Building a Direction Finding System with a Frequency Mixer and SDR

David of rowetel.com has recently been working on creating a direction finding system with his HackRF. A direction finder can be used to determine which direction a radio signal is coming from and is good for detecting sources of noise, illegal transmissions, for amateur radio fox hunts or for in David’s case, tracking down a local repeater troll.

In most direction finding implementations so far people have ran two SDRs from the same clock source in order to create a phase coherent receiver. However David is using a different method and he writes: 

The trick is to get signals from two antennas into the SDR, in such a way that the phase difference can be measured. One approach is to phase lock two or more SDRs. My approach is to frequency shift the a2 signal, which is then summed with a1 and sent to the SDR. I used a Minicircuits ADE-1 mixer (left) and home made hybrid combiner (centre).

Direction finding hardware.
Direction finding hardware.
Direction finding block overview.
Direction finding block overview.

David uses his HackRF to capture the signal and the free Octave numerical computation environment to compute the mathematics. In his post David explains the math behind this implementation, and shows some of his results in which he has been able to find the angle towards the transmitter in a test bench set up.

David also writes that this method could be used for offline direction finding. By logging the baseband signal whenever a transmission occurs, direction finding could be done days later and compared with several logged transmissions across town to get a cross bearing. He also writes that an offline logging system would be useful for evidence in case of prosecution of people illegally transmitting.

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