Category: News

SDRTrunk 0.4.0 Alpha 9 Updates Highlighted

You may recall that a few years ago we released a tutorial on how to set up and use [SDRTrunk]. Fast forward a few years and the software has seen numerous changes. This application was designed primarily for tracking trunking radio systems but also has the ability to decode things like MDC-1200, LoJack and more.

The software is compatible with many Software Defined Radios such as our RTL-SDR v3, HackRF and the Airspy. Some of the newer improvements include a bundled copy of java so that an installation of java is not required on the host computer, as well as decoding improvements for P25 among other digital voice modes. You can find a full list of improvements along with the latest release on [GitHub]

The biggest feature many have been waiting for is the ability to import talk groups for their radio system into the application from radio reference. While this has not yet been implemented, user [Twilliamson3] has created a [web application] that will convert table data from radio reference into a format that is supported by SDRTrunk.

SDRTrunk Screenshot
SDRTrunk Screenshot

GNU Radio 3.8.0.0 Released – First Minor Release Version in Six Years

GNU Radio is an open source digital signal processing (DSP) toolkit which is often used to implement decoders, demodulators and various other SDR algorithms. Several SDR programs are based on GNU Radio code, and it is responsible for a lot of DSP development and knowledge within the SDR and radio community. It is compatible with almost all SDR devices, including the RTL-SDR.

Recently GNU Radio has been updated to version 3.8.0.0. The release is classed as the first "minor" release version in six years, as they are going from version 3.7 to 3.8. That doesn't mean there have been no changes for six years, it just means that over the last six years all releases have remained within the 3.7 version and they have mostly been bug fixes rather than larger changes like added features. Behind the scenes over the last six years developers have been working on these larger changes, and now is the time that they have been officially released.

Marcus Müller from GNU Radio writes:

Witness me!

Tonight, we release GNU Radio 3.8.0.0.

It’s the first minor release version since more than six years, not without pride this community stands to face the brightest future SDR on general purpose hardware ever had.

Since we’ve not been documenting changes in the shape of a Changelog for the whole of the development that happened since GNU Radio 3.7.0, I’m afraid that these release notes will be more of a GLTL;DR (git log too long; didn’t read) than a detailed account of what has changed.

What has not changed is the fact that GNU Radio is centered around a very simple truth:

Let the developers hack on DSP. Software interfaces are for humans, not the other way around.

And so, compared to the later 3.7 releases, nothing has fundamentally modified the way one develops signal processing systems with GNU Radio: You write blocks, and you combine blocks to be part of a larger signal processing flow graph.

With that as a success story, we of course have faced quite a bit of change in the systems we use to develop and in the people that develop GNU Radio. This has lead to several changes that weren’t compatible with 3.7.

The changelog is too long to quote here, but as a summary they have fixed bugs, updated dependencies to newer versions, enabled C++ code generation, changed XML to YAML, moved from QT4 to QT5 and removed a few stale projects. Some of these changes could break compatibility with older GNU Radio tutorials and programs. It also seems that unfortunately due to a lack of updates, support for the Funcube Dongle has been removed.

SignalsEverywhere 10,000 Subscriber Interactive Live Stream with Giveaways on August 10 12PM EST

The SignalsEverywhere YouTube channel is quickly growing in size, and has recently passed the 10,000 subscriber milestone. If you weren't aware, Corrosive (aka KR0SIV aka Harold) who runs the channel has been consistently putting out high quality videos related to the software defined radio hobby. He's also started a podcast which also covers some interesting topics.

Some Recent SignalsEverywhere YouTube Videos
Some Recent SignalsEverywhere YouTube Videos

To celebrate hitting the 10,000 subscriber mark, Harold is planning an interactive 6 hour+ YouTube live stream which will begin on Saturday August 10 12PM EST time (11 hours from the time of this post)If you want to be automatically reminded of the stream, go to the live stream place holder, and click on set reminder.

The stream will be interactive as he is planning on setting up several SpyServer's that will be running across the HF, VHF, UHF and L-Bands. This will allow the audience to use SDR# to connect to his SDRs that are being used on the stream, allowing people to follow along with what Harold is doing on the stream, and ask questions about what they are seeing.

