SDR# GPredict Satellite Tracking Plugin

Thanks to Alex for submitting news about his new SDR# plugin called "SDRSharp.GpredictConnector". This plugin allows SDR# to interface with GPredict which is a tool used for tracking the orbit of satellites. Just like with the DDE Tracking plugin and the Orbitron satellite tracking program this plugin could be used to automatically tune SDR# to the frequency of a passing satellite using GPredict. It should also be able to compensate for any doppler shift frequency offset.

To use with SDR# simply download the zip file and move the .dll file into the SDR# folder. Then add the 'magicline' to the plugins.xml file using a text editor. In GPredict you can then add a radio interface from the preferences, and then use the 'Radio Connect' interface to connect to the plugin.

Connecting to GPredict using the GPredictConnector SDR# Plugin
Connecting to GPredict using the GPredictConnector SDR# Plugin

Nexmon SDR: Turning a Broadcom 802.11ac WiFi Chip into a TX Capable Software Defined Radio

Over on GitHub we've recently seen the release of some interesting code called "Nexmon Software Defined Radio" which demonstrates a discovery that allows a Broadcom 802.11ac WiFi chip to be used as a transmit capable software defined radio. This means that it can be used to transmit (within the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz WiFi bands) any arbitrary signal from IQ data. The specific WiFi chip used in their experiments is the US$10 BCM4339 which has been found in smartphones such as the Nexus 5. It's not clear if other Broadcom 802.11ac WiFi chips could also work.

To begin with Nexmon SDR you'll need a development environment set up on a Nexus 5 smartphone. Then it's a matter of downloading the dependencies, installing the Android NDK, and compiling Nexmon. IQ data can then be transmitted in code using from special system commands.

The Nexmon team have indicated on Twitter that they plan to present a paper with more information on Nexmon SDR at the MobiSys 2018 conference which will be held in June.

Raspberry Pi 3 B+ Released: Faster CPU, Faster Networking and Power over Ethernet

RTL-SDR dongles and other SDRs are often used on single board computers. These small credit sized computers are powerful enough to run multiple dongles, and run various decoding programs. Currently, the most popular of these small computers is the Raspberry Pi 3.

Just recently the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ was released at the usual US$35 price. It is an iterative upgrade over the now older Raspberry Pi 3 B. The 3B+ has an improved thermal design for the CPU, which allows the frequency to be boosted by 200 MHz. WiFi and Ethernet connectivity has also been improved, both sporting up to 3x faster upload and download speeds.

The Raspberry Pi 3 B+ Power over Ethernet Hat
The Raspberry Pi 3 B+ Power over Ethernet Hat

The 3B+ also implements new Ethernet headers which allows for a cleaner Power over Ethernet (PoE) implementation via a hat. Previous PoE hats required that you connect the Ethernet ports together, whereas the new design does not. PoE allows you to power the Raspberry Pi over an Ethernet cable. The official PoE hat is not released yet, but they expect it to be out soon.

The faster processing speed should allow more processing intensive graphical apps like GQRX to run smoother, whilst the improved WiFi connectivity speeds should improve performance with bandwidth hungry applications like running a remote rtl_tcp server. PoE is also a welcome improvement as it allows you to easily power a remote Raspberry Pi + RTL-SDR combination that is placed in a difficult to access area, such as in an attic close to an antenna. Placing the Pi and RTL-SDR near to the antenna eliminates the need for long runs of lossy coax cable. If the Pi runs rtl_tcp, SpyServer or a similar server, then the RTL-SDR can then be accessed by a networked connected PC anywhere in your house, or even remotely over the internet from anywhere in the world. 

The Raspberry Pi 3 B+
The Raspberry Pi 3 B+

Radio Astronomers listen to the Early Universe at 78 MHz with a Dipole and Custom SDR

Radio astronomers from Arizona State University and MIT have recently observed a predicted radio phenomenon that originates from the very first stars formed in the Universe.

