Category: Satellite

Mike Tests out L-Band STD-C and AERO with a Low Cost Modified GPS Antenna

SDR-Kits.net have begun selling low cost GPS antennas that are modified to receive the Inmarsat satellite frequencies between 1535 MHz to 1550 MHz. They also have a version for Iridium satellites that receives 1610 MHz to 1630 MHz. The antennas are powered by a 3-5V bias tee, so they should work fine with SDRplay, Airspy and RTL-SDR Blog V3 units.

Mike Ladd from SDRplay has recently sent us a guide to receiving AERO and STD-C messages on L-band with the SDR-Kits antenna and an SDRPlay unit running SDRUno (Megaupload link).

AERO messages are a form of satellite ACARS, and typically contain short messages from aircraft. It is also possible to receive AERO audio calls. STD-C aka FleetNET and SafetyNET is a marine service that broadcasts messages that typically contain text information such as search and rescue (SAR) and coast guard messages as well as news, weather and incident reports. Some private messages are also seen. To decode AERO Mike uses JAERO, and for STD-C he uses the Tekmanoid STD-C decoder.

Mike has also created a very handy bank of frequencies for the SDRUno frequency manager which can be downloaded from here.

We note that if you're interested in waiting, at the end of September we will have an L-band patch antenna set available too. Our antenna will work from 1525 up to 1637 MHz. Prototypes have shown have shown good Inmarsat, Iridium and GPS reception. More details coming next month when manufacturing gets closer to finishing up.

Screenshot of the Tekmanoid Decoder from Mikes Tutorial
Screenshot of the Tekmanoid Decoder from Mikes Tutorial

Uplinking to QO-100 with a LimeNET Micro and LimeRFE

The LimeNet Micro is a is a $329 board that combines a Raspberry Pi 3 (compute module) together with a LimeSDR radio. The LimeRFE is an amplifier and filter board accessory designed to be used with LimeSDR units. When a LimeNET Micro and LimeRFE are used together, it is possible to create a transmit capable radio system that can be used for amateur radio.

Daniel Estévez has recently been doing several experiments with the LimeRFE, and this time he's managed to create an uplink capable ground station for the QO-100 amateur radio geostationary satellite. The LimeRFE can output 1W at 2.4 GHz and Daniel writes that with a low cost 2.4 GHz WiFi parabolic grid antenna this is more than enough power to work QO-100.

In terms of software, Daniel is using a Python script that communicates with the Limesuite API for PTT control. For transmitting IQ data generated by GNU Radio he uses limesdr_send. So far he's been able to successfully test a CW beacon, SSB voice and waterfall text generated by gr-paint.

LimeNet Micro + LimeRFE + 2.4 GHz WiFi Antenna = Full QO-100 Solution
LimeNet Micro + LimeRFE + 2.4 GHz WiFi Antenna = Full QO-100 Solution

 

RTL-SDR.COM GOES 16/17 and GK-2A Weather Satellite Reception Comprehensive Tutorial

GOES 16/17 and GK-2A are geosynchronous weather satellites that transmit high resolution weather images and data. In particular they are far enough away from the earth to be able to take beautiful 'full disk' images which show the entirety of one side of the Earth. As these satellites are in a geosynchronous orbit, they can be counted on to be in the same position in the sky at all times, so no tracking hardware is required and images can be pulled down constantly throughout the day without having to wait for a polar orbiting satellite to pass over like you would with the NOAA APT or Russian Meteor satellites.

With a low cost WiFi grid dish antenna, LNA and RTL-SDR dongle, any home user within the footprint of one of these weather satellites can receive and decode live images directly from the sky. Setting up a station is overall not too difficult, but it can be a bit fiddly with a number of steps to complete. Below is our comprehensive guide. We'll show how to set up a self contained Raspberry Pi based system with goestools (free), as well as a guide for the Windows PC software XRIT decoder (US$125).

We've attempted to make the tutorial as newbie friendly as possible, but we do need to assume basic RF knowledge (know what antennas, SDRs, coaxial, adapters etc are), basic Linux competency for the goestools tutorial (using the terminal, using nano text editor), and basic Windows competency for the XRIT decoder tutorial (unzipping, editing text files, running programs).

Click for the full size image (14MB)
A full disk false color image received directly from the GOES-17 satellite with an RTL-SDR. Click for the full size image (14MB).

There are two fourth generation NOAA GOES satellites that are currently active, GOES-16 and GOES-17. These transmit HRIT signals, and also transmit shared data from the older third generation GOES 15, and Japanese Himiwari8 satellites. At the moment GOES-16 and GOES-17 are producing full disk images every 30 minutes, and close up "mesoscale" shots of the USA every ~15 minutes. GOES-16 (aka GOES-R) and GOES-17 (aka GOES-S) are also known as GOES-EAST and GOES-WEST respectively. At least one of these satellites can be received from North/South America, Canada, Alaska/Hawaii, New Zealand, Eastern Australia and some pacific islands.

