Monitoring two C-Band channels in SDR# with the AUX VFO plugin.

YouTube video showing Inmarsat C-Band AERO Reception

Last week we posted how programmer Jonti had successfully implemented a C-Band AERO decoder into his JAERO software. C-band AERO signals are the earth downlink portion of AERO. Planes transmit data upwards towards the satellites and then the Inmarsat C-band transmitter re-transmits the information back to a basestation on earth. This is different to the L-band AERO signals which are signals transmitted from the satellites to the aircraft. C-band signals are interesting because they contain plane position info, and so can be used to track aircraft much like what is done with ADS-B reception, but over a much larger area. However, C-Band signals are much more difficult to receive as they are at 3.616 GHz and require a 1.8m or larger satellite dish.

Over on YouTube user AceBlaggard has uploaded a video showing an example of C-Band signals being received with an Airspy SDR and being decoded with the new version of JAERO. About the hardware used AceBlaggard writes:

Hardware is a 1.8M PF dish and Titanium Satellite C1 PLL LNB feeding a Prof-Tuner 7301 sat card which loops out to an Airspy SDR.

Testing RTL-SDR and SDRPlay receivers for AERO reception

Jonti, the programmer of the JAERO decoder for L-band AERO signals recently bought and received one of our new RTL-SDR Blog dongles and also an SDRplay unit for testing L-band reception. Previously he had been using a standard RTL-SDR dongle. Now he’s done a write up comparing the performance of the three units on L-band AERO reception.

The two most important things to pay attention to when receiving AERO signals are signal SNR and frequency stability. In order to lock on to the signal, the signal’s frequency must remain relatively stable over a short period of time. For the stability test Jonti writes the following, referencing the image posted below:

You can see the old RTL dongle moves almost 3kHz within a couple minutes after being turned on, this speed is so rapid that JAERO can’t keep up with the frequency changed during this period of time. What’s odd is the old RTL dongle does some fairly crazy stuff around 20 minutes in that lasts for about 15 minutes, JAERO also can’t cope with some of that. The other thing to notice in the old RTL’s spectrograph are vertical lines, these lines I believe are caused by interference entering the dongle between the RTL dongle’s tuner and ADC (analog-to-digital converter).

The frequency stability of the new RTL dongle can only be described as amazing!!! There is not much more than 100 Hz change during the whole test.

The range of frequencies for the SDRPlay is similar to that of the old RTL dongle of about 3kHz. The difference being the transition from the lowest frequency to the highest frequency is slow. Any demodulator should not have any issue tracking this slow and steady change. The only problem you will encounter here is when you are trying to tune into a particular frequency your frequencies will be slightly different depending on the temperature of the SDRPlay.

The results of the frequency stability test on an AERO signal. Standard RTL-SDR, RTL-SDR Blog Unit, SDRplay.
The results of the frequency stability test on an AERO signal. Left: Standard RTL-SDR; Middle: RTL-SDR Blog Unit; Right: SDRplay.

Jonti also found that in terms of sensitivity the SDRplay was the best at receiving when a non active antenna (an active antenna is an antenna with a built in LNA) was used. The RTL-SDR dongles could not receive well at all when a non active antenna was used. When an active GPS antenna was used the SDRplay was only about 1dB more sensitive than the RTL-SDR dongles.

In his article Jonti expressed concern that the SDRplay did not see much improvement in SNR over the RTL-SDRs when an active antenna was used. Our thoughts on the sensitivity findings are that the SDRplay does not see much improvement with an active antenna because the noise figure of the system is not reduced any further by adding an additional front end LNA (the noise figure in a RF system is almost entirely determined by the first LNA in a RF chain). Adding an extra LNA could even potentially make reception worse by reducing the overall linearity of the system. An external LNA would only be beneficial if a long run of coax was used between the feed and SDR, and in Jonti’s connections he connected the feed and SDRplay with a very short cable. The RTL-SDR only works well with an active antenna because its raw sensitivity at 1.5 GHz isn’t great, and it needs the extra boost from the LNA.

Testing the SDRplay with a non-active antenna.
Testing the SDRplay with a non-active antenna.