Category: Amateur Radio

An APRS Tracker with HackRF, WebUSB and WASM

Thank you to Radoslav Gerganov for writing in and submitting news about the release of his open source web-based APRS tracker named "aprs-sdr". The web based software turns a HackRF device into a mobile APRS beacon.

Most interestingly the software works via the WebUSB interface, which allows for USB devices like a HackRF SDR to connect directly to the software through USB via the Chrome web browser. So no external app or software needs to be downloaded, all you need to do to run the code is open the hosted aprs-sdr page at https://xakcop.com/aprs-sdr with a Chrome browser, and connect the HackRF to your device.

Radoslav writes further:

The tracker is using the HTML Geolocation API to fetch the device’s location and WebUSB to talk with the SDR. The code which generates the packets is written in C++ and compiled to WASM. You can find the source at https://github.com/rgerganov/aprs-sdr.

And now to some results. I have successfully transmitted packets from my home to LZ0DOE (15km away!) using my Pixel phone, HackRF and ANT500. I find it amazing given the low TX power of HackRF.

Radoslav also notes that in the future he hopes to add other SDRs as well. He also notes that the script seems to work best on desktop Chrome. On mobile Chrome there may be a bug which stops transmission after a few packets.

Using the aprs-sdr WebUSB application.

TechMinds: Testing the GA-450 Portable HF Active Loop Antenna

Over on the Techminds YouTube channel, Matt has uploaded his latest video which is a review of the GA-450 portable HF active loop antenna. The antenna costs between US$60-$80 + shipping and is available on Chinese market sites like Aliexpress and Banggood. It's advertised as covering 2.3 - 30 MHz, and uses a very portable and sturdy 20cm stainless steel loop. The active base amplifier is powered via a USB-C connector, and it even has a built in lithium battery for portable field use.

In his review Matt shows the antenna in action, noting that it's performance is quite a lot better than expected for it's small size, but it can't compare to his large half-wave end fed antenna. He notes that it appears to work best from 7 - 21 MHz, but not so well below 7 MHz. Overall he recommends it if you're looking for a small sized loop antenna.

GA-450 Portable Active Small Loop HF Antenna

Nils Critiques the MH370 WSPR Aircraft Scatter Theory

For some time now there has been chatter about the possibility of using WSPR logs to help track the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370. WSPR or the "Weak Signal Propagation Reporter" is a protocol typically used on the HF bands by amateur radio operators. The properties of the protocol allow WSPR signals to be received almost globally despite using low transmit power.  Amateur radio operators use it for making contacts, or for checking HF radio propagation conditions. MH370 is a flight that infamously vanished without a trace back in 2014.

The theory proposed by aerospace engineer Richard Godfrey is to use logs of sent and received WSPR transmissions that may have intersected the potential flight path of MH370, and to look for potential reflections or 'scatter' in the signal from the metal aircraft hull. From the reflections an approximate track of the aircraft could be calculated much in the same way that bistatic over the horizon radar systems work.

While it is an exciting theory, it is unfortunately considered by most experts as highly unlikely to yield any suitable results with the main problems being WSPR transmission power too weak to detect reflections from an aircraft, and the effect of the ionosphere too difficult to account for. 

Over on his blog Nils Schiffhauer (DK8OK) has posted a thorough critique of the idea, explaining the theory, technical details and difficulties in depth, ultimately coming to the conclusion that the idea is based more in wishful thinking than in fact. Nils summarizes:

Time and again, there are news stories in the professional and popular press about the fact that log data from the WSPR data network can help locate aircraft. In particular, the effort is to determine the actual crash site of flight MH370. This effort essentially amounts to detecting "unusual" level jumps and frequency changes ("drift") in the archived WSPR log data and attributing them to reflections from specific aircraft ("aircraft scatter").

In a blog entry, Nils Schiffhauer, DK8OK, for the first time critically evaluates this theory. On the one hand, this is based on years of observation of aircraft scatter on shortwave as well as an investigation of about 30 Doppler tracks. The results of this complex analysis of more than 10,000 data in one example alone are sobering: The effects of aircraft scatter on the overall signal are almost always well below 0.3 dB.

To prove a correlation between level changes of the overall signal and aircraft scatter seems hardly possible on the basis of the WSPR data material. The reasons are manifold, but lie mainly in shortwave propagation, where level changes of 30 dB within a few seconds are the rule rather than the exception.

However, since the local and temporal state of the ionosphere is not known in previous investigations on the WSPR data material - it is recorded in parallel in professional OTH radar systems and calculated out of the received signal - level jumps can hardly be clearly assigned from the sum signal alone. This finding is supported by further arguments in the blog:
https://t1p.de/t5kr

Nils demonstrates aircraft scatter on China Radio International, a 500kW transmitter.

