Tagged: 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

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)

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.

Comparing Two LNA’s for HRIT/LRIT (GOES) Reception

Over on his blog Lucas Teske has been comparing the LNA4ALL and an SPF5189 LNA from eBay on HRIT/LRIT reception from GOES satellites. SPF5189 LNA’s can be found on eBay for less than $8 USD, with free shipping from China, whereas the LNA4ALL costs 27 Euros shipped from Croatia. GOES is a geosynchronous orbit weather satellite which requires a satellite dish or other high gain antenna to receive. It downlinks at about 1.7 GHz, which means that a high quality LNA with low noise figure and good PCB design is needed for reception.

In his post Lucas mentions how he saw a review on eBay stating that the SPF5189 did not work at L-band. However, he found that odd as all of his SPF5189 LNA’s seemed to work just fine with L-band reception. So he did a benchmark comparing the SPF5189 to the PSA5043+ based LNA4ALL which is known to work well on L-band.

From his comparisons he found that the SPF5189 does indeed work well on L-band, and is comparable to the LNA4ALL. He concludes that the reviewer must have received a bad unit, or didn’t know what he was doing.

Lucas also makes an important note regarding the PCB design of these LNA’s. Even though the SPF5189 and PSA5043 chips have similar specs, with LNA’s the design of the PCB is crucial, as a poor design can significantly degrade performance. With the LNA4ALL you can be sure that the design is good, although the SPF5189 LNA’s currently on eBay look to be designed okay as well. Though with some eBay sellers there is no guarantee that you will receive a good board. We note that we have seen some really poor designs for PSA5043 LNA’s out there as well.

The eBay SPF5189 LNA vs the LNA4ALL from 9A4QV
The eBay SPF5189 LNA vs the LNA4ALL from 9A4QV

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.

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.