Category: Amateur Radio

Creating an APRS I-Gate and Digipeater with Baofeng and RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube ModernHam has uploaded a video showing how to create an APRS I-Gate and Digipeater with Baofeng and RTL-SDR. He also makes use of a Raspberry Pi as the computing module and an audio cable to connect the Baofeng to the audio jack of the Pi. The tutorial then consists of a walk through of the various software setup steps, and finally how to connect the Baofeng and RTL-SDR to the Pi.

If you weren't already aware, Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is a digital VHF mode used in amateur radio. It allows for packets of data to be sent to receiving nodes over a local area via RF. Typical uses for it are vehicle tracking, weather station telemetry, text messages, announcements and other wireless device telemetry like high altitude balloons. An I-Gate is an internet connected node which receives local APRS RF signals and uploads them to the internet, to be seen on sites like aprs.fi. TX capable I-Gates may also broadcast to the local RF network messages from APRS transmitters on the other side of the world.

APRS I-Gate and Digipeater with Baofeng and RTL-SDR

Coronavirus: Hamvention Cancelled & Other Updates

Hamvention, the largest yearly amateur radio event has been cancelled this year due to concerns over the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). It was due to be held during May 15 - May 18, 2020. Chairman Jack Gerbs writes:

The Hamvention Executive Committee has been monitoring the COVID19 pandemic. We have worked very closely with our local and state health Departments.

It is with a very heavy heart the Hamvention Executive Committee has decided to cancel Hamvention for this year.
This decision is extremely difficult for us but with around two months until the Great Gathering we felt this action necessary.
More specific details regarding the closure will soon be posted here.

Thank you for your understanding in this time of International Crisis.

Jack Gerbs
General Chairman HV2020
[email protected]

According to the ARRL cancelled events tracker, a number of other amateur radio events across the USA have also been cancelled, and we're seeing similar reports for most other countries too. At this stage we expect that most events will be cancelled over the next few months.

RTL-SDR Blog V3 Stock & Shipments

Due to manufacturing delays and slowdowns related to the Coronavirus our multipurpose dipole antenna set, and set including antenna and dongle is currently out of stock on our international webstore. We expect to be able to restock by the end of the month. There remains sufficient stock of the dongle itself. Our wideband LNA will also be back in stock next month.

Amazon USA is still stocked with all products, however there may be a short out of stock period within 1-2 weeks as we await for the arrival of replenishing stock in the USA.

In regards to international shipments please expect that there could be delays. At the moment we are seeing most mail still getting through in a timely manner, however this could change over the coming weeks as more travel restrictions come into play.

It is expected that other radio related products could also soon be out of stock, or delayed due to the situation.

Other Coronavirus Posts

N0SSC has provided a good post outlining the risks to the amateur radio population and why amateur radio event cancellations are a good idea. 

SolderSmoke, a popular podcast about radio homebrewers has put out a special Coronavirus crisis podcast.

We thought it would be nice to put out a special edition of the podcast to help listeners keep up their morale during this difficult time. So we’ll do our regular kind of show, but we’ll try to emphasize things you can do to stay busy and keep up morale while stuck at home.

Over on The SWLing Blog Thomas has put out a post about social distancing and how to keep occupied without leaving the house, and another post about how shortwave broadcasters are now adding regular Coronavirus information and news to their broadcasts.

The Othernet Bullseye TCXO LNB for QO-100 Reception

Othernet have recently released their new "Bullseye" 10 kHz Ultra High Stability Universal LNB. It is currently on sale and available for US$39.95 + shipping on their store.

The LNB is designed for receiving QO-100 which is a popular geostationary amateur radio satellite positioned at 25.5°E which covers Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern Brazil and the west half of Russia/Asia. In the past we've seen several posts about people using RTL-SDRs to set up ground station monitors for this satellite, as well as special WebSDR software designed for QO-100 monitoring.