SDRAngel Features Overview: ADS-B, APT, DVB-S, DAB+, AIS, VOR, APRS, and many more built-in apps

SDRAngel is a general purpose software defined radio program that is compatible with most SDRs including the RTL-SDR. We've posted about it several times before on the blog, however we did not realize how much progress has occurred with developing various built in plugins and decoders for it.

Thanks to Jon for writing in and sharing with us a demonstration video that the SDRAngel team have released on their YouTube channel. From the video we can see that SDRAngel now comes stock with a whole host of built in decoders and apps for various radio applications making it close to an all-in-one SDR platform. The built in applications include:

  • ADS-B Decoder: Decodes aircraft ADS-B data and plots aircraft positions on a map
  • NOAA APT Decoder: Decodes NOAA weather satellite images (in black and white only)
  • DVB-S: Decodes and plays Digital TV DVB-S and DVB-S2 video
  • AIS: Decodes marine AIS data and plots vessel positions on a map
  • VOR: Decodes VOR aircraft navigational beacons, and plots bearing lines on a map, allowing you to determine your receivers position.
  • DAB+: Decodes and plays DAB digital audio signals
  • Radio Astronomy Hydrogen Line: With an appropriate radio telescope connected to the SDR, integrates and displays the Hydrogen Line FFT with various settings, and a map of the galaxy showing where your dish is pointing. Can also control a dish rotator.
  • Radio Astronomy Solar Observations: Similar to the Hydrogen line app, allows you to make solar measurements.
  • Broadcast FM: Decoding and playback. Includes RDS decoding.
  • Noise Figure Measurements: Together with a noise source you can measure the noise figure of a SDR.
  • Airband Voice: Receive multiple Airband channels simultaneously
  • Graves Radar Tracker: For Europeans, track a satellite and watch for reflections in the spectrum from the French Graves space radar. 
  • Radio Clocks: Receive and decode accurate time from radio clocks such as MSF, DCF77, TDF and WWVB.
  • APRS: Decode APRS data, and plot APRS locations and moving APRS enabled vehicles on a map with speed plot.
  • Pagers: Decode POCSAG pagers
  • APRS/AX.25 Satellite: Decode APRS messages from the ISS and NO-84 satellites, via the built in decoder and satellite tracker.
  • Channel Analyzer: Analyze signals in the frequency and time domains
  • QSO Digital and Analog Voice: Decode digital and analog voice. Digital voice handled by the built in DSD demodulator, and includes DMR, dPMR and D-Star.
  • Beacons: Monitor propagation via amateur radio beacons, and plot them on a map.

We note that the video doesn't show the following additional features such as an analog TV decoder, the SDRAngel "ChirpChat" text mode, a FreeDV decoder and several other features.

Improving Reception on the Malachite DSP via USB Grounding

Thank you to Mitsonobu Saitou for writing in and sharing with us a product that he has created which improves reception on of the Malachite DSP software defined radio and other shortwave radios by up to 20dB by improving the grounding. It appears to work by using the negative USB line as a ground via a modified USB cable with grounding clip on the other end. The product is available via Amazon Japan with international shipping.

The Malachite DSP is a portable battery powered software defined radio with built in screen. It is popular amongst shortwave listeners.

Saitou writes the following summary, and full details about the product are available on his blog (link uses Google Translate to translate from Japanese to English): 

Today's item is "Dokodemo Earth KUN". This is an item to pull the ground wire from the charging connector of DCL radios and Mlachite DSPs.

The sensitivity of the receiver will be improved by strengthening the grounding. This is how I applied it.

It is easy to connect by pulling out the ground wire from the charging connector instead of the antenna jack.

It can also be used as a loop antenna by connecting the ground to the antenna.

We have confirmed the effectiveness of this product outdoors. Users who have used this item have experienced a significant increase in sensitivity. 

Malachite DSP and SWL Radio USB Grounding Enhancement Cable
Malahit/Malachite DSP+「どこでもアースくん」

 

Installing Remote SDR V2 on a Raspberry Pi 4B

Remote SDR V2 is software that allows you to easily remotely access either a PlutoSDR, HackRF or RTL-SDR software defined radio. It was originally designed to be used with the amateur radio QO-100 satellite, but version 2.0 includes multiple demodulation modes, NBFM/SSB transmission capability, CTCSS and DTMF encoders, modulation compression and a programmable frequency shift for relays.

Over on the programmers blog, F1ATB has put out a new post showing how to install Remote SDR V2 on a Raspberry Pi 4B. The installation has been made simple thanks for a ready to use SD card image.

