Category: Satellite

Creating An Automated Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR Based NOAA Weather Satellite Station

The nootropicdesign blog has recently uploaded a comprehensive tutorial showing how to create an automated NOAA Weather Satellite ground station using an RTL-SDR V3 and an Raspberry Pi 3. The project also makes use of an Amazon S3 bucket, which is a cheap web storage platform that allows you to store and access the downloaded images.

The tutorial starts by showing you how to set up your Amazon AWS credentials and bucket on the Raspberry Pi, and how to host a simple webpage that can be accessed publicly. The second stage shows how to set up the RTL-SDR drivers and wxtoimg which is used to decode the images. Finally, the third stage shows how to create the automation scripts that automatically schedule a decode, and upload images to the AWS bucket.

Flowgraph for an automated NOAA satellite weather image station.
Flowgraph for an automated NOAA satellite weather image station.

Video About Receiving The Othernet Satellite Data Service: Free APRS, News, Weather

The Othernet project aims to bring live data such as news, weather, video, books, Wikipedia articles and audio broadcasts to the world via cheap receivers and a free satellite service. Although an internet connection provides the same data, Othernet's satellite broadcast is receivable in remote areas, will continue working in disasters, and costs nothing to continually receive roughly 100-200 MB of data a day. The trade off is that the service is downlink only, so the data that you get is only what is curated by the Othernet team. Currently the service is only available in North America and Europe, but service to other areas in the world may eventuate in the future.

We've posted about this project a few times in the past, as previously they used an L-band satellite service that was received by RTL-SDR dongles. However, these days they operate using LoRa hardware chips on the Ku-band.

Over on YouTube the TechMinds YouTube channel has just uploaded a video that demonstrates the Othernet service being received from the UK via their Dreamcatcher hardware. In particular he shows off the APRS feature which sends any APRS message containing the string "OUTNET" to the Othernet satellite stream. Later in the video he also shows the news articles, weather data, Wikipedia and audio data that was received.

OTHERNET - Free Data Anywhere - For everyone!

Mike Tests our RTL-SDR Blog L-Band Active Patch Antenna on an SDRplay RSP1a

Over on YouTube Mike Ladd (KD2KOG) from the SDRplay technical support team has uploaded a YouTube video showing him running our recently released RTL-SDR Blog L-Band Active Patch antenna on an SDRplay RSP1a. In the video he receives and decodes AERO signals from his car with his RSP1a powering the active patch antenna via the built in bias tee.

If you didn't already hear, we recently released an active (amplified + filtered) high performance patch antenna designed for receiving L-Band satellites such as Inmarsat, Iridium and GPS. The patch is designed to be easily mountable outside on a window, surface, stick, tree branch etc as it comes with easy to use mounting solutions and extension coax, and is enclosed in a fully weather proof plastic cover. If you're interested the product is available over on our store for US$39.95 with free shipping.

You also might want to keep an eye on Mike's YouTube channel, as he notes that in the yet to be released part 2 video he will be giving away the antenna in a competition.

RTL-SDR Blog L-band patch antenna part 1

ORBCOMM Receiver: New Open Source Software for Monitoring Orbcomm Satellites

Thank you to Frank for submitting his new RTL-SDR compatible Orbcomm Satellite monitor software called "Orbcomm Receiver". Orbcomm is a low earth orbit satellite communications system that operates in the 137 - 138 MHz frequency range. The satellites specialize in remote IoT and machine to machine (M2M) connectivity, an example use case being a GPS tracker on a shipping container regularly uploading GPS coordinates from anywhere in the world via the Orbcomm satellites. Orbcomm satellite signals are fairly strong and can easily be received with an RTL-SDR and V-Dipole antenna.

We haven't posted about Orbcomm on this blog since 2015 since there is not many interesting things to say about it. The data is all encrypted, and the only information you can really see is Orbcomm satellite ID, frequency and positioning data. Franks software doesn't change this fact, but his software is all open source, so it may be a useful tool for learning about satellite signal DSP processing. Frank writes:

There are a couple different projects out there to decode ORBCOMM signals (Orbcomm-Plotter and MultiPSK). What makes my project different from these is that I wrote it as a learning project. So all of the signal processing, written in Python, is available to the user and is decently documented. I hope this can be a good learning resource for people who want to see a practical example of satellite communications signal processing. Also, my software is open source and free to use.

Currently, the software can do offline or real-time decoding of a single ORBCOMM downlink channel. The transmitted bits of the ORBCOMM signal are demodulated and when the packet type is known, the packet information is decoded. There are a lot of ORBCOMM packets that can't be decoded and of course the message data is encrypted so that information is not available. But, there is still a ton of interesting information available.

The project is still in development so it has some limitations. For real-time recordings, I only support RTLSDRs currently. Also, I'm having trouble getting the real-time processing to work on mac OS, so currently that mode is only supported on linux. However, I have included a couple data files in the repo, so even without an SDR, users can experiment with the signal processing. I welcome any bug reports or suggestions.