Typically an LNB with small satellite dish is used to receive QO-100 which downlinks at 10.489550 GHz. These LNB's have a built in LNA, and downconvert the signal into a frequency range receivable by an RTL-SDR. One problem is that most commercial LNBs were intended for satellite TV reception, and hence they do not need to use a very stable local oscillator. So reception of the narrowband signals on QO-100 can become a challenge if they are continuously drifting in frequency as temperature changes.

Othernet's new Bullsye LNB uses a 2PPM TCXO as the local oscillator which gives it high stability in the face of changing temperatures. To power it you'll need a bias tee or LNB power source capable of injecting 13 - 18v onto the coax line. The product description reads:

The Bullseye LNB is the world's most precise and stable Ku-band down converter. Even a VSAT LNBF costing hundreds of dollars more is no match for the performance of the Bullseye 10K LNB. Each unit is calibrated at the factory to within 1 kHz of absolute precision against a GPS-locked spectrum analyzer. As a bonus feature, the Bullseye 10K provides access to its internal 25 MHz TCXO through the secondary F-connector. This reference output can be used to directly monitor the performance of the TCXO over time.

  • Bullseye 10 kHz BE01
  • Phase locked loop with 2 PPM TCXO
  • Factory calibration within 1 kHz utilizing GPS-locked spectrum analyzers
  • Ultra high precision PLL employing proprietary frequency control system (patent pending)
  • Digitally controlled carrier offset with optional programmer
  • 25 MHz output reference available on secondary F-connector (red)
     
  • Input frequency: 10489 - 12750 MHz
  • LO frequency 9750/10600 MHz
  • LO frequency stability at 23C: +/- 10 kHz
  • LO frequency stability -20 - 60C: +/- 30 kHz
  • Gain: 50 - 66 dB
  • Output frequency: 739 - 1950 MHz (low band) and 1100 - 2150 (high band)
  • Return loss of 8 dB (739 - 1950 MHz) and 10 dB (1100 - 2150 MHz)
  • Noise figure: 0.5 dB

Over on his blog @F4DAV has uploaded a comprehensive review of the Othernet LNB which goes over the specs, construction and testing of the LNB. The review is an excellent read and he concludes with the statement:

As far as I know the BE01 is the first affordable mass-produced Ku-band TCXO LNB. Specifications are not entirely clear but these early tests suggest that it can be a game changer for amateur radio and other narrowband applications in the 10 GHz band. The stability and ability to recalibrate should allow even unsophisticated analog stations to tune to a 5 kHz channel and remain there for hours at a time. For SDR stations with beacon-based frequency correction, the absolute accuracy removes the need to oversample by several hundred kHz or to scan for the initial frequency offset.

The Othernet Bulleye High Stability LNB
The Othernet Bullseye High Stability LNB

IGate2: An RTL-SDR Compatible APRS iGate for Android

Thank you to Agrosi Luciano for submitting news about his new RTL-SDR compatible Android App called "IGate2". IGate2 is a receive only APRS IGate written for Android devices. There is a free and paid version of the app. The free version is limited to 100 packets forwarded per session. The paid version costs US$3.49 and has unlimited packet forwards. The description of the app is pasted below:

The RTL-SDR dongle tuner (cost starting from 10 €) and its antenna, receives the information contained in APRS packets transmitted from HAM radio stations, and then a phone device, with IGate2, forwards them to the world wide web using its internet connection (WiFi or 3G).

IGate2 acts as a Software Defined Radio Demodulator, a TNC Modem and an Internet Gate.

It needs the installation of a driver (Martin Marinov’s driver) for the SDR dongle that you can find in: https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=Martin+Marinov.

If you already own an unused cellular phone or tablet, IGate2 represents a very cheap, compact and easy-to-use solution for suppling an IGATE service to radio amateur community.

