Category: RTL-SDR

A Homemade Boat Computer with RTL-SDR for Weather Fax, NavTex and more

Over on Hackaday we've seen a post about [mgrouch]'s "boat computer" which consists of a Raspberry Pi 4, HDMI display, and a whole slew of sensors and receivers useful for a marine environment including an RTL-SDR.

The built in equipment includes a GNSS receiver, orientation sensors, AIS receiver, 4G and WiFi, lightning EMI sensor and alarm, optional autopilot integration, rudder angle sensor, connections to boat instruments like wind, depth, speed, temperature, barometric and humidity sensors, an Iridium receiver, and finally an RTL-SDR for receiving weather fax, NavTex, satellite weather, AIS, RTL 433, morse code and more. It really is an "all-in-one" device.

His blog post explains in detail how each of the components work in the system, and in particular for the RTL-SDR he shows how you can use the boat computer to receive FM via GQRX, and NavTex via the Java based Frisnit Navtex decoder. Navtex is a marine radio service that transmits at 518 kHz or 490 kHz. It provides text data regarding weather forecasts, weather warnings, navigational information, and urgent maritime safety messages. For his antenna he writes that he uses a 10 kHz - 30 MHz Mini Whip antenna that he purchased on Aliexpress.

mgrouch's Boat Computer with RTL-SDR
mgrouch's Boat Computer with RTL-SDR

A Comprehensive Lab Comparison between Multiple Software Defined Radios

Librespace, who are the people behind the open hardware/source SatNOGS satellite ground station project have recently released a comprehensive paper (pdf) that compares multiple software defined radios available on the market in a realistic laboratory based signal environment. The testing was performed by Alexandru Csete (@csete) who is the programmer behind GQRX and Gpredict and Sheila Christiansen (@astro_sheila) who is a Space Systems Engineer at Alexandru's company AC Satcom. Their goal was to evaluate multiple SDRs for use in SatNOGS ground stations and other satellite receiving applications. 

The SDRs tested include the RTL-SDR Blog V3, Airspy Mini, SDRplay RSPduo, LimeSDR Mini, BladeRF 2.0 Micro, Ettus USRP B210 and the PlutoSDR. In their tests they measure the noise figure, dynamic range, RX/TX spectral purity, TX power output and transmitter modulation error ratio of each SDR in various satellite bands from VHF to C-band.

The paper is an excellent read, however the results are summarized below. In terms of noise figure, the SDRplay RSPduo with it's built in LNA performed the best, with all other SDRs apart from the LimeSDR being similar. The LimeSDR had the worst noise figure by a large margin.

In terms of dynamic range, the graphs below show the maximum input power of a blocking signal that the receivers can tolerate vs. different noise figures at 437 MHz. They write that this gives a good indication of which devices have the highest dynamic range at any given noise figure. The results show that when the blocking signal is at the smallest 5 kHz spacing the RSPduo has poorest dynamic range by a significant margin, but improves significantly at the 100 kHz and 1 MHz spacings. The other SDRs all varied in performance between the different blocking signal separation spacings.

Overall the PlutoSDR seems to perform quite well, with the LimeSDR performing rather poorly in most tests among other problems like the NF being sensitive to touching the enclosure, and the matching network suspected as being broken on both their test units. The owner of Airspy noted that performance may look poor in these tests as the testers used non-optimized Linux drivers, instead of the optimized Windows drivers and software, so there is no oversampling, HDR or IF Filtering enabled. The RSPduo performs very well in most tests, but very poorly in the 5 kHz spacing test.

The rest of the paper covers the TX parameters, and we highly recommend going through and comparing the individual result graphs from each SDR test if you want more information and results from tests at different frequencies. The code and recorded data can also be found on the projects Gitlab page at https://gitlab.com/librespacefoundation/sdrmakerspace/sdreval.

YouLoop Batch 2 Available for Pre-Order: Estimated Shipping in One Week

A few days ago we posted about our release of the first batch of YouLoop passive HF/VHF loop antenna kits. We underestimated the demand and sold out of kits in less than a day! We now have a second batch currently being manufactured and it should be ready to ship out in about a week from now (late March/early April).

You can currently pre-order this item from our store, and we will ship it out as soon as the stock hits the shelves on our warehouse. For this product we are focusing on non-US customers and US customers can purchase locally from airspy.us. Though we will still fulfill US orders if you want to order from us instead.

If you are interested in further information, search YouLoop on Twitter to see a bunch of new tweets about people talking about and demonstrating this antenna design.

YouLoop Portable Passive Magnetic Loop Antenna for HF and VHF
YouLoop Portable Passive Magnetic Loop Antenna for HF and VHF

Creating an APRS I-Gate and Digipeater with Baofeng and RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube ModernHam has uploaded a video showing how to create an APRS I-Gate and Digipeater with Baofeng and RTL-SDR. He also makes use of a Raspberry Pi as the computing module and an audio cable to connect the Baofeng to the audio jack of the Pi. The tutorial then consists of a walk through of the various software setup steps, and finally how to connect the Baofeng and RTL-SDR to the Pi.

If you weren't already aware, Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is a digital VHF mode used in amateur radio. It allows for packets of data to be sent to receiving nodes over a local area via RF. Typical uses for it are vehicle tracking, weather station telemetry, text messages, announcements and other wireless device telemetry like high altitude balloons. An I-Gate is an internet connected node which receives local APRS RF signals and uploads them to the internet, to be seen on sites like aprs.fi. TX capable I-Gates may also broadcast to the local RF network messages from APRS transmitters on the other side of the world.

