Category: Satellite

The NOAA-15 Weather Satellite May be Failing

Over the last few days the NOAA-15 APT weather satellite has begun to show signs of failure with people receiving corrupted images. NOAA 15, 18 and 19 are weather satellites that can be easily received with an RTL-SDR and a satellite antenna such as a V-Dipole, QFH or Turnstile (tutorial here). NOAA 15 was launched on 13 May 1998, making it one month away from being 20 years old. To put it into perspective, NOAA-15 was only built to the spec of being designed to last 2 years minimum. 

The problem currently appears to be intermittent and is due to a loss of lubricant on the scan motor. NOAA released a message:

The N15 AVHRR global imaging became corrupted on April 12 at ~0000 UTC due to sync issues. This may be caused by erratic scan motor current due to loss of lubricant. The problem appears to have corrected itself, as the global image is no longer corrupted. The issue is still under investigation.

In the Tweet below UHF Satcom displays an example of a corrupted image that was received.

The issue is intermittent, and hopefully it can be fixed, but if not we still have NOAA 18 and 19 which were launched in 2005 and 2009 respectively, as well as the Russian Meteor M2 satellite which was launched in 2014. 

If you're interested discussion of this topic can be found on various Reddit threads [1], [2], [3].

Automatically Receiving, Decoding and Tweeting NOAA Weather Satellite Images with a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR

Over on Reddit we've seen an interesting post by "mrthenarwhal" who describes to us his NOAA weather satellite receiving system that automatically uploads decoded images to a Twitter account. The set up consists of a Raspberry Pi with RTL-SDR dongle, a 137 MHz tuned QFH antenna and some scripts.

The software is based on the set up from this excellent tutorial, which creates scripts and a crontab entry that automatically activates whenever a NOAA weather satellite passes overhead. Once running, the script activates the RTL-SDR and APT decoder which creates the weather satellite image. He then uses some of his owns scripts in Twython which automatically posts the images to a Twitter account. His Twython scripts as well as a readme file that shows how to use them can be found in his Google Drive.

mrthenarwhal AKA @BarronWeather's twitter feed with automatically uploaded NOAA weather satellite images.
mrthenarwhal AKA @BarronWeather's twitter feed with automatically uploaded NOAA weather satellite images.

Art from Satellite Transmissions: SatNOGS and Software Defined Radio used in a Sound Art Installation

One of the piezo speakers playing the satellite transmissions.
One of the piezo speakers playing the satellite transmissions.

In the past we've seen software defined radio's like the HackRF use to create art installations such as the 'Holypager', which was an art project that aimed to draw attention to the breach of privacy caused by pagers used by doctors and staff at hospitals.

Recently another art installation involving a software defined radio was exhibited at Wichita State University. The project by artist Nicholas A. Knouf is called "they transmitted continuously / but our times rarely aligned / and their signals dissipated in the æther" and it aims to collect the sounds of various satellite transmissions, and play them back using small piezo speakers in the art gallery. To do this he built a SatNOGS receiver and used a software defined radio to capture the audio. He doesn't mention which SDR was used, but most commonly RTL-SDR's are used with the SatNOGS project. Nicholas describes the project below:

This 20-channel sound installation represents the results of collecting hundreds of transmissions from satellites orbiting the earth. Using custom antennas that I built from scratch, I tracked the orbits and frequencies of satellites using specialized software. This software then allows me to collect the radio frequency signals and translate them into sound.

The open source software and hardware, called SatNOGS and developed by a world-wide group of satellite enthusiasts, enables anyone to build a ground station for tracking satellites and their transmissions, which are then uploaded to a publicly accessable database. Data received by my ground stations can be found here. These transmissions are mostly from weather satellites, CubeSats (small satellites launched by universities world-wide for short-term research), or amateur radio repeaters (satellites designed for ham radio operators to experiment with communication over long distances).

I made the speakers hanging from the grid from a piezoelectric element embedded between two sheets of handmade abaca paper that was then air dried over a form.

The project was also discussed over on the SatNOGS forum.