Hydrogen tends to emit radio signals in the 21cm (1.4 GHz) region of the frequency spectrum. An emission from a single Hydrogen atom is very rare, but since there is so much Hydrogen in space a bump at 1.4 GHz can be observed on the frequency spectrum if a sensitive radio is used with a directional antenna pointing up at the sky. This is a moderate difficulty experiment that can be performed by amateur radio astronomers today with cheap RTL-SDRs or other SDRs together with some LNAs. 

The astronomers in this experiment focus on a distortion in the 21cm line signal that is expected to have been created when the first stars formed. The their paper they write:

After stars formed in the early Universe, their ultraviolet light is expected, eventually, to have penetrated the primordial hydrogen gas and altered the excitation state of its 21-centimetre hyperfine line. This alteration would cause the gas to absorb photons from the cosmic microwave background, producing a spectral distortion that should be observable today at radio frequencies of less than 200 megahertz.

The results show a successful detection of the expected phenomena at 78 MHz, confirming the age at when the first stars have been predicted to have begun forming. The phenomena is detected at 78 MHz instead of 1.4 GHz because the wavelength of a Hydrogren line signal gets stretched the further the source is from us, due to the redshift doppler effect from the expansion of the Universe. This detection is from some of the furthest (and thus oldest) stars in the Universe, so a big stretch is expected.

The experiment consisted of a broadband blade dipole which was set up in the Australian outback. Since the cosmic signal is expected to be detected right in the middle of the broadcast FM band, a dedicated radio-quiet location is required to stand any chance of detection. The receiving SDR hardware consists of an LNA, line amp, filtering and a 14-bit ADC that is connected to a PC.

It seems possible that this experiment could be repeated by amateur radio astronomers with commercial SDR hardware, but the biggest challenge would probably be finding a very radio-quiet location without broadcast FM radio signals.

The 78 MHz Cosmic Signal SDR Detection Setup
The 78 MHz Cosmic Signal SDR Detection Setup
Dipole antenna with 30mx30m ground plane
Dipole antenna with 30mx30m ground plane DAB Decoder updated to Version 1.0 is a Windows/Linux/MacOS/Android/Raspberry Pi compatible DAB and DAB+ broadcast radio decoder which supports RTL-SDR dongles, as well as the Airspy and any dongle supported by SoapySDR. It is a touch screen friendly piece of software which is excellent for use on tablets, phones and perhaps on vehicle radio touch screens.

DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcast and is a digital signal that is available in many countries outside of the USA. The signal contains digital broadcast radio stations, and is an alternative/replacement for standard broadcast FM.

Early last year we posted about a couple of times, but now the software has reached maturity as version 1.0 has just been released. Author Albrech writes to us:

We fixed a lot of bugs again and added the translation to Hungarian, Norwegian, Italian and French.

Binary packages are available for Windows, Linux and Android (APK and Play store). The macOS support is possible via Homebrew and we now that runs also on a Rapsberry Pi 2 and newer.

For questions and support please feel free to use the new forum (


A Discone Antenna Made from 3D Printed Parts and Aluminum Tape

A Discone is a type of antenna that is designed to be resonant over a wide range of frequencies. Most antenna designs only really receive well on a few resonant frequencies, but a Discone is resonant over a much wider frequency range. This makes it a good partner for RTL-SDR and other SDR units as many SDRs tend to have wide tunable frequency ranges. With a wideband antenna like a Discone connected to an RTL-SDR one can scan over the almost entire tunable frequency range without needing to change antennas for each band. The drawbacks to a Discone however is that the antenna gain is not very high, and that it makes the SDR more susceptible to out of band interference. They also tend to be fairly expensive and difficult to build.

