Over on YouTube user ModernHam has uploaded a useful tutorial showing how to use our RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongles for FT8 monitoring. The RTL-SDR Blog V3 has a built in direct sampling circuit which allows for reception of HF signals without the need for any upconverter. FT8 is an amateur radio weak signal digital communications mode which can be received all around the world even with low transmit power.
In his setup he uses SDR# and Virtual Audio Cable to pipe audio to the WSJT-X decoder. His video goes through all the steps and settings that need to be set and then shows a demo of some signals being received. ModernHam also has another video uploaded a few days earlier which is a more general introduction to FT8 decoding.
If you're interested we uploaded a tutorial last year that shows how to set up a Raspberry Pi 3 based FT8 decoding station with a V3 dongle.
Decoding FT8 with a RTL-SDR (Software defined Radio)
The Hermes-Lite is able to be very low cost (less than $300) because it is based on the AD9866 chip which is a mass produced RF front end (LNA + ADC & DAC) used in cable modems. Because it is a mass produced commodity, the chip only costs approx. US$35-$25 on Mouser depending on quantity. The chip has a 12-bit 80 MHz ADC and DAC, meaning that if used without any analog mixer front end (like in the Hermes-Lite) it can receive the entire spectrum between 0.1 to 38 MHz all at once.
The Hermes-Lite is also a lot more than just the RF chip, as it contains a set of switched RF filters and a 5W power amplifier for TX. It also interfaces with a PC via Ethernet and has a built in FPGA for DSP processing.
Recently Steve presented at the FOSSi Foundation Latch-Up conference on May 4-5, and a YouTube recording of his presentation is shown below.
YouTuber jmhrvy1947, has recently uploaded a number of videos giving an overview of how he built his own HF SDR transceiver using what he calls the “Lego build method”. The idea of the Lego build method was to build a transceiver with parts picked and pulled from eBay so that it could be easily reproduced by others. There are a few scratch made components however those designs are available on his GitHub page. The SDR only functions within about 100 kHz of spectrum at a time however for amateur radio HF work this is more than sufficient. Bare bones the radio puts out a mere 100 mW and although the output power is small, he’s made contacts up to 450 miles away using CW (Morse code). You also have the option of adding an amplifier on your output if you are looking for more power than that. His final revision currently puts out 100 Watts.
Using modified versions of fldigi and Quisk he is able to easily work various digital modes and sync the transmitter and receiver together. The only real down side to this radio is that you must switch out your receive and transmit filters whenever you wish to operate on different bands, a process that really only takes a moment or two.
Check out his videos on the project – it’s really amazing to see what can be done with a small budget these days in radio and with how far software defined concepts have brought us.
DIY SDR CW Xcvr Project
In the video below you’ll see an explanation of the software involved in this build.
Over on YouTube Tech Minds has posted a video explaining what Es'hail-2 satellite is and why it is interesting for hams and SDR users. Briefly Es'hail-2 is a recently launched geostationary TV satellite that covers Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern Brazil and the west half of Russia/Asia.
What's special about it is that apart from the TV transmitters, it also contains the worlds first amateur radio transponder in geostationary orbit. So amateur radio users within the region covered by the satellite can simply point their antennas to a fixed position in the sky to transmit to the satellite, and the signal will be rebroadcast over the entire covered area. With a simple LNB, satellite dish and SDR the signals can be received.
After explaining Es'hail-2 Tech Minds also shows a demo of Es'hail-2 radio traffic using a public WebSDR.
The Worlds First Geostationary Satellite For Ham Radio - Es'Hail 2 - Qatar OSCAR-100
Es'hail 2 was launched last November and it is the first geostationary satellite to contain an amateur radio transponder. The satellite is positioned at 25.5°E which is over Africa. It's reception footprint covers Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern Brazil and the west half of Russia/Asia. There are two amateur transponders on the satellite. One is a narrow band linear transponder which uplinks from 2400.050 - 2400.300 MHz and downlinks from 10489.550 - 10489.800 MHz. Another is a wide band digital transponder for amateur digital TV which uplinks from 2401.500 - 2409.500 MHz and downlinks from 10491.000 - 10499.000 MHz.
Although it launched last year it takes several months for the engineers to test and qualify the transponder for use. Over the last few weeks the transponder was intermittently active during the testing, but now since Feb 13 2019 the amateur transponder has finally been fully activated for amateur radio use.
To receive it with an RTL-SDR or most other SDRs an LNB is required to receive the 10 GHz signal and downconvert it into a frequency range that most SDRs support. Typically an Octagon LNB is used, and these are easy to find and cheap as they are often used for satellite TV.
From various reports seen on Twitter, it seems that the signal is strong enough that a satellite dish is not required for receiving - simply pointing the LNB directly at the satellite is enough.
