A corner reflector antenna is basically a monopole antenna with a metallic 'corner' reflector placed behind it. The reflector helps the monopole collect signals over a wider aperture resulting in signals coming in stronger from the direction that the corner is pointing at. In past posts we've seen a homemade tinfoil corner reflector used to improve reception of the generic stock RTL-SDR monopole antenna, and a larger one was used in a radio astronomy experiment to detect a pulsar with an RTL-SDR.
Recently The Thought Emporium YouTube channel has uploaded a video showing how to build a large 2 meter 3D corner reflector out of readily available metal conduit pipes and chicken wire. While the antenna has not been tested yet, they hope to be able to use it to receive weather satellite images from GOES-16, to receive moon bounce signals, to map the Hydrogen line and to detect pulsars.
Building a Giant 2m Corner Reflector Antenna For Less than $200 (For Goes-16, Pulsars and More!)
Last week a reader of RTL-SDR.com wrote into us to let us know about some experiments that he had been performing with the telescopic stock antennas provided in our RTL-SDR dongle packages. The reader had built a corner antenna reflector in order to improve reception in one direction. We are posting his write up and results below:
This tutorial will discuss the use of a Corner Reflector with a monopole antenna, i.e. the stock RTL-SDR antenna. To keep this tutorial concise, the reader is encouraged to study the Wikipedia pages for details about Corner Reflector Antennas, Dipoles and Monopoles.
Corner Reflector Antennas are very easily constructed from 2 A4-sized cardboard panels, covered with tinfoil. This allows for a foldable and transportable external reflector to the built-in wifi antennas of a laptop, which are located on the upper corners of the display.
The reader is pointed to the fact that corner antennas are based on a Dipole, where the stock RTL-SDR antenna is a Monopole, so some adjustments will have to be made, which is discussed and explained later in this text. If there are real antenna specialists reading this, they are encouraged to do a more thorough writeup on the exact mechanism of a monopole-based corner reflector antenna, as there was little information to be found on the internet.
The experiment started as an attempt to receive a DVB-T signal centered around 506 MHz, from a mast about 10 miles away. Indoors. This should have given a clear and strong signal, but alas, the signal was very weak.
Reading up on Monopoles and their need for a ground plane, the magnetic base of the 14 cm long antenna was placed on a metal cooking pot. The signal was a lot stronger. (The middle part of the waterfall plot above.) Clearly a wooden table is not much of a ground plane.
Next a Corner Reflector was made from tinfoil and a cardboard box, much to the dismay of the resident Feline Overlord that had seized it. 🙂 A triangular piece was added for rigidity and as a ground plane. The Monopole antenna was placed on the ground plane triangle in the middle of the 90° corner and at the correct distance from the fold in the reflector. i.e. the Focal Axis, but the gain was less than the theoretical 10dB so this setup was unsuccessful. (Upper part of waterfall plot above.)
The breakthrough came when I wanted to study the effect of a larger ground plane. For this I put the corner reflector sideways and put the monopole on the outer edge to reduce possible reflections from the standing panel. There was only a slight effect compared to the cooking pot, so I decided to progressively move the monopole towards the back panel in order to see if the additional reflection would get some more gain. When I reached about 10 cm distance from the panel, the waterfall plot exploded with a very powerful signal! See the picture below for the transition from wooden table to the sideways configuration. (On top of the waterfall plot there is some residual from the ground plane cooking pot test.)
The setup looks like this:
For a few days I was baffled as to why the corner reflector behaved this way. It had already dawned on me that the diagonal distance from the fold till the antenna tip was 14 cm in this configuration, so 1/4 WL. It was only after I visualized how a monopole works, that I understood: a 1/4 WL monopole is physically a quarter wavelength open ended resonator. i.e. at the base/feed point the electric current is maximum and the voltage minimum. At the tip it is reversed, with maximum voltage and zero current. See this page for details: http://www.radio-electronics.com/info/antennas/vertical-antennas/quarter-wavelength.php
Alternatively, the polar plot of a Corner Reflector Antenna also shows that the signal is weakest/zero in the direction of the panels, where the monopole base is located, while the maximum signal is along the center line between the 2 panels, which is where the tip of the monopole is located. Hence the signal *difference* over the monopole is thus maximized and this way it works best. As stated in the beginning, if an antenna expert can write up a better explanation, please contact the maintainer of the RTL-SDR Blog.
In retrospect, the original setup I tested could not work optimal since the entire monopole is irradiated equally if it is aimed along the Focal Axis. Moreover it was suspected that the mirror image antenna that makes a monopole work, was distorted because of the electrical contact between the triangular ground plane and the reflector panels. A test with an isolated triangular ground plane was planned but has now been permanently shelved.
