Category: Antennas

CCERA Memo on Building Small Introductory 21cm Telescopes for use with SDRs

CCERA is the Canadian Centre for Experimental Radio Astronomy which is run by Marcus Leech who is well known for experimenting with low cost SDR based radio astronomy projects. In the past we've seen information from him about pulsar observations, meteor detections, solar transit observations, and hydrogen line observations.

In his latest memo Marcus details his findings with the use of small radio telescopes for making hydrogen line observations. His first tests are with a 30 x 60 cm 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antenna where he discovers that the out of the box unmodified feed gives good results. We note that in our own Hydrogen line tutorial we made use of a 60x100cm WiFi grid.

While these WiFi grids are relatively cheap, Marcus tests an order of magnitude cheaper solution based on a tall metal "Maple-Sap" bucket which are commonly found in Canada. A horn antenna is constructed out of the 24cm diameter bucket simply by attaching a feed (wire) connected to a type-N connector, fitted ~8.8cm from the bottom of the bucket. This results in a signal almost as strong as the 60cm WiFi grid. A second test with a larger 30cm bucket fitted onto an existing 24cm horn antenna yielded results on par with the WiFi grid. A third test was done with a 6-turn Helix antenna, however it resulted in poor performance.

Marcus notes that almost anything that is shaped like cone could be modified into a horn antenna with a little DIY construction. He mentions that one alternative to the maple-sap bucket which could be hard to find outside of Canada might be a "French Style" steel floral bucket.

A low cost bucket based horn antenna for hydrogen line observations

KrakenSDR Update: New Prototypes, Software Updates, Campaign to Release Soon

KrakenSDR is our 5-tuner coherent software defined radio based on RTL-SDR. It is the successor to the KerberosSDR and will be crowdfunded on Crowd Supply with the campaign due to begin soon. Please sign up to the KrakenSDR Crowd Supply mailing list to be notified as soon as the campaign begins, and to check out our previous videos demonstrating the unit in action.

With a 5-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 five separate RTL-SDRs for multichannel monitoring.

KrakenSDR Updates

Like many other projects we have been severely delayed by COVID work restrictions and the effects it's having on the supply chain, and I'd like to thank everyone who is keen to get a hold of a KrakenSDR for their patience. But the ball is rolling faster now and we have finally received our latest KrakenSDR prototypes! Testing has been ongoing for the last few days, and apart from a few minor issues everything is working brilliantly. At this stage we are confident in the design and are making plans to begin the crowdfunding campaign soon.

The latest KrakenSDR Prototype PCB running on a Pi 4.

Supply Chain Constraints

The first batch will unfortunately be limited to 1000 units maximum due to supply constraints and we expect this first batch to be ready 2-3 months after the campaign finishes. So if you are after a unit ASAP, please ensure you are on the CrowdSupply mailing list as we fully expect demand for the first batch to outstrip the supply.

But if you are willing to wait, batch 2 will be still be available at the campaign special price. we will have a second batch available for early preorder at a discount (sorry due to higher than expected shipping and skyrocketing component prices we can't discount the second batch at the moment). Please keep in mind that the second batch will be at least 6 months away due to the long supply chain resulting from the pandemic.

Next Steps

The next stages in hardware development will involve finalizing our custom milled aluminum enclosure, testing one last prototype, and beginning mass manufacturing when the crowd funding campaign is over.

Work on the software is ongoing, but the beta version of our new DAQ firmware and direction finding DSP software layer is stable and already available on the krakensdr GitHub at https://github.com/krakenrf. Everything resides in the development branches and there is full documentation on the code structure available in the Documentation folder. This code can also be used on the KerberosSDR by editing the configuration files to specify 4 receivers instead of 5.

By the time the units ship out we will have a ready to use SD card image for the Raspberry Pi 4 and a quickstart guide available.

KrakenSDR DAQ and DOA DSP Web Interface

Android App

We have also been working at improving the Android direction finding companion app. This app was made during the KerberosSDR release a couple of years ago, and is used to plot and log the direction finding bearings being generated by the Kerberos/KrakenSDR unit, combining it against the GPS and movement data generated by the Android phone. This Android phone + KrakenSDR combination results in a powerful multipath resistant radio direction finding tool, and once enough data has been collected (usually after a few minutes of driving) it is able to determine where the most likely transmitter location is.

The upgraded app makes use of the full 360 degrees of direction of arrival and multipath data that is generated by the KrakenSDR, resulting in a more accurate determination of the transmitter location, and a better understanding of the uncertainties. It also allows users to visualize multipath. There are also various bug fixes and improvements made overall. We are planning to transition this app into a paid app, but all KrakenSDR backers will receive a license for free and the older KerberosSDR app will remain free.

KrakenSDR Android App Improvements

KrakenSDR Antennas

To work as a radio direction finder, KrakenSDR needs five antennas. If you plan to use them in a circular array, they need to be omnidirectional antennas such as whips or dipoles. So to go along with the KrakenSDR we will be selling an optional set of five magnetic whip antennas which can be mounted on for example, the roof of a car. (Please note the magwhips shown in the photo may differ slightly from the final ones sold).

