Category: Satellite

Outernet 3.0: Implementation Details and a 71,572km LoRa World Record

Outernet Dreamcatcher Board running with an LNB
Outernet Dreamcatcher Board running with a cheap satellite TV LNB

Outernet 3.0 is gearing up for launch soon, and just today they've released a blog post introducing us to the RF protocol technology behind the new service. If you weren't already aware, Outernet is a free satellite based information service that aims to be a sort of 'library in the sky'. Their aim to to have satellites constantly broadcasting down weather, news, books, radio, web pages, and files to everyone in the world. As it's satellite based this is censorship resistant, and useful for remote/marine areas without or with slow/capped internet access.

Originally a few years ago they started with a 12 GHz DVB-S satellites service that gave 1GB of content a day, but that service required a large dish antenna which severely hampered user adoption. Their second attempt was with an L-band service that only needed a small patch antenna. This service used RTL-SDR dongles as the receiver, so it was very cheap to set up. Unfortunately the L-band service had a very slow data rates (less than 20MB of content a day), and leasing an L-band transmitter on a satellite proved to be far too expensive for Outernet to continue with. Both these services have now been discontinued.

Outernet 3.0 aims to fix their previous issues, giving us a service that provides over 300MB of data a day, with a relatively cheap US$99 receiver that is small and easy to set up. The new receiver uses a standard Ku-Band LNB as the antenna, which is very cheaply available as they are often used for satellite TV reception. The receiver itself is a custom PCB containing a hardware (non-SDR based) receiver with a LoRa decoder.

LoRa is an RF protocol that is most often associated with small Internet of Things (IoT) devices, but Outernet have chosen it as their satellite protocol for Outernet 3.0 because it is very tolerant to interference. In Outernet 3.0 the LNB is pointed directly at the satellite without any directive satellite dish, meaning that interference from other satellites can be a problem. But LoRa solves that by being tolerant to interference. From the uplink facility to the satellite and back to their base in Chicago the LoRa signal travels 71,572 km, making it the longest LoRa signal ever transmitted.

According to notes in their forums Outernet 3.0 is going to be first available only in North America. Europe should follow shortly after, and then eventually other regions too. When ready, their 'Dreamcatcher 3.0' receiver and computing hardware is expected to be released for US$99 on their store. You can sign up for their email list on that page to be notified upon release.

Also as a bonus, for those interested in just LoRa, the Dreamcatcher 3.0 is also going to be able to transmit LoRa at frequencies anywhere between 1 MHz to 6 GHz, making it great for setting up long range LoRa links. This might be an interesting idea for hams to play with.

The Outernet 3.0 'Dreamcatcher' Receiver.
The Outernet 3.0 'Dreamcatcher' Receiver.

Receiving Satellite TV Beacons with an RTL-SDR and LNB

Thank you to an anonymous contributor for sharing his experiences with trying to receive satellite TV beacons with his RTL-SDR. Satellite TV is typically up at 10.7 to 11.7 GHz which is far too high for an RTL-SDR to receive. So to receive these frequencies with the RTL-SDR he uses a satellite TV LNB (an LNB is essentially a downconverter and satellite dish feed), a DIY Bias T and a 90 cm dish. He writes:

Almost all television satellites have a special frequency for transmitting a beacon signal. The beacon signal is a reference signal with fixed frequency, power and [maybe] without modulation that is sent usually by satellites. One of the most important techniques used for satellite wave propagation studies is satellite beacon signal measurement. (http://eej.aut.ac.ir/article_433.html)

I used an universal LNB, DIY bias-T and a fixed 90cm dish pointed at 26 degrees East. By connecting 18 volts DC to LNB I am able to activate the 9750 Mhz local oscillator and horizontal operating mode of LNB.

Means that anything received with LNB between 10.7-11.7 GHz can be easily seen in 950-1950 MHz range, using RTL-SDR.

I used this set-up to receive the GEO satellites beacons. A list of beacon frequencies" http://frequencyplansatellites.altervista.org/Beacon-Telemetry_Europe-Africa-MiddleEast.html.