There is also the older generation GOES-15 and GOES-14 which have been placed in standby orbits. These transmit LRIT signals which provide images at a slower rate. 

GOES 16/East and GOES 17/West Signal Footprint
GOES 16/East and GOES 17/West Signal Footprint

There is also the Korean GK-2A (GEO-KOMPSAT-2A) satellite which is very similar to the GOES satellites. GK-2A covers countries like India, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Russia. Note that you may have previously heard of the COMS-1 satellite which used to cover this area. Since July 2019 COMS-1 was replaced by GK-2A. Unlike GOES, GK-2A images are encrypted. However it has been found that "sample" encryption keys found online in demo code work just fine.

GK-2A contains both LRIT and HRIT channels, but at the moment only the LRIT channel can be decoded with the currently available software. The LRIT channel sends full disk IR images every 10 minutes in 2200 x 2200 resolution. Compared to the 5424 x 5424 resolution GOES full disk images, this is smaller, but still large enough to be interesting.

Note that even if HRIT decoding is added by the current software, you would require an Airspy or other wideband SDR as the GK-2A HRIT signal bandwidth is 5 MHz. Also since the HRIT bandwidth is so wide, the signal strength is reduced, meaning that you'll need a larger dish. People who have received the HRIT signal note that a 3M+ sized dish seems to be required.

GK-21 (GEO-KOMPSAT-2A) Foorprint
GK-21 (GEO-KOMPSAT-2A) Footprint

You might ask why bother receiving these satellite images directly, when you can get the exact same images from NOAA at https://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/GOES/index.php. Well, you might want to set up your own station to be independent from the internet, or you live in a remote location without internet, or maybe just for the fun and learning of it.

To set up a receiver for GOES 16/17 HRIT or GK-2A LRIT you'll need to purchase a dish antenna such as a cheap 2.4 GHz WiFi antenna, an RTL-SDR, GOES LNA, and a Raspberry Pi if using goestools, otherwise a Windows PC can be used. The total cost could be anywhere from $150 - $200 depending on what pieces you already have available.

Before we start the tutorial, you might want to use an augmented reality Android app like "Satellite-AR" to get a rough idea of where either GOES 16/17 or GK-2A (GEO-KOMPSAT-2A) is in your sky, and if receiving them is even feasible for your location. You'll need to find an area on your land where you can mount a small satellite dish with an unobstructed line of sight view to the satellite (no trees or buildings can be blocking the signal path). If the satellite is low on the horizon (below 25 deg elevation), then things get a little more difficult as you have more obstructions and a weaker signal. But it can still be done, and we're able to routinely get good results at 24.5 deg elevation.

Note that for Europe and Africa, unfortunately there are no satellites that can be received easily with an SDR and LNA. But you might instead be interested in the EUMETCAST service, which can be received from EUTELSAT 10A (Ku band), Eutelsat 5 WEST A (C Band) and SES-6 (C Band) . To receive this service you'll need a DVB-S2 receiver and a satellite dish with appropriate band LNB. You also need a license keys and software which all together cost €100. EUMETCAST reception is not covered in this tutorial, instead see this video.

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METEOR M Demodulator SDR# Plugin and LRPT-Decoder Updated

Thanks to Happysat for providing info on updates to these programs again. Meteor Demodulator V2.2 is a plugin for SDR# that connects to the M2 LRPT Decoder software. Together with an RTL-SDR and 137 MHz satellite antenna, these programs are used to receive, track, demodulate and decode Meteor M satellite signals into live weather satellite images. Happysat has a tutorial available here, however we note that at the time of this post it hasn't been updated to use the latest software versions.

The biggest change appears that you can now affect the decoder settings from within the SDR# plugin. This is useful because the METEOR M2-2 satellite appears to be changing it's operating mode often (number of infrared vs visible channels, data rate etc).

We also note news from Happysat that the Meteor M-N2-2 satellite has now changed frequency to 137.100 MHz mode 72K on 16 Aug. 9:30 Moscow time (6:30 UTC). Other users have also indicated that M2-2 is currently transmitting two IR channels, and one visible now. Meteor M2 appears to still be transmitting visible channels.

M2 LRPT Decoder V47:

- Added Meteor Demodulator V2.2 socket support

- only mode, sat, rgb are supported so far.

- Fix manual s-file processing

By design, the plug-in will manage the settings of the decoder and this should reduce the number of settings that must be done when changing the Meteor operating modes.

Example scheduler options:

M2_decoder_init_Line <rgb=123.jpg> or (rgb=125,444,555 ect)

In order for the decoder to work with Meteor Demodulator V2.2 http://happysat.nl/meteor_2.2.zip , the ini-file mode and sat entries must be assigned to auto!