KrakenSDR Magnetic Whips on a Car Roof

We have also been working with Arrow Antennas in the USA, who are producing a KrakenSDR 5-element dipole array antenna which is great for use in fixed sites (for example on the roof of a house). The antenna will be sold by Arrow antennas (not by us), and the future link (not active yet) will be http://www.arrowantennas.com/arrowii/kraken.html. We expect them to generate this page within the next few days. This antenna has been used in all our fixed site experiments as you can see in some of the YouTube videos, and works very well. (The image below show a prototype, we're told the final version may look slightly different.)

Arrow Antenna 5-element antenna array for the KrakenSDR

Future Work

DAQ & Direction of Arrival (DOA / Radio Direction Finding) :
Work on the DAQ and DSP software is coming along well and this is mostly complete and runs stable on a Raspberry Pi 4. There are just now bug fixes and minor features being added. Intermittent 'bursty' signal handing is already working, but we are working on improving it's sensitivity to weak bursty narrowband CW signals which can still be problematic to detect. The Android app is also currently being field tested.

Passive Radar:
Work on new passive radar software is also ongoing and we expect to have something ready for experimentation and with quickstart guides before shipping. At the moment it is also still possible to use the older KerberosSDR software for passive radar, but we believe the new DAQ core software will run things much smoother. The goal for the new software is to not only plot a range-doppler map, but to combine it with direction finding and be able to plot radar detections on a map. This feature may require operation on a device faster than the Raspberry Pi 4, such as GPU based device like a NVIDIA Jetson.

Beam Forming, Interferometry:
One application we think the KrakenSDR would be great with is amateur radio astronomy via interferometry. The ability to combine multiple small hydrogen line dishes spread out over several meters of area should result in much greater radio imaging resolution, without needing to deal with a single huge dish. It may also allow for electrically steering a beam without needing to rotate the dishes.

Advanced Direction Finding + Advanced Log Management:
At the moment networked direction finding (direction finding via multiple fixed or mobile sites spread out around a city or area) is possible via the third party RDF Mapper software, but we aim to create our own advanced platform in the near future. The goal is to have software that will automatically log and alert when a signal of interest appears. For some examples we can see this being used to help coastguard locate distressed marine pleasurecraft that typically do not have AIS via their VHF radios, locate emergency beacons, for animal/wildlife/asset tracking, and monitoring for illegal/interference transmissions.

At this stage the core DAQ+DSP software will also be updated to support monitoring multiple simultaneous channels within the available 2.56 MHz bandwidth, and with a scanning and beacon ID detection feature.

Research into field applications:
One example we hope to test is the operation of KrakenSDR on a drone. With great line of sight from up in the sky, localizing a transmitter should be fast. Another example could be actually visualizing signals like light via augmented reality.

Some of our previous KerberosSDR and KrakenSDR posts might also be of interest.

Viewing the RF Spectrum in Virtual Reality + Augmented Reality EMC Probe

Thank you to Manahiyo for submitting his video which shows his software that allows the RF spectrum to be viewed in virtual reality, using a VR headset and an RTL-SDR. In his setup he currently uses a Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, but it should work with others too. The VR screen allows you to have multiple graphs set up, as well as allowing you to explore a 3D spectrograph from all angles by moving it around via the pointer, or by moving your head. 

RTL-SDR×VR(Virtual Reality) with oculus quest2

Manahiyo also has another new VR video on his channel where he uses his RF Watcher software. RF Watcher is his software that allows augmented reality and RF power measurements from an RTL-SDR to be combined. His video demonstrates him using an RTL-SDR and EMC probe, together with RF watcher. As the EMC probe is moved over an RF 'hot spot' on a PCB, red dots are drawn around it in augmented reality.

The programs don't appear to be available to the public yet, but we will follow up with Manahiyo.

DragonOS: RF Propagation Analysis with Signal Server GUI

DragonOS is a ready to use Ubuntu Linux image that comes preinstalled with multiple SDR software packages. The creator Aaron also runs a YouTube channel showing how to use the various packages installed. In his latest video Aaron shows how to use the new Signal-Server GUI that has recently been added to DragonOS.

We posted about Signal Server before as it's a very powerful open source tool for creating RF Propagation simulations. With this tool you can determine how a signal from a transmitter might propagate, by taking into account factors like frequency, EIRP, and geographic elevation maps. The resulting propagation map can then be plotted on Google Earth.

Aarons recent work adds thetacoms GUI to the Signal Server install on DragonOS, and his video shows how to use it, including an introduction to RF propagation analysis in general. This version of DragonOS with the GUI is not yet available for download, but it will be in a future version. For now the video also shows how to install the GUI.

