Category: Antennas

Mike Tests out L-Band STD-C and AERO with a Low Cost Modified GPS Antenna

SDR-Kits.net have begun selling low cost GPS antennas that are modified to receive the Inmarsat satellite frequencies between 1535 MHz to 1550 MHz. They also have a version for Iridium satellites that receives 1610 MHz to 1630 MHz. The antennas are powered by a 3-5V bias tee, so they should work fine with SDRplay, Airspy and RTL-SDR Blog V3 units.

Mike Ladd from SDRplay has recently sent us a guide to receiving AERO and STD-C messages on L-band with the SDR-Kits antenna and an SDRPlay unit running SDRUno (Megaupload link).

AERO messages are a form of satellite ACARS, and typically contain short messages from aircraft. It is also possible to receive AERO audio calls. STD-C aka FleetNET and SafetyNET is a marine service that broadcasts messages that typically contain text information such as search and rescue (SAR) and coast guard messages as well as news, weather and incident reports. Some private messages are also seen. To decode AERO Mike uses JAERO, and for STD-C he uses the Tekmanoid STD-C decoder.

Mike has also created a very handy bank of frequencies for the SDRUno frequency manager which can be downloaded from here.

We note that if you're interested in waiting, at the end of September we will have an L-band patch antenna set available too. Our antenna will work from 1525 up to 1637 MHz. Prototypes have shown have shown good Inmarsat, Iridium and GPS reception. More details coming next month when manufacturing gets closer to finishing up.

Screenshot of the Tekmanoid Decoder from Mikes Tutorial
Screenshot of the Tekmanoid Decoder from Mikes Tutorial

A Remote ADS-B, ACARS, VDL2 and Air Traffic Control Voice Monitoring Station with LTE Connection

Over on Reddit u/tsimola has posted about his remote ADS-B station that is accessed via an LTE connection. When an opportunity came up to install a remote ADS-B station on a tall building with unobstructed 360 degree views, tsimola decided to build the best ADS-B monitoring station that he could, and make sure that it would be easily to maintain and monitor from afar.

He notes that his ADS-B station consists of a FlightAware Prostick Plus and 16-element collinear coaxial antenna. The following components are also used:

  • Raspberry Pi 3 booting and running from SSD drive (Raspbian and ADSB Receiver Project package)
  • Power via UPS (1 hour and 45-minute runtime) and text message controlled power socket (for hard reboots)
  • Powered USB hub with three basic RTL-SDR dongles (ACARS, VDL Mode 2 and voice)
  • Three temperature sensors and one humidity sensor, 80 mm exhaust fan (filtered air intakes)
  • Magnetic switch for push notifications if the lid is opened (IFTTT and Webhooks)
  • LTE/4G router for Internet connection

In addition to the ADS-B station, tsimola has also added ACARS, VDL2, and AM voice air traffic control monitoring with a second station in the same location that utilizes three RTL-SDR dongles. This second airband station is connected to a 128 MHz tuned airband dipole antenna, with an LNA4all and GPIO labs airband filter.

As well as descriptions of the hardware, tsimola's post goes over his software choices and explains how it is securely accessed. We think that this is a very well put together build that should be replicated in other locations too.

A remote ADS-B, ACARS, VDL2 and Air Traffic Control Monitoring Station.
A remote ADS-B, ACARS, VDL2 and Air Traffic Control Monitoring Station.

[Also seen on Hackaday]

SDRplay RSPDuo Diversity: Combing a Magnetic Loop and Miniwhip Antenna

The SDRplay team have posted some more videos that demonstrate the SDRplay Duo's diversity function. The SDRplay RSPDuo is a 14-bit dual tuner software defined radio capable of tuning between 1 kHz - 2 GHz. It's defining feature is that it has two receivers in one radio, which allows us to combine the signal from two antenna together.

In the video Jon uses a Wellbrook Magnetic Loop antenna and a Bonito Miniwhip antenna both connected to the RSP Duo. Individually each antenna receives the signal relatively poorly and fades in and out as conditions and signal reflections fluctuate. However, with diversity enabled the SNR is improved and fading is significantly reduced.

The method they use to combine signals is a relatively simple method called maximum-ratio combining (MRC). The idea is that the two signal channels are added together, with the currently stronger and less noisy channel having increased gain. So while the signal levels fluctuate, as long as one antenna can receive the signal you will see no fading.

