Category: Antennas

Constructing a 3D Printed Wideband 900 MHz to 11 GHz Antenna

Thanks to Professor John Jackson of JR Magnetics for writing in and sharing his design for a 3D printed wideband antenna designed for 50 Ohm 900 MHz to 11 GHz operation.

John required a wideband antenna that could cover the cellphone bands, WiFi, Bluetooth up to 6 GHz and the new USB band from 5 GHz to 10 GHz all in a single antenna installation. He also needed the impedance to be as flat as possible to reduce signal pulse distortion. First he looked into classic discone and sphere antenna designs, but found that while a sphere had the required bandwidth, it did not have the desired impedance characteristics, and a discone had the desired impedance characteristics, but not the ultra wide bandwidth required.

To get around this John combines the sphere and discone designs together to create a sort of icecream with cone looking shape. This results in the ultra wide bandwidth required, and a relatively flat SWR that stays below 2.

The design is easily reproducible by anyone with a metal 3D printer. The antenna's top hemisphere and cone are printed in brass, whilst the radome and supporting structure are printed in plastic.

We have uploaded John's original document here (pdf warning), and display some of the images below. The full build instructions can be found on his website, and John is also selling the 3D printed parts via Shapeways.

jran900-top
jran900-bottom
jran900-radome
JRAN900-mount
jran900-swr
sphere-cone-ant-geo
jran-proto-bw-175

Constructing a 3D Printed Wideband 900 MHz to 11 GHz Antenna

Thanks to Professor John Jackson of JR Magnetics for writing in and sharing his design for a 3D printed wideband antenna designed for 50 Ohm 900 MHz to 11 GHz operation.

John required a wideband antenna that could cover the cellphone bands, WiFi, Bluetooth up to 6 GHz and the new USB band from 5 GHz to 10 GHz all in a single antenna installation. He also needed the impedance to be as flat as possible to reduce signal pulse distortion. First he looked into classic discone and sphere antenna designs, but found that while a sphere had the required bandwidth, it did not have the desired impedance characteristics, and a discone had the desired impedance characteristics, but not the ultra wide bandwidth required.

To get around this John combines the sphere and discone designs together to create a sort of icecream with cone looking shape. This results in the ultra wide bandwidth required, and a relatively flat SWR that stays below 2.

The design is easily reproducible by anyone with a metal 3D printer. The antenna's top hemisphere and cone are printed in brass, whilst the radome and supporting structure are printed in plastic.

We have uploaded John's original document here (pdf warning), and display some of the images below. The full build instructions can be found on his website, and John is also selling the 3D printed parts via Shapeways.

jran900-top
jran900-bottom
jran900-radome
JRAN900-mount
jran900-swr
sphere-cone-ant-geo
jran-proto-bw-175

A Step by Step Tutorial to Receiving GOES-16 Images with an RTL-SDR, Raspberry Pi and Goestools

Aleksey Smolenchuk (lxe) has recently uploaded a step-by-step guide to setting up a GOES weather satellite receiver with an RTL-SDR dongle, Raspberry Pi and the goestools software.  GOES 15/16/17 are geosynchronous weather satellites that beam high resolution weather  images and data. In particular they send beautiful 'full disk' images which show one side of the entire earth. Compared to the more familiar and easier to receive low earth orbit satellites such as NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT, the geosynchronous GOES satellites require slightly more effort as you need to set up a dish antenna, use a special LNA, and install Linux software.

Aleksey's tutorial first shows where to purchase the required hardware and notes that the total cost of the system is around $185. Next he goes on to show the hardware connection order, and then how to install and configure the goestools decoding software onto a Raspberry Pi.

Aleksey's RTL-SDR Based GOES Receiver setup
Aleksey's RTL-SDR Based GOES Receiver setup

Measuring the SWR of FPV Antennas with an RTL-SDR

FPV stands for 'First Person View', and is a term used to describe the hobby of flying remote controlled aircraft entirely via the view from a wireless camera that transmits live video to the pilots screen or video goggles.

Part of the FPV hobby is to not only enjoy flying, but also to tweak the wireless video equipment for maximum range and reliability. This involves measuring the SWR characteristics of FPV antennas. SWR is a metric that describes how well the impedance of an antenna is matched with the receiver at a certain frequency. Poor SWR results in additional signal loss on top of cable and connector loss. We note that SWR is only one antenna metric, and doesn't take into account radiation pattern and antenna gain which is often more important, but it is the easiest metric to measure and control, and should give you some idea as to if an antenna was designed and tuned properly.