We're also helping to sponsor his stream and will be donating 5x RTL-SDR dongle + antenna kits, 5x RTL-SDR dongles, 1x Radarbox bundle, as well as one KerberosSDR to any giveaways that he plans on doing throughout the stream.

We really like Harolds work on YouTube, and if you are a fan of the content on our RTL-SDR.COM blog, then you really should be subscribed to his channel too.

Interactive SDR Live Stream | 10K Subscriber Celebration and Giveaway!

Creating Wide Area Composite Images with WXtoIMG + Weather Satellite Failure Updates

With so many independent people receiving weather satellite images from the NOAA satellites daily, an interesting collaborative task is to stitch these images together to create a wide area composite image. Fortunately the WXtoIMG software already has stitching as a feature.

Over on his website "dodgem37" has created a tutorial explaining how to use WXtoIMG to stitch together multiple NOAA weather satellite images that have been uploaded to individuals websites. As well as the tutorial he has created a table of people's websites that contain recent and the required "pristine" processed images that can be used for stitching.

NOAA Weather Satellite Composite by Jeff Kelly (New Jersey, US), Mike Kimzey (Philadelphia, US), David Kunz (San Francisco, US), Cornelius Danielsen (Norway), Alan Hinton (UK), Michael Sørensen (Denmark), and Hans-Juergen Luethje (Germany).
NOAA Weather Satellite Composite created with images from Jeff Kelly (New Jersey, US), Mike Kimzey (Philadelphia, US), David Kunz (San Francisco, US), Cornelius Danielsen (Norway), Alan Hinton (UK), Michael Sørensen (Denmark), and Hans-Juergen Luethje (Germany).

Weather Satellite Failure Updates

We also wanted to provide a brief update on some weather satellites that we RTL-SDR users often receive.

NOAA 15: About two weeks ago NOAA 15 failed and was producing glitched images. However after a few days it came right again, only to have failed again at the end of last month. It appears that the camera scanning motor is getting stuck due to being low on lubricant as the satellite is now well past it's intended life cycle at 11 years old. If you're interested, some info on how the camera on these satellites works can be found here. There is currently no plan for a fix, the only hope is to wait and see if the motor unsticks.

Meteor M2-1: Meteor M2-1 has also recently suffered problems yet again with it's orientation control, and we're regularly seeing off-axis or distorted images that show the curvature of the earth. Over the weekend it was turned off, and should be reset this week. This problem seems to occur and be fixed often, so hopefully it will be back online soon.

Meteor M2-2: The recently launched Meteor M2-2 is functional, but it is still in the testing phase, so is sometimes being turned off. Do not be alarmed if no signal is received sometimes.

GOES-17: GOES-17 is reported to be experiencing problems with it's infrared camera due to a blocked heatpipe, however it appears that they are able to work around this issue and obtain 97% uptime.

A Distorted Meteor M2-1 Image from R4UAB Blog.
A Distorted Meteor M2-1 Image from R4UAB Blog.

Weather Satellite NOAA 15 Appears to have Failed (Again)

Back in April 2018 we posted how the NOAA-15 APT weather satellite that many RTL-SDR users enjoy receiving images from was having problems with it's scan motor resulting in image errors. The satellite recovered from that problem, but today the problem appears to be back and in a much worse way now.

Users on Reddit and Twitter have reported bad images coming in from NOAA 15. Over on Reddit u/rtlsdr_is_fun has provided a post showing an example of a corrupted image, and also provided an IQ and Audio file. On his blog [Karsey] has also posted some interesting looking corrupted images that he's received.

Corrupted NOAA-15 Image Received by [Karsey]
Corrupted NOAA-15 Image Received by [Karsey] (See his post for the full sized images)

NASA have put out a statement indicating that yet again it is a problem with the scan motor, and the problem could be permanent.

