Automatically Photographing Passing Aircraft with an RTL-SDR, Pi 3, and IoT Software

Arun Venkataswamy has recently completed a write up about his system which automatically captures images of passing aircraft. It works by using a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR to listen to ADS-B broadcasts from aircraft. These broadcasts contain the live current location and altitude of all aircraft in his area. When a landing aircraft is detected to be passing near his house, the Raspberry Pi sends a signal to another Raspberry Pi connected to a camera on his balcony, and that snaps a photo of the passing aircraft.

In terms of software, Arun uses dump1090 as the ADS-B decoder. For communications between the two Raspberry Pi's he uses Node-RED and Mosquitto in order to communicate with MQTT. On the second Raspberry Pi, gPhoto2 captures images from the camera, and then ImageMagick is used to write some text about the aircraft and photo on the image. Arun's post goes in further detail about the code and conditions he uses to determine when a photo should be snapped.

In the past we've posted about a similar project where an RTL-SDR and Raspberry Pi based ADS-B tracker was used with a servo mounted video camera to track and record video of passing aircraft.

Automatically Taking Photos of Passing Aircraft with a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR
Automatically Taking Photos of Passing Aircraft with a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR

Mike Tests out L-Band STD-C and AERO with a Low Cost Modified GPS Antenna

SDR-Kits.net have begun selling low cost GPS antennas that are modified to receive the Inmarsat satellite frequencies between 1535 MHz to 1550 MHz. They also have a version for Iridium satellites that receives 1610 MHz to 1630 MHz. The antennas are powered by a 3-5V bias tee, so they should work fine with SDRplay, Airspy and RTL-SDR Blog V3 units.

Mike Ladd from SDRplay has recently sent us a guide to receiving AERO and STD-C messages on L-band with the SDR-Kits antenna and an SDRPlay unit running SDRUno (Megaupload link).

AERO messages are a form of satellite ACARS, and typically contain short messages from aircraft. It is also possible to receive AERO audio calls. STD-C aka FleetNET and SafetyNET is a marine service that broadcasts messages that typically contain text information such as search and rescue (SAR) and coast guard messages as well as news, weather and incident reports. Some private messages are also seen. To decode AERO Mike uses JAERO, and for STD-C he uses the Tekmanoid STD-C decoder.

Mike has also created a very handy bank of frequencies for the SDRUno frequency manager which can be downloaded from here.

We note that if you're interested in waiting, at the end of September we will have an L-band patch antenna set available too. Our antenna will work from 1525 up to 1637 MHz. Prototypes have shown have shown good Inmarsat, Iridium and GPS reception. More details coming next month when manufacturing gets closer to finishing up.

Screenshot of the Tekmanoid Decoder from Mikes Tutorial
Screenshot of the Tekmanoid Decoder from Mikes Tutorial

Podcasts: GNU Radio with Ben Hilburn + New Signals and Bits Episodes

The Scanner School Podcast has recently released a new episode featuring an interview with Ben Hilburn, President of the GNU Radio project. If you want to understand what GNU Radio is, and what role it plays in the SDR/radio world, then this is a good listen.

Ben Hilburn is the project lead for GNU Radio, the free and open software radio ecosystem.

GNU Radio works best in an Linux environment and can also run on the ever popular Raspberry PI.

Ben and I discuss what GNU Radio is, how people are using GNU Radio, and how easy it is to get started with this amazing piece of free software.

If you are looking to learn how the hardware inside of a radio makes it work, or maybe you already do…. GNU radio is a great resource for you

Ben himself has a new podcast of his own titled "Signals & Bits" and there are a number of episodes already out, including an interview with SignalsEverywhere YouTube channel host Harold Giddings, Manuel Uhm Director of Marketing at Xilinx who talks about SDR designs on FPGA chips, and most recently Daina Bouquin who talks about her project called "The Space Library" that is in collaboration with the LibreSpace Foundation.

PEPYSCOPE: A Simple Panadapter for HF Radios using RTL-SDR Direct Sampling

Over on GitHub user mcogoni (Marco/IS0KYB) has recently released a new program called Pepyscope. Pepyscope is a simple and fast panadapter application that is designed to be used with direct sampling capable RTL-SDR's such as our RTL-SDR Blog V3 units. Like other panadapters you simply connect the IF output from the hardware HF radio into the input of the RTL-SDR. Then Pepyscope gives you a waterfall display that helps users to easily visualize the spectrum.