As FPV hobbyists are often not hams or radio professionals, most don't have access to the equipment required to measure SWR. So over on his YouTube channel bonafidepirate shows how he's been using a cheap RTL-SDR, noise source and RF Bridge to measure the SWR of his FPV antennas. The process is similar to the one shown in our tutorial, but he uses the Spektrum software which allows you to measure SWR entirely within the software itself.

In the video bonafidepirate goes over the required hardware, software and the setup, and then demonstrates several SWR scans of different FPV antennas.

DIY VSWR Meter for FPV, Lets test some antennas!

YouTube Video Demonstrates GOES Weather Satellite Reception

On The Thought Emporium YouTube channel a new video has been uploaded showing the full disk images of the earth that they've been able to receive from GOES geosynchronous weather satellites. Over the past couple of years GOES satellite reception has become much easier for hobbyists to achieve with the release of the NooElec SAWbird LNA+Filter, information on how to use a cheap 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antenna for reception and the release of free open source decoder software. It was also shown that an RTL-SDR dongle is sufficient for receiving these images as well. With all these new developments it is now possible to build a GOES receiving station for under $100.

The Thought Emporium video blurb reads:

In the fall of 2016 I saw my first rocket launch and little did I know that the satellite on that rocket would come to shape and fill my thoughts for many years. We're no strangers to getting data out of space on this channel, but GOES-16 is special, and not just because I was there when it left earth. Unlike the satellites we looked at in the past, GOES is in geostationary orbit and has an amazing suite of cameras and sensors on board. While it's a bit harder to receive data from GOES the extra effort is absolutely worth it, especially because it can see then entire globe all at once and send out those images in stunning high resolution. And it even comes with the added bonus of rebroadcast data from other satellites giving us a view of the opposite side of the planet as well.

In this video we go through the hardware and software needed to receive these gorgeous images and what is contained in the signals we receive.

How to Receive Beautiful Images of the Earth Directly From Space | GOES-15,16,17 and Himawari 8 HRIT

Locating a Radio Transmitter with Direction Finding Techniques and KerberosSDR our 4-Tuner Coherent RTL-SDR

KerberosSDR is our upcoming low cost 4-tuner coherent RTL-SDR. With four antenna inputs it can be used as a standard array of four individual RTL-SDRs, or in coherent applications such as direction finding, passive radar and beam forming. More information can be found on the KerberosSDR main post. Please remember to sign up to our KerberosSDR mailing list on the main post or at the end of this post, as subscribers will receive a discount coupon valid for the first 100 pre-order sales. The list also helps us determine interest levels and how many units to produce.

In this post we'll show an experiment that we performed which was to pinpoint the location of a transmitter using KerberosSDR's coherent direction finding capabilities. RF direction finding is the art of using equipment to determine the location of a transmitting signal. The simplest way is by using a directional antenna like a Yagi to try and determine the bearing based on signal strength. Another method is using a pseudo-doppler or coherent array of antennas to determine a bearing based on phase information.

For the test we tuned the KerberosSDR RTL-SDRs to listen to a signal at 858 MHz and then drove to multiple locations to take direction readings. The antennas were set up as a linear array of four dipole antennas mounted on the windshield of a car. To save space, the dipoles were spaced at approximately a 1/3 the frequency wavelength, but we note that optimal spacing is at half a wavelength. The four dipole antennas were connected to KerberosSDR, with a laptop running the direction finding demo software. 

Low cost direction finding array mounted to vehicle windshield.
Low cost direction finding array mounted to vehicle windshield.

Our open source demo software (to be released later when KerberosSDR ships) developed by Tamás Peto gives us a graph and compass display that shows the measured bearing towards the transmitter location. The measured bearing is relative to the antenna array, so we simply convert it by taking the difference between the car's bearing (determined approximately via road direction and landmarks in Google Earth) and the measured bearing. This hopefully results in a line crossing near to the transmitter. Multiple readings taken at different locations will end up intersecting, and where the intersection occurs is near to where the transmitter should be. 

KerberoSDR SDR Directing Finding DOA Reading
KerberoSDR SDR Directing Finding DOA Reading

In the image below you can see the five bearing measurements that we made with KerberosSDR. Four lines converge to the vicinity of the transmitter, and one diverges. The divergent reading can be explained by multipath. In that location the direct path to the transmitter was blocked by a large house and trees, so it probably detected the signal as coming in from the direction of a reflection. But regardless with four good readings it was possible to pinpoint the transmitting tower to within 400 meters.

In the future we hope to be able to automate this process by using GPS and/or e-compass data to automatically draw bearings on a map as the car moves around. The readings could also be combined with signal strength heatmap data for improved accuracy.