For those who want to re-create the experiment, these are the reflector dimensions:
2 panels of 42*25cm, joined along the longest side.
36*25*25cm triangle at the bottom. This should give a 90° angle between the 2 largest panels.
The tinfoil can be wiped smooth and attached with some glue.
So to summarize;
Make sure you have a good ground plane!
A Corner Reflector Antenna can be constructed at frugal cost with a cardboard box and tinfoil. Larger reflectors are better, especially in the plane perpendicular to the Monopole, so it is better to have wide reflectors in stead of high reflectors.
Make sure the base of the stock monopole antenna is located in an area with low signal strength and the tip is located in an area of maximum signal, therefore maximizing the *difference* between base and tip of the Monopole. Usually this means perpendicular to the Focal Axis of the reflector panels.
Distances and Monopole lengths can easily be adjusted for various frequency ranges, making this a very versatile modification or enhancement to the stock antenna.
Speculation: Since there is a focal Axis rather than a Point (i.e. like a Parabolic Dish), the sideways configuration might be more suitable for tracking a moving satellite across the horizon, ideally at 45° azimuth.
Earlier in April we posted about Hannes Fasching (OE5JFL)’s work in detecting pulsars with an RTL-SDR. Thanks to Steve Olney (VK2XV), administrator of the Neutron Star Group for pointing out that there are actually several amateur radio astronomers who are using RTL-SDR dongles for pulsar detection.
A pulsar is a rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. If this beam points towards the earth, it can then be observed with a large dish antenna and a radio, like the RTL-SDR. Pulsars create weakly detectable noise bursts across a wide frequency range. They create these noise bursts at precise intervals (milliseconds to seconds depending on the pulsar), so they can be detected from within the natural noise by performing some mathematical analysis on the data. Typically a few hours of data needs to be received to be able to analyze it, with more time needed for smaller dishes.
One problem is that pulsar signals can suffer from ‘dispersion’ due to many light years of travel through the interstellar medium. This simply means that higher frequencies of the noise burst tend to arrive before the lower frequencies. Mathematical de-dispersion techniques can be used to eliminate this problem enabling one to take advantage of wideband receivers like the RTL-SDR and other SDRs. The more bandwidth collected and de-dispersed, the smaller the dish required for detection.
Over on the Neutron Star Group several amateur pulsar detection projects are listed, and entries denoted with the “^” symbol make use of the RTL-SDR. Below we show a brief overview of those projects:
Andrea Dell’Immagine (IW5BHY)– Based in Italy Andrea often uses a 3D corner reflector antenna which is equivalent to a 2.5 meter diameter dish to observe pulsars in the 70cm band (~420 MHz). The antenna is in a fixed position so he can only detect pulsars that drift into the beam width of the antenna. With this antenna, a 0.3dB NF LNA, an RTL-SDR and de-dispersion techniques he’s been able to detect the Pulsar B0329+54 which is 2,643 light years away with an integration time of about 3 hours.
Hannes Fasching (OE5JFL) – Based in Austria Hannes has a 7.3M dish that he uses for pulsar detection with his RTL-SDR. With this large dish he’s been able to receive 22 pulsars at both 70cm (424 MHz), and 23cm (1294 MHz) frequencies. With such a large dish, detecting a strong pulsar like B0329+54 only needs less than a minute of integration time.
Mario Natali (I0NAA) – Based in Italy Mario uses a 5M dish to observer pulsars at both 409 MHz and 1297 MHz. Combined with a low noise figure LNA and his RTL-SDR he’s been able to receive the B0329+54 pulsar with an integration time of about 2 – 2.5 hours.
Michiel Klaassen – From the Dwingeloo Radio Observatory in the Netherlands Michiel has used their large 25M dish and an RTL-SDR to detect B0329+54 at 419 MHz.
Peter East & Guillermo Gancio–Peter and Guillermo have used the large 30M dish at El Instituto Argentino de Radioastronomía (IAR) in Argentina and an RTL-SDR to detect the Vela pulsar (B0833-45) at 1420 MHz.
In terms of hardware required, from the above projects we see that you’ll need an RTL-SDR dongle (other more costly SDR’s could also be used), a dish as large as you can get (along with some sort of dish pointing system), a low noise figure amplifier (0.5dB or less is desired) to be placed right by the dish, a few line amps if the cable run is long and perhaps a filter if you are seeing interference from terrestrial signals.
