Testing the Outernet-In-A-Box Virtual Machine Decoder for Windows & Linux

Back in September we posted a tutorial that showed how to set up an Outernet receiver with a Raspberry Pi running their rxOS software and an RTL-SDR, LNA and patch antenna. Recently, Outernet have released a new decoder for Windows and Linux which is very easy to install and run. Outernet is an L-band satellite data service which can be received almost anywhere in the world with an RTL-SDR. They aim to be a “library in the sky”, constantly broadcasting public data like news, books, images/videos and other data files.

The new decoder is a Linux machine that runs in a self contained multiplatform Virtual Box virtual machine. This means that it is a standalone package, and it comes included with the OS, decoder, and all the files needed to make it run. Using a virtual machine eliminates any installation issues due to missing dependencies or libraries. Running the VM in Windows is as easy as double clicking on a .exe file to open it up. Note that you’ll need a relatively modern machine that supports hardware virtualization support (VT-x) (Core 2 or newer). The virtual machine itself is lightweight, and uses less than 50MB of RAM, and has very low CPU usage.

At the moment, the decoder writes files downloaded from the Outernet service to a directory stored in C:\Outernet\downloads. Unlike the Raspberry Pi decoder, there is no web interface for accessing the content, though this will probably be added in future builds. The files can be directly accessed in the Windows/Linux file managers.

To set up the VM on a Windows machine:

  1. Download the Windows .exe archive and open it. When prompted, extract the files to a convenient folder on your PC.
  2. Plug in your RTL-SDR and LNA, and set up your L-band antenna.
  3. In the extracted folder run the outernet.exe file once. This will open the decoder and the first time it is run it will automatically create a folder in C:\Outernet.
  4. If you are in the Europe/Africa and use the Alphasat satellite then you can ignore this step. If you are in another region, close the opened VM, then go to C:\Outernet\Satellites.Available, and then copy the file corresponding to the satellite used in your part of the world over to C:\Outernet\Satellites.Selected. Now reopen the outernet.exe VM.
  5. The decoder should now be showing a good SNR value >2 in the top right information, and the State: should show FRAME LK. The bottom right window should also scroll “Packed written to socket.”
  6. After a few minutes check the C:\Outernet\cache folder for pieces of files. Later check the C:\Outernet\downloads folder for completed files.

Further instructions can be found on their Windows Readme file. Note that as there is no web browser for the files, some will be downloaded as GZipped files, and will need to be unzipped to be viewed. For more information on the Outernet service as well as the hardware requirements see our previous tutorial.

We tested out the VM on a Windows laptop for a few hours and was able to receive several GZipped Wikipedia webpages as well as a photo, as shown in the screenshot below.

Files downloaded from Outernet (left). Outernet decoder running in VM (right).
Files downloaded from Outernet (left). Outernet decoder running in VM (right).

9 comments

  1. Mario

    Got the Outernet In A Box working with Windows, working well. So far have received APRS loggings via the ISS. Very interesting!

    98.4 W, 1539.8725 MHz is where to look for the Outernet signal.

  2. Mario

    For the USA I think you have to aim for Inmarsat 3F4 at 98.14 W to get the Outernet signal. Correct me if wrong but will aim for that satellite to see if the signal is there.

  3. Ab

    @dave: we don’t have an agenda as far as content goes.

    @sam: the wikipedia pages are from wikipedias’ own list of recently most popular pages.

    • stuart

      nothing here, decoding Aero 10.5k streams and egc with my rtl and hackrf, good sig on rtl but after a while the virtualbox goes blank
      win 7 64 bit.

  4. Dominic Weston

    It took all of ten seconds (ok twenty) to confirm the software works on a MacBook. Started Parallels, New VM, from image, click continue, point it to the ISO file, Parallels says “unable to detect operating system”, press continue, asks Select OS, I selected More Linux->Mint Linux (I guessed that since I had a Mint VM already set up), ok, continue. VM says no radio, plug in radio, select VM as place to attach radio, radio is detected and shell/dos GUI appears.
    When will people start testing for Mac/OS X compatibility. MacBooks Matter!
    I will step outside later and see how actual reception goes.

  5. Kerteszradio

    It is very interest on me, i will try ! I know probably now just less things available, however the method is quite fascinating. If this work, maybe opens the way another satellite based services. Fortunately the receiver (rtl dongle) already here and ready to work !

  6. Sam

    LOL on the wikipedia pages. A small island off the east coast of Africa, 2 Gymnasts, a potential First Lady and a Porn Star.

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