Review: Outernet LNA and Patch Antenna

Recently we posted news that Outernet had released their 1.5 GHz LNA, Patch Antenna and E4000 Elonics RTL-SDR + E4000/LNA Bundle. When used together, the products can be used to receive the Outernet L-band satellite signal, as well as other decodable L-band satellite signals like AERO and Inmarsat STD-C EGC. Outernet is a new satellite service that aims to be a free “library in the sky”. They continuously broadcast services such as news, weather, videos and other files from satellites.

EDIT: For international buyers the Outernet store has now started selling these products at http://store.outernet.is.

A few days ago we received the LNA and patch antenna for review. The patch antenna is similar to the one we received a while ago when writing our STD-C EGC tutorial, although this one is now slightly larger. It is roughly 12 x 12 cm in size, 100g heavy and comes with about 13 cm of high quality RG316 coax cable with a right angled SMA male connector on the end. The coax cable is clamped on the back for effective strain relief.

The Outernet patch antenna and LNA
The Outernet patch antenna and LNA

The LNA is manufactured by NooElec for Outernet. It amplifies with 34 dB gain from 1525 – 1559 MHz, with its center frequency at 1542 MHz. It must be powered via a 3 – 5.5V bias tee and draws 25 mA. The package consists of a 5 x 2.5 cm PCB board with one female and one male SMA connector. The components are protected by a shielding can. Inside the shielding can we see a MAX12000 LNA chip along with a TA1405A SAW filter. The MAX12000 (datasheet here) is an LNA designed for GPS applications and has a NF of 1 dB. It has a design where there are two amplifiers embedded within the chip, and it allows you to connect a SAW filter in between them. The TA1405A SAW filter appears to be produced by Golledge (datasheet here), and it has about a 3 dB insertion loss.

The Outernet L-Band LNA
The Outernet L-Band LNA
Inside the Outernet LNA
Inside the Outernet LNA

We tested the patch and LNA together with one of our V3 RTL-SDR Blog dongles, with the bias tee turned on. The LNA was connected directly to the dongle, with no coax in between. The patch antenna was angled to point towards the Inmarsat satellite. A 5 meter USB extension cord was then used to interface with a PC. The images below demonstrate the performance we were able to get.

Outernet Signal

Outernet Signal

Outernet Signal with 4x Decimation

Outernet Signal with 4x Decimation

AERO

AERO

STD-C EGC

STD-C EGC

The Outernet team writes that a SNR level of only 2 dB is needed for decoding to work on their signal. With the patch and LNA we were able to get at least 12 dB so this is more than good enough. Other signals such as AERO and STD-C EGC also came in very strongly. Even when not angled at the satellite and placed flat on a table it was able to receive the signal with about 5 dB’s of SNR.

In conclusion the patch and LNA worked very well at receiving the Outernet signal as well as AERO and STD-C EGC. We think these products are great value for money if you are interested in these L-Band signals, and they make it very easy to receive. The only minor problem with the patch antenna is that there is no stand for it, which makes it difficult to mount in a way that faces the satellite. However this issue can easily be fixed with some sellotape and your own mount.

In the future once the Outernet Rpi3 OS and decoder image is released we hope to show a demonstration and tutorial on receiving Outernet data.

55 comments

  1. DAVID AGUIRRE SALCEDO

    I would like to use an AIRSPY to receive HRPT images from meteorological satellites NOAA, METEOR. regards

  2. Danny Llama

    Getting a faliure when trying to build StarSDR on Ubuntu 14.04 :

    [email protected]:~/Downloads/StarSDR-master$ sudo make install
    install -Dm755 {.,/usr/local/bin}/rtl_biast
    install: missing destination file operand after ‘{.,/usr/local/bin}/rtl_biast’
    Try ‘install –help’ for more information.
    make: *** [install] Error 1
    [email protected]:~/Downloads/StarSDR-master$

    Stuck as StarSDR won’t install. Anyone experienced this issue before?

  3. Bin Kenney

    One more question:

    Where on EARTH can I find what these signals I am seeing on my screen? Loads of incoming satellite signals from 1531 MHz-1550 MHz yet I only know about a tenth of them. Anyone with useful link or answer is much appreciated. 🙂

    Many thanks!

  4. admin

    We just received a tip from a reader regarding the shipping, seems that nooelec will soon be selling these from their website.

    We will be selling both a 1542MHz LNA (same as the Outernet LNA you have seen) as well as the bias-tee enabled E4000 SDR. We will not be carrying the 1542MHz patch antenna at this time, but do plan on carrying one within a few months.

    The LNA is available now as direct order, and will be on our website this week for general sale. The SDR will be available in about 2 weeks. The patch antenna will be closer to 2-3 months from now. Thanks for your interest in our products!

