Category: Amateur Radio

OH2BNF’s Plan for a Large Scale Raspberry SDR (LSR-SDR) Based on RTL-SDR Dongles

Thanks to OH2BNF for writing in and sharing his plan to build a "Large Scale Raspberry SDR" (LSR-SDR), which will be based on RTL-SDR dongles. To create the LSR-SDR he plans to take a 19" rack which can support up to 40 Raspberry Pi 3's, plus up to 160 USB devices, and turn it into a massive SDR array. The rack is key as it allows for simple power management of all the Pi's and other devices to be connected.

OH2BNF plans to connect 20 or so RTL-SDRs, with some operating individually and with others operating coherently via a common external oscillator. The rack may also contain some transceivers, an ICOM IC-7300, antenna switches, upconverters, LNAs and other hardware too. Once completed he hopes to move the system to a low RFI environment and operate the unit entirely remotely. With this he hopes to solve his local RFI issues. He also writes regarding applications:

Primary objectives are to incorporate automated adaptivity to the system at large – for example leveraging on band condition information, WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Report) & friends, automated signal detection and decoding, great flexibility in terms of individual cluster nodes being able to fast respond to various needs and tasks, strong emphasis in parallel processing where applicable depending on the problem type and dataset, support for multiple end users benefiting from the computing and reception capacity of the cluster – to name the most significant.

It's an interesting idea for sure, and we hope to see some updates from OH2BNF in the future.

The Raspberry Pi 19" Rack
The Raspberry Pi 19" Rack

Using a HackRF to Transmit To a Local Repeater

Over on YouTube Tech Minds has uploaded a new video where he shows how he can use his HackRF SDR with the SDRAngel software to easily transmit voice to a local ham radio repeater. If you are unfamiliar with ham radio, a ham repeater is simply a radio station that receives voice or other signals on a certain ham radio frequency, and re-transmits the signal with stronger power on another frequency. This allows communications to be receivable over a much larger distance.

SDRAngel is a very nice piece of SDR software that has controls for TX capable SDR's like the HackRF. In the video Tech Minds shows the HackRF being used as a transmitter, with it transmitting to a repeater at 145.137 MHz. An RTL-SDR is then used to listen to the repeater output at 145.737 MHz. With this set up he is able to contact a friend via the repeater easily.

It doesn't appear that Tech Minds is using any sort of external amplifier, so this shows that the HackRF is powerful enough to hit local repeaters just by itself.

Demonstrating the MFJ-1708SDR Automatic Relay Switch with an SDRplay and Icom IC7300

A few weeks ago we posted about the MFJ1708SDR automatic relay switch and how it can be used to combine an RX only SDR with a transmit capable radio. An automatic antenna relay switch is used to automatically ground the SDR's antenna input whenever the TX capable radio transmits in order to protect the SDR's front end from blowing up due to high TX power.

In this YouTube video Pete Sobye shows us the MFJ1708SDR working together with an Icom IC7300 HF radio and an SDRplay which is being used as a panadapter. For software Pete uses HDSDR and Omnirig which allows the PC to control the IC7300.

Using a Transmit/Receive Switch to Protect an SDR from a Transmit Radio

A question that comes up often is how to combine an RTL-SDR, or any other RX only SDR with a transmit capable amateur radio. It's not possible to connect the RX only SDR together with the TX radio via a standard splitter because the TX radio's power will most likely blow up the SDR with it's powerful output. To solve this problem you need either a manual switch that will switch out the SDR when transmitting which requires absolute discipline to not accidentally transmit in the wrong switch position, or an automatic relay switch.

Over on YouTube channel HamRadioConcepts has given a good overview and demonstration of the MFJ-1708SDR Transmit/Receive automatic relay switch, which is a good product that solves this issue. It is also a fairly budget friendly option, coming in at only US$79.95 over on the MFJ website. HamRadioConcepts notes that the switch automatically grounds out the SDR whenever the PTT on the radio is pressed, and also has a fail safe that will automatically detect a transmission and ground the SDR if PTT is disconnected.

GridTracker Now Available on Windows, Mac and Ubuntu (Debian)

In early February we posted news about the release of a program called GridTracker. GridTracker is a live mapping program for WSJT-X which is a software decoder for low power weak signal ham communications modes such as FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, QRA64, ISCAT, MSK144 and WSPR. Although these are low power modes, the protocols are designed such that even weak signals can potentially be received from across the world. Mapping the received signals can be interesting as it may give you an idea of current HF propagation conditions.

Previously GridTracker was Windows only software. However recently GridTracker was updated to now include support for Mac and Ubuntu (Debian) operating systems as well. This is great news as it makes it much easier to set up a portable GridTracker screen on a portable computer like a Raspberry Pi.

GridTracker Mapping out Weak Signal Communications.
GridTracker Mapping out Weak Signal Communications.

Video Tutorial on Decoding FT-8 and RTTY with an SDRplay RSP1A

Over on YouTube radio content creator Techminds has recently started a series that shows how to decode various signals using an SDR such as the SDRplay RSP1A. The first video explains what FT-8 is and shows how to decode it using the WSJT-X software. FT-8 is a modern digital HF ham mode that is designed to be receivable even in weak signal reception. However, the amount of information sent in a FT-8 message is small, so it is not possible to have a full conversation, and you can only make contacts.

In his second video Tech Minds explains RTTY and also shows how to decode it. RTTY is another much older mode that is used by the military as well as hams. To decode it he uses Digital Master 780 which is a program included in the Ham Radio Deluxe software.

Identifying Noise Sources in the Shack using an SDR and an Active Receive Loop

Over on YouTube user SignalSearch has uploaded a video showing how he uses an active magnetic loop antenna indoors to identify local noise sources. Magnetic loop antennas are directional, meaning that they receive best when pointing towards a signal. This means that they also receive noise better when pointed at a noise source.  In the video SignalSearch uses a W6LVP receive loop antenna and demonstrates noise being emitted from his lightbulb, and from a plug in Ethernet over powerline adapter, which are known to be huge sources of HF noise.

If you are interested in the noise produced by these Ethernet over powerline adapters then we did a previous post on this problem over here.

Receiving WSPR with an RTL-SDR V3 and with Automatic Band Changing

RTL-SDR V3 + Raspberry Pi WSPR Receiver
RTL-SDR V3 + Raspberry Pi WSPR Receiver

WSPR (pronounced "Whisper") is short for Weak Signal Propagation Reporting, and is a HF ham mode typically run on very low power levels such as 1W. The data from WSPR reception can be used to determine how good or bad HF propagation is currently around the world as each WSPR message contains a callsign, 6-digit locator and the transmit power level used. Received messages are all reported to the internet and can be viewed on an online map at http://wsprnet.org/drupal/wsprnet/map.

With an RTL-SDR V3 running in direct sampling mode it is possible to receive and decode these messages on a Raspberry Pi 3 using the WSPRD software.

Over on his website IT9YBG has uploaded a tutorial for a method that allows the WSPRD software to automatically change bands depending on the time of day. The method simply uses the crontab in Linux to automatically run a script that stops and then restarts WSPRD on a new frequency at certain times of the day. This is useful because different WSPR bands tend to become active at different times of the day due to changing HF propagation conditions.

WSPR messages received from all over the world.
WSPR messages received by IT9YBG from all over the world.