Category: Satellite

Detecting Starlink Satellites with a Portable Raspberry Pi + RTL-SDR

Over on his YouTube channel "saveitforparts" has in the past created a portable homemade 'tricorder' which was a boxed up Raspberry Pi with multiple sensors including an RTL-SDR. One new application he's found for the tricorder is the ability to detect the beacons from Starlink satellites using the RTL-SDR and an LNB.

Starlink beacons typically transmit at around 11.325 GHz, so to receive them with an RTL-SDR a downconverter and antenna such as an LNB is required.

In the video he demonstrates the hardware in use, and shows some of the beacons being received on the spectrum, via the tricorders built in LCD screen.

Detecting Starlink Satellites With DIY Tricorder

SatDump ReWork Release with Significant Feature and GUI Updates

SatDump is a popular piece of software that can be used with RTL-SDRs and other software defined radios for decoding images from a wide array of weather imaging satellites including GOES, GK-2A, NOAA HRPT, FengYun, Electro-L and Meteor M2 LRPT + HRPT, and many others (note: there is no APT support at the moment, but it is planned for the future). It is compatible with Windows, Linux and even has an Android APK available.

Recently author @aang23 has updated the software, noting that he's done an almost full rewrite, including major updates to the GUI. The SatDump blog post goes into greater detail about he updates, but as a summary some of the biggest updates include:

  • A reworking and tidy up of the GUI with improved FFT view
  • A viewer which allows you to view output image products, and create RGB composites
  • A projection tool on the viewer, allowing you to project images onto OpenStreetMap.
  • Upgrades to the plugins system, allowing developers to more easily add support for new satellites / missions and SDRs.
  • The addition of 'products' metadata, allowing users to separate raw channel data
  • The addition of demodulators like DVB-S2, GOES-R GRB, HimawariCast, DVB-S
  • Support for additional SDRs like BladeRF, SDRplay RSP Duo, PlutoSDR and MiriSDRs.
  • Updates to the CLI interface
  • Updated less buggy Android App
SatDump new Live Decoding / Recorder Interface

SATRAN MK3 Antenna Rotator Hardware Kit Released

Back in January 2021 we posted about the release of the SATRAN product, which is a low cost automatic motorized satellite antenna rotator kit. The rotator is deigned to be used for pointing high gain directional antennas such as a Yagi or satellite dish at low earth orbit satellites which can move across the sky quickly. They also supply an Android App for easily controlling the rotator.

Recently SATRAN MK3 (version 3) has been released a few days ago and costs € 175,00 for the kit, but does not include the plastic parts which need to be 3D printed. Unfortunately the kit appears to already be sold out, but we suspect they are working on getting more kits soon. Also of note is that they are based in Sweden and cannot ship to the US or Canada.

The email announcement reads:

"There's a new Satran in town!"

I'm glad to announce the newest Satran MK3 Rotator which is now available in the shop. The former cast aluminum version has been abandoned since the production was way too time-consuming and expensive.

The new MK3 has taken all the advantages of both older versions and returned to a more open source and 3D-printable design. This cuts the price by two thirds, while still getting a really user-friendly, compact and able device.

...and there's a new app!

Some users have reported issues with their Android app crashing, so today a new version of the app (2.3) has been finished and will be available in a day or two. If you don't get an update notification automatically in your app, visit Google Play to check for the latest version. 

The app also have a more extensive list of satellites and the possibility to search for a satellite by its Norad ID. 

SATRAN MK3 Antenna Rotator
SATRAN MK3 plastic parts that need to be 3D printed.

Tracking and Decoding Guide for NOAA Weather Satellites

Thank you to Samual Yanz (N7FNV) for submitting a guide that he's created about tracking and decoding NOAA weather satellites. The guide can be downloaded from this link as a PDF

Currently there are three operational polar orbiting NOAA weather satellites that transmit image data in the APT format at 137 MHz. When one of these satellites pass overhead, it is possible to use an RTL-SDR with appropriate satellite antenna and software to receive the satellite weather images they transmit.

Samual's guide focuses on the software and shows how to setup Virtual Audio Cable for piping audio between programs, SDR# for receiving the signal, Orbitron for tracking the satellite and WXtoIMG for decoding the image.