However now over on Thingiverse, mkarliner (aka Mike) has a remedy for the difficulty in building a Discone with his 3D printable Discone design. To construct it you simply need the 3D printed parts, some .3mm and 2mm plastic sheets, a 25mm plastic conduit and some aluminium tape. Mike's design works from 400 MHz and up, but the design could be easily enlarged for better performance on the lower frequencies. He writes:

The Discone antenna is remarkable in that it is capable of receiving and transmitting over a wide range of frequencies with good matching. Because of this, it is a good match for SDR receivers such as the popular RTL-SDR sticks.

The only really tricking thing about making a discone is that the disc has to be balanced at the very top of the cone, which is mechanically awkward.

The two parts here allow the cone to be solidly clamped and provide an adequate base for the disk. There also two holes for bring the coax centre and braid out to the disc and cone.
The base part has a socket at the bottom for 25mm (1 inch) plastic conduit for mounting

This antenna illustrated is designed for 400MHz and up, and as such transmits well on the 70cms amateur band, US and UK PMR channels and 23cms. It also receives aircraft ADS-B signals very well. I used .3mm plastic sheet for the cone and 2mm plastic for the disc, and then covered them with aluminium weatherproof tape. Be sure to check for continuity across the tape stripes.

The screenshot is of a calculator by VE3SQB which can be downloaded from if you want to make attenna's for other ranges.

A 3D Printed Discone
A 3D Printed Discone

If you're interested in building wideband antenna there is also the planar disk antenna (pdf) which can be built out of pizza pans.

Wired Article about Radiosonde (Weather Balloon) Hunting has recently run a short article about Roland F5ZV's hobby of radiosonde hunting. A radiosonde is a small box containing electronic sensors that measure things like wind, temperature, humidity and also give out a GPS location. The radiosonde is carried into the upper atmosphere by a weather balloon, and these probes are usually launched twice a day in many locations around the world by meteorological agencies. The data is useful for weather forecasting and research.

The wired article discusses the hobby of radiosonde hunting, which is the sport of using radios to hunt and collect the radiosonde as it bursts and falls back to earth. He also writes how he was able to convince the Swiss Meteorological agency to allow him to attach a GoPro to a radiosonde which allowed him to capture some interesting images.

We'd like to remind readers that in many places in the world it is possible to receive and decode radiosonde data with an RTL-SDR, and we have a tutorial available here.

Radiosonde in flight captured by a GoPro camera.
Radiosonde in flight captured by a GoPro camera.

Measuring the Noise Figure of Airspy and HackRF SDRs in Real Time

The Noise Figure (NF) is an important metric for low noise amplifiers and SDRs. It's a measure of how much components in the signal chain degrade the SNR of a signal, so a low noise figure metric indicates a more sensitive receiver. The Noise Figure of a radio system is almost entirely determined by the very first amplifier in the signal chain (the one closest to the antenna), which is why it can be very beneficial to have a low NF LNA placed right at the antenna

Over on his blog Rowetel has been attempting to measure the noise figure of his HackRF and Airspy, and also with the SDRs connected to an LNA. He's managed to come up with a method for measuring the noise figure of these devices in real time. The method involves using a GNU Octave script that he created and a calibrated signal generator.

It’s a GNU Octave script called nf_from_stdio.m that accepts a sample stream from stdio. It assumes the signal contains a sine wave test tone from a calibrated signal generator, and noise from the receiver under test. By sampling the test tone it can establish the gain of the receiver, and by sampling the noise spectrum an estimate of the noise power.

As expected, Rowetel found that the overall noise figure was significantly reduced with the LNA in place, with the Airspy's measuring a noise figure of 1.7/2.2 dB, and the HackRF measuring at 3.4 dB. Without the LNA in place, the Airspy's had a noise figure of 7/7.9 dB, whilst the HackRF measured at 11.1 dB.

Some very interesting sources of noise figure degradation were discovered during Rowetel's tests. For example the Airspy measured a NF 1 dB worse when used on a different USB port, and using a USB extension cable with ferrites helped too. He also found that lose connectors could make the NF a few dB's worse, and even the position of the SDR and other equipment on his desk had an effect.

Noise figure measurement
Noise figure measurement