Pepyscope is open source and runs on Linux PCs. So far Marco has tested Pepyscope with a KENWOOD TS-180S (single conversion with IF at 8.83 MHz) and an RTL-SDR v3. He has also uploaded a demonstration video on YouTube.

PEPYSCOPE: a simple panadapter for Linux and the RTL-SDR in direct sampling mode

Uplinking to QO-100 with a LimeNET Micro and LimeRFE

The LimeNet Micro is a is a $329 board that combines a Raspberry Pi 3 (compute module) together with a LimeSDR radio. The LimeRFE is an amplifier and filter board accessory designed to be used with LimeSDR units. When a LimeNET Micro and LimeRFE are used together, it is possible to create a transmit capable radio system that can be used for amateur radio.

Daniel Estévez has recently been doing several experiments with the LimeRFE, and this time he's managed to create an uplink capable ground station for the QO-100 amateur radio geostationary satellite. The LimeRFE can output 1W at 2.4 GHz and Daniel writes that with a low cost 2.4 GHz WiFi parabolic grid antenna this is more than enough power to work QO-100.

In terms of software, Daniel is using a Python script that communicates with the Limesuite API for PTT control. For transmitting IQ data generated by GNU Radio he uses limesdr_send. So far he's been able to successfully test a CW beacon, SSB voice and waterfall text generated by gr-paint.

LimeNet Micro + LimeRFE + 2.4 GHz WiFi Antenna = Full QO-100 Solution
LimeNet Micro + LimeRFE + 2.4 GHz WiFi Antenna = Full QO-100 Solution

 

SignalsEverywhere: Driving around with KerberosSDR and Locating a P25 Transmitter

On this weeks episode of SignalsEverywhere, host Corrosive tests out our KerberosSDR coherent RTL-SDR unit for radio direction finding. If you didn't already know KerberosSDR is our experimental 4x Coherent RTL-SDR product. With it, coherent applications like radio direction finding (RDF) and passive radar are possible. Together with the KerberosSDR direction finding Android app it is possible to visualize the direction finding data produced by a KerberosSDR running on a Pi3/Tinkerboard.

In the video Corrosive uses the KerberosSDR together with the recently updated companion Android app to determine the location of a P25 control channel. By driving around with the app constantly collecting data he's able to pinpoint the location within about 15 minutes.

If this interests you, we also have some more driving demo videos available here.

Direction Finding With Kerberos SDR

In addition to his video, Corrosive has also created a very useful calculator that can be used to calculate the required antenna spacing for a circular or linear direction finding array that can be used with the KerberosSDR.

AIS Share App Updated and Magazine Article

Thank you to Christian, programmer of the AIS Share Android App for letting us know about some updates to his AIS Share Android application. AIS Share is a €2 app for Android that allows you to turn an Android device into an AIS receiver together with an RTL-SDR. AIS stands for Automatic Identification System and is used by ships to broadcast their GPS locations in order to help avoid collisions and aide with rescues. An RTL-SDR with the right software can be used to receive and decode these signals, and plot ship positions on a map.

Recent updates to AIS Share have brought improved AIS reception, and updates allowing it to run on the latest Android version. A new video demonstrating the software was also uploaded to YouTube.

AIS SHARE - Android (RTL-SDR AIS receiver)

The App has also been featured in the February 2019 edition the "Practical Boat Owner" magazine (paid magazine with digital editions). The article discusses using AIS Share and an RTL-SDR to stream data to Boat Beacon, which is a popular chart navigation app. A similar but free tutorial on setting up AIS Share and Boat Beacon can be found here.

An excerpt of the Practical Boat Owner AIS Share RTL-SDR Article.
An excerpt of the Practical Boat Owner AIS Share RTL-SDR Article.

RTL-SDR.COM GOES 16/17 and GK-2A Weather Satellite Reception Comprehensive Tutorial

GOES 16/17 and GK-2A are geosynchronous weather satellites that transmit high resolution weather images and data. In particular they are far enough away from the earth to be able to take beautiful 'full disk' images which show the entirety of one side of the Earth. As these satellites are in a geosynchronous orbit, they can be counted on to be in the same position in the sky at all times, so no tracking hardware is required and images can be pulled down constantly throughout the day without having to wait for a polar orbiting satellite to pass over like you would with the NOAA APT or Russian Meteor satellites.

