Tagged: APRS

Creating an APRS I-Gate and Digipeater with Baofeng and RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube ModernHam has uploaded a video showing how to create an APRS I-Gate and Digipeater with Baofeng and RTL-SDR. He also makes use of a Raspberry Pi as the computing module and an audio cable to connect the Baofeng to the audio jack of the Pi. The tutorial then consists of a walk through of the various software setup steps, and finally how to connect the Baofeng and RTL-SDR to the Pi.

If you weren't already aware, Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is a digital VHF mode used in amateur radio. It allows for packets of data to be sent to receiving nodes over a local area via RF. Typical uses for it are vehicle tracking, weather station telemetry, text messages, announcements and other wireless device telemetry like high altitude balloons. An I-Gate is an internet connected node which receives local APRS RF signals and uploads them to the internet, to be seen on sites like aprs.fi. TX capable I-Gates may also broadcast to the local RF network messages from APRS transmitters on the other side of the world.

APRS I-Gate and Digipeater with Baofeng and RTL-SDR

IGate2: An RTL-SDR Compatible APRS iGate for Android

Thank you to Agrosi Luciano for submitting news about his new RTL-SDR compatible Android App called "IGate2". IGate2 is a receive only APRS IGate written for Android devices. There is a free and paid version of the app. The free version is limited to 100 packets forwarded per session. The paid version costs US$3.49 and has unlimited packet forwards. The description of the app is pasted below:

The RTL-SDR dongle tuner (cost starting from 10 €) and its antenna, receives the information contained in APRS packets transmitted from HAM radio stations, and then a phone device, with IGate2, forwards them to the world wide web using its internet connection (WiFi or 3G).

IGate2 acts as a Software Defined Radio Demodulator, a TNC Modem and an Internet Gate.

It needs the installation of a driver (Martin Marinov’s driver) for the SDR dongle that you can find in: https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=Martin+Marinov.

If you already own an unused cellular phone or tablet, IGate2 represents a very cheap, compact and easy-to-use solution for suppling an IGATE service to radio amateur community.

Raw data contained in radio packets are visible on the phone screen and may be routed (if you check this option) to the APRS-IS network. All data convoyed and shared in APRS-IS network can be seen in maps and bulletins on particular websites, for example: http://aprs.fi/ .

To be authorized to send data to APRS-IS you must have a HAM CallSign and a PassCode. See aprs-is.net. If you are not a radio amateur, you may only use your equipment in receive only mode.
The app has an audio monitor useful for tuning the parameters of the Sdr receiver (it may not work well in old devices with low memory). In the main page there is a frequency switch, a hub with the text of received packets, two indicator lights: one for the Sdr connection and one for the Aprs-Is connection, three counters reporting the number of: received, forwardable and forwarded packets. When you leave the main page while the IGate is running, the app service will continue working in the background, you can recall the main page by tapping the service icon in the android status bar.

Since the device and the Sdr dongle drains much power from the phone battery, it is recommended to use the phone charger or a power bank. You will need an OTG power cable. It is not easy to find a working cable, maybe you can do it yourself. The reception quality of the IGate depends, above all, on the antenna connected to the Sdr dongle. With very strong FM broadcasts in your area, it may be helpful to manually adjust the gain of the receiver or use a band-stop filter.

If you weren't already aware, Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is a digital VHF mode used in amateur radio. It allows for packets of data to be sent to receiving nodes over a local area via RF. Typical uses for it are vehicle tracking, weather station telemetry, text messages, announcements and other wireless device telemetry like high altitude balloons. An IGate is an internet connected node which receives local APRS RF signals and uploads them to the internet, to be seen on sites like aprs.fi. TX capable IGates may also broadcast to the local RF network messages from APRS transmitters on the other side of the world.

IGate2: Android App that turns your phone and RTL-SDR into an APRS IGate.
IGate2: Android App that turns your phone and RTL-SDR into an APRS IGate.


PyPacket: An APRS iGate For Your RTL-SDR

[Pypacket] was developed by GitHub user [cceremuga] and allows you to take advantage of a Linux computer (such as a Raspberry Pi) and an RTL-SDR to quickly and easily build your own APRS iGate.

