Category: Amateur Radio

Es’hail-2: First Geostationary Satellite with Amateur Radio Transponders Successfully Deployed

Today SpaceX have successfully launched and deployed the Es'hail-2 satellite which is now in geostationary orbit. This launch is special for amateur radio enthusiasts because it is the first geostationary satellite that contains an amateur radio transponder on it. The satellite is positioned at 25.5°E which is over Africa. It will cover Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern Brazil and the west half of Russia/Asia. Unfortunately, North America, Japan, most of South America, Australia and NZ miss out.

Coverage of Es'hail 2
Coverage of Es'hail 2

The satellite has a two bandwidth segments, a 250 kHz narrow band for modes like SSB, FreeDV, CW, RTTY etc, and a 8 MHz wide band for digital amateur TV (DATV) modes like DVB-S and DVB-T.

The downlink frequencies are at 10 GHz so a low cost TV LNB could be used as the antenna. For receiving the narrowband modes, an RTL-SDR or similar SDR could be used, and for the 8 MHz DATV modes a standard DVB-S2 set top box can be used to receive and decode the video. For uplink, the transmission frequency is at 2.4 GHz.

According to the commissioning order of the satellite, it is expected that the AMSAT transponders will be activated only after all tests have been passed, and after other higher priority commercial telecommunications systems have been activated. This is expected to take about 1-2 months.

2018: Es'hail-2 and its amateur radio payload - Graham Shirville (G3VZV) & Dave Crump (G8GKQ)

A Tutorial on Receiving HF SSTV with a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR V3

Thank you to Giuseppe (IT9YBG) who has written in to share his tutorial about setting up a direct sampling RTL-SDR V3 based SSTV receiver on a Raspberry Pi. He writes that he uses the receiver to continuously receive images at 14.230 MHz, but with a frequency tweak in the command line code the system could also be used to receive the VHF SSTV images sent by the ISS.

In the tutorial he uses the free QSSTV software for decoding. An RTL-SDR together with the CSDR DSP software is used to set up a command line based receiver, which pipes the SSTV audio into a virtual audio sink, and then into QSSTV. The receiver setup procedure is similar to the method used in our RTL-SDR V3 QRP monitoring station tutorial, and is a very nice way of setting up an efficient command line based RTL-SDR audio output.

QSSTV Running on a Raspberry Pi with RTL-SDR V3 Radio
QSSTV Running on a Raspberry Pi with RTL-SDR V3 Radio

Combining HRPT Images From Germany to Canada

HRPT is a high resolution weather satellite image that is broadcast by the NOAA satellites. Receiving HRPT weather satellite signals is a little different to the more commonly received NOAA APT or Meteor M2 LRPT images which most readers may already be familiar with. HRPT is broadcast by the same NOAA satellites that provide the APT signal at 137 MHz, but is found in the L-band at around 1.7 GHz. The signal is much weaker, so a high gain dish antenna with motorized tracking mount, LNA and high bandwidth SDR like an Airspy is required. The payoff is that HRPT images are much higher in resolution compared to APT.

Manuel aka Tysonpower on YouTube has been successfully receiving these HRPT images for some time now and recently had the idea to try and combine two HRPT images together to create one big image covering the Atlantic ocean.

Manuel lives in Germany and on Twitter he found that he had a follower in Canada who was also receiving HRPT images. So he asked his follower to provide him with HRPT weather images that were received shortly after the pass in Germany. He then stitched the images together, and color corrected them which resulted in a nice large image covering Europe, the Atlantic, Canada and Florida.

[EN subs] HRPT over The Ocean - Ein Bild von Köln nach Kanada

YouTube Talk: Evaluating 9 of the Best Single Board Computers for Ham Radio SDR Systems

Over on YouTube the Ham Radio 2.0 channel has recently uploaded a talk that Scotty Cowling (WA2DFI) did at the 2018 TAPR digital communications conference. His talk centers around single board computers and his findings on the nine best single board computers (SBC) for ham radio SDR setups.

Scotty's talk begins by discussing why you'd want to use SBCs in your ham radio SDR setup, and explains why you might want to place them with the SDR close to the antenna, and then distribute the data over ethernet cable. He then reviews 9 boards listed below: 

  • Hardkernel Odroid C1
  • Raspberry Pi 3B
  • Hardkernel Odroid XU4
  • ASUS Tinker S
  • FriendlyElec NanoPC-T4
  • Pine64 RockPro64
  • 96 Boards Mediatek X20
  • 96 Boards HiKey 960
  • UDOO X86 Ultra

The boards are compared against CPU clock speeds, architecture, cache, debut year, RAM, boot ROM, bus speeds, OS support, and more. Scotty also discusses the need for low latency operation, but is yet to compare this on the boards. The best value for money boards that Scotty recommends end up being the Odroid XU4, Tinkerboard, NanoPC-T4 and the RockPro64.

