Category: RTL-SDR

A Motorized Backyard Radio Astronomy Telescope made with an RTL-SDR

A Geostationary Satellite Imaged with the RTL-SDR Based Mini Radio Telescope
A Geostationary Satellite Imaged with the RTL-SDR Based Mini Radio Telescope

Just a few days we posted an update on the PICTOR open source radio telescope project. That project makes use of an RTL-SDR and a small dish antenna to receive the Hydrogen line, and is able to measure properties of our galaxy such as determining the shape of our galaxy.

Now over on Hackaday another amateur radio telescope project has been posted, this one called the "Mini Radio Telescope" (MRT) which was made by Professor James Aguirre of the University of Pennsylvania. This project makes use of a spare Direct TV satellite dish and an RTL-SDR to make radio astronomy observations. What makes this project interesting in particular is the automatic pan and tilt rotor that is part of the design. Unlike other amateur radio telescopes, this motorized design can track the sky, and map it over time. This allows you to create actual radio images of the sky. The image on the right shows a geostationary satellite imaged with the dish.

In the past we saw a similar project by the Thought Emporium YouTube channel which used a tracking mount and a HackRF to generate images of the WiFi spectrum. This was to be a precursor to a motorized tracking mount for radio astronomy but it doesn't seem that they completed that project yet.

Professor James Aguirre 's project including designs for the rotor is fully open source and can be found over on GitHub.

The Miniature Radio Telescope Setup
The Miniature Radio Telescope Setup

An Active Low Cost HF Loop Antenna Made in the UK

Cross Country Wireless is a UK based company that has created an active HF loop antenna for only $70 USD including international shipping. The loop appears to have already been for sale for a while now, but recently they've created a new version that can be easily powered by a 5V bias tee with at least a 67 mA current capacity. This makes it very easy to use with radios that have built in bias tee's such as our RTL-SDR Blog V3 and SDRplay and Airspy units. The page reads:

The Loop Antenna Amplifier contains all the electronics needed for home DIY construction of an active loop (magnetic loop) low noise receiving antenna.

The amplifier consists of two units, a weatherproofed outdoor unit for connection to a suitable loop and a base unit to further amplify the signal and to provide DC power up the coaxial cable to the outdoor unit.

The outdoor unit is housed in a polycarbonate box with stainless steel antenna connections and a BNC socket. The indoor unit is a PCB with two BNC connectors and a USB socket to take 5V from a USB socket on a PC or phone charger.

Like our other active antenna products it has RF overload protection to allow it to be used very close to transmit antennas without damaging the amplifier or the attached receiver.

The loop depends on what the user has available. We have tested it with simple wire loops or deltas, coax loops and an alloy loop made from a bicycle wheel rim. We supply a 3m (10 ft) length of wire as a simple loop to make a first loop for testing.

The photograph on the right shows the prototype with a 1m diameter loop of LDF4-50 coax cable as a test loop.

With a simple wire loop or delta and a small USB powerbank it makes a very compact and portable receiving antenna for holiday listening or covert use.

The latest version can now have the head unit powered directly from receivers with a 5V bias-tee such as the SDRplay receivers or some RTL-SDR dongle receivers with a bias-tee option.

Specifications:

  • Frequency range: 10 kHz to 30 MHz
  • Loop amplifier input impedance: 0.3 ohms
  • Output impedance: 50 ohms
  • Supply voltage: 5 V from USB socket or charger
  • Supply current (head and base unit): 112 mA
  • Supply current (head unit fed with 5V bias-tee): 67 mA
  • Loop antenna outdoor unit connectors: Two M6 stainless steel threaded studs and BNC female (RF out 50 ohms)

There is no comparison yet that we've seen on how this loop compares against the cheaper US$45 Chinese made MLA-30 loop. In a previous post Martin (G8JNJ) reviewed the MLA-30 and noted several design flaws after reverse engineering the circuit. He has let us know that he will also be reviewing the Cross Country Wireless Active Loop and will let us know his thoughts in the future.

