Category: Amateur Radio

LimeSDR Transmitting on the LattePanda

Just last week we posted about how Marty Wittrock was able to get his LimeSDR receiving perfectly on his LattePanda mini Windows 10 PC with SDRAngel. Now Marty has uploaded a new video which shows the LimeSDR running on the LattePanda and SDRAngel again, but this time transmitting 40m LSB voice. At this stage Marty is well on his way to creating a fully portable LimeSDR based ham transceiver. He writes about his setup:

Setup: LattePanda Win10/64-bit, LCD, Capacitive Touchscreen, LimeSDR and SDRAngel Win32 with a transmit device loaded…Also using a USB 2.0 audio device to make the microphone and speaker audio connections…WORKS GREAT..!!

The LimeSDR is a RX and TX capable SDR with a frequency range of 100 kHz – 3.8 GHz, bandwidth of up to 61.44 MHz, 12-bit ADC and 2×2 RX/TX channels. Recently the LimeSDR team have been crowdfunding for their new ‘LimeSDR Mini’ which is a smaller and cheaper feature reduced version of the standard LimeSDR. While all the early bird $99 USD units have been sold out, they are still available at the $139 USD price. Currently the crowdfunding campaign has already reached it’s $100,000 USD target with 35 days left.

One important ‘feature reduction’ to note is that the LimeSDR Mini can only tune down to 10 MHz, so it may not be as useful as the full $289 USD LimeSDR for creating a SDR based ham transceiver like what Marty is doing.

Transmitting DVB-S with a PlutoSDR and Receiving it with an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube Christopher Bridges has uploaded a video showing him using a PlutoSDR and a GNU Radio program to transmit a DVB-S signal, which is then received with an RTL-SDR. DVB-S is a digital video broadcasting standard designed for satellite transmissions and digital amateur television video (DATV) also uses DVB-S in the 1.2 GHz amateur band. In this example the PlutoSDR transmits at 1.28 GHz.

Chris uses the rtl_sdr command line software to receive the raw IQ data at 1 MSPS, and then uses the leandvb software to decode the raw IQ file directly into a video file.

If you’re interested in TXing DVB-S/DATV but don’t have a transmit capable SDR, then we note that even a Raspberry Pi just by itself can be used to transmit it with rpidatv.

Decoding Amateur Radio Digital Voice with an RTL-SDR and the QRadioLink Android App

Thank you to Adrian for submitting his video about using the Android App called QRadioLink and an RTL-SDR to decode digital amateur radio voice transmissions. Adrian writes that in the video the RTL-SDR connects to the Android phone with a USB OTG cable and uses a sample rate of 1 MSPS. He also writes the following about QRadioLink:

QRadioLink is a building platform which allows experimenting with VHF-UHF SDR transceivers using different modulation schemes for digital data transmissions. So far digital voice and text transmission is supported, using either a narrow band modem and Codec2 or a high bandwidth modem and Opus. Supported hardware includes the RTL-SDR, Ettus USRP, HackRF, BladeRF and in general all devices supported by libgnuradio-osmosdr.

Monitoring Train Railway Lines with an RTL-SDR and ATCS Monitor

Back in June Gus Gorman showed us via a YouTube tutorial and demo on how to monitor ATSC (Advanced Train Control System) signals from trains. ATSC is found in the USA and is used for things like communications between trains, rail configuration data, train location data, speed enforcement, fuel monitoring, train diagnostics and general instructions and messages. Gus used an RTL-SDR and the ATSC Monitor software to decode the signals and give us a view of the current state of the railway line.

In his latest video Gus gives a better demonstration of the software by parking outside a train station so that he can receive many more signals from the trains. At the start of the video he shows the track view of BNSF trains, and then later switches over to the Union Pacific track view.

Building a Hydrogen Line Front End on a Budget with RTL-SDR and 2x LNA4ALL

Adam 9A4QV is the manufacturer of the LNA4ALL, a high quality low noise amplifier popular with RTL-SDR users. He also sells filters, one of which is useful for hydrogen line detection. Recently he’s uploaded a tutorial document showing how to use 2x LNA4ALL, with a filter and RTL-SDR for Hydrogen Line detection (pdf warning). 

Hydrogen atoms randomly emit photons at a wavelength of 21cm (1420.4058 MHz). Normally a single hydrogen atom will only very rarely emit a photon, but since space and the galaxy is filled with many hydrogen atoms the average effect is an observable RF power spike at 1420.4058 MHz. By pointing a radio telescope at the night sky and integrating the RF power over time, a power spike indicating the hydrogen line can be observed in a frequency spectrum plot. This can be used for some interesting experiments, for example you could measure the size and shape of our galaxy. Thicker areas of the galaxy will have more hydrogen and thus a larger spike.