An overview of software for detecting pulsars with the RTL-SDR can be found over on the Neutron Star Groups software page. Essentially what you need is an analysis program which can work on the raw IQ data that is collected by the RTL-SDR and dish antenna. This software ‘folds’ the data, looking for the regular noise bursts from the pulsars. The output is data that can be used to create a graph indicating the spin period of the pulsar, and thus confirming the detection.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Over on YouTube Adam 9A4QAV (creator of the LNA4ALL and other RTL-SDR related products) has uploaded two videos showing his home made L-band patch antenna in action receiving Inmarsat-C and in the second video describing the construction of the antenna. Inmarsat is a geostationary satellite service that provides services such as satellite phone communications, broadband internet, and short text and data messaging services. Some of the messages on the Inmarsat STD-C NCS EGC channel are marine safety messages that are decodable with an RTL-SDR. This was discussed in our tutorial that we posted back in August. In that tutorial we used a prototype patch antenna that was supplied by Outernet.
Adam’s home made L-band patch antenna consists of two thin sheets of conductive metal, cut to the right dimensions which are described in the second video. We have recorded the dimensions here (though be sure to double check with the video for correctness):
Reflector Size: 170 mm x 170 mm Patch Size: 98 mm x 98 mm Corner Trim: 21 mm from top right and bottom left corners Coax Connection (Probe): 25 mm from bottom edge Height of patch from reflector: 7 mm
The corners of the patch need to be trimmed to give the patch antenna right hand circular polarization (RHCP), which is the polarization used by Inmarsat Satellites.
The first video shows the patch in action with Inmarsat-C being received. In this video he also uses a simple downconverter to shift the 1.5 GHz Inmarsat-C frequency down to 300 MHz, which avoids the problem of the RTL-SDR not working very well at 1.5 GHz and above. In the second video Adam explains the dimensions of the antenna.
Inmarsat-C reception – Patch antenna & d/converter conv gain 30db
Inmarsat is a communications service provider with several geostationary satellites in orbit. They provide services such as satellite phone communications, broadband internet, and short text and data messaging services. Geostationary means that the satellites are in a fixed position in the sky and do not move. From almost any point on earth at least one Inmarsat satellite should be receivable.
Inmarsat transmits in the L-band at around 1.5 GHz. With an RTL-SDR dongle, a cheap $10 modified GPS antenna or 1-2 LNA's and a patch, dish or helix antenna you can listen to these Inmarsat signals, and in particular decode one channel known as STD-C NCS. This channel is mainly used by vessels at sea and contains Enhanced Group Call (EGC) messages which contain information such as search and rescue (SAR) and coast guard messages as well as news, weather and incident reports. More information about L band reception is available at UHF-Satcoms page. See the end of this post for a tutorial on modifying a GPS antenna for Inmarsat reception.
Some examples of the EGC messages you can receive on the STD-C NCS channel are shown below:
Military Operations: Live Firing Warning
STRATOS CSAT 4-AUG-2015 03:21:25 436322
FM: RCC NEW ZEALAND 040300 UTC AUG 15
COASTAL NAVIGATION WARNING 151/15
AREA COLVILLE, PLENTY
CUVIER ISLAND (REPUNGA ISLAND), BAY OF PLENTY
1. LIVE FIRING 060300 UTC TO 060500 UTC AUG 15 IN DANGER AREA NZM204.
ANNUAL NEW ZEALAND NOTICES TO MARINERS NUMBER 5 REFERS.
2. CANCEL THIS MESSAGE 060600 UTC AUG 15
Armed Robbery / Pirate Warning
NAVAREA XI WARNING
NAVAREA XI 0571/15
ARMED ROBBERY INFORMATION. 301845Z JUL.
FIVE ROBBERS ARMED WITH LONG KNIVES IN A SMALL UNLIT HIGH SPEED BOAT APPROACHED A BULK CARRIER UNDERWAY. ONE OF THE ROBBERS ATTEMPTED TO BOARD THE SHIP USING A HOOK ATTACHED TO A ROPE. ALERT CREW NOTICED THE ROBBER AND RAISED THE ALARM AND CREW RUSHED TO THE LOCATION. HEARING THE ALARM AND SEEING THE CREW ALERTNESS, THE ROBBERS ABORTED THE ATTEMPTED ATTACK AND MOVED AWAY. INCIDENT REPORTED TO VTIS SINGAPORE. ON ARRIVAL AT SINGAPORE WATERS, THE COAST GUARD BOARDED THE SHIP FOR INVESTIGATION.
VESSELS REQUESTED TO BE CAUTION ADVISED.
Armed Robbery / Pirate Warning
NAVAREA XI WARNING
NAVAREA XI 0553/15
ROBBERY INFORMATION. 261810Z JUL.
