Category: Satellite

Building a DIY AZ/EL Antenna Rotator for Satellite Tracking

Over on his YouTube channel Tysonpower a.k.a Manuel has uploaded a video showing a demonstration of his home made antenna rotator. Manuel has also created a blog post about his antenna rotator, which includes a full parts list and a link to all the files.

An antenna rotator can be used to automatically point a high gain directional antenna such as a Yagi at a low earth orbit satellite which passes overhead relatively quickly. Such as antenna can be easily connected to an SDR like the RTL-SDR to receive data such as HRPT weather satellite images from satellites.

Manuel's antenna tracker is inspired by the SatNOGs rotator, but he writes that his one was designed to slightly to be smaller and more powerful. For the driving motors he uses NEMA23 steppers which are mounted in a frame made out of 2020 aluminum extrusions. An Arduino Nano with optical end stops controls two TB6600 stepper drivers which control the motors. The rest of the parts such as brackets and gears are all 3D printed.

Attached to the antenna rotator is Manuel's home made carbon Yagi antenna. He also attempted to use his 1.2m dish but found that the rotator could not handle the weight.

Talks from the AMSAT-UK RSGB 2017 Convention

The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) and AMSAT-UK recently presented a number of talks at their latest convention held in October of this year. Some of the talks are SDR related and are interesting for those interested in satellite reception. A couple of interesting SDR related talks are presented below, and the rest of the talks can be accessed on their YouTube page.

Software defined radio for the satellite geek - Alex Csete OZ9AEC

In this talk Alex Csete (Oz9AEC) who is the programmer behind the popular GQRX software that is often used with RTL-SDRs discusses his latest work and some of his experiences with writing software for SDRs.

Going to space the libre way - Pierros Papadeas, Libre Space Foundation

In this talk Pierros Papadeas who is the founder of the Libre Space Foundation discusses their SatNOGS project. SatNOGS is a project that uses RTL-SDRs in custom 3D printed home made satellite tracking ground stations. It aims to enable easy access to live satellite data online by significantly increasing ground station coverage.

Building a 3D Printed LHCP Helical L-Band Feed for Inmarsat, AERO and HRPT

Thanks to Manuel a.k.a. Tysonpower for submitting his latest YouTube video tutorial about building an 1550 MHz L-band LHCP helical antenna for receiving satellite signals such as Inmarsat, AERO and HRPT.

Manuel's design is based on a 3D printed part which is used to accurately form the helical winding. The winding then mounts onto an aluminum plate and a satellite dish arm using a custom 3D printed adapter for the dish arm. In the video he uses the helical feed with an 80cm satellite dish and a standard 40mm LNB mount on the dish arm. Attached to the feed are two LNAs in series which help to lower the noise figure and reduce losses in the coax cable.

With this setup he writes that he was able to get very good AERO and Outernet reception from Alphasat (25E geostationary). He also writes that he's had good results using it for HRPT reception as well.

The 3D printing STL files and list of parts required are available on Thingiverse, and the companion video is shown below. Note that the video is narrated in German, but English subtitles are available.

Manuel's L-Band Helical Feed
Manuel's L-Band Helical Feed

Testing a 16x RTL-SDR V3 WebSDR System for the Satcom Band

Over on Twitter Denis (@uhfsatcom) has recently been teasing us with photos of his 16 dongle RTL-SDR V3 setup. The system looks like it's designed to be a satcom band WebSDR receiver. 

The satcom band is around 240 - 270 MHz and mostly consists of various military satellites that act as simple repeaters which are often hijacked by pirates. WebSDR is a piece of software that allows for online web streaming of SDR radios. Users from all over the world can listen in if made public. Denis has also uploaded a short video showing a test of 8 dongles running and receiving the satcom band on his WebSDR system.

We look forward to hearing more updates on this project!

Testing the Prototype Outernet Patch Antenna with Built in RTL-SDR

A few months ago satellite data broadcasting company Outernet created a limited number of prototype receivers that combined an L-band satellite patch antenna, LNA and RTL-SDR into a signal unit. This was never produced in bulk as they found it to be too noisy having the RTL-SDR so close to the antenna, but nevertheless it still worked fairly well.

Over on YouTube max30max31 bought one of these prototype units and made a video about using it for receiving and decoding various L-band satellite signals. In the video he first shows an overview of the product and then shows it receiving and/or decoding some signals like Inmarsat STD-C, AERO and Inmarsat MFSK.