SDR#, Orbitron and WXtoIMG

Open-Weather: A Browser Based NOAA APT Satellite Image Decoder

Thank you to Sasha Engelmann for letting us know about the release of the Open-Weather community's web browser based NOAA APT decoder. The decoder allows for easy NOAA satellite decoding by allowing you to upload a wav file recording of a NOAA satellite pass, and it will decode it into an image within the browser. 

The project emerged from a desire to understand the process of decoding APT audio recordings into NOAA satellite images, and a need for an accessible browser-based decoder for new practitioners during open-weather DIY Satellite Ground Station workshops.

While we were inspired by Thatcher's APT 3000, we felt accessibility, documentation and features could be expanded and improved. open-weather apt allows you to select an audio file on your computer, choose a demodulation method, add histogram equalisation and download images. The website does not store your personal data, including your location or any files you upload.

Documentation of the decoder is available on Public Lab here: https://publiclab.org/notes/sashae/05-03-2022/an-accessible-browser-based-decoder-for-noaa-images

open-weather apt is forked from Thatcher's APT 3000. It is a collaboration between open-weather, Bill Liles NQ6Z and Grayson Earle.
Open-weather web based APT decoder

An off-grid wind and solar powered APT/LRPT satellite image receiver with RTL-SDR

Over on the usradioguy.com blog, Carl Reinemann has highlighted a very impressive remote off-grid radio satellite image receiver setup by Manuel Lausmann (DO3MLA). The setup consists of two Raspberry Pi's, two RTL-SDRs and a QFH satellite antenna connected to an antenna splitter and bias tee. It is able to receive APT and LRPT images from NOAA and Meteor satellites which transmit at 137 MHz. The received images are then uploaded to the internet via a mobile LTE router.

The system is located a remote part of Northern Norway and is powered by a dual solar and wind turbine system with battery storage. Being so remote with little interference, the system is able to receive very clean images, and with the location being so Northern, it can even glimpse the north pole.

Manuel has uploaded a YouTube video where he shows each part of the system. It is in narrated in German, however the YouTube caption auto translate feature can be used.

He notes that in the future he hopes to install a web SDR like KiwiSDR on the site too.

Autarkstation für Funkanwendungen

Decoding Inmarsat STD-C with Command Line Decoder STDCDEC and SigDigger

Over on his YouTube channel Aaron has uploaded a video showing how to use SigDigger and a C based command line Inmarsat STD-C decoder called 'stdcdec' together on his DragonOS SDR based Linux OS image.

STD-C is a marine satellite 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. With the right software, an RTL-SDR and an appropriate L-Band satellite antenna like our 'Active L-Band 1525 - 1660 Inmarsat to Iridium Patch Antenna Set' these signals can be received and decoded.

The stdcdec software provides a way for command line only systems to receive and view STD-C data. In his video Aaron shows an example setup that uses SigDigger to determine the audio frequency offset, and receive the audio which is then passed to the stdcdec software. We note that SigDigger is a GUI based program but could probably be replaced with another CLI based program, in order to run on a headless system (as long as the tuning and audio center freq is determined before hand). Aaron is hoping to explore solutions for this in the future.

DragonOS Focal Rx and Decode Inmarsat-C Messages w/ SigDigger + STDCDEC (RTLSDR)

APT_COLOR: Add False Color to Black and White NOAA APT Images

Thank you to Sasha for submitting news about the release of their latest application called "apt_color". The most popular application for decoding APT weather satellite images from NOAA polar orbiting satellites is WXtoIMG. However, WXtoIMG is closed source and is abandonware. There are APT decoder alternatives, however unlike WXtoIMG most other open source APT decoders only provide black and white images, and do not have a false color feature.

The apt_color application can be used to turn black and white APT images received from NOAA satellites into false color images. Sasha writes:

I am working on an APT false color application here. The application is still in the very, very, early stages but still seems to produce good results. It does not need to rely on any overlays, it simply works off the data you give it - the original decoded image data. I will attach some results. NOAA-18 seems to be the best suited spacecraft for this program.

apt_color: Turn black and white NOAA images into false color
apt_color: Examples