The SatNOGS art installation
The SatNOGS art installation

SDR# GPredict Satellite Tracking Plugin

Thanks to Alex for submitting news about his new SDR# plugin called "SDRSharp.GpredictConnector". This plugin allows SDR# to interface with GPredict which is a tool used for tracking the orbit of satellites. Just like with the DDE Tracking plugin and the Orbitron satellite tracking program this plugin could be used to automatically tune SDR# to the frequency of a passing satellite using GPredict. It should also be able to compensate for any doppler shift frequency offset.

To use with SDR# simply download the zip file and move the .dll file into the SDR# folder. Then add the 'magicline' to the plugins.xml file using a text editor. In GPredict you can then add a radio interface from the preferences, and then use the 'Radio Connect' interface to connect to the plugin.

Connecting to GPredict using the GPredictConnector SDR# Plugin
Connecting to GPredict using the GPredictConnector SDR# Plugin

Decoding Meteor-M Images on a Raspberry Pi with an RTL-SDR

Thanks to Andrey for writing in and showing us his Java based Meteor-M decoder for the RTL-SDR which he uses on a Raspberry Pi. The decoder is based on the meteor-m2-lrpt GNU Radio script and the meteor_decoder which he ported over to Java. Essentially what he's done is port over to Java a bunch of GNU Radio blocks as well as the meteor decoder. The ported Java blocks could also be useful for other projects that want to be cross platform or run without the need for GNU Radio to be installed.

In his blog post (blog post is in Russian, use Google Translate for English) Andrey explains his motivation for writing the software which was that the Windows work flow with SDR# and LRPTofflineDecoder is quite convoluted and cannot be run headless on a Raspberry Pi. He then goes on to explain the decoding algorithm, and some code optimizations that he used in Java to speed up the decoding. Andrey notes that his Java version is almost 2x slower compared to the GNU Radio version, but still fast enough for real time demodulation.

Meteor-M2 is a Russian weather satellite that operates in the 137 MHz weather satellite band. With an RTL-SDR and satellite antenna these images can be received. Running on a Raspberry Pi allows you to set up a permanent weather satellite station that will consistently download images as the satellite passes over.

Decoded Images with Andry's Meteor-M software on Raspberry Pi.
Images received with Andry's Meteor-M software running on a Raspberry Pi.

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

The NOAA-15 Weather Satellite May be Failing

Over the last few days the NOAA-15 APT weather satellite has begun to show signs of failure with people receiving corrupted images. NOAA 15, 18 and 19 are weather satellites that can be easily received with an RTL-SDR and a satellite antenna such as a V-Dipole, QFH or Turnstile (tutorial here). NOAA 15 was launched on 13 May 1998, making it one month away from being 20 years old. To put it into perspective, NOAA-15 was only built to the spec of being designed to last 2 years minimum. 

The problem currently appears to be intermittent and is due to a loss of lubricant on the scan motor. NOAA released a message:

The N15 AVHRR global imaging became corrupted on April 12 at ~0000 UTC due to sync issues. This may be caused by erratic scan motor current due to loss of lubricant. The problem appears to have corrected itself, as the global image is no longer corrupted. The issue is still under investigation.

In the Tweet below UHF Satcom displays an example of a corrupted image that was received.

The issue is intermittent, and hopefully it can be fixed, but if not we still have NOAA 18 and 19 which were launched in 2005 and 2009 respectively, as well as the Russian Meteor M2 satellite which was launched in 2014. 

If you're interested discussion of this topic can be found on various Reddit threads [1], [2], [3].

Automatically Receiving, Decoding and Tweeting NOAA Weather Satellite Images with a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR

Over on Reddit we've seen an interesting post by "mrthenarwhal" who describes to us his NOAA weather satellite receiving system that automatically uploads decoded images to a Twitter account. The set up consists of a Raspberry Pi with RTL-SDR dongle, a 137 MHz tuned QFH antenna and some scripts.

The software is based on the set up from this excellent tutorial, which creates scripts and a crontab entry that automatically activates whenever a NOAA weather satellite passes overhead. Once running, the script activates the RTL-SDR and APT decoder which creates the weather satellite image. He then uses some of his owns scripts in Twython which automatically posts the images to a Twitter account. His Twython scripts as well as a readme file that shows how to use them can be found in his Google Drive.

mrthenarwhal AKA @BarronWeather's twitter feed with automatically uploaded NOAA weather satellite images.
mrthenarwhal AKA @BarronWeather's twitter feed with automatically uploaded NOAA weather satellite images.