#Eshail2 Unbelievable. 1st RX Test with my Smartphone, OTG, DVB-T Stick, Octagon LNB. No Dish !!! I hold the LNB in my Hand in the direction of Es Hail2 ... pic.twitter.com/SQjz7WPyzm
If you can't set up a receiver, there is an OpenWebRX livestream of the Es'hail 2 narrowband channel that has been set up by Zoltan/RFSparkling which is available at sniffing.ddns.net:8073 (note the server can only handle 8 users at a time, so try again later if it's busy). Also as pointed out by KD9IXX on Twitter, there are also several websdr.org servers receiving and streaming Es'hail2 including an Airspy based one run officially by AMSAT-DL.
Es'hail 2 was launched last November and it is the first geostationary satellite to contain an amateur radio transponder. The satellite is positioned at 25.5°E which is over Africa. It's reception footprint covers Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern Brazil and the west half of Russia/Asia.
Although the satellite was launched last year, turning on the amateur transponders has been slow because the commercial systems of the satellite have higher priority for testing and commissioning. However, within the last day the Es'hail 2 team have now begin testing the amateur transponder, and the test signal has been successfully received by several enthusiasts (just check out the Twitter feed). There also appears to have already been a suspected pirate CW signal broadcasting "WELCOME DE ES2HAIL". Actual uplink use of the satellite is not currently wanted, and from the Amsat forums one of the engineers writes:
Before the IOT starts there will be a TRR (test readyness review) in front of the customer. All the testplans and test-specifications will be reviewed. When the test is done there will be a TRB (test readyness board). In the TRB they have to show/present all the measurement results (e.g. inband performance like Gainflatness, Groupdelay... aso.) and compare these results with the specification in the contract. Each unwanted signal makes the measurement difficult and needs to be explained or leads to a so named NCR (non conformance report).
The IOT will be done in shifts/nightshifts and with unwanted signals (if not explain able) some measurements needs to start again and again and leads in addition to a delay for the handover and operation of the satellite.
Maybe that helps to understand why it is really important to have only the IOT uplink signal.
To measure the pattern of each antenna the satellite will be moved east/west by the propulsion system of the DS2000 Bus and the signal level is measured by the IOT station on ground (some cuts) .
The commercial beacon can maybe be switched from LEOP Omni antenna to on station antenna when the satellite is placed in the final slot. This should be the reason for the change of the commercial Ku Band beacon signal level the last days.
If you are interested in receiving Es'hail 2, but live outside the footprint, or don't have a receiver then you can use Zoltan's OpenwebRX live stream of the narrow band portion of the Es'hail 2 downlink. At the moment the beacon doesn't appear to be transmitting, but we expect it to be on and off during the next few days. In his set up he uses an RTL-SDR V3, Inverto LNB, 90cm dish, a DIY bias tee and a Raspberry Pi 3.
He also took a recording of the pirates CW transmission shown in the video below.
WSPR is an amateur radio digital HF mode designed to be decodable even if the signal is transmitted with very low power and is very weak. It can be used to help determine HF radio propagation conditions as WSPR reception reports are typically automatically uploaded to wsprnet. Direct sampling mode on the RTL-SDR V3 allows you to receive HF signals without the need for an upconverter. For best results it is recommended to use a simple bandpass filter for the band of interest.
Zoltan's tutorial comes with a companion YouTube video where he demonstrates his set up. He uses a random wire antenna on his roof directly connected to an RTL-SDR V3, which is connected to a Raspberry Pi 3. The Pi 3 communicates to his home network via an Ethernet cable.
Making a standalone WSPR receiver with RPi and RTL-SDR V3 using rtlsdr-wsprd
Today SpaceX have successfully launched and deployed the Es'hail-2 satellite which is now in geostationary orbit. This launch is special for amateur radio enthusiasts because it is the first geostationary satellite that contains an amateur radio transponder on it. The satellite is positioned at 25.5°E which is over Africa. It will cover Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern Brazil and the west half of Russia/Asia. Unfortunately, North America, Japan, most of South America, Australia and NZ miss out.
The satellite has a two bandwidth segments, a 250 kHz narrow band for modes like SSB, FreeDV, CW, RTTY etc, and a 8 MHz wide band for digital amateur TV (DATV) modes like DVB-S and DVB-T.
The downlink frequencies are at 10 GHz so a low cost TV LNB could be used as the antenna. For receiving the narrowband modes, an RTL-SDR or similar SDR could be used, and for the 8 MHz DATV modes a standard DVB-S2 set top box can be used to receive and decode the video. For uplink, the transmission frequency is at 2.4 GHz.
According to the commissioning order of the satellite, it is expected that the AMSAT transponders will be activated only after all tests have been passed, and after other higher priority commercial telecommunications systems have been activated. This is expected to take about 1-2 months.
2018: Es'hail-2 and its amateur radio payload - Graham Shirville (G3VZV) & Dave Crump (G8GKQ)