It is useful for measuring attenuation caused by heavy rain in Ku band or accurate dish positioning or even measuring frequency drift in LNB local oscillator caused by wind and temp change during a timespan.

It seems that the right signal is Eutelsat 21B and left Es'hail 1.

In picture 4 signal captured immediately after turning on LNB. but all others are captured after at least 5 hours of warming up.

MAYBE oscillator needs a stabilize time or temp change may caused the drift.

If you are interested in receiving these beacons, Daniel Estevez has also performed similar experiments with his RTL-SDR and an LNB as well, and has written about it on his blog.

Below we show some images of beacons shown in SDR# that the anonymous contributor received with his setup.

sattv_beacon_3
sattv_beacon_4
eutelsat-21b-beacon-zoomed-in
signal-drifted-after-1-hour-passed

Outernet 3.0: Implementation Details and a 71,572km LoRa World Record

Outernet Dreamcatcher Board running with an LNB
Outernet Dreamcatcher Board running with a cheap satellite TV LNB

Outernet 3.0 is gearing up for launch soon, and just today they've released a blog post introducing us to the RF protocol technology behind the new service. If you weren't already aware, Outernet is a free satellite based information service that aims to be a sort of 'library in the sky'. Their aim to to have satellites constantly broadcasting down weather, news, books, radio, web pages, and files to everyone in the world. As it's satellite based this is censorship resistant, and useful for remote/marine areas without or with slow/capped internet access.

Originally a few years ago they started with a 12 GHz DVB-S satellites service that gave 1GB of content a day, but that service required a large dish antenna which severely hampered user adoption. Their second attempt was with an L-band service that only needed a small patch antenna. This service used RTL-SDR dongles as the receiver, so it was very cheap to set up. Unfortunately the L-band service had a very slow data rates (less than 20MB of content a day), and leasing an L-band transmitter on a satellite proved to be far too expensive for Outernet to continue with. Both these services have now been discontinued.

Outernet 3.0 aims to fix their previous issues, giving us a service that provides over 300MB of data a day, with a relatively cheap US$99 receiver that is small and easy to set up. The new receiver uses a standard Ku-Band LNB as the antenna, which is very cheaply available as they are often used for satellite TV reception. The receiver itself is a custom PCB containing a hardware (non-SDR based) receiver with a LoRa decoder.

LoRa is an RF protocol that is most often associated with small Internet of Things (IoT) devices, but Outernet have chosen it as their satellite protocol for Outernet 3.0 because it is very tolerant to interference. In Outernet 3.0 the LNB is pointed directly at the satellite without any directive satellite dish, meaning that interference from other satellites can be a problem. But LoRa solves that by being tolerant to interference. From the uplink facility to the satellite and back to their base in Chicago the LoRa signal travels 71,572 km, making it the longest LoRa signal ever transmitted.

According to notes in their forums Outernet 3.0 is going to be first available only in North America. Europe should follow shortly after, and then eventually other regions too. When ready, their 'Dreamcatcher 3.0' receiver and computing hardware is expected to be released for US$99 on their store. You can sign up for their email list on that page to be notified upon release.

Also as a bonus, for those interested in just LoRa, the Dreamcatcher 3.0 is also going to be able to transmit LoRa at frequencies anywhere between 1 MHz to 6 GHz, making it great for setting up long range LoRa links. This might be an interesting idea for hams to play with.

The Outernet 3.0 'Dreamcatcher' Receiver.
The Outernet 3.0 'Dreamcatcher' Receiver.

