Category: Satellite

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 RTL-SDR.com 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.

dopplerscript: Getting Doppler Updates from GPredict into GNU Radio

Thanks to Dave for submitting news of his recent release of his Python script called dopplerscript. This is a tool that can help people automate the reception and decoding of the Meteor M2 weather satellite in Linux with GNU Radio by providing a tool for automatic Doppler correction. He writes:

gr-gpredict-doppler is an out-of-tree gnuradio block for getting doppler updates from gpredict into a flowgraph. I’ve written a small python script (based on pyephem) that replaces gpredict for generating  the doppler updates. This script allows one to automate scripting the  reception of Meteor M2 satellite transmissions while compensating for the doppler shift.

dopplerscript is a command-line tool to input satellite doppler shifts into a gnuradio flowgraph. The doppler.py script replaces gpredict as the source for doppler frequency updates in gr-gpredict-doppler, making it easy to script satellite reception.

As low earth orbit satellites fly very quickly overhead, the signal will be affected by the doppler effect, thus shifting the frequency as it moves towards and away from you. Tools like this can be used to predict and compensate for this effect and thus providing better signal processing. Meteor M2 is a Russian weather satellite in low earth orbit which transmits digital LRPT weather satellite images that can be received with an RTL-SDR or other SDR.

An Example LRPT Image Received with an RTL-SDR from the Meteor-2 M2.
An Example LRPT Image Received with an RTL-SDR from Meteor M2.

Receiving the Bitcoin Blockchain from Satellites with an RTL-SDR

Bitcoin is the worlds first and most popular digital currency. It is steadily gaining in value and popularity and is already accepted in many online stores as a payment method. In order to use Bitcoin you first need to download a large database file called a ‘blockchain’, which is currently at about 152 GB in size (size data obtained here). The blockchain is essentially a public ledger of every single Bitcoin transaction that has ever been made. The Bitcoin software that you install initially downloads the entire blockchain and then constantly downloads updates to the blockchain, allowing you to see and receive new payments.

Blockstream is a digital currency technology innovator who have recently announced their “Blockstream satellite” service. The purpose of the satellite is to broadcast the Bitcoin blockchain to everyone in the world via satellite RF signals, so that even in areas without an internet connection the blockchain can be received. Also, one problem with Bitcoin is that in the course of a month the software can download over 8.7 GB of new blockchain data, and there is also the initial 152 GB download (although apparently at the moment only new blocks are transmitted). The satellite download service appears to be free, so people with heavily metered or slow connections (e.g. 3G mobile which is the most common internet connection in the third world/rural) can benefit from this service as well.

The service appears to be somewhat similar to the first iteration of the Outernet project in that data is broadcast down to earth from satellites and an R820T RTL-SDR is used to receive it. The blockstream satellite uses signals in the Ku band which is between 11.7 to 12.7 GHz. An LNB is required to bring those frequencies back down into a range receivable by the RTL-SDR, and a dish antenna is required as well. They recommend a dish size of at least 45 cm in diameter. The signal is broadcast from already existing satellites (like Outernet they are renting bandwidth on existing satellites) and already 2/3 of the earth is covered. The software is based on a GNU Radio program, and can be modified to support any SDR that is compatible with GNU Radio. They write that the whole setup should cost less that $100 USD to purchase and set up.

To set it up you just need to mount your satellite antenna and point it towards the satellite broadcasting the signal in your area, connect up your LNB and RTL-SDR and then run the software on your PC that has GNU Radio installed.

More details can be found on the Blockstream Satellite website, and technical details about the software and hardware required can be found on their GitHub page.

How the Blockchain satellite works (From https://blockstream.com/satellite/howitworks/)
How the Blockchain satellite works (From blockstream.com/satellite/howitworks/)

Some may wonder what’s the point if you can’t transmit to the service to make payments with it. Over on this Bitcoin Reddit thread user “ideit” explains why it’s still useful in this nice quote.