Ham Radio 2.0: Episode 151 - Evaluating 9 of the Best Single Board Computers for Modern SDR Systems

GammaRF: Distributed Radio Signal Collection and Analysis with RTL-SDR and HackRF

Thank you to Josh for submitting news about his project called GammaRF. GammaRF is an client-server program that is used to aggregate signal information via the internet from distributed SDRs. Currently the RTL-SDR and HackRF SDRs are supported.

ΓRF (“GammaRF”, or “GRF”) is a radio signal collection, storage, and analysis system based on inexpensive distributed nodes and a central server. Put another way, it is a distributed system for aggregating information about signals, and a back-end infrastructure for processing this collected information into coherent “products”.

Nodes utilize inexpensive hardware such as RTL-SDR and HackRF radios, and computers as small and inexpensive as Intel NUCs. Each node runs modules which provide various radio monitoring functionality, such as monitoring frequencies for “hits”, watching power levels, keeping track of aircraft (through ADS-B), and more. Nodes are distributed geographically and their data is combined on the server for hybrid analysis.

A web-based system allows users to view information from and about each station in its area. Below shows the server landing page. Markers are placed at each station’s last known location (stations can be mobile or stationary.)

GammaRF Server Landing Page
GammaRF Server Landing Page

From the currently implemented modules it appears that you can monitor ADS-B, scan and monitor the power of a set of frequencies, forward the output from trunk-recorder (a P25 call recorder), scan the spectrum and monitor power levels, monitor a single frequency for activity, take a picture of a swath of RF spectrum, and collect 433 MHz ISM data. Some example applications might include:

  • Monitoring ham radio activity on repeaters in a city
  • Creating timelines of emergency services activity in an area
  • Distributed tracking of satellites and other mobile emitters
  • Monitoring power at a frequency, for example as a mobile node traverses an area (e.g. signal source location)
  • Building direction finding networks (e.g. for fox hunts)
  • Spectrum enumeration (finding channels and guessing modulation) [under development]
Monitoring Activity of an Amateur Radio Repeater
Monitoring Activity of an Amateur Radio Repeater via the 'scanner' Module

Connecting an RTL-SDR Panadapter to a uBITX Transceiver

The uBITX is a US$129 HF SSB/CW QRP transceiver kit that works from 3 MHz to 30 MHz with up to 10W TX power. It's a fully analogue radio, but it can be combined with an RTL-SDR to create a panadapter display thanks to a tutorial released by KD8CEC.

The method requires that you use the custom CEC firmware, or modify other firmware,  as this appears to change the output frequency at the tap point. The tap point is made accessible by soldering on an extra SMA connector for the RTL-SDR to connect to. The rest of the work is entirely performed in the uBITX software manager, Omni-Rig and SDR-Console V3.

uBITX with RTL-SDR Panadapter
uBITX with RTL-SDR Panadapter

An Introduction to SDR and SDR Applications for Shortwave Listeners

Over on the SWLing Post blog, author Thomas Witherspoon K4SWL has uploaded a new article titled "Software Defined Radio Primer Part 1: Introduction to SDRs and SDR applications". The article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine, which can be purchased online for $3 per issue.

The idea behind the article is to introduce people to SDR from a shortwave listening point of view, so high performance HF SDRs like the Airspy HF+, Elad FDM-S2 and WinRadio Excalibur are discussed. Thomas notes that these SDRs can perform as well as traditional DX-grade receivers that can cost two to three times more. He also explains what advantages SDR's bring to the shortwave radio listening hobby. This may be a good article to show those still using older hardware radios that haven't yet converted to the SDR world. 

The article is currently part one of a three part series, with parts two and three to be released in October and November.

DXing with SDR in a Car
DXing with SDR in a Car (Photo: Guy Atkins)

Creating a Wireless Pi-Star Nextion Display for Amateur Digital Radio

Thanks to Steve K2GOG of The Hudson Valley Digital Network (HVDN) for submitting his post on how to create a wireless display for Pi-Star. Pi-Star is a pre-built Raspberry Pi image for amateur radio users experimenting with digital voice communications like D-STAR and DMR. They write that it can be used for applications such as a "single mode hotspot running simplex providing you with access to the increasing number of Digital Voice networks, [or a] public duplex multimode repeater".

Pi-Star is compatible with serial based LED displays with built in GUIs like the Nextion. The displays are usually connected directly to the Raspberry Pi, but Steve wanted to use the display remotely. To do this he used a simple and inexpensive 70cm band HC-12 wireless serial port adapter. With the wireless adapters connected to the Pi he was able to see the pulses in SDR# via his RTL-SDR to confirm that the wireless serial signal was being sent. He then connected the second wireless adapter to the Nextion display via a few diodes to drop the voltage, and was able to get the display updating as if it was connected directly.

In the post Steve mentions that HVDN are also giving away an HC-12 and RTL-SDR to the first person to submit some progress with this idea.

Creating a wireless Nextion Display for Pi-Star.
Creating a wireless Nextion Display for Pi-Star.