SDRplay HF Diversity Demo

SDRplay note that the key to a good setup is to have the antennas spaced out at a quarter wavelength of the signal frequency that you are receiving. In a second video they show how to properly set up an antenna system for proper HF diversity receiving.

This video demonstrates how SDRuno diversity and the RSPduo can bring enhanced reception at HF using 2 antennas separated by approximately a quarter wavelength. It uses the the current version of SDRuno (V 1.32) and the dual tuner RSPduo SDR from SDRplay.

In this experiment we had a wire dipole with one leg approximately a quarter wavelength from a Boniwhip vertical - both were picking up similar strength signals before going into "diversity" (max ratio combination) mode.

The benefits of diversity tuning at HF are very dependent on many variables, most notably the changing nature of the reflected signal path and the degree to which noise and unwanted signals are not as coherent as the wanted signal.

Antenna and SDRplay set-up for HF diversity reception (rev1)

Reviews of the NanoVNA: An Ultra Low Cost $50 Vector Network Analyzer

A vector network analyzer (VNA) is an instrument that can be used to measure antenna or coax parameters such as SWR, impedance and loss. It can also be used to characterize and tune filters. It is a very useful tool to have if you are building and tuning home made antennas, filters or other RF circuits. For example if you are building a QFH or ADS-B antenna to use with an RTL-SDR, a VNA can help ensure that your antenna is properly tuned to the correct frequency. Compared to a standard SWR or network analyzer a VNA supplies you with phase information as well.

Until just recently, VNA's have cost roughly US$500 for a decent USB PC based unit like the miniVNA or PocketVNA, and have set people back thousands to tens of thousands of dollars for bench top units.

However, the cost of owning a VNA has now been reduced to only US$50 thanks to the NanoVNA. The open source NanoVNA project by @edy555 and ttrftech has been around since 2016, but only recently have Chinese sellers begun mass producing the unit and selling them on sites like Aliexpress, eBay and now Amazon. We note that it seems that there are some sellers selling them without shielding, so it might be worth double checking the listing to see if they mention that. All the listings we've seen seem to come with simple calibration kits as well.

The NanoVNA: A $50 Vector Network Analyzer
The NanoVNA: A $50 Vector Network Analyzer

The NanoVNA is a small credit card sized VNA. It has a built in LCD screen that can be used to display graphs directly, or it can also be connected to a PC and the graphs viewed via the NanoVNA Windows software. When purchasing you can opt to include a small battery for portable operation for a few dollars extra. The frequency range is from 50 kHz to 900 MHz, although you should note that above 300 MHz dynamic range performance is reduced.

Over on YouTube several hams and radio enthusiasts have recently uploaded videos demonstrating and reviewing the NanoVNA. The overall consensus is that the unit is accurate and works well. For additional support there is forum available at Groups.IO.

Below YouTube user IMSAI Guy reviews the NanoVNA. Check out IMSAI Guy's other videos too as he has several where he tests the NanoVNA on difference filters and antennas, and checks the accuracy.

#350 NanoVNA Vector Network analyzer 900MHz VNA for $50

Below is YouTube user joe smith's review. He also has two other NanoVNA videos on his channel where he shows how to use the NanoVNA to measure antenna impedance, and how to use the NanoVNA to create SPICE models for simulation.

The NanoVNA, a beginners guide to the Vector Network Analyzer

Finally YouTube user Oli gives another overview. Please note that the following video is in Polish, but YouTube captions can be set to English.

NanoVNA - omówienie, kalibracja, pomiar anteny i filtra [english subtitles]

We've also seen several recent text reviews:

NanoVNA - A short review. In this review nuclearrambo shows off the calibration kit, and shows a practical measurements of a directional coupler and 137 MHz QFH antenna.

NanoVNA compared with a Keysight fieldfox N9952A. Here nuclearrambo provides a comparison between the $50 NanoVNA and the $40,000+ Keysight FieldFox N9962A.

The NanoVNA, a real VNA at less than 48 €!. A review written in French, but Google Translate can be used. In this review David Alloza compares the NanoVNA against an Agilent E5062A benchtop VNA, and results look comparable.