  5. Seasalt

    I managed to get the RTL-SDR ver 2 dongle with soldered bias T mod and the Outernet L-Band LNA filter with my home made L-Band antenna. for about two minutes using Ubuntu GQRX on the Inmarsat 4f1 Outernet frequency 1545.9525 MHz and then after about a minute it appears the RTL-SDR ver 2 dongle got to hot and cut out. I did not see any signal at the Outernet frequency. (Does Linux Ubuntu and GQRX use the new R820T2 non overheating drivers? or are they only for Windows and Outernet CHIP)

    I then connected the Outernet L-Band antenna and the 820t2 dongle to my Outernet CHIP computer flashed with the Outernet software and It all booted and started to try and lock onto the Outernet frequency 1545.9525 MHz but after about 15 minutes it could not lock and I gave up. It is possible Outernet may not have been transmitting as I had not received any files all morning.

    But even if they are not transmitting I would imagine Inmarsat would be sending a carrier to lock onto at the Outernet frequency.

    I will try again in a few days time once Outernet gets its transmissions under control.

    Seasalt.

  6. Roberto Z

    I would like to scan signals in 700, 850, 900, 1900, 1700 & 2100 MHz cellular bands. I’ve just ordered some R820T dongle but I know that they just works up to 1700 MHz aprox. Is it possible to reach 1900 and 2100 bands with the R820T dongle? Or I need some E4000 receiver or similar? If E4000 which one would be better for my work, this one from Outernet or the one from Nooelec?. Regards.

    • admin

      Yes the E4000 can go up to ~2200 MHz, so that should be fine for your needs. The E4000 from Outernet is also made by Nooelec, so both are very similar. The Outernet one might be a little nicer though because it comes with a metal case, but you do need to take care since they have a bias tee which is always on, so you can’t connect it to DC shorted antennas.

        • Roberto Z

          Finally my R820T dongle arrived. I am using the SDRSharp. It seems to be a very good tool to listen and deal with radio transmissions but I can not change Span or start/stop frequencies or RBW, Is it possible to handle these parameters? If not, could you recomend me a SW to use the dongle as a Spectrum Analyzer? Thanks in advance. Regards.

  7. Tomi

    Are the patch antenna and amplifier more than enough to receive the Outernet on higher latitudes? I’m sitting on the 61N and the Alphasat is directly South from here. It’s roughly 21 degrees above the horizon.

    I have successfully dedoded Inmarsat EGC and Classic AERO messages with modified GPS antenna sitting on a round steel dish (as per tutorial on this site)

    Also, what are the shipping costs to Europe? I understand FedEx is the only option…

    • admin

      If you can receive the EGC signal with a modified GPS antenna then you should be able to receive the Outernet signal with the patch and LNA. Just point the patch at the satellite.

  8. Max

    Beside the interest in satellite communications i am probably missing something about this service; i read about a speed of 2kbps that makes 20MB of files in 24 hours, isn’t it a bit too slow and a bit too small? but in other places are talking about 200MB per day or 1GB per day. Confused.

  9. Terry Gaff

    I tried to order the LNA from amazon, upon checking out, the website said it could not sip to my location (Ireland), I tried a UK address and it said the same.

    Terry

  10. Seasalt

    Here is my First Impressions of Outernet DIY Receiver kit.

    The Outernet team is dynamic to deal with and exciting in their enthusiasm, ability and rate of achievement to goal.

    On the basis of sending data from space for under $100 for a DIY hardware kit. I give them 10 out of 10.

    The CHIP $9.00 computer just works great. Its really Cute and appears ideal, cheap, small, low powered and capable of running up to 4 users in the Outernet Librarian WiFi hot-spot. I would not buy anything else.

    It does though need a powered hub to run the RTL E4000 dongle. (This may change in later software revisions). Not a big deal for now as It lets me put the antenna and E4000 dongle outside by running a long USB cable from the powered hub.

    The CHIP Computer was very complex to Flash and as for now there is no way to use the Chrome Browser plugin provided by CHIP to flash an alternate OS onto the CHIP. Instead you have to set up a Ubuntu computer to create a environment to flash the CHIP. It took my friend Larry about and hour to do this for me on Ubuntu. (I am certain this flashing of The CHIP computer with the Outernet OS will be resolved soon)

    One solution is CHIP or Outernet could just sell the CHIP already flashed.

    The other option is to get a Raspberry PI and use the Raspberry Pi Outernet software but that is much more expensive option than the CHIP computer.

    My CHIP came with the Video out TV Cable. Make sure you buy this extra in case you want to see your chip on a TV in VGA . (It is not needed to run the Outernet OS but it helped when we were initially testing the CHIP when it arrived.)

    The Chip Outernet beta Librarian software looks and feels great. It already looks like a finished product.