Raw data contained in radio packets are visible on the phone screen and may be routed (if you check this option) to the APRS-IS network. All data convoyed and shared in APRS-IS network can be seen in maps and bulletins on particular websites, for example: http://aprs.fi/ .

To be authorized to send data to APRS-IS you must have a HAM CallSign and a PassCode. See aprs-is.net. If you are not a radio amateur, you may only use your equipment in receive only mode.
The app has an audio monitor useful for tuning the parameters of the Sdr receiver (it may not work well in old devices with low memory). In the main page there is a frequency switch, a hub with the text of received packets, two indicator lights: one for the Sdr connection and one for the Aprs-Is connection, three counters reporting the number of: received, forwardable and forwarded packets. When you leave the main page while the IGate is running, the app service will continue working in the background, you can recall the main page by tapping the service icon in the android status bar.

Since the device and the Sdr dongle drains much power from the phone battery, it is recommended to use the phone charger or a power bank. You will need an OTG power cable. It is not easy to find a working cable, maybe you can do it yourself. The reception quality of the IGate depends, above all, on the antenna connected to the Sdr dongle. With very strong FM broadcasts in your area, it may be helpful to manually adjust the gain of the receiver or use a band-stop filter.

If you weren't already aware, Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is a digital VHF mode used in amateur radio. It allows for packets of data to be sent to receiving nodes over a local area via RF. Typical uses for it are vehicle tracking, weather station telemetry, text messages, announcements and other wireless device telemetry like high altitude balloons. An IGate is an internet connected node which receives local APRS RF signals and uploads them to the internet, to be seen on sites like aprs.fi. TX capable IGates may also broadcast to the local RF network messages from APRS transmitters on the other side of the world.

IGate2: Android App that turns your phone and RTL-SDR into an APRS IGate.
IGate2: Android App that turns your phone and RTL-SDR into an APRS IGate.

 

Look4Sat: An Android App for Tracking and Predicting Amateur Radio and Weather Satellite Passes

Thank you to Arty Bishop for submitting news about his recently released Android App called Look4Sat. Look4Sat is a satellite tracker and pass predictor with a focus on amateur radio and weather satellites. The app is free, ad free, and open source on GitHub.  Arty writes that he's programmed this as a learning exercise and notes:

I always wanted to have an offline and not bloated satellite tracker on my phone, as carrying the laptop at all times is kinda not too handy.

The app uses predict4java library under the hood and is written in Kotlin. The TLE files are from Celestrak and the transmitters info is from SatNOGS and once they are  ownloaded the app doesn't need an internet connection.

The app creation and design is hugely inspired by Gpredict which is an absolutely brilliant piece of software. Thank you, Alexandru!

Obviously there is no ads and it's totally free. Hope more people find Look4Sat useful.

The features include:

  • Calculating satellite passes for up to one week (168 hours)
  • Calculating passes for the current or manually entered location
  • Showing the list of currently active and upcoming satellite passes
  • Showing the active pass progress, polar trajectory and transceivers info
  • Showing the satellite positional data, footprint and ground track on a map
  • Offline first: pass prediction is done offline. It's up to you to decide when
    to update the TLE file and the transceivers DB. (Updates once a week are recommended)
Look4Sat Android App Screenshots
Look4Sat Android App Screenshots

PyPacket: An APRS iGate For Your RTL-SDR

[Pypacket] was developed by GitHub user [cceremuga] and allows you to take advantage of a Linux computer (such as a Raspberry Pi) and an RTL-SDR to quickly and easily build your own APRS iGate.

For those not familiar with APRS, it stands for the [Automatic Packet Reporting System] and is used by amateur radio operators for applications like transferring messages and location data over RF networks and the internet. The internet connection is where an iGate comes into play. An iGate is used to connect an APRS RF network to the internet, so that many isolated RF APRS networks can communicate worldwide. Furthermore this software can be configured as a “SatGate”, which like an APRS iGate will take messages from APRS satellite’s and route them over the internet.