Receiving Satellite TV Beacons with an RTL-SDR and LNB

Thank you to an anonymous contributor for sharing his experiences with trying to receive satellite TV beacons with his RTL-SDR. Satellite TV is typically up at 10.7 to 11.7 GHz which is far too high for an RTL-SDR to receive. So to receive these frequencies with the RTL-SDR he uses a satellite TV LNB (an LNB is essentially a downconverter and satellite dish feed), a DIY Bias T and a 90 cm dish. He writes:

Almost all television satellites have a special frequency for transmitting a beacon signal. The beacon signal is a reference signal with fixed frequency, power and [maybe] without modulation that is sent usually by satellites. One of the most important techniques used for satellite wave propagation studies is satellite beacon signal measurement. (http://eej.aut.ac.ir/article_433.html)

I used an universal LNB, DIY bias-T and a fixed 90cm dish pointed at 26 degrees East. By connecting 18 volts DC to LNB I am able to activate the 9750 Mhz local oscillator and horizontal operating mode of LNB.

Means that anything received with LNB between 10.7-11.7 GHz can be easily seen in 950-1950 MHz range, using RTL-SDR.

I used this set-up to receive the GEO satellites beacons. A list of beacon frequencies" http://frequencyplansatellites.altervista.org/Beacon-Telemetry_Europe-Africa-MiddleEast.html.

It is useful for measuring attenuation caused by heavy rain in Ku band or accurate dish positioning or even measuring frequency drift in LNB local oscillator caused by wind and temp change during a timespan.

It seems that the right signal is Eutelsat 21B and left Es'hail 1.

In picture 4 signal captured immediately after turning on LNB. but all others are captured after at least 5 hours of warming up.

MAYBE oscillator needs a stabilize time or temp change may caused the drift.

If you are interested in receiving these beacons, Daniel Estevez has also performed similar experiments with his RTL-SDR and an LNB as well, and has written about it on his blog.

Below we show some images of beacons shown in SDR# that the anonymous contributor received with his setup.

sattv_beacon_3
sattv_beacon_4
eutelsat-21b-beacon-zoomed-in
signal-drifted-after-1-hour-passed

Improving HRPT Reception + A Free HRPT Decoder

Back in December Tysonpower showed us  how he was able to receive HRPT weather satellite images with a 80cm and 1.2m satellite dish, LNA and Airspy Mini. 

If you didn't already know, HRPT signals are a little different to the more commonly received NOAA APT or Meteor M2 LRPT images which most readers may be more familiar with. HRPT images are more difficult to receive as they are broadcast in the L-band at about 1.7 GHz and so receiving them requires a dish antenna (or high gain Yagi antenna), L-band dish feed, LNA and a high bandwidth SDR such as an Airspy Mini. The result is a high resolution and uncompressed image with several more color channels compared to APT and LRPT images.

In the last video Tysonpower was successful with receiving HRPT images with his setup. But recently over on his YouTube channel and on his blog Tysonpower has shown how he has improved his HRPT reception by first optimizing the feed and adding in a copper matching line which helps improve the impedance matching of the feed. He also added an L-Band filter tuned to the HRPT signal which he notes made the biggest improvement, and he also moved all the components into a watertight box for permanent outdoor mounting. With these changes he's now able to consistently pull in some very nice imagery. All the images are still received by hand tracking the satellite dish as the satellite passes over, but he notes that he plans to experiment with motorized trackers in the future.

Note that the video shown below is narrated in German, but English subtitles are provided if you turn on YouTube captions.

A sample HRPT image received by Tysonpower.
A sample HRPT image received by Tysonpower.

In addition to the above Tysonpower also writes that he has created a free HRPT decoder for the HRPT signals originating from NOAA satellites. He writes regarding HRPT decoders:

I found it quite complicated to find a decoder for HRPT when i started and there is still no one that you can just Download.

The only free Decoder is the gr-noaa example in gnu radio that has a depricated wx GUI and uses a input from a specific SDR. I used that gr-noaa example and created a decoder that uses the modern QT GUI and has a clean interface. You just put in a wav IQ file from SDR# for example and it will decode the Data into the file you entered. It is not the best one out there in form of signal processing, but a good start i would say.

The decoder can be downloaded from tynet.eu/hrpt-decoder. Below is a second YouTube video where Tysonpower explains how to use the decoder.

December High Powered Rocket Flight with RTL-SDR used for GPS Measurements

The rocket carrying the RTL-SDR.
The rocket carrying the RTL-SDR.