In his tutorial Adam discusses important technical points such as noise figure and filtering. Essentially, when trying to receive the hydrogen line you need a system with a low noise figure and good filtering. The RTL-SDR has a fairly poor noise figure of about 6dB at 1420MHz. But it turns out that the first amplifier element in the receive chain is the one that dominates the noise figure value. So by placing an LNA with a low noise figure right by the antenna, the system noise figure can be brought down to about 1dB, and losses in coax and filters become negligible as well. At the end of the tutorial he also discusses some supplementary points such as ESD protection, bias tees and IP3.

One note from us is that Adam writes that the RTL-SDR V3 bias tee can only provide 50mA, but it can actually provide up to 200mA continuously assuming the host can provide it (keep the dongle in a cool shaded area though). Most modern USB 2.0 and USB3.0 ports on PCs should have no problem providing up to 1A or more. We’ve also tested the LP5907 based Airspy bias tee at up to 150mA without trouble, so the 50mA rating is probably quite conservative. So these bias tee options should be okay for powering 2xLNA4ALL.

Finally Adam writes that in the future he will write a paper discussing homebrew hydrogen line antennas which should complete the tutorial allowing anyone to build a cheap hydrogen line radio telescope.

One configuration with 2xLNA4ALL, 1x interstage filter, and 1x recceiver side filter with bias tee.
One configuration with 2xLNA4ALL, 1x interstage filter, and 1x recceiver side filter with bias tee.

CyberSpectrum Melbourne: Building a Cheap FSQ Transceiver with Arduino, Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR

FSQ (Fast Simple QSO) is a relatively new ham band mode for making text QSO’s (contact or exchange of information with another ham) over HF frequencies. It is a low data rate mode similar to PSK31 but with some interesting features like relaying which allows signals to be relayed further via other FSQ stations.

Over at in Melbourne, Australia a Cyberspectrum SDR meetup is held every few weeks. At this weeks meetup @faulteh discusses the FSQ mode and some of it’s interesting features. He also shows how he can transmit FSQ using a Si5351 clock generator and Arduino (with filtering). In the future he hopes to also create a fully automated receive station using a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR dongle.

The Arduino FSQ code is available on GitHub, and more information is available on his hackaday.io page.

OpenWebRX Updates: 3D Waterfall and BPSK31 Demodulator

OpenWebRX has recently been updated and now includes a 3D waterfall display and a BPSK31 demodulator. OpenWebRX is a popular program which allows you to stream an SDR like the RTL-SDR over the internet efficiently. A number of clients can connect to your server and tune anywhere within a predefined bandwidth. Many examples of OpenWebRX running on RTL-SDRs and KiwiSDRs can be found on sdr.hu.

The 3D waterfall is quite an interesting feature as it allows you to visual signal strength, frequency and time all at once. BPSK31 is a popular amateur radio digital mode for making QSO’s (contacts). The new decoder allows you to zoom in closely on the band with high resolution and select with the mouse which BPSK31 channel you’d like to decode.

András Retzler, creator of OpenWebRX also writes that he’s now completed his Masters Thesis (congratutions!) on the topic of “Integrating digital demodulators into OpenWebRX”. His thesis is available for download here and looks to be an interesting read.

OpenWebRX BPSK31 Mode
OpenWebRX BPSK31 Mode

Decoding the LilacSat-1 FM to Digital Voice Transponder

LilacSat-1 is an educational CubeSat built by students from the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) in China. It was recently launched from the ISS on 25 May 2017 as part of the QB50 science experiment to explore the lower thermosphere, and it is expected to stay in orbit for about 3 months. Apart from BPSK telemetry at 145.935 MHz, LilacSat-1 is interesting because it contains on board an FM to Codec2-BPSK digital voice amateur radio transponder at 145/436 MHz (uplink/downlink). It is probably the first amateur radio satellite to contain an FM to digital voice transponder.

To decode LilacSat-1 digital voice and telemetry you can use a Linux live CD provided by HIT, or download the GNU Radio decoder directly from the LilacSat-1 information page on the HIT website. The GNU Radio program can be used with any GNU Radio compatible SDR, such as an RTL-SDR.

Over on his blog, destevez has also created a lower latency digital voice decoder for LilacSat-1 that can found in the gr-satellites GNU Radio package, which contains decoders for multiple satellites as well. Destevez has also written about the Codec2 implementation used in LilacSat-1 in one of his previous posts.

An example of LilacSat-1 being decoded has also been uploaded by YouTube by Scott Chapman. In his test he used an RTL-SDR to work the pass live, but in the video shows an offline decoding received by his SDRplay which was also monitoring the same pass.