Category: Antennas

Stratux 1090 MHz + 978 MHz Diplexer Now Available

Recently the company Stratux released a new ADS-B/UAT diplexer PCB. This is useful if you have a single antenna and want to feed two RTL-SDR dongles, with one receiving 1090 MHZ ADS-B and the second receiving 978 MHz UAT. The filter consists of a splitter and two SAW filters.

ADS-B is short for Automatic Dependant Surveillance Broadcast and is used to help track aircraft in the sky. It is transmit at 1090 MHz and the signal contains aircraft data such as the location, speed, altitude and aircraft call sign. ADS-B is utilized worldwide.

UAT is short for Universal Access Tranceiver and is transmit at 978 MHz. Like ADS-B it is used to keep track of aircraft, however UAT is only available in the USA and only for aircraft that fly below 18,000ft. It is a little cheaper and unlike ADS-B, UAT transmissions can also contain weather and traffic data.

US aircraft owners/operators that fly below 18,000ft can choose to install either UAT or ADS-B transmitters in their aircraft, so in the US a complete monitoring solution needs to monitor both 1090 MHz and 978 MHz.

The Stratux Diplexer board is currently available on Amazon for $24.99.

Stratux Diplexer for 1090 MHz ADS-B and 978 MHz UAT.
Stratux Diplexer for 1090 MHz ADS-B and 978 MHz UAT.

Vela Pulsar Glitch Detected with RTL-SDR Based Radio Telescope

On February 1st 2019 the HawkRAO amateur radio telescope detected a "glitch" during it's observations of the Vela Pulsar. A pulsar is a rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. If this beam points towards the earth, it can then be observed with a large dish or directional antenna and a radio, like the RTL-SDR. The Vela pulsar is the strongest one in our sky, making it one of the easiest for amateur radio astronomers to receive.

Pulsars are known to have very accurate rotational periods which can be measured by the radio pulse period. However, every now and then some pulsars can "glitch", resulting in the rotational period suddenly increasing. Glitches can't be predicted, but Vela is one of the most commonly observed glitching pulsars.

The HawkRAO amateur radio telescope run by Steve Olney is based in NSW, Australia and consists of a 2 x 2 array of 42-element cross Yagi antennas. The antennas feed into three LNAs and then an RTL-SDR radio receiver. He has been observing the Vela pulsar for 20 months.

His observations indicate that Vela glitched and spun up by 2.5PPM at 14:09 UTC on Feb 1, 2019. He claims that this glitch detection is a first for amateur radio astronomy as far as he is aware.

If you're interested in Pulsar detection, check out a few of our previous posts on the topic.

The HawkRAO Amateur Radio Telescope Vela Glitch Detection
The HawkRAO Amateur Radio Telescope Vela Glitch Detection (Blue graph on the right indicates the glitch detection)

LimeSDR Angle of Arrival Experiments at 145 MHz

Two J-Poles used in LimeSDR Angle of Arrival Experiments.
Two J-Poles used in LimeSDR Angle of Arrival Experiments.

Together with some Spanish amateur radio operators, Daniel Estevez performed an experiment with the goal of detecting the angle of arrival of meteor reflections coming from the GRAVES radar at 143.05 MHz.

The GRAVES radar at 143.05 MHz is often used by amateur radio astronomers as a way to detect the echos of meteors entering the atmosphere. The basic idea is that meteors leave behind a trail of ionized air which is reflective to RF energy. This RF reflective air can reflect the signal from the powerful GRAVES space radar in France, allowing the radar signal to be briefly received from far away. Detecting the angle of arrival from these reflections could help determine where the meteor entered the atmosphere.

Their experiments used a pair of J-Pole antennas and a LimeSDR receiver. The LimeSDR has two channels and can receive the signal coherently from both channels. The phase difference in the received signals from the two antennas can then be measured, and the angle of arrival calculated.

In their testing the first tested with 145 MHz amateur radio satellites. Unfortunately due to the low elevation of the antennas and multipath from terrain obstructions an angle could not be calculated. In a second experiment they tried receiving terrestrial APRS signals. With APRS they were successful and were able to determine the angle of arrival from multiple stations. Unfortunately for GRAVES meteor echoes they were not entirely successful, citing multipath issues due to houses, and the need for a clear view of the horizon.

We note that it may be possible to perform similar experiments with our KerberosSDR coherent RTL-SDR unit.

Using an RTL-SDR and OpenCV To Create an EMI Heatmap of Circuit Boards

Over on YouTube and his blog user Charles Grassin has uploaded a short video and blog post showing how he's using an RTL-SDR EMI (electromagnetic interference) probe and OpenCV to create a visual EMI heatmap.

Earlier this month we posted about Dmitris' experiments in which he was able to create a home made EMI/EMC probe out of a loop of semi-rigid coax and an RTL-SDR V3. This type of probe is useful for determining what components or areas on a circuit board are emitting electromagnetic interference. EMI testing for PCBs may be critical for passing compliance tests.