A Solar Powered Raspberry Pi + RTL-SDR NOAA Weather Satellite Receiver

Over on YouTube user Fuzz has uploaded a video showing his solar powered NOAA weather satellite receiver.

The system is based on a Raspberry Pi connected to an dongle. The front-end input of the RTL-SDR dongle consists of an LNA and FM reject filter, and this is all connected up to a QFH antenna in his front yard. The electronics are completely solar powered, with the solar system consisting of solar panel, solar controller and four 12v batteries used for energy storage. A 12V to 5V step down converter is used to power the Raspberry Pi, with the 12V LNA being powered directly by the batteries. The system is able to be accessed remotely via the Raspberry Pi’s WiFi connection.

Over on his Facebook page Fuzz has uploaded some additional photos, and some of the images he’s receiving.

Fuzz's solar powered NOAA weather satellite receiver.
Fuzz’s solar powered NOAA weather satellite receiver.

Outernet SDRx Clearance Sale $15: RTL-SDR with built in L-band LNA and Filter

Recently the Outernet project transitioned from using RTL-SDR dongles and C.H.I.P single board computers to using their Dreamcatcher board, which is an RTL-SDR and computing board all in one. In between the transition they also produced a number of ‘SDRx’ dongles. These were custom RTL-SDR dongles with a built in L-band LNA and filter. As they no longer need the SDRx they have them on clearance at their store.

The clearance price is $15 USD which is an excellent deal. Remember though, that the SDRx is limited in frequency range – it is designed for receiving L-band satellites between 1525 – 1559 MHz and the filter will cut off all other frequencies.

The Outernet SDRx on Clearance
The Outernet SDRx on Clearance

Just add a simple L-band tuned antenna to the port and you should be able to receive Inmarsat and a signal like STD-C, AERO or the Outernet signal. A suitable antenna might be a homebrew patch, helix, cooking pot antenna or even a small tuned V-dipole antenna can work for the stronger AERO signals.

We also see that the price of their L-band Outernet active ceramic patch antenna has been dropped down slightly to $25 USD. This antenna is bias tee powered and can be used with a V3 dongle or their Dreamcatcher hardware. The Dreamcatcher itself is also now reduced in price to $59 USD.

We have a review of the Dreamcatcher and active ceramic patch antenna available here.

Outernet Dreamcatcher and L-Band Active Ceramic Patch
Outernet Dreamcatcher and L-Band Active Ceramic Patch

We also now list Outernet products in our store. These are commission sales so we receive a little bit per purchase which supports the blog, and the items are shipped by Outernet within the USA.

If you were unaware, Outernet is a free L-band based satellite service that provides content such as news, weather data, APRS repeats and more. Currently you can get about 20MB of data a day. Outernet receivers are also all based around the RTL-SDR, allowing for very cheap receivers to be built

(Almost) Receiving HRPT with the ADALM-PLUTO and a WiFi Grid Antenna

Over on YouTube user Tysonpower has uploaded a video showing how he was (almost) able to receive the HRPT signal from NOAA18 with an ADALM-PLUTO, LNA4ALL and a WiFi grid antenna.

Most readers will be familiar with the low resolution 137 MHz APT weather satellite images transmitted by the NOAA weather satellites. But NOAA 15, 18, 19 and well as Metop-A and Feng Yun satellites also transmit an HRPT (High Resolution Picture Transmission) signal up in the 1.7 GHz region. These HRPT images are much nicer to look at with a high 1.1 km resolution. If you follow @usa_satcom on Twitter you can see some HRPT images that he uploads every now and then.

However HRPT is quite difficult to receive and decode because the bandwidth is about 3 MHz so something with more bandwidth than an RTL-SDR is required. The signal also needs a ~1 meter or larger dish antenna as it is very weak, and you also need a motorized pointing system to track the satellite with the dish as it passes over.

Despite the difficulty in his video Tysonpower showed that he was able to at least receive a weak signal using a non-optimal 2.4 GHz WiFi grid dish antenna, LNA4ALL and his ADALM-PLUTO. The signal is far too weak to actually decode, but it’s still pretty surprising to receive it at all. In the future Tysonpower hopes to be able to improve his system and actually get some image decodes going. Note that the video is in German, but there are English subtitles available.