Cross Country Wireless Loop
Cross Country Wireless Loop

Cross Country Wireless Loop Antenna Amplifier VLF test with 1m diameter coax loop

Updates on the PICTOR Low Cost Open Source Radio Telescope Based on RTL-SDR

Back in July we posted about PICTOR, an open source and RTL-SDR based radio telescope project. The owner of the project recently wrote in and wanted to share some updates. His text is below:

A few months ago, PICTOR was launched. PICTOR is a free to use open source radio telescope that allows anyone to observe the sky in the 1300~1700 MHz range at any time via the easy-to-use online platform.

The goal of this effort is to introduce students, educators, astronomers and others to the majesty of the radio sky, promoting radio astronomy education, without the need of building a large and expensive radio telescope. 

Since the initial launch, PICTOR has gotten lots of updates and improvements, particularly in the software backend, providing more data to the users, using advanced techniques to increase the signal-to-noise ratio by calibrating spectra and mitigating radio frequency interference (RFI) (if present).

Here is an example observation with PICTOR, clearly showing the detection of 3 hydrogen-dense regions corresponding to 3 unique spiral arms in the Milky Way!

Graphs from the PICTOR RTL-SDR Radio Telescope showing the 3 unique spiral arms in the Milky Way.
Graphs from the PICTOR RTL-SDR Radio Telescope showing the 3 unique spiral arms in the Milky Way.

If you’re new to radio-astronomy, the developer of PICTOR has provided a PDF including some introductory radio astronomy information and instructions on how to observe the radio sky with PICTOR: https://www.pictortelescope.com/Observing_the_radio_sky_with_PICTOR.pdf

Using an RTL-SDR to Investigate GPS Interference Problems on Drones Caused By HD Cameras

Over on YouTube Drone and Model Aircraft enthusiast channel Paweł Spychalski has uploaded a video showing how he determined that cheap HD cameras that are commonly used on hobbyist drones can cause locking issues with the on board GPS. He writes:

You might believe it or not (today I will prove it, however) that HD cameras, especially cheap ones, can be responsible for GPS problems on your drones and model airplanes. The majority of HD cameras (RunCam Split, Runcam Split Mini, Foxeer Mix, Caddx Tarsier) generate RF noise on different frequencies. Some of them on 433MHz, some on 900MHz, but most of them also at around 1GHz. Just where one of the frequencies used by GPS signal sits. As a result, many GPS modules are reported to have problems getting a fix when the HD camera is running.

In the video he uses an RTL-SDR and SDR# to demonstrate the interference that shows up when a cheap HD camera is turned on. He shows how the interference is present at almost all frequencies from the ISM band frequencies commonly used for control and telemetry to the 1.5 GHz GPS frequencies.

GPS vs HD cameras - it's all about RF noise

L-Band Patch Antenna Set Preorder Sale Ending Soon – Shipping Begins Next Week

Just a heads up that the preorder sale on our new L-Band Patch antenna set will be ending October 21 as we are almost ready to ship the units out. After the preorder sale ends the pricing will rise from $34.95 to $39.95 USD.

PREORDER PRICING: 34.95 USD incl. free shipping.
PREORDER ENDS OCTOBER 21!

Please see our store to preorder the unit.

Preorder has now ended and shipping will begin shortly. Thank you!

The product is a ready to use active patch antenna set that is designed to receive L-Band satellites such as Inmarsat, Iridium and GPS. It is enclosed in a waterproof plastic case, and can easily be mounted to a window using the provided suction cup and 2M coax extension cable. It can also be mounted to almost anything else using the included flexible tripod legs, or if you prefer, use the standard 1/4" camera screw hole to connect it to any mount that you like.

The antenna is powered via 3.3V - 5V bias tee power, so any bias tee capable SDR such as our RTL-SDR Blog V3 can be used to power it.

In terms of performance see our previous post that announced the product for sample screenshots and reception tips.