Building a DIY 2.4 GHz Helical Feed for the QO-100/Es’Hail-2 Satellite

Over on his YouTube channel Adam 9A4QV has uploaded a short video that demonstrates his 2.4 GHz homemade helical feed designed to be used with a reflector (prime feed satellite dish) for QO-100/Es'Hail-2 satellite reception. The antenna is made from an old can, 2-turns of copper wire, and a plastic insulator to hold the turns in place. The two turns are wound in left hand circular polarization (LHCP), because when used with a satellite dish reflector it will result in right hand circular polarization (RHCP), which is the polarization QO-100 uses.

One of the most important parts of the video is when Adam shows how he matches the antenna to 50 Ohms. He notes that without matching the antenna won't work properly, and the return loss will be about 8 dB or even less, resulting in poor performance. With matching he obtains 30 dB return loss.

Helical feed for the 2.4 GHz QO-100 satellite

SignalsEverywhere: Satcom Antennas for L-Band Reception via RTL-SDR + Podcast on the MiTee CubeSat Project

On this episode of SignalsEverywhere on YouTube Corrosive shows off several antennas that can be used for Inmarsat and Iridium satcom reception. His video shows off a commercial Inmarsat branded satlink antenna which is designed to be used on moving ships, a grid dish antenna, a custom QFH iridium antenna made from a repurposed Vaisala radiosonde, a commercial Iridium patch, an older Outernet/Othernet Iridium patch and a custom Iridium patch that Corrosive built himself.

Satcom Antennas for L-Band Reception via RTL SDR

A few days prior Corrosive also released a new episode of his podcast. In this episode he interviewed Derek a student from The University of Michigan who is working on the MiTee CubeSat. The MiTee cubesat is a small experimental satellite that will explore the use of miniaturized electrodynamic tethers for satellite propulsion.

MiTee CubeSat Project

A Demonstration of RSPDuo Diversity Being used to Cancel Local Interference

SDRPlay have recently published a video demonstrating how the new RSPduo diversity feature in SDRUno can be used to cancel local interference.  The SDRplay RSPDuo is a 14-bit dual tuner software defined radio capable of tuning between 1 kHz - 2 GHz. It's defining feature is that it has two receivers in one radio, which should allow for interesting phase coherent applications such as diversity. The RSPDuo's diversity feature allows us to either combine two antenna signals together for an up to 3 dB increase, or for removal of an unwanted noise source via subtraction of signals.

In the video they show a broadcast AM signal that has it's SNR reduced by being on top of a local electrical noise source. The use a Bonito Mega-dipole on tuner 1, and a Bonito Mini-whip on tuner 2. The Mini-whip appears to receive the local interference stronger, so can be subtracted away from the Mega-dipole's signal with the diversity function. The result is improved SNR, and the noise is almost entirely cancelled.

There are 2 very practical applications for diversity software. The first is MRC (Maximum Ratio Combination) Diversity which, in order to be effective, needs two antennas presenting the same signal with some degree of diversity. Then there is this second impressive application which is becoming more and more useful due to the growing number of domestic sources of interference.

This is possible in an RSPduo, due to the coherent nature of the combined tuner streams being presented to the computer for processing.

Using Diversity in SDRplay's SDRuno to Cancel Local Interference

Slow Scan Moon Bounce Event for 50th Anniversary of the Moon landing

Fifty years ago Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the moon. This weekend on June 20th and 21st 2019 Amateur Radio operators at the [PI9CAM] team have been transmitting Slow-Scan Television images in commemoration of this historic event at the Dwingeloo radio astronomy station in the Netherlands. This station is the oldest rotatable 25-meter radio telescope in the world. 

 Dwingeloo radio astronomy station
Dwingeloo radio astronomy station
An EME SSTV Image
An EME SSTV Image

Slow-Scan Television is a method often employed by ham radio operators to send photos over radio waves. You may be familiar with this from some of our previous articles on the SSTV event held by ARISS for the International Space Station.

Station [S1NDP] has previously sent slow-scan EME images between the PI9CAM team and himself. These images can potentially be heard by anyone within line-of-site with the moon during the operation of this event.

The team transmit in the 23cm band at a frequency of 1296.11 MHz, according to the ARRL even a 2.5 to 3meter dish should be enough for reception assuming you have a 23cm feed for your dish. It will be interesting to see what photos are heard by the end of this event.