If you're interested in an overview of Remote SDR V2, we have posted previously about a Tech Minds review of the software.

Remote SDR V2 with a PlutoSDR

A Physical LED Vehicle HUD for KerberosSDR Radio Fox Hunting

Mark Jessop (@vk5qi) has recently been experimenting with a LED based hardware vehicle heads up display (HUD) that he has created to be used together with our KerberosSDR. The KerberosSDR combined with four antennas in a circular array determines the bearing towards a transmitter, and then the HUD displays this bearing visually on a circle.  

The HUD is cleverly designed so that the LEDs reflect on the windshield of the car, allowing for the lights to be safely seen on the windshield while driving. More videos of the HUD being developed and used can be seen on his Twitter feed.

In the video below Mark also shows how he combines KerberosSDR bearing data with his Chase Mapper software, which he uses for tracking down radiosonde weather balloons.

Mark's custom KerberosSDR HUD seen on Twitter

Mark writes:

For the last few months I've been piecing together a radio direction finding (also known as 'fox-hunting') system using a RTLSDR-Blog Kerberos-SDR, a custom-made antenna array, and my 'ChaseMapper' software. I have also recently added a 'heads up display' (HUD) box which displays the direction-of-arrival and SNR data from the Kerberos-SDR software.

I hope to put together a longer video showing how the system goes together sometime in the future, but this short clip shows how the system is used in the final approach to a radio transmitter (in this case, a 144 MHz transmitter from one of the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group organised night fox-hunts).

The antenna array consists of two 4-element nested arrays, one with 200mm antenna spacing for the 70cm band, and another with 425mm antenna spacing for the 2m band. The array is mounted to my car roof-racks, with phase-matched coax entering the car through a window-mounted bulkhead.

The red lines on the map indicate a bearing line produced by the Kerberos-SDR software. As we drive around the fox location, bearings are plotted, and we look for where they cross. There are always some inaccurate bearings due to multi-path issues, and misalignment between bearing acquisition time and the position/heading of the car, but it works well enough to be able to allow navigation to the transmitter location. The display can get fairly busy, so there are options to threshold by signal quality, and to 'age out' bearings over time.

The beeping noise you hear in the video is the signal from the radio transmitter, in this case a 144.390 MHz beacon which transmits short CW 'pips'. We were listening to the signal with an Icom IC-705 attached to an omnidirectional antenna so we knew when the transmitter started and stopped (and hence when to trust any bearings produced by the DoA system).

Towards the end of the video you can see the HUD in action, with the blue lights showing the estimated signal arrival direction, relative to the front of the car. As I slowly drive past the transmitter location (which I could see out the side of the car), the bearings swing to the right, and the SNR shows as being very strong. This is exactly what the display was intended for - it's not about getting hyper-accurate bearings, but more knowing when you need to turn left/right, or get out of the car!

Thanks to Will Anthony for capturing the video while I was driving!

Software used:

AREG Fox-hunt Activities: https://www.areg.org.au/archives/category/activities/fox-hunting

Finding a Radio Fox using a Kerberos-SDR + ChaseMapper

KerberosSDR is our 4-channel phase coherent capable RTL-SDR unit that we previously crowdfunded back in 2018. With a 4-channel phase coherent RTL-SDR interesting applications like radio direction finding (RDF), passive radar and beam forming become possible. It can also be used as four separate RTL-SDRs for multichannel monitoring.

KerberosSDR is soon to be replaced with the upgraded KrakenSDR, which will begin crowd funding on Crowd Supply later this year. Be sure to sign up on the Crowd Supply page to be updated once the campaign releases as due to long supply chain crisis related lead times, only a limited amount of stock will be initially available.

TechMinds: Testing the RadioBerry an HF SDR Transceiver Raspberry Pi Hat

The RadioBerry is a HF transceiver board designed to be used as an add on 'hat' for the  Raspberry Pi. It uses the same AD9866 chip as the Hermes Lite 2 SDR which gives it a 12-bit ADC with one RX and one TX channel, a maximum bandwidth of up to 384 kHz, and an operating frequency range of 0 to 30 MHz. 

In the video TechMinds shows how to connect and setup the Radioberry software on the Pi and how to stream from the Pi to SDR-Console V3 on a PC. He goes on to demonstrate the Radioberry receiving HF signals, noting that the performance is good, although he uses an Ethernet connection and Pi 4 for best performance.

TechMinds notes that he will test the transmit functionality in a future video, once he receives a preamp designed to be used with the Radioberry.

RADIOBERRY - HF SDR TRANSCEIVER PI HAT