Back in April and July of last year we posted about Philip Hahn and Paul Breed's experiments to use an RTL-SDR for GPS logging on their high powered small rockets. Basically they hope to be able to use an RTL-SDR combined with a computing platform like a Raspberry Pi or Intel Compute stick and software like gnss-sdr to record GPS data on their rocket. Using an RTL-SDR would get around the COCOM limits that essentially stop GPS from working if it measures faster than 1,900 kmph/1,200 mph and/or higher than 18,000 m/59,000 ft.

In the past they've been able to get usable data from the flights, but have had trouble with reliability and noise. That said they also tried commercial GPS solutions which have also failed to work properly even on flights travelling under the COCOM limits, whereas the RTL-SDR actually got data that could still be post processed.

On their latest flight they still had trouble with the RTL-SDR GPS solution working live during flight, but RF GPS data was still recorded and post-processing the data with SoftGNSS yielded results again as in their previous trials. The post goes over the more details and provides the raw RF data to play with if you want to have a go at extracting the data yourself.

If you are interested in a full summary of Phillip and Paul's experiments, then the GNU Radio blog has a nice summary written by Phillip that explains their full journey of trying to get a working RTL-SDR based GPS system for their rockets.

Rocket Trajectory as measured by the RTL-SDR based GPS receiver.
Rocket Trajectory as measured by the RTL-SDR based GPS receiver.

SDR and Radio Talks from the 34th Chaos Communication Congress: SatNOGs, Bug Detection, GSM with SDR, Open Source Satellites and WiFi Holography

Every year the Chaos Computer Club hold the Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) which is a conference that aims to discuss various topics related to technology and security. This year was the 34th conference ever held (34C3) and there were several interesting SDR and radio related talks which we post below. Further links and video downloads are available in the YouTube description.

SatNOGS: Crowd-sourced satellite operations

An overview of the SatNOGS project, a network of satellite ground station around the world, optimized for modularity, built from readily available and affordable tools and resources.

We love satellites! And there are thousands of them up there. SatNOGS provides a scalable and modular platform to communicate with them. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are our priority, and for a good reason. Hundreds of interesting projects worth of tracking and listening are happening in LEO and SatNOGS provides a robust platform for doing so. We support VHF and UHF bands for reception with our default configuration, which is easily extendable for transmission and other bands too.

We designed and created a global management interface to facilitate multiple ground station operations remotely. An observer is able to take advantage of the full network of SatNOGS ground stations around the world.

Spy vs. Spy: A Modern Study Of Microphone Bugs Operation And Detection

In 2015, artist Ai Weiwei was bugged in his home, presumably by government actors. This situation raised our awareness on the lack of research in our community about operating and detecting spying microphones. Our biggest concern was that most of the knowledge came from fictional movies. Therefore, we performed a deep study on the state-of-the-art of microphone bugs, their characteristics, features and pitfalls. It included real life experiments trying to bug ourselves and trying to detect the hidden mics. Given the lack of open detection tools, we developed a free software SDR-based program, called Salamandra, to detect and locate hidden microphones in a room. After more than 120 experiments we concluded that placing mics correctly and listening is not an easy task, but it has a huge payoff when it works. Also, most mics can be detected easily with the correct tools (with some exceptions on GSM mics). In our experiments the average time to locate the mics in a room was 15 minutes. Locating mics is the novel feature of Salamandra, which is released to the public with this work. We hope that our study raises awareness on the possibility of being bugged by a powerful actor and the countermeasure tools available for our protection.

Running GSM mobile phone on SDR

Since SDR (Software Defined Radio) becomes more popular and more available for everyone, there is a lot of projects based on this technology. Looking from the mobile telecommunications side, at the moment it's possible to run your own GSM or UMTS network using a transmit capable SDR device and free software like OsmoBTS or OpenBTS. There is also the srsLTE project, which provides open source implementation of LTE base station (eNodeB) and moreover the client side stack (srsUE) for SDR. Our talk is about the R&D process of porting the existing GSM mobile side stack (OsmocomBB) to the SDR based hardware, and about the results we have achieved.