M2_LRPT_Decoder.ini

mode=auto

sat=auto

http://happysat.nl/LRPT_Decoder_v47.zip

M2 LRPT Decoder V48:

- Remove debug window

http://happysat.nl/LRPT_Decoder_v48.zip

 

Meteor Demodulator V2.2

From TSSDR:

Added interaction with Meteor LRPT-Decoder via socket.

At the beginning of the data transmission, the configuration of the modulation speed and modulation type (satellite name) is transmitted to the decoder.

That is, there is no need to change the decoder settings when changing 72K / 80K and M2 / M2.2.

It will receive signal information from the plugin.

It is enough to change the speed in the scheduler.

A new scheduler command "M2_decoder_init_Line <>" has been added to the plugin.

Using it, you can transfer any commands that are in the ini file of the decoder (for example, the command to select channels to save a color picture:

M2_decoder_init_Line <rgb = 123.jpg>)

In general, this allows you to change the settings when changing the reception conditions only in the scheduler and not in the entire chain of programs for processing the signal from the satellite.

M2 decoder compatible with these functions is >V47

http://happysat.nl/meteor_2.2.zip

http://rtl-sdr.ru

Updated Meteor M2 Demodulator Plugin.
Updated Meteor M2 Demodulator Plugin.

Hackaday Article about the Slow Death of NOAA-15

If you've been following our blog, or have your own RTL-SDR based weather satellite station, then you'll know that the NOAA-15 APT satellite has been experiencing issues lately. There appear to be problems with it's camera scan motor resulting from it running low on lubrication. This is fully understandable as the satellite is 21 years old and well past it's expected life span. The satellite appears to be working some days, and producing garbage image other days.

Over on Hackaday, Dan Maloney has uploaded an interesting article that explores the history and technology behind NOAA-15's camera, and why it is now failing.

When NOAA-15 fails for good, don't feel too bad as we still have NOAA-18 and NOAA-19, the Russian Meteor M2, and Meteor M2-2 satellites, and the GOES satellites, all of which can be received by an RTL-SDR. Several new weather satellites are also planned for 2020 and onwards.

Building a DIY 2.4 GHz Helical Feed for the QO-100/Es’Hail-2 Satellite

Over on his YouTube channel Adam 9A4QV has uploaded a short video that demonstrates his 2.4 GHz homemade helical feed designed to be used with a reflector (prime feed satellite dish) for QO-100/Es'Hail-2 satellite reception. The antenna is made from an old can, 2-turns of copper wire, and a plastic insulator to hold the turns in place. The two turns are wound in left hand circular polarization (LHCP), because when used with a satellite dish reflector it will result in right hand circular polarization (RHCP), which is the polarization QO-100 uses.

One of the most important parts of the video is when Adam shows how he matches the antenna to 50 Ohms. He notes that without matching the antenna won't work properly, and the return loss will be about 8 dB or even less, resulting in poor performance. With matching he obtains 30 dB return loss.

Helical feed for the 2.4 GHz QO-100 satellite

An RTL-SDR & SDRplay based WebSDR Designed Specifically for QO-100 (Es’Hail-2) Monitoring

Over on YouTube user [Radio Electronics] has uploaded a useful video showing how to install your own personal SDRplay or RTL-SDR based WebSDR for QO-100 (aka Es'Hail-2) reception. Es'Hail-2 is the first geostationary satellite with amateur radio transponders on board, and is positioned at 25.5°E which covers Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern Brazil and the west half of Russia/Asia.

The idea behind a WebSDR is to run your RTL-SDR QO-100 receiver on a remote Raspberry Pi (perhaps mounted close to the antenna on your roof etc). The Pi runs custom WebSDR software that has been created from scratch by [Radio Electronics] specifically for monitoring Es'Hail-2. Then you can access your QO-100 receiver from any device on your network that has a web browser (computer/phone/tablet etc). The interface of his WebSDR appears to be quite slick, which multiple QO-100 specific options and labels.

Quite a lot of work must have gone into this software which looks to be of high quality, so it is definitely worth checking out if you are interested in QO-100/Es'Hail-2 monitoring.

Es'Hail-2 QO-100 WebSDR
Es'Hail-2 QO-100 WebSDR

In the first video he first talks about various methods for downconverting the 10489.550 MHz QO-100 CW signal into a range receivable by the RTL-SDR or SDRplay. He then goes on to show the exact steps to install and run his WebSDR software on a Raspberry Pi 3.

In the second video he goes on to demonstrate the web browser interface highlighting the QO-100 specific features that he has implemented such as being able to compensate for any LNB frequency drift via a feature that can lock to the QO-100 PSK beacon.

es-hail-2 QO-100 WebSDR Part-1: INSTALLATION

es-hail-2 QO-100 WebSDR Part-2: OPERATION

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.