Tagged: APRS

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.


A Pre-Built Raspberry Pi Image for using an RTL-SDR as an APRS RX iGate

Keith Maton (G6NHU) wrote in and wanted to share his new ready to go APRS RX iGate image for the Raspberry Pi. APRS stands for “Amateur Packet Reporting System”, and is a type of packet radio communications system used by Amateur Radio operators. They often use them to transmit short mail messages, weather sensor updates, track vehicles and for various other purposes. An iGate allows APRS messages to be transmitted over the all world via the internet via a signal chain such as: RF->iGate RX->Internet->iGate TX->RF.  To run an iGate you should be a radio amateur with a callsign. A global aggregation of APRS broadcasts received by iGates can be seen at aprs.fi.

An RTL-SDR can be used to receive APRS packets easily and many amateur radio enthusiasts have been setting up APRS RX only iGates using the “direwolf” decoding software. Keith’s image simplifies the process of installing and configuring software significantly by proving a plug and play image that you just burn to an SDcard and plug into your Raspberry Pi. His post also explains how to configure the iGate correctly.

iGate Raspberry Pi Image Running
iGate Raspberry Pi Image Running

Solving APRS Interference Issues with a Bandpass Filter and Coax Notches

John, DK9JC N1JJC wanted to set up an RTL-SDR APRS packet iGate. APRS stands for “Amateur Packet Reporting System”, and is a type of packet radio communications system used by Amateur Radio operators. They often use them to transmit short messages, weather sensor updates, and for vehicle tracking. An iGate allows APRS messages to be transmitted over the all world via the internet like so RF->iGate RX->Internet->iGate TX->RF.

When trying to receive the APRS packets John discovered a problem. He discovered that there was a very strong 100kW broadcast FM and 50kW DAB transmitter on a transmission tower in line of sight of his antenna. The strong signals were overloading the dongle and completely wiping out the APRS packets that he was trying to receive at 144.8 MHz.

First John tried a simple bandpass filter with 0.8 dB insertion loss and 20dB attenuation. The filter still wasn’t enough, so he went and made a several coax notch filters to take out each of the interfering signals. A coax notch filter is simply a length of coax connected via a “T” junction to the main coax cable. This creates a notch of attenuation at a frequency depending on the length of the notching coax. With these notches combined with the bandpass filter he was finally able to receive APRS packets.

A coax notch filter
A coax notch filter

Setting up a Raspberry Pi based APRS RX IGate with an RTL-SDR

Recently amateur radio hobbyist WB20SZ wrote in to us to let us know about his work with creating an easy to build receive only APRS internet gateway (IGate) with a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR dongle. The process involves using WB20SZ’s “Dire Wolf” software which is a free Linux based APRS encoder/decoder. He writes that it can be used to observe APRS traffic, as a digipeater, APRStt gateway or Internet Gateway (IGate). Setting up the APRS IGate is a simple matter of piping the received APRS audio from rtl_fm into the direwolf software. Instructions for installing direwolf can be found here.

APRS stands for Automatic Packet Reporting System and is a packet radio protocol used by radio amateurs to broadcast real time data such as messages, announcements, weather station reports and sometimes the location of vehicles. If an APRS station has a GPS attached to it, the broadcasts will also contain the GPS coordinates. Internet Gateways or IGates are repeaters that are used to receive messages from a local radio and pass them on via the internet to a transmit capable IGate repeater anywhere in the world. To run an IGate you should be a radio amateur with a callsign. A global aggregation of APRS broadcasts received by IGates can be seen at aprs.fi.

Various APRS messages seen on aprs.fi
Various APRS messages seen on aprs.fi

Using Xastir with the RTL-SDR

Xastir is a Linux based program that is used for plotting Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) data on a map. APRS is is type of packet radio system used by ham radio for real time local area digital communications. It is often used for sending messages, plotting positions on a map or providing weather station data.

Over on his blog, KJ6VVZ’s has uploaded a post showing how he was able