The NOAA-15 AVHRR Scan Motor current began showing signs of instability at approximately 0400Z on July 23, 2019. At about 0435Z the current rose sharply to about 302mA where it has remained. Scan motor temperature began rising about the same time and is currently steady at ~26M-0C. Black body temperatures dropped sharply at about the same time. The instrument appears to no longer be producing data.
This behavior is consistent with a scan motor stall, but requires further investigation. Options for recovery are limited.

Having been launched in 1998 with a minimum spec of 2 years operation, NOAA-15 has already well outlived it's time and may finally be failing for real. We hope it will recover, but if not we should be thankful that Russian weather satellite Meteor M2-2 is now fully operational and transmitting beautiful high resolution images.

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.

Raspberry Pi 4 Released: Improvements to CPU, Networking, USB, RAM and more

The Raspberry Pi is the most popular credit sized computing board in the world. It is commonly used as a low cost and portable computing platform for SDRs like the RTL-SDR. Today the Raspberry Pi 4 was released, bringing us a new US$35 single board computer with many improvements. Some of the main improvements that make the Pi 4 great for software defined radios are listed below:

CPU: The Pi 4 uses a Quad-Core Broadcom ARM A72 clocked at 1.5 GHz. This chip should be significantly faster compared to the older chip used on the Pi3B+ with performance now being similar to that of the Tinkerboard. This will be especially useful for CPU intensive SDR applications like the direction finding and passive radar software for our coherent 4-tuner RTL-SDR known as the KerberosSDR. It should also help allow OpenWebRX servers to serve more simultaneous users, allow graphical programs like GQRX to run smoother, and allow for higher sample rates on higher end SDRs.

GPU: The new faster GPU should help graphical SDR programs run smoother.

RAM: The Pi 4 comes with three RAM options, either 1GB, 2GB or 4GB of RAM. The versions with more RAM will be great for memory intensive applications such as GNU Radio (and compiling GNU Radio). It will also allow more programs to run in the background, and perhaps combined with the improved CPU speed allow for multiple SDRs to be used on demanding tasks.

Networking: The Pi 4 finally support Gigabit Ethernet which will be very useful to people using the board as an SDR server over the internet.

USB: There are now two USB 3.0 ports available which means that USB 3.0 SDRs like the LimeSDR could in theory be used at higher sample rates on the Pi 4.

There are also many other improvements such as dual 4K HDMI ports, a USB-C power supply port and faster SD card transfers.

Raspberry Pi 4 Improvements
Raspberry Pi 4 Improvements

It is not yet known if the very useful Raspberry Pi specific software known as RPiTX will continue to function on the new Pi 4. RPiTX is software that turns Raspberry Pi units into fully functional RF transmitters without the need for any additional transmitting hardware - just attach an antenna wire to a GPIO pin. It works by modulating the GPIO pin in such a way to create almost any type of RF transmission. RPiTX only functions on the specific proprietary Broadcom CPU chips that the Raspberry Pi's use. The Pi 4 does continue to use a Broadcom CPU, so we are hopeful.

The new changes bring the Raspberry Pi up to speed with rivals like the Tinkerboard, but at a lower price and with a much better amount of software and OS support provided. The boards currently cost $35 for the 1GB version, $45 for the 2GB version and $55 for the 4GB version. They are sold via local resellers which can be found on the official Pi 4 product page.

SDRPlay Hamvention Demo of SDRUno and RSPDuo Diversity Features

At this years Hamvention Chris Howard from ICQ Amateur interviewed Andy at the SDRplay booth. In the interview they discuss various new features and improvements to SDRuno, the official software for SDRplay devices.

Later they also discuss the RSPduo, and the new diversity feature coming in a new version of SDRUno that is due to be released in a few weeks. The diversity feature works with the two tuners on the RSPduo to combine or subtract signals from two different antennas. Andy notes that diversity should be able to achieve a net 3dB increase in SNR, and is most useful for a moving or dynamic signal environment.

Finally Andy discusses the future development of SDRUno and notes that they're working on a plugin environment which will allow the creation of third party demod/decoders, a multiplatform server for remote SDR, and eventually cross platform drivers and SDRUno.

SDRPlay Announce Update to SDRUno and Future Plans for Software Defined Radio at Hamvention 2019