The RTL-SDR Blog L-Band Satellite Patch Antenna Set
The RTL-SDR Blog L-Band Satellite Patch Antenna Set
Inmarsat Reception
Iridium Reception

Using a LimeSDR and RTL-SDR to Transfer a Text File Over the Air

Over on his blog nuclearrambo has been working on a project that uses a LimeSDR and RTL-SDR to transfer a small CSV text file over the air.

The transmitting side consists of a GNU Radio flowchart that encodes the text file into a binary string, modulates that binary string with Binary Phase Shift Keying (BPSK), and then transmits it using the LimeSDR.

The receiving side uses an RTL-SDR, and is based on another GNU Radio flowgraph that uses a polyphase clock sync block to synchronize the sampling time, a costas loop for fine frequency correction, an LMS DD equalizer block to compensate for multipath effects, and finally demodulation blocks that recover the bits and text file from the BPSK signal.

His results showed that he can almost recover the entire file except for the first few bytes of data which is always lost since it takes time for the clock sync and costas loop block to converge. The post goes into further detail about what each of the blocks do and some of the signal theory math behind everything. The GNU Radio GRC file is also provided if you want to try it out yourself.

LimeSDR Transmitting a CSV file to a RTL-SDR with BPSK modulation.
LimeSDR Transmitting a CSV file to a RTL-SDR with BPSK modulation.

SignalsEverywhere: Testing out NooElecs PCB L-Band Patch Antenna

Over on his YouTube channel Corrosive from the SignalsEverywhere YouTube channel has uploaded a video where he tests out the new US$29.95 NooElec PCB patch antenna for receiving L-band satellite signals. In the video he shows how it can be combined with one of their SAWBird L-band low noise amplifiers in order to receive L-band satellite signals such as Inmarsat STD-C and AERO.

We note that our own RTL-SDR Blog Active L-band patch antenna will be ready to ship out before the end of this month, and while waiting for it we are currently having a preorder sale for US$34.95 including free shipping over on our store. For US$34.95 our patch antenna is fully contained in a waterproof enclosure, includes an LNA built in, and comes with several mounting options, so we believe that it is really a great deal. The patch design is based on the Outernet ceramic patch that was compared against the NooElec PCB patch shown in Corrosives video, so performance will be very similar.

Nooelec NEW Inmarsat Patch Antenna with Airspy SDR

SDR in the Local Newspaper: Investigating an RF Dead Spot for Car Key Fobs

Reddit user [SDR_LumberJack] writes how he was recently featured in his local newspaper [Part2] in Ontario, Canada thanks to his efforts in helping to hunt down the cause of an RF deadspot with an SDR. He began his journey by reading a story in his local newspaper called the [Windsor Star]. The story was about locals having found a ‘dead-spot’ for car key-fobs. In the dead-spot key-less cars wouldn’t start, key-fobs wouldn’t unlock cars, and alarms would go off.

Being intrigued by the story [SDR_LumberJack] investigated by driving around with an RTL-SDR, HackRF and a laptop running SDR#. Eventually he found that there was what appeared to be a WBFM Broadcast radio station interfering at 315 MHz. This frequency happens to fall into the ISM radio band that used by car remotes and key-fobs. The exact source of the interference hasn’t been nailed down just yet though.

While it’s possible a broadcast station is at fault it is also possible that his SDR was just overloading, causing broadcast FM imaging. Perhaps a WBFM filter could be used to prevent signal imaging that could interfere with the investigation.

Hopefully [SDR_LumberJack] will continue his investigation and we’ll get an update on this story.

If you’re interested, back in 2016 we posted a very similar story about the exact same thing happening at a car park in Brisbane, Australia. The conclusion to that story was that the dead-spot only occurred in particular locations in the car park, and this was due to the shape of surrounding building causing the RF signals to reflect off the walls and distort the signal.

SDR_LumberJack in the local newspaper
SDR_LumberJack in the local newspaper