For example, you could have an amateur radio vehicle continually transmitting it’s location via RF to an APRS iGate. The vehicles position can then be viewed online on an APRS aggregation site like aprs.fi, or it could be re-transmitted over RF elsewhere in the world.

An iGate is usually accomplished by using a ham radio tuned to the local APRS frequency (or sat frequency) and then special PC software is configured to gate the messages.  However, with the release of PyPacket the amount of work and cost required to setup an iGate has been cut drastically. 

Astrophiz Podcast Interviews Steve Olney: Capturing the 2019 Vela Pulsar Glitch with an RTL-SDR

Back in May 2019 we posted about Steve Olney's HawkRAO amateur radio astronomy station which was the only station in the world to capture the 2019 Vela Pulsar "glitch" which he did so using his RTL-SDR as the radio. The astronomy focused podcast "Astrophiz" recently interviewed Steve in episode 95 where he talks about his amateur radio background, his home made radio telescope, his RTL-SDR and software processing setup, and the Vela glitch.

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 or directional antenna and a radio, like the RTL-SDR. The Vela pulsar is the strongest one in our sky, making it one of the easiest for amateur radio astronomers to receive.

Pulsars are known to have very accurate rotational periods which can be measured by the radio pulse period. However, every now and then some pulsars can "glitch", resulting in the rotational period suddenly decreasing. Glitches can't be predicted, but Vela is one of the most commonly observed glitching pulsars.

The HawkRAO amateur radio telescope run by Steve Olney is based in NSW, Australia and consists of a 2 x 2 array of 42-element cross Yagi antennas. The antennas feed into three LNAs and then an RTL-SDR radio receiver. 

Astrophiz 95: Steve Olney: From Ham Radio to Radio Astronomy - "The 2019 Vela Glitch" 

Feature Interview: This amazing interview features Steve Olney who has established the Hawkesbury Radio Astronomy Observatory in his backyard. Steve has constructed a Yagi antenna array, coupled it with a receiver and observed a pulsar 900 LY away and generated data that has enabled him to be the only person on the planet to observe Vela’s 2019 glitch in radio waves as it happened.

If you're interested in learning more about Vela, Astrophiz podcast episode 93 with Dr. Jim Palfreyman discusses more about the previous 2016 Vela glitch and why it's important from a scientific point of view.

QRUQSP – Receiving Weather Sensors via RTL-SDR and Sharing over APRS

Thank you to Andrew Rivett for writing in and sharing news about his project called "QRUQSP" which is aiming to provide an easy to set up system for allowing amateur radio operators to put weather sensors on the APRS network and log the weather data. Andrew writes:

For that last 2 years I've been working on QRUQSP.org, a system to receive weather sensors via a RTL-SDR.com V3 on a Raspberry Pi and then beacon that data over Amateur Radio APRS. I've also developed a dashboard that can be used on iPad 1 and old tablets, and soon will have the ability to sync data between Pi's and to the cloud.

For more information, please check out https://qruqsp.org/ , we have roadmaps under Software and Hardware.

The QRUQSP website also explains:

Amateur Radio offers many opportunities to receive digital messages, decode them and make use of the data contained within those messages. Our primary goal is to store and organize those messages in a database in a way that improves the operator's ability to analyze, assess importance, and relay messages as appropriate for his or her amateur radio service.

The service makes use of his hardware kits that are currently available for preorder on his website, with the basic kit starting at $80. Purchasing a kit or $10 monthly subscription to the cloud service software allows you to participate in the closed beta, which is currently only available for amateur radio operators.

The QRUQSP Hardware
The QRUQSP Hardware

In terms of software Andrew has also created a web application that can be used to collect and display the weather data collected over APRS or rtl_433. The service can be hosted directly on the systems Raspberry Pi, or online on the cloud via the QRUQSP subscription service.

QRUQSP Dashboard and Weather Data Log Display
QRUQSP Dashboard and Weather Data Log Display