For those not familiar with APRS, it stands for the [Automatic Packet Reporting System] and is used by amateur radio operators for applications like transferring messages and location data over RF networks and the internet. The internet connection is where an iGate comes into play. An iGate is used to connect an APRS RF network to the internet, so that many isolated RF APRS networks can communicate worldwide. Furthermore this software can be configured as a “SatGate”, which like an APRS iGate will take messages from APRS satellite’s and route them over the internet.

For example, you could have an amateur radio vehicle continually transmitting it’s location via RF to an APRS iGate. The vehicles position can then be viewed online on an APRS aggregation site like aprs.fi, or it could be re-transmitted over RF elsewhere in the world.

An iGate is usually accomplished by using a ham radio tuned to the local APRS frequency (or sat frequency) and then special PC software is configured to gate the messages.  However, with the release of PyPacket the amount of work and cost required to setup an iGate has been cut drastically. 

QRUQSP – Receiving Weather Sensors via RTL-SDR and Sharing over APRS

Thank you to Andrew Rivett for writing in and sharing news about his project called "QRUQSP" which is aiming to provide an easy to set up system for allowing amateur radio operators to put weather sensors on the APRS network and log the weather data. Andrew writes:

For that last 2 years I've been working on QRUQSP.org, a system to receive weather sensors via a RTL-SDR.com V3 on a Raspberry Pi and then beacon that data over Amateur Radio APRS. I've also developed a dashboard that can be used on iPad 1 and old tablets, and soon will have the ability to sync data between Pi's and to the cloud.

For more information, please check out https://qruqsp.org/ , we have roadmaps under Software and Hardware.

The QRUQSP website also explains:

Amateur Radio offers many opportunities to receive digital messages, decode them and make use of the data contained within those messages. Our primary goal is to store and organize those messages in a database in a way that improves the operator's ability to analyze, assess importance, and relay messages as appropriate for his or her amateur radio service.

The service makes use of his hardware kits that are currently available for preorder on his website, with the basic kit starting at $80. Purchasing a kit or $10 monthly subscription to the cloud service software allows you to participate in the closed beta, which is currently only available for amateur radio operators.

The QRUQSP Hardware
The QRUQSP Hardware

In terms of software Andrew has also created a web application that can be used to collect and display the weather data collected over APRS or rtl_433. The service can be hosted directly on the systems Raspberry Pi, or online on the cloud via the QRUQSP subscription service.

QRUQSP Dashboard and Weather Data Log Display
QRUQSP Dashboard and Weather Data Log Display

Tracking Multiple Amateur Radio APRS Balloons with RTL-SDRs

Last month Jeff Deaton from "Edge of Space Sciences" (EOSS) presented a talk called "SDR Multi Balloon Tracking", where he discusses how EOSS are using RTL-SDR receivers to track their APRS high altitude balloons. EOSS is a Denver, Colorado based non-profit organization that promotes science and education by exploring frontiers in amateur radio and high altitude balloons. The talk overview reads:

Review of the software defined APRS system being used to track multiple balloon flights at EOSS. Overview of primary features like the graphical user interface and landing predictions as well as a discussion of the open source software used to power the system like GnuRadio, Dire Wolf, and Aprsc.

It appears that they've created some interesting software that they run on small portable computers that they take in chase vehicles. The software uses an RTL-SDR to receive the APRS signal from the high altitude balloons that they've launched, allowing them to track and predict the flight path, and ultimately recover the balloons and attached cameras.

SDR Multi Balloon Tracking

Creating a High Altitude Balloon Telemetry System with Raspberry Pi, RPiTX and RTL-SDR

The 2M TX Filter by ZR6AIC
The 2M TX Filter by ZR6AIC

Over on his blog ZR6AIC explains how he's created a full HAB (high altitude balloon) telemetry transmit and receive system using RPiTX and an RTL-SDR dongle running on a Raspberry Pi 3.