With a low cost WiFi grid dish antenna, LNA and RTL-SDR dongle, any home user within the footprint of one of these weather satellites can receive and decode live images directly from the sky. Setting up a station is overall not too difficult, but it can be a bit fiddly with a number of steps to complete. Below is our comprehensive guide. We'll show how to set up a self contained Raspberry Pi based system with goestools (free), as well as a guide for the Windows PC software XRIT decoder (US$125).

We've attempted to make the tutorial as newbie friendly as possible, but we do need to assume basic RF knowledge (know what antennas, SDRs, coaxial, adapters etc are), basic Linux competency for the goestools tutorial (using the terminal, using nano text editor), and basic Windows competency for the XRIT decoder tutorial (unzipping, editing text files, running programs).

Click for the full size image (14MB)
A full disk false color image received directly from the GOES-17 satellite with an RTL-SDR. Click for the full size image (14MB).

There are two fourth generation NOAA GOES satellites that are currently active, GOES-16 and GOES-17. These transmit HRIT signals, and also transmit shared data from the older third generation GOES 15, and Japanese Himiwari8 satellites. At the moment GOES-16 and GOES-17 are producing full disk images every 30 minutes, and close up "mesoscale" shots of the USA every ~15 minutes. GOES-16 (aka GOES-R) and GOES-17 (aka GOES-S) are also known as GOES-EAST and GOES-WEST respectively. At least one of these satellites can be received from North/South America, Canada, Alaska/Hawaii, New Zealand, Eastern Australia and some pacific islands.

There is also the older generation GOES-15 and GOES-14 which have been placed in standby orbits. These transmit LRIT signals which provide images at a slower rate. 

GOES 16/East and GOES 17/West Signal Footprint
GOES 16/East and GOES 17/West Signal Footprint

There is also the Korean GK-2A (GEO-KOMPSAT-2A) satellite which is very similar to the GOES satellites. GK-2A covers countries like India, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Russia. Note that you may have previously heard of the COMS-1 satellite which used to cover this area. Since July 2019 COMS-1 was replaced by GK-2A. Unlike GOES, GK-2A images are encrypted. However it has been found that "sample" encryption keys found online in demo code work just fine.

GK-2A contains both LRIT and HRIT channels, but at the moment only the LRIT channel can be decoded with the currently available software. The LRIT channel sends full disk IR images every 10 minutes in 2200 x 2200 resolution. Compared to the 5424 x 5424 resolution GOES full disk images, this is smaller, but still large enough to be interesting.

Note that even if HRIT decoding is added by the current software, you would require an Airspy or other wideband SDR as the GK-2A HRIT signal bandwidth is 5 MHz. Also since the HRIT bandwidth is so wide, the signal strength is reduced, meaning that you'll need a larger dish. People who have received the HRIT signal note that a 3M+ sized dish seems to be required.

GK-21 (GEO-KOMPSAT-2A) Foorprint
GK-21 (GEO-KOMPSAT-2A) Footprint

You might ask why bother receiving these satellite images directly, when you can get the exact same images from NOAA at https://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/GOES/index.php. Well, you might want to set up your own station to be independent from the internet, or you live in a remote location without internet, or maybe just for the fun and learning of it.

To set up a receiver for GOES 16/17 HRIT or GK-2A LRIT you'll need to purchase a dish antenna such as a cheap 2.4 GHz WiFi antenna, an RTL-SDR, GOES LNA, and a Raspberry Pi if using goestools, otherwise a Windows PC can be used. The total cost could be anywhere from $150 - $200 depending on what pieces you already have available.

Before we start the tutorial, you might want to use an augmented reality Android app like "Satellite-AR" to get a rough idea of where either GOES 16/17 or GK-2A (GEO-KOMPSAT-2A) is in your sky, and if receiving them is even feasible for your location. You'll need to find an area on your land where you can mount a small satellite dish with an unobstructed line of sight view to the satellite (no trees or buildings can be blocking the signal path). If the satellite is low on the horizon (below 25 deg elevation), then things get a little more difficult as you have more obstructions and a weaker signal. But it can still be done, and we're able to routinely get good results at 24.5 deg elevation.

Note that for Europe and Africa, unfortunately there are no satellites that can be received easily with an SDR and LNA. But you might instead be interested in the EUMETCAST service, which can be received from EUTELSAT 10A (Ku band), Eutelsat 5 WEST A (C Band) and SES-6 (C Band) . To receive this service you'll need a DVB-S2 receiver and a satellite dish with appropriate band LNB. You also need a license keys and software which all together cost €100. EUMETCAST reception is not covered in this tutorial, instead see this video.

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