There is a great open source mobile side GSM protocol stack implementation - OsmocomBB project. One could be used for different purposes, including education and research. The problem is that the SDR platforms were out of the hardware the project could work on. The primary supported hardware for now are old Calypso based phones (mostly Motorola C1XX).

Despite they are designed to act as mobile phone, there are still some limitations, such as the usage of proprietary firmware for DSP (Digital Signal Processor), which is being managed by the OsmocomBB software, and lack of GPRS support. Moreover, these phones are not manufactured anymore, so it's not so easy to find them nowadays.

Taking the known problems and limitations into account, and having a strong desire to give everyone the new possibilities for research and education in the telecommunications scope, we decided to write a 'bridge' between OsmocomBB and SDR. Using GNU Radio, a well known environment for signal processing, we have managed to get some interesting results, which we would like to share with community on the upcoming CCC.

UPSat - the first open source satellite

During 2016 Libre Space Foundation a non-profit organization developing open source technologies for space, designed, built and delivered UPSat, the first open source software and hardware satellite.

UPSat is the first open source software and hardware satellite. The presentation will be covering the short history of Libre Space Foundation, our previous experience on upstream and midstream space projects, how we got involved in UPSat, the status of the project when we got involved, the design, construction, verification, testing and delivery processes. We will also be covering current status and operations, contribution opportunities and thoughts about next open source projects in space. During the presentation we will be focusing also on the challenges and struggles associated with open source and space industry.

Holography of Wi-Fi radiation

Can we see the stray radiation of wireless devices? And what would the world look like if we could?

When we think of wireless signals such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, we usually think of bits and bytes, packets of data and runtimes.

Interestingly, there is a second way to look at them. From a physicist's perspective, wireless radiation is just light, more precisely: coherent electromagnetic radiation. It is virtually the same as the beam of a laser, except that its wavelength is much longer (cm vs µm).

We have developed a way to visualize this radiation, providing a view of the world as it would look like if our eyes could see wireless radiation.

Our scheme is based on holography, a technique to record three-dimensional pictures by a phase-coherent recording of radiation in a two-dimensional plane. This technique is traditionally implemented using laser light. We have adapted it to work with wireless radiation, and recorded holograms of building interiors illuminated by the omnipresent stray field of wireless devices. In the resulting three-dimensional images we can see both emitters (appearing as bright spots) and absorbing objects (appearing as shadows in the beam). Our scheme does not require any knowledge of the data transmitted and works with arbitrary signals, including encrypted communication.

This result has several implications: it could provide a way to track wireless emitters in buildings, it could provide a new way for through-wall imaging of building infrastructure like water and power lines. As these applications are available even with encrypted communication, it opens up new questions about privacy.

Turning an old Radiosonde into an Active L-Band Antenna

VK5QI's Radiosonde Collection
VK5QI's Radiosonde Collection

Over on his blog VK5QI has shown how he has was able to re-purpose an old radiosonde into a wideband active L-band antenna. Radiosondes are small packages sent up with weather balloons. They contains weather sensors, GPS and altitude meters and use an antenna and radio transmitter to transmit the telemetry data back down to a ground station. With a simple radio such as an RTL-SDR and the right software, these radiosondes can be tracked and the weather data downloaded in real time. Some hobbyists such as VK5QI go further and actually chase down the weather balloons and radiosondes as they return to earth, collecting the radiosonde as a prize.

VK5QI and his friend Will decided to put some of his radiosonde collection to good use by modifying one of his RS92 radiosondes into a cheap active L-band antenna. They did this by first opening and removing unnecessary components that may interfere such as the main CPU, GPS receiver, 16 MHz oscillator, SAW filters and balun. They left the battery, LDO's, LNA's and Quadrifilar Helix GPS antenna which is tuned to the GPS L-band frequency. Finally they soldered on a coax connector to a tap point on the PCB and it was ready to use.