DragonOS Focal New Signal Server GUI Setup + Intro to RF Propagation Analysis (Signal-Server) Part 1

RTL-SDR Blog Active L-Band Patch Antenna for Inmarsat, Iridium, GPS Back in Stock

Just a quick note to say that the second batch of our Active L-Band Patch Antenna for receiving Inmarsat, Iridium and other L-Band satellites is now in stock, available to be shipped from our warehouse in China from early next week. Amazon will be stocked within the next 1-2 months as the freighter will take time to arrive.

Please see our store for ordering details.

Apologies as we've had to temporarily suspend sales of this product as a manufacturing defect has been discovered in this batch. The defect is that on a number of units the plastic around the screws is cracking, and this was caused by a factory worker over torqueing a pneumatic screwdriver.

The antenna itself will work fine, and it probably won't even affect weather tightness, but it is certainly a defect. If your unit already shipped out and your unit has these cracks, please let us know at [email protected] and we will get the factory to ship you a replacement enclosure. For unshipped units we will be issuing a refund within the next few days.

Pricing remains the same at US$49.95 including free worldwide shipping to most countries. A reminder to EU customers: please order from our Aliexpress or eBay stores as due to the new IOSS laws we need to now use those marketplaces to collect and remit VAT upon your purchase, instead of upon import at the border.

This second batch comes in a gray color as feedback from the previous batch indicated that a lighter color is preferred to avoid excess heating from the sun.

If you are hearing about this patch antenna for the first time, please see our original release post for more information. In short this is an amplified patch antenna designed to be used with bias tee capable SDRs that can provide 3.3V - 5V power, such as our RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongle, Airspy, SDRplay or HackRF.

The antenna allows for reception of L-band satellites that transmit between 1525 - 1660 MHz, such as Inmarsat, Iridium and GPS. Please note it is *not* for receiving weaker signals like HRPT and GOES which require a dish antenna.

The patch comes with useful mounting accessories including a window suction cup, bendable tripod and 3M RG174 coax cable. The patch and active circuitry is enclosed in a weather proof enclosure.

What can you do with this antenna?

A Facebook Group about 10GHz Experiments for Beginners

Thank you to Jean Marie (F5VLB) who has written in and wanted to share an invitation to their Facebook group where they are discussing ways for beginners to get into low cost 10 GHz (SHF) experiments. The 10 GHz band is generally considered tough to break into due to the precision required at these frequencies, however Jean notes how they are making use of readily available TV LNBs, RTL-SDRs and free software for their experiments. Jean writes:

I would like to present to you here about a Facebook group that addresses (only) radio enthusiasts, whether it is SWL or loose amateur radio and are interested in the high bands (SHF). On my life of Ham Radio I have never found a site that explains clearly, without big expenses, how to explore these bands.

The purpose of this FB group is to gently take you to this world, reserved for the experts, and yet accessible with reasonable means, with facilities found in the TV SAT store from the corner of the street. For some 50$ you will be ready with a dish, a lnb, a tx module.

The site begins. In 3 weeks 116 members came to join us. We go slowly, step by step.

The result ? It will listen to a satellite at 36000km, listening to tags everywhere around you, emit (if you have the license) on these mythical bands of 10 and 5.7 GHz.

This is aimed at young people aged 7 to 77, without special knowledge.

Want to know more ?

So come on https://www.facebook.com/groups/bzh10ghz this site is for you. And for others who are far in front of us, do not hesitate to bring your comments, simple, kind and taking into account that this site is made for newbies.

10 GHz Equipment and Group (Images provided by Jean Marie F5VLB)

SignalsEverywhere: Decoding HF WEFAX Weather Fax with an Airspy HF+ Discovery SDR

Over on YouTube Sarah is back this week with a new video on her channel SignalsEverywhere. In this video she shows how to decode HF WEFAX (weather fax) images using an Airspy HF+ Discovery software defined radio with a YouLoop antenna. HF weather faxes are daily weather chart images transmitted as an analogue signal over the HF bands by coastal stations. They are mostly used by ships at sea.

First Sarah shows where to find a lists of WEFAX frequencies and schedules for her area, and then goes on to demonstrate a WEFAX signal being received and decoded using SDR#, VB-Audio Cable and the FLDIGI decoder.

Decoding HF WEFAX Weather Fax with SDR Software Defined Radio | Airspy HF Discovery

EZNEC Pro Antenna Modelling Software will be free from 2022

EZNEC is a popular antenna modelling program created by W7EL which is based on the "Numerical Electromagnetics Code" or NEC. With a NEC based antenna modelling program it is possible to design antennas by modelling their geometry and connections, and then simulating parameters like radiation pattern gain and VSWR. You can also determine the effects of height, roof angles, nearby objects and more.

Originally the pricing was $99 for EZNEC, $149 for EZNEC+, $525 for EZNEC Pro/2 and $675 for EZNEC Pro/4. W7EL is retiring and from Jan 1 2022 EZNEC Pro/2 and EZNEC+ will be made free, and EZNEC Pro/4 will be discontinued. The source code will not be released, and no support will be provided.

If you're after a free NEC based antenna modeler today, 4NEC2 is a similar program that is already free. There is also the recently released and more modern CENOS, which is free for hobbyist use.

The EZNEC Software