    Files started coming down as soon as I turned the unit on. I got about 8db signal and no errors. Outernet says it is getting a through put of about 1 Mb a hour.

    The $19.00 Nooelec filter is amazing and works incredibly well. It complements the E4000 RTL dongle which from my simple playing with on Linux GQRX works really well. (I love GQRX it is such an awesome program for RTL dongle hacking)

    The stand alone L-Band Antenna works really well but I think will have to be sold with a optional water-proof housing. In the Philippines I am able to lay my antenna flat and get a 8db signal from the Inmarsat 4F1 above New Guinea. According to Outernet the receiver needs at least a 4db signal for the decoder to work error free.

    Well done Outernet. I absolutely recommend getting the DIY KIT.

  11. Syed

    Yes, the driver mod exists in our software. The V3 of the RTL-SDR has been tested for 24 continuous hours at 85C–not sensitivity degradation. Really high quality radio.

  12. European User

    The International Shipping with FedEx is very expensive. Is there a better international shipping rate (USPS), like nooelec ?

    • Syed

      I dislike everyone having to pay FedEx such high fees, but if we use USPS, then there is no tracking available to the customer (or us). When we offered USPS International in the past, we had a problem with charge-backs; in numerous instances, we were told that the product never arrived.

      Happy to take any suggestions on how to make this cheaper for everyone–and also cover our liability in the event that the order does not get delivered.

  13. Mario

    Glad to hear the users are having success. Got my LNA, dongle, and patch antenna few days ago, pointed the patch towards Inmarsat 3F2 (15.4W) which is pretty far East and low on the horizon, picking up a few stations but still not sure what they are. Some signals appear to be MFSK with many alternating tones. Am a bit confused though as to where the Outernet signal is on this satellite.

    Also pointed the patch towards Inmarsat 3F4 at 54W, again got some signals here and there but still not sure where Outernet is. Some signals sound similar to DGPS. Am using the UHF-Satcom list as a road map as to what is being seen/heard.

    The pointing of the patch antenna seems to be not so critical, no where near as pointing a Ku band dish. Am very satisfied with the performance of the LNA, dongle, and patch antenna, all quality made (of course it’s Nooelec quality!). Looking forward to hearing how others are doing.

  14. Bin Kenney

    Nice review, it really helps me when wanting to buy this, decoding AERO signals at the moment since there is JAERO decorder out there.

    However, how much signal performance will I benefit receving all the signals as shown in the picture with the patch antenna itself and with Airspy mini and/or V.2 of your dongle — all w/o filter and LNA? Doug on Amazon said he got 12dB SNR w/o the LNA and 18 dB w/ the LNA. Your input is greatly appreciated!

    • admin

      I think you definitely should use an LNA to receive these signals. Whether or not you need a filter depends on if you have any strong interfering signals in your area.

    • Adam

      I just read the Doug review and we are not sure what signal he is talking about. He may receive some Inmarsat L-band signal with S/n ratio 12dB but this is hardly the outerent signal, probably something else.

      Adding the LNA should increase the S/n for 6dB for sure and this comment is OK.

      If somebody is receiving the signal with 12dB S/n and only 2dB S/n is required for the successful reception then no LNA is required. Even they reduce the BW a lot later, 2dB S/n is quite optimistic.

      On the other hand, 2kbps is not a big traffic at all. How many informations can be transfered at the end ?

      • Doug

        I am the Doug from Amazon. The 12db SNR was with a generic L-band inmarsat signal. At the time of writing my review I wasn’t sure which signal was the Outernet one. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused.

    • admin

      1539.8725 MHz over the Americas, 1545.525 MHz over Europe/Africa/India and 1545.9525 MHz over Asia/Pacific. Not sure on the exact satellites, but i’m sure they’ll say once the decoder is fully ready.

  15. Seasalt

    How long did you leave the revision 3 RTL-SDR dongle running.

    Was it able to stay locked on and receiving the Outernet L-Band signal for a long time?

    My understanding was a E4000 is required but if your revision 3 can work I would be happy to give it a try.

  16. Sindhu K

    Hey! The LNA is NooElec product, why I can’t find them ind NooElec web store, I need to purchase it. Amazon charging silly shiping cost to Indonesia. Anyone can help me where can I get it with more reasonable shipping cost? Rgds.

    • Seasalt

      The LNA is NooElec product, why I can’t find them ind NooElec web store, I need to purchase it. Amazon charging silly shiping cost to Indonesia. Anyone can help me where can I get it with more reasonable shipping cost?

      Sindhu

      I ordered mine direct from Outernet from the Outernet Shop and dealt with Syed. (This was before the products were available on Amazon)

      I know Outernet are incredibly busy now launching the L-Band product but I am sure Syed if you email him will try and help with shipping costs to Indonesia.

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