They then connected the new antenna to a RTL-SDR V3 and fired up GQRX. They write that their results were quite promising with several Inmarsat and Iridium signals being visible in the spectrum. VK5QI also used gr-iridium with the antenna as was able to decode some Iridium signals.

Modified Radiosonde L-Band Antenna connected to a RTL-SDR V3.
Modified Radiosonde L-Band Antenna connected to a RTL-SDR V3.

Airspy HF+ Can Receive L-Band 1.2 GHz to 1.67 GHz

The Airspy HF+ is a much anticipated and recently released software defined radio that specializes in HF and VHF reception. However, one little known and not often advertised feature is that it can actually be used for L-band reception between 1.2 and 1.67 GHz as well. This means that it could be used for signals such as AERO, STD-C, Iridium, the 23cm amateur radio band and more.

Over on YouTube Adam 9A4QV has uploaded a video that tests the HF+ with Alphasat AERO signals at about 1.545 GHz. He notes that the sensitivity is quite good as it is able to receive the satellite signals directly with only the antenna connected and no external LNA used. Of course adding in an external low noise figure LNA and filter would improve the signal even further. Adam notes that reception on the 23cm amateur band (1240 MHz to 1300 MHz) is also quite good with sensitivity reaching about -130 dBm.

Outernet 3.0 Coming Soon: Free 30kbps – 100kbps satellite data downlink for news, weather, audio etc

The new Outernet Dreamcatcher v3.01
The new Outernet Dreamcatcher v3.01

Over the past few years we've posted quite a bit about Outernet who offered a free downlink of satellite data such as news, Wikipedia articles and weather updates that was able to be received with a small L-band patch antenna, LNA and an RTL-SDR dongle.

Recently we've seen news on their forums that Outernet is planning on discontinuing their L-band service, and instead opening up a new much more efficient Ku-band service. Unfortunately that means that RTL-SDRs and the previous Outernet L-band hardware will no longer be useful for the downlink, but the new service appears to offer several significant advantages.

Firstly the downlink data rate is much higher at 30kbps, with the plan to eventually go up to 100kpbs. That's 300MB - 1 GB a day which is a lot more compared to the previous L-band implementation that gave less than 20MB a day.

Secondly the hardware seems to be simplified as well. All that is needed is their new Dreamcatcher V3 receiver board and a small Ku-band LNB (11.7-12.75 GHz). They claim that no dish is required as the LNB pointed at the satellite by itself will work just fine. The first iteration of Outernet also used Ku-band satellites, but required a large dish antenna to receive it which was a major hurdle to user adoption. They now appear to have discovered a new way to broadcast in the Ku-band without the need for a dish.

Thirdly, moving to Ku-band means significant cost savings for Outernet allowing them to survive and continue with their free data service. From what we understand the L-Band satellite downlink service is extremely costly to run, whereas a Ku-band service is much cheaper. There are also cost savings for the user as Ku-band LNBs are very common hardware that can be found cheaply for $10 - $20 US.

About the new services that they can offer and the cost savings that they can achieve Syed the CEO of Outernet writes:

The fatter pipe [300MB - 1GB] makes a lot of things possible, one of which is a true radio broadcast. How about a national radio broadcast that isn't SiriusXM? Our new receiver will include a speaker; audio through the speaker while files download in the background. But more data is not the most important thing that comes out of all this. The real win is that leasing standard, commodity Ku bandwidth is far, far more cost effective than the few kilohertz we have on L-band. Long-term sustainability of a free broadcast is no longer the financial burden that it once was--especially considering how much more interesting the service becomes.

There is no concrete hardware release date just yet, but on the forums Syed estimates mid-Jan. You can sign up to the Outernet mailing list on their buy-now page to be emailed when the new hardware is released. In the forums Syed also writes that the target price for the hardware is $99 US, with the intention to provide lower cost options in the future. Of course it might still be possible to DIY your own unit just like it was with the previous Outernet iterations.

We're really looking forward to this and think that this is what will finally make Outernet a very popular and useful service!

The Outernet 3.0 prototype setup
The Outernet 3.0 prototype setup