RPiTX is software that enables the Raspberry Pi to transmit any modulated signal over a wide range of frequencies using just a single GPIO pin. However, the transmission contains multiple harmonics and thus requires sufficient filtering in order to transmit legally within the 2M ham band. To solve this ZR6AIC uses a 2M Raspberry Pi Hat kit which he designed and created that contains two low pass filters as well at the option for an additional power amplifier.

The rest of ZR5AIC's post explains how his HAB telemetry system combines the Raspberry Pi 3, RPiTX 2M Hat, RTL-SDR, a GPS unit, battery, temperature sensor and optional camera into a full HAB transmitting system. He also explains the software and terminal commands that he uses which allows him to transmit via RPiTX a CW beacon and GPS and temperature sensor APRS telemetry data with the Direwolf software. Full instructions on setting up the alsa-loopback audio routing is also provided.

Launching the High Altitude Balloon.
Launching the High Altitude Balloon.

Tracking RS41-SGP weather balloons and reporting them to the APRS Network

Over on his blog Daniel Estevez has created a post showing how an RTL-SDR can be used to receive, plot and forward RS41-SGP radiosonde data to the APRS-IS network. Radiosondes are the small payloads used on weather balloons. They transmit weather and positional telemetry data back to a base station at the meteorological agency. But depending on the frequency used in your country it can be fairly easy to receive this data yourself with an RTL-SDR dongle and some decoding software. We have an introductory tutorial for radiosonde decoding available here.

In his area of Barajas, Spain the meteorological agency recently switched to the newer RS41-SGP radiosondes. To decode these Daniel uses the open source "RS" software which is capable of decoding various radiosondes including RS41. He notes that for now it is better to use his fork of "RS" as the base version contains a bug. He also shows how the received data can be plotted in Viking, which is a program used for plotting things like GPS tracks on a map.

Finally he shows how to feed the radiosonde data to the APRS-IS network. APRS is a packet radio system used by hams which works via radio and the internet, allowing for worldwide communication by radio. Feeding the data into APRS-IS allows anyone to see the flightpath on a site like aprs.fi.

Radiosonde Flight Path
RS41 Radiosonde Flight Path recorded by Daniel Estevez

A brief look at the FaradayRF

The FaradayRF is not a software defined radio, but it is a computer controlled digital TX/RX radio device. Basically it is a radio designed to communicate digital data over the 33 cm ham/ISM band. The 33 cm band is between 902 to 928 MHz in the ITU Region 2 area (Americas, Canada, Greenland and some pacific islands). It was designed for amateur radio operators out of the need for a device that allows for easy experimentation with digital radio. An amateur radio licence is required, but only at the technician level which is the easiest licence to obtain.

The product itself is a simple PCB which has on board a low power microcontroller (no OS), a GPS module, and an RF front end that can TX up to 400 mW. They write that with 400 mW a signal at 900 MHz can be transmitted up to 40 miles away. Also, by using low power micro-controllers and hardware radio (instead of SDR), they write that they were able to power the device from a single 9V battery for over 12 hours. The hardware and software is also all open source.

In some ways the FaradayRF is kind of similar to the Yardstick One/PandwaRF radios which were designed for reverse engineering or security research on digital signals. But the FaradayRF comes with SAW filtering to provide a clean output, an amplifier to boost the signal, and software aimed at providing digital comms making it more for amateur radio use.

Some applications might include point to point telemetry/comms, high altitude balloons, ocean buoys, digital voice, APRS, text messaging etc.

The FaradayRF starter set currently costs $300 USD and includes two units (one with GPS included and another without) or $330 USD with two GPS capable units.

Over on TwiT the creators were interviewed earlier on in the year and a video of that interview is available. Also check out their blog which shows some of the interesting things that they're doing with the FaradayRF.

The FaradayRF PCB
The FaradayRF PCB

There was also a 5 minute "lightning talk" about the FaradayRF presented at the DCC 2017 conference, which we show below. The talk about the FaradayRF starts at 9:57.

HRN 354: Lightning Talks from the 2017 DCC on Ham Radio Now