This sort of capability could be useful for finding the transmit location of a mystery signal, locating a lost beacon, locating pirate or interfering transmitters, determining a source of noise, for use during fox hunts and more.

KerberosSDR pinpointing a transmitters location
KerberosSDR pinpointing a transmitters location
KerberosSDR Prototype
KerberosSDR Prototype

Subscribe to our KerberosSDR Announcement

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from RTL-SDR Blog:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use MailChimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to MailChimp for processing. Learn more about MailChimp's privacy practices here.

KerberosSDR Running RF Direction Finding on a Tinkerboard

KerberosSDR (formerly HydraSDR) is our upcoming 4-input coherent RTL-SDR. It's designed for coherent applications like RF direction finding, passive radar, beam forming and more, but can also be used as a standard 4-channel SDR for monitoring multiple frequencies. In this post we demonstrate the direction finding application running on the TinkerBoard. 

Reminder: If you have any interest in KerberosSDR, please sign up to our KerberosSDR mailing list. Subscribers to this list will be the first to know when KerberosSDR goes on preorder, and the first 100 sales will receive a discounted price.

Subscribe to our KerberosSDR Announcement

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from RTL-SDR Blog:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use MailChimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to MailChimp for processing. Learn more about MailChimp's privacy practices here.

KerberosSDR Updates

This week we've managed to get the KerberosSDR demo software made by Tamás Peto functioning on a TinkerBoard. The TinkerBoard is a US$60 single board computer. It's similar to a Raspberry Pi 3, but more powerful. We've also tested the app running on the Raspberry Pi 3 and Odroid XU4. The Pi 3 is capable of running the software but it is a little slow, and the Odroid XU4 is a little faster than the TinkerBoard. In the future we hope to further optimize the code so even Raspberry Pi 3's will be smooth.

In the video below we used a circular array of four whip antennas connected to KerberosSDR. The TinkerBoard is connected to KerberosSDR and is set up to generate a WiFi hotspot, which we connect to with an Android phone and a Windows laptop. The Windows laptop connects to the TinkerBoard's desktop via VNC, and the Android phone receives an HTML/JavaScript based compass display via an Apache server running on the Tinkerboard. With this setup we can wirelessly control and view information from KerberosSDR and the TinkerBoard.

We've also tested the KerberosSDR system on a real signal, and have found it to work as expected. More demo's of that coming later.

For more info on KerberosSDR please see our previous announcement post.

KerberosSDR Direction Finding Test 2: Tinkerboard + Circular Array

KerberosSDR Prototype
KerberosSDR Prototype with TinkerBoard Running Computations

Using a Raspberry Pi 3, USB Soundcard, Speclab and Exagear to Detect SAQ VLF Transmissions

Thanks to DE8MSH for writing in about his project that involves using a Raspberry Pi 3 and cheap 7€ USB sound card connected to an old Grahn GS1 VLF antenna to detect the SAQ VLF station. Standard PC or USB sound cards can be used as a narrowband VLF capable SDR simply by connecting an antenna to the sound inputs. SAQ (aka Grimeton Radio Station) is a heritage VLF transmitter in Sweden that transmits CW at 17.2 kHz, normally only on Alexanderson Day and Christmas Day, but can sometimes unofficially transmit without announcement due to maintenance, training or local events.

In terms of software running on the Pi 3 DE8MSH uses Spectrum Laboratory (speclab) to monitor the sound card waterfall, and has written a Python script that uploads the processed images from speclab to a Twitter account every 20 minutes. This way he hopes to be able to detect any unannounced SAQ transmissions from his station in Sweden. 

Spectrum Laboratory is actually a Windows and x86 only program, however as shown in one of our previous posts, it is possible to use a special compatibility emulator called Exagear which allows you to run x86 programs on ARM hardware. Together with Wine you can then run x86 Windows programs on single board computers like the Raspberry Pi 3 which run Linux on ARM hardware.

Speclab Screenshot from DE8MSHs Pi3 soundcard monitoring system
Speclab Screenshot from DE8MSHs Pi3 soundcard monitoring system

Building a Tracking Mount for HRPT Weather Satellite Reception Part 2

Earlier this month we posted about The Thought Emporium who uploaded a video to YouTube where they documented the first steps of their construction of a tracking mount for a 2.4 GHz grid WiFi dish which they intend to use for HRPT weather satellite reception.

If you didn't already know, 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.

In this video they document the steps required to finish the physical build and add the electronics and motors required to control and move the dish. The final product is a working tracking mount that should be able to track the NOAA satellites as they pass over. In the next video which is not yet released they plan to actually test reception.

DIY Satellite Tracker/Radio Telescope - Part 2