Orbcomm Packet Decoding. Showing Realtime Satellite Position.
Orbcomm Packet Decoding. Showing Realtime Satellite Position.

r2Cloud: Software for Automatically Decoding APT/LRPT Weather Satellites and Cubesats on a Raspberry Pi with RTL-SDR

Thanks to a tweet by @rf_hacking we recently came across an interesting project called "r2cloud". This is an open source program provided on a ready to use image for the Raspberry Pi that can be used to set up an automated satellite recording station for NOAA APT and Meteor LRPT signals, as well as for CubeSats.

The software presents a web based user interface that is easy to setup and view decoded images on. It appears that the software also communicates with a public server that can aggregate and log your data, and also provide it to SatNOGS and provide FunCube satellite telemetry to FunCube Warehouse.

Block Diagram for the r2cloud software.
Block Diagram for the r2cloud software.

A Motorized Backyard Radio Astronomy Telescope made with an RTL-SDR

A Geostationary Satellite Imaged with the RTL-SDR Based Mini Radio Telescope
A Geostationary Satellite Imaged with the RTL-SDR Based Mini Radio Telescope

Just a few days we posted an update on the PICTOR open source radio telescope project. That project makes use of an RTL-SDR and a small dish antenna to receive the Hydrogen line, and is able to measure properties of our galaxy such as determining the shape of our galaxy.

Now over on Hackaday another amateur radio telescope project has been posted, this one called the "Mini Radio Telescope" (MRT) which was made by Professor James Aguirre of the University of Pennsylvania. This project makes use of a spare Direct TV satellite dish and an RTL-SDR to make radio astronomy observations. What makes this project interesting in particular is the automatic pan and tilt rotor that is part of the design. Unlike other amateur radio telescopes, this motorized design can track the sky, and map it over time. This allows you to create actual radio images of the sky. The image on the right shows a geostationary satellite imaged with the dish.

In the past we saw a similar project by the Thought Emporium YouTube channel which used a tracking mount and a HackRF to generate images of the WiFi spectrum. This was to be a precursor to a motorized tracking mount for radio astronomy but it doesn't seem that they completed that project yet.

Professor James Aguirre 's project including designs for the rotor is fully open source and can be found over on GitHub.

The Miniature Radio Telescope Setup
The Miniature Radio Telescope Setup

Updates on the PICTOR Low Cost Open Source Radio Telescope Based on RTL-SDR

Back in July we posted about PICTOR, an open source and RTL-SDR based radio telescope project. The owner of the project recently wrote in and wanted to share some updates. His text is below:

A few months ago, PICTOR was launched. PICTOR is a free to use open source radio telescope that allows anyone to observe the sky in the 1300~1700 MHz range at any time via the easy-to-use online platform.

The goal of this effort is to introduce students, educators, astronomers and others to the majesty of the radio sky, promoting radio astronomy education, without the need of building a large and expensive radio telescope. 

Since the initial launch, PICTOR has gotten lots of updates and improvements, particularly in the software backend, providing more data to the users, using advanced techniques to increase the signal-to-noise ratio by calibrating spectra and mitigating radio frequency interference (RFI) (if present).

Here is an example observation with PICTOR, clearly showing the detection of 3 hydrogen-dense regions corresponding to 3 unique spiral arms in the Milky Way!

Graphs from the PICTOR RTL-SDR Radio Telescope showing the 3 unique spiral arms in the Milky Way.
Graphs from the PICTOR RTL-SDR Radio Telescope showing the 3 unique spiral arms in the Milky Way.

If you’re new to radio-astronomy, the developer of PICTOR has provided a PDF including some introductory radio astronomy information and instructions on how to observe the radio sky with PICTOR: https://www.pictortelescope.com/Observing_the_radio_sky_with_PICTOR.pdf

Using an RTL-SDR to Investigate GPS Interference Problems on Drones Caused By HD Cameras

Over on YouTube Drone and Model Aircraft enthusiast channel Paweł Spychalski has uploaded a video showing how he determined that cheap HD cameras that are commonly used on hobbyist drones can cause locking issues with the on board GPS. He writes:

You might believe it or not (today I will prove it, however) that HD cameras, especially cheap ones, can be responsible for GPS problems on your drones and model airplanes. The majority of HD cameras (RunCam Split, Runcam Split Mini, Foxeer Mix, Caddx Tarsier) generate RF noise on different frequencies. Some of them on 433MHz, some on 900MHz, but most of them also at around 1GHz. Just where one of the frequencies used by GPS signal sits. As a result, many GPS modules are reported to have problems getting a fix when the HD camera is running.

In the video he uses an RTL-SDR and SDR# to demonstrate the interference that shows up when a cheap HD camera is turned on. He shows how the interference is present at almost all frequencies from the ISM band frequencies commonly used for control and telemetry to the 1.5 GHz GPS frequencies.

GPS vs HD cameras - it's all about RF noise