You sell goats in a small village. A customer wants to buy a goat, but you have no banks so people have put their money into bitcoin. Your customer goes to the village center which has a few computers hooked up to the internet. He sends you payment then comes to get his goat. You don’t have internet near your goat farm, but you’re connected to the satellite so you can see he sent you payment and you give him his goat.

Or, you live in an area that caps your bandwidth. You want to run a full node, but downloading blocks eats away at your cap. Connecting to a satellite reduces your bandwidth usage.

Or, you’re using an air gapped laptop to sign transactions from your wallet for security reasons. You can now connect that laptop to the satellites so your laptop can generate its own transactions without connecting to the internet.

Or, your internet connection is terrible. You can usually broadcast transactions since they’re small, but downloading blocks and staying in sync with the blockchain is literally impossible. Connect to a satellite and now it’s simple.

Listening to Astronauts on the ISS with an RTL-SDR and V-Dipole (ARISS Contact with Astronaut Paolo Nespoli)

Manuel a.k.a ‘Tysonpower’ has been using his RTL-SDR (and his Baofeng) to listen in on ARISS contacts from the International Space Station (ISS). ARISS stands for Amateur Radio on the ISS, and is a program often used by schools to allow students to contact and ask questions to astronauts on the ISS with a ham radio. It is possible for anyone to listen in on the downlink (astronaut speech) if the ISS is over your location while transmitting. The uplink however may not be able to be heard as the signal is directed upwards towards the station.

For his first try he used a Baofeng (cheap Chinese handheld) and a DIY Carbon Yagi. For the second contact he used his RTL-SDR V3, an FM Trap and an LNA4ALL on a V-Dipole antenna placed on the roof of his car. With this set up he was able to receive the downlink transmissions from 1.6 degrees to 1.3 degrees elevation.

Receiving Outernet with a Grid Antenna and LeanDVB

Recently Luigi Freitas wrote in to us and wanted to share his fairly unique Outernet setup which is based on a Grid dish antenna, low cost SPF-5189 LNA, C.H.I.P mini single board computer generic RTL-SDR, and the open source LeanDVB decoder software.

Last month we made a post about LeanDVB, a lightweight DVB-S decoder, which with a few configuration changes can be used to also demodulate the Outernet signal. Luigi places his 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antenna (which still works for the 1.5 GHz Outernet signal) on a tripod and points it towards the Outernet satellite in his area. He connects the antenna up to a SPF-5189 based LNA, which is a 50 – 4000 MHz LNA that is very cheaply found on eBay for about $7 USD. Then a cheap generic no-TCXO $8 RTL-SDR is used together with the LeanDVB software.

In his post Luigi shows how to set up the LeanDVB software for decoding the Outernet signal by piping the output of rtl_sdr into it, and getting all the settings correct. To get the final files he then shows how to pipe the decoded packets in the Skylark decoder, and then the files can be accessed from the regular Outernet web GUI.

The LeanDVB Decoder GUI showing a successful lock
The LeanDVB Decoder GUI showing a successful lock

Receiving SSTV Images from the ISS with a V-Dipole and RTL-SDR

During July 20 – 24, 2017 the ISS (International Space Station) was transmitting SSTV (Slow Scan Television) images down to earth in celebration of the ARISS (Amateur Radio on the ISS) 20th Anniversary. The ISS transmits SSTV images on celebratory occasions several times a year. More information about upcoming ARISS events can be found on their website ariss.org.

Over on YouTube and his blog, user Tysonpower has created a video and writeup of his experiences with receiving the ISS SSTV images using an RTL-SDR, FM Trap filter and a V-Dipole antenna. The V-Dipole antenna is a super simple satellite antenna for NOAA/Meteor/ISS etc satellites that recently became popular due to Adam 9A4QV’s writeup on it.

Despite Laptop and PC troubles, he was able to capture several images. He also notes that he was able to use a Baofeng and Yagi antenna to receive the signal indoors.

Note that Tysonpower’s YouTube video is narrated in German, but there are English subtitles available if you turn on YouTube’s closed captions which should be on by default on this video.