Category: Antennas

A High Performance RTL-SDR ADS-B Receiver Build Guide

ADS-B Setup in an outdoor enclosure. Includes FlightAware ADS-B Antenna, FlightAware RTL-SDR Dongle, Raspberry Pi, POE Splitter.
ADS-B Setup in an outdoor enclosure. Includes FlightAware ADS-B Antenna, FlightAware RTL-SDR Dongle, Raspberry Pi, POE Splitter.

Over on Imgur and Reddit user Mavericknos has uploaded a very nice pictorial guide where he shows how he's built a high performance RTL-SDR based ADS-B receiver that can be mounted outside in a waterproof enclosure.

He uses a FlightAware dongle, which is an RTL-SDR optimized for best ADS-B reception when placed directly at the mast/antenna. For an antenna he uses the FlightAware ADS-B antenna, which we've reviewed in the past and found to be one of the best value ADS-B antennas available on the market. To process the data, a Raspberry Pi is used and it is powered via power over Ethernet (POE). If you didn't already know, power over Ethernet (not to be confused with Ethernet over powerline) is simply running power through unused wires inside an Ethernet cable. It is a convenient method of powering remote devices and giving them a network connection at the same time. The whole package is enclosed in a waterproof case, and the antenna attached to the top.

Putting the RTL-SDR and computing device at the antenna removes any loss from long coax runs, and the POE connection provides a tidy cabling scheme. The FlightAware dongle is a good choice for mounting directly at the mast or antenna because it has a built in low noise figure LNA. If using coax cabling instead, and keeping the RTL-SDR and Raspberry Pi inside, then it would be better to mount an LNA at the mast and power it through the coax via a bias tee.

All components in the build.
All components in the build.

 

Turning an old Radiosonde into an Active L-Band Antenna

VK5QI's Radiosonde Collection
VK5QI's Radiosonde Collection

Over on his blog VK5QI has shown how he has was able to re-purpose an old radiosonde into a wideband active L-band antenna. Radiosondes are small packages sent up with weather balloons. They contains weather sensors, GPS and altitude meters and use an antenna and radio transmitter to transmit the telemetry data back down to a ground station. With a simple radio such as an RTL-SDR and the right software, these radiosondes can be tracked and the weather data downloaded in real time. Some hobbyists such as VK5QI go further and actually chase down the weather balloons and radiosondes as they return to earth, collecting the radiosonde as a prize.

VK5QI and his friend Will decided to put some of his radiosonde collection to good use by modifying one of his RS92 radiosondes into a cheap active L-band antenna. They did this by first opening and removing unnecessary components that may interfere such as the main CPU, GPS receiver, 16 MHz oscillator, SAW filters and balun. They left the battery, LDO's, LNA's and Quadrifilar Helix GPS antenna which is tuned to the GPS L-band frequency. Finally they soldered on a coax connector to a tap point on the PCB and it was ready to use.

They then connected the new antenna to a RTL-SDR V3 and fired up GQRX. They write that their results were quite promising with several Inmarsat and Iridium signals being visible in the spectrum. VK5QI also used gr-iridium with the antenna as was able to decode some Iridium signals.

Modified Radiosonde L-Band Antenna connected to a RTL-SDR V3.
Modified Radiosonde L-Band Antenna connected to a RTL-SDR V3.

A Video Tutorial about Receiving HRPT Weather Satellite Images

Over on YouTube 'Tysonpower' has recently uploaded a very informative video and blog post showing how he is able to receive HRPT weather satellite images. Note that the video is in German, but English subtitles are provided.

Most readers of this blog are probably familiar with the more commonly received APT images that are broadcast by the NOAA satellites at 137 MHz, or perhaps the LRPT images also broadcast at 137 MHz by the Russian Meteor M2 satellite. HRPT signals are a little different and more difficult to receive as they are broadcast in the L-band at about 1.7 GHz. Receiving them requires a dish antenna (or high gain Yagi antenna), L-band dish feed, LNA and a high bandwidth SDR such as an Airspy Mini. The result is a high resolution and uncompressed image with several more color channels compared to APT and LRPT images.

In his video Tysonpower shows how he receives the signal with his 3D printed L-band feed, a 80cm offset dish antenna (or 1.2m dish antenna), two SPF5189Z based LNAs and an Airspy Mini. As L-band signals are fairly directional Tysonpower points the dish antenna manually at the satellite as it passes over. He notes that a mechanised rotator would work a lot better though. For software he uses the commercial software available directly from USA-Satcom.com.

An Example HRPT Image Received by Tysonpower.
An Example HRPT Image Received by Tysonpower.

Using a Slinky as a Cheap Antenna for the 80m Band

A slinky is a fun little toy that is essentially a long and loose spring. You can perform tricks with them, but the most iconic use is making them walk down stairs all by themselves. Over on Hackaday we've seen a tutorial that shows how to use a slinky as a good antenna for the 80m (3.5 MHz) band. Using a slinky as an antenna is nothing new to hams, but the original post on imgur shows some pretty clear photos and instructions on how to construct one.

The text written by the original poster on imgur notes that he uses this antenna very successfully with his RTL-SDR in direct sampling mode and this even outperforms his regular shortwave radio. He notes that slinkies aren't weather proof, so some sort of weather proofing spray coating or oil might be useful for a permanent set up.

If you are interested apart from the discussion on Hackaday there is also a comments thread on Reddit where the original poster discusses what he purchased.

Slink Antenna for 80m
Slinky Antenna for 80m