Charles' project takes the RTL-SDR EMI probe idea a step further by combining it with OpenCV. OpenCV is an open source library of code for computer vision applications. With the EMI data generated by the RTL-SDR EMI probe, and a camera pointed at a PCB, Charles is able to overlay a heatmap on top of the visual image which reveals the EMI hot spots on a PCB.

The video below shows the EMI heatmap of an Arduino PCB being mapped out. His blog post shows some other examples like a keyboard and a hairpin RF filter. The code he's created is open source and available on his EMI_Mapper GitHub page.

EMI mapping (OpenCV and RTL-SDR)

SignalsEverywhere: KerberosSDR Direction Finding Video Tutorial

Over on his YouTube channel SignalsEverywhere, Corrosive has uploaded a new video about setting up a KerberosSDR for direction finding. KerberosSDR is our new 4-input Coherent RTL-SDR that was crowdfunded on Indiegogo, and has now shipped to all backers. With KerberosSDR applications like direction finding and passive radar are possible. If you're interested, there are still about 70 units available in this batch. After that a second batch will be available in a few months.

In the video he goes over the full set up procedure, from setting up his chosen computing platform (a Raspberry Pi 3) to connecting up the KerberosSDR, connecting to it's web interface, calibrating, setting up the antennas, and then demonstrating some direction finding with four whip antennas on his car and a HackRF used as a signal source.

Radio Direction Finding Equipment KerberosSDR Coherent 4 x RTL SDR RDF Setup

Testing an SDRplay RSPduo with Bonito Active Loop Antennas

Bonito is a company that sells various active dipole and loop antennas for ham radio and DX applications. Recently they decided to test their MegaLoop FX and MegaDipol MD3000DX antennas on an SDRplay RSPduo, and compare it against a higher end WinRadio. Bonito found that the RSPduo performed well on the weaker longwave stations, but the Winradio outperformed it on the stronger ones. The differences were due to the better dynamic range of the Winradio.

The article goes on to make some recommendations for using their antennas on the RSPduo. They write that if intermodulation due to very strong signals occurs, there are some fixes that can be applied on their antennas to desensitize them and prevent overload. With the loop, a smaller loop size should be used, and the gain selector should be set to medium or min. With the dipole, they note that shortening the elements, and using it in an L-configuration with the lower radiator pointing towards the interfering signals can be used to attenuate them out. This works because a dipole configured in a L shape provides a bit of directionality.

The article also notes how grounding, very good coax shielding, good quality USB cables and galvanic isolation are all very important for reducing noise.

Bonito RSPduo Antenna Test Setup
Bonito RSPduo Antenna Test Setup

Es’hail-2 Amateur Transponder Now Active

Es'Hail 2 Coverage
Es'Hail 2 Coverage from Amsat-UK

Es'hail 2 was launched last November and it is the first geostationary satellite to contain an amateur radio transponder. The satellite is positioned at 25.5°E which is over Africa. It's reception footprint covers Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern Brazil and the west half of Russia/Asia. There are two amateur transponders on the satellite. One is a narrow band linear transponder which uplinks from  2400.050 - 2400.300 MHz and downlinks from 10489.550 - 10489.800 MHz. Another is a wide band digital transponder for amateur digital TV which uplinks from 2401.500 - 2409.500 MHz and downlinks from 10491.000 - 10499.000 MHz.

Although it launched last year it takes several months for the engineers to test and qualify the transponder for use. Over the last few weeks the transponder was intermittently active during the testing, but now since Feb 13 2019 the amateur transponder has finally been fully activated for amateur radio use.

To receive it with an RTL-SDR or most other SDRs an LNB is required to receive the 10 GHz signal and downconvert it into a frequency range that most SDRs support. Typically an Octagon LNB is used, and these are easy to find and cheap as they are often used for satellite TV.

From various reports seen on Twitter, it seems that the signal is strong enough that a satellite dish is not required for receiving - simply pointing the LNB directly at the satellite is enough.

If you can't set up a receiver, there is an OpenWebRX livestream of the Es'hail 2 narrowband channel that has been set up by Zoltan/RFSparkling which is available at sniffing.ddns.net:8073 (note the server can only handle 8 users at a time, so try again later if it's busy). Also as pointed out by KD9IXX on Twitter, there are also several websdr.org servers receiving and streaming Es'hail2 including an Airspy based one run officially by AMSAT-DL.

3D Printed V-Dipole Holder for Our RTL-SDR Blog Multipurpose Dipole Kit

Over on Thingiverse user f16v1per has created a 3D printed bracket that can help with securely holding our multipurpose dipole kit at a 120 degree angle, which is the perfect angle to use when in a V-Dipole configuration. A V-Dipole is simply a dipole antenna spread at 120 degrees, placed horizontal to the ground, and typically oriented in a North-South direction for receiving weather satellites.

Back in 2017, Adam 9A4QV wrote about how a V-Dipole could be used as a very simple yet effective antenna for receiving weather satellites. Since then it has become a popular beginners choice for receiving polar orbiting satellites like NOAA and Meteor M2.

3D Printed V-Dipole Angle Spacing Bracket
3D Printed V-Dipole Angle Spacing Bracket