Art from Satellite Transmissions: SatNOGS and Software Defined Radio used in a Sound Art Installation

One of the piezo speakers playing the satellite transmissions.
One of the piezo speakers playing the satellite transmissions.

In the past we've seen software defined radio's like the HackRF use to create art installations such as the 'Holypager', which was an art project that aimed to draw attention to the breach of privacy caused by pagers used by doctors and staff at hospitals.

Recently another art installation involving a software defined radio was exhibited at Wichita State University. The project by artist Nicholas A. Knouf is called "they transmitted continuously / but our times rarely aligned / and their signals dissipated in the æther" and it aims to collect the sounds of various satellite transmissions, and play them back using small piezo speakers in the art gallery. To do this he built a SatNOGS receiver and used a software defined radio to capture the audio. He doesn't mention which SDR was used, but most commonly RTL-SDR's are used with the SatNOGS project. Nicholas describes the project below:

This 20-channel sound installation represents the results of collecting hundreds of transmissions from satellites orbiting the earth. Using custom antennas that I built from scratch, I tracked the orbits and frequencies of satellites using specialized software. This software then allows me to collect the radio frequency signals and translate them into sound.

The open source software and hardware, called SatNOGS and developed by a world-wide group of satellite enthusiasts, enables anyone to build a ground station for tracking satellites and their transmissions, which are then uploaded to a publicly accessable database. Data received by my ground stations can be found here. These transmissions are mostly from weather satellites, CubeSats (small satellites launched by universities world-wide for short-term research), or amateur radio repeaters (satellites designed for ham radio operators to experiment with communication over long distances).

I made the speakers hanging from the grid from a piezoelectric element embedded between two sheets of handmade abaca paper that was then air dried over a form.

The project was also discussed over on the SatNOGS forum.

The SatNOGS art installation
The SatNOGS art installation

SDR# GPredict Satellite Tracking Plugin

Thanks to Alex for submitting news about his new SDR# plugin called "SDRSharp.GpredictConnector". This plugin allows SDR# to interface with GPredict which is a tool used for tracking the orbit of satellites. Just like with the DDE Tracking plugin and the Orbitron satellite tracking program this plugin could be used to automatically tune SDR# to the frequency of a passing satellite using GPredict. It should also be able to compensate for any doppler shift frequency offset.

To use with SDR# simply download the zip file and move the .dll file into the SDR# folder. Then add the 'magicline' to the plugins.xml file using a text editor. In GPredict you can then add a radio interface from the preferences, and then use the 'Radio Connect' interface to connect to the plugin.

Connecting to GPredict using the GPredictConnector SDR# Plugin
Connecting to GPredict using the GPredictConnector SDR# Plugin

Decoding Meteor-M Images on a Raspberry Pi with an RTL-SDR

Thanks to Andrey for writing in and showing us his Java based Meteor-M decoder for the RTL-SDR which he uses on a Raspberry Pi. The decoder is based on the meteor-m2-lrpt GNU Radio script and the meteor_decoder which he ported over to Java. Essentially what he's done is port over to Java a bunch of GNU Radio blocks as well as the meteor decoder. The ported Java blocks could also be useful for other projects that want to be cross platform or run without the need for GNU Radio to be installed.

In his blog post (blog post is in Russian, use Google Translate for English) Andrey explains his motivation for writing the software which was that the Windows work flow with SDR# and LRPTofflineDecoder is quite convoluted and cannot be run headless on a Raspberry Pi. He then goes on to explain the decoding algorithm, and some code optimizations that he used in Java to speed up the decoding. Andrey notes that his Java version is almost 2x slower compared to the GNU Radio version, but still fast enough for real time demodulation.

Meteor-M2 is a Russian weather satellite that operates in the 137 MHz weather satellite band. With an RTL-SDR and satellite antenna these images can be received. Running on a Raspberry Pi allows you to set up a permanent weather satellite station that will consistently download images as the satellite passes over.

Decoded Images with Andry's Meteor-M software on Raspberry Pi.
Images received with Andry's Meteor-M software running on a Raspberry Pi.

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.