DUTY ENGINEER ONBOARD AN UNDERWAY PRODUCT TANKER DISCOVERED THREE ROBBERS IN THE ENGINE ROOM NEAR THE INCINERATOR SPACE. THE ROBBER THEIR BOAT. A SEARCH WAS CARRIED OUT. NO ROBBERS FOUND ON BOARD AND NOTHING REPORTED STOLEN. VTIS SINGAPORE INFORMED. COAST GUARD BOARDED THE TANKER FOR INVESTIGATION UPON ARRIVAL AT SINGAPORE PILOT EASTERN BOARDING AREA.VESSELS REQUESTED TO BE CAUTION ADVISED.
Submarine Cable Repair Warning
NAVAREA XI WARNING
NAVAREA XI 0569/15
SUBMARINE CABLE REPAIRING WORKS BY
C/V ILE DE SEIN. 05 TO 20 AUG.
IN VICINITY OF LINE BETWEEN
A. 21-37.3N 156-11.5W AND 25-03.6N 148-43.2E.
CANCEL THIS MSG 21 AUG.
Search and Rescue - Missing Vessel
ON PASSAGE FROM LAE (06-44S 147- 00E) TO FINSCHHAFEN (06-36S 147-51E), MOROBE PROVINCE. VESSEL DEPARTED LAE AT 310500Z JUL 15 FOR FINSCHAFFEN WITH ETA OF 310800Z JUL 15 BUT FAILED TO ARRIVE.
ALL VESSELS REQUESTED TO KEEP A SHARP LOOKOUT AND BE PREPARED TO RENDER ASSISTANCE. REPORTS TO THIS STATION OR MRCC PORT MORESBY VIAEMAIL: ******@****.***.**, TELEPHONE +*** *** ****; RCC AUSTRALIA VIA TELEPHONE +*********** INMARSAT THROUGH LES BURUM (POR ***,IOR***), SPECIAL ACCESS CODE (SAC) **, HF DSC *******
NL BURUM LES 204 4-AUG-2015 03:23:14 773980
FM JRCC AUSTRALIA 030858Z AUG 15 INCIDENT 2015/5086
AUS4602 CORAL AND SOLOMON SEAS
23FT WHITE BANANA BOAT WITH BROWN STRIPES, AND A 40HP OUTBOARD AND 5 ADULT MALES IS OVERDUE ON PASSAGE FROM LAE (06-44S 147- 00E) TO FINSCHHAFEN (06-36S 147-51E), MOROBE PROVINCE. VESSEL DEPARTED LAE AT 310500Z JUL 15 FOR FINSCHAFFEN WITH ETA OF 310800Z JUL 15 BUT FAILED TO ARRIVE.
ALL VESSELS REQUESTED TO KEEP A SHARP LOOKOUT AND BE PREPARED TO RENDER ASSISTANCE. REPORTS TO THIS STATION OR MRCC PORT MORESBY VIA EMAIL: *******@****.***.**, TELEPHONE +*** *** ****; RCC AUSTRALIA VIA TELEPHONE +************ INMARSAT THROUGH LES BURUM (POR ***,IOR ***), SPECIAL ACCESS CODE (SAC) **, HF DSC *********, EMAIL: ******@****.***.** OR BY FAX +************.
Scientific Research Vessel Drilling - Request for wide clearance
NL BURUM LES 204 4-AUG-2015 02:29:41 709950
FM JRCC AUSTRALIA 040224Z AUG 15
AUSCOAST WARNING 202/15
SPECIAL PURPOSE VESSEL JOIDES RESOLUTION CONDUCTING DRILLING OPERATIONS IN POSITION 28 39.80` S 113 34.60` E
2.5NM CLEARANCE REQUESTED.
TROPICAL CYCLONE WARNING / ISSUED FOR THE NORTH OF EQUATOR OF METAREA
WARNING VALID 060900.
TYPHOON 1513 SOUDELOR (1513) 930 HPA
AT 19.9N 133.2E WEST OF PARECE VERA MOVING WEST 12 KNOTS.
MAX WINDS 95 KNOTS NEAR CENTER.
RADIUS OF OVER 50 KNOT WINDS 80 MILES.
RADIUS OF OVER 30 KNOT WINDS 240 MILES NORTH SEMICIRCLE AND 210 MILES
FORECAST POSITION FOR 052100UTC AT 20.1N 130.6E WITH 50 MILES RADIUS
OF 70 PERCENT PROBABILITY CIRCLE.
935 HPA, MAX WINDS 90 KNOTS NEAR CENTER.
FORECAST POSITION FOR 060900UTC AT 20.8N 128.1E WITH 75 MILES RADIUS
OF 70 PERCENT PROBABILITY CIRCLE.
935 HPA, MAX WINDS 90 KNOTS NEAR CENTER.
JAPAN METEOROLOGICAL AGENCY.=