APRS I-Gate and Digipeater with Baofeng and RTL-SDR

DragonOS: Debian Linux with Preinstalled Open Source SDR Software

Thank you to Aaron for submitting news about his latest project called "DragonOS" which he's been working on while in COVID-19 lock down. DragonOS is a Debian Linux based operating system which comes with many open source software defined radio programs pre-installed. It supports SDRs like the RTL-SDR, HackRF and LimeSDR.

Aaron's video below shows how to set up DragonOS in a VirtualBox, and he has two other videos on his channel showing how to set up ADS-B reception with Kismet, and how to run GR-RDS in GNURadio. He aims to continue with more tutorial videos that make use of the software installed on DragonOS in the near future.

DragonOS 10 Installer (download in description)

Screenshot of the GR-RDS Tutorial

RTL-SDR AIS Android App Now with Waterfall Display for Frequency Offset Tuning

Thank you to Christian, author of the RTL-SDR AIS Android App for letting us know that he's updated his app and it now includes a waterfall display for tuning the AIS frequency. Tuning the AIS frequency is not required on higher end RTL-SDR dongles that come with a TCXO (Temperature Compensated Oscillator), but cheaper RTL-SDRs will have significant frequency offsets that will require the offset to be determined after a few minutes of warm up time. The easiest way to do this is with a waterfall display as that allows you to tune the frequency manually.

AIS stands for Automatic Identification System and is used by ships to broadcast their GPS locations in order to help avoid collisions and aide with rescues. An RTL-SDR with the right software can be used to receive and decode these signals, and plot ship positions on a map.

RTL SDR AIS Driver App PPM

YouLoop Portable Passive HF/VHF Loop Antenna now Available in our Store

We have recently been able to obtain a small number of YouLoop HF/VHF portable receive only passive antennas that were produced by the owner of Airspy. The YouLoop is available in our store priced at US$34.95 including free worldwide shipping. It comes with the balun "tee" connector, coax inverter, 2x 1m semi-rigid coax cables for a ~60cm loop, and 1x 2m semi-rigid coax for the feedline. Note that US customers may wish to purchase from airspy.us as they have local US stock. We are focusing on non-US orders for this product and we only have very limited stock at the moment - UPDATE: Now out of stock. We have reordered more and should be back in stock by end of March.

YouLoop Portable Passive Magnetic Loop Antenna for HF and VHF
YouLoop Portable Passive Magnetic Loop Antenna for HF and VHF

If you don't know what a "YouLoop" is, it is a simple passive magnetic loop antenna design which consists of a ring of coax cable and a low loss 1:1 or 4:1 balun. The design was recently popularized by Youssef (prog) the owner of Airspy, and he has put up a page explaining how the design works here. Many users on Twitter have been reporting good results with HF reception with the design. It appears to be especially useful in urban environments where there is lots of local noise.

Being passive, it has no amplification and so it works best with a low noise SDR like an Airspy HF+. However we have also found decent results with SDRplay SDRs, and a standard RTL-SDR Blog V3 running in direct sampling mode, although RTL AGC mode needs to be turned on for an extra boost. Improved results can be obtained by using a low cost HF amplifier on the front end, and even our wideband LNA which is advertised as working down to 50 MHz still does actually give a decent boost from 5 MHz and up.

Also the design has some advantages in that it has very low electrical interference pickup, and has no electronics that can overload from signals that are too strong. Overloading from strong signals is something that can easily affect cheap magnetic loop antennas like the MLA-30, and even higher end loop antennas too. Being a magnetic loop, it also naturally filters out electric field interference which is extremely common in urban environments, and is the reason why e-field antennas like miniwhips often perform poorly.  

The antenna is designed to be extremely portable, being lightweight and easy to assemble/disassemble. As such it is not designed to be weatherproof, so if you do decide to mount it permanently please make use of weatherproofing tape.

Unlike fixed magnetic loops, the YouLoop design is also easy to experiment with. By using longer coax cables you can easily create a larger loop which can result in stronger signals. We found that replacing the 1m loop cables with 2m lengths gave quite nice results for us. If you have the space you could try even larger loops too. 

The design also doubles as a great VHF antenna with reception up to 300 MHz possible when used in a folded dipole configuration. To do that, simply flatten the loop into a dipole shape.

Finally, if you prefer the YouLoop can also be constructed by yourself. The Twitter post below shows the basic design. Search Twitter for "YouLoop antenna" for more discussion on the design too.

In the future we hope to offer a comparison between other loop antennas like the MLA-30 and Wellbrook.

UFO Tracking Network using RTL-SDRs to Rule out False Positives from Commercial Aircraft

The Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Tracking Network (UAPTN) is an effort to set up crowd sourced Raspberry Pi powered cameras all over the world in order to record videos of "unidentified aerial phenomena" AKA UFOs. In order to rule out false positives from known aircraft, they are recommending that contributors install a FlightAware RTL-SDR in their system for aircraft tracking. 

For this purpose doing your own ADS-B flight tracking would be required as most commercial flight tracking sites censor military and private jets. The only site that does not censor data is ADS-B Exchange. However, of course military aircraft conducting operations are always able to turn ADS-B off if required for the mission which is what the UAP network will probably detect the most. 

If UFO tracking does not interest you, then you might instead be interested in creating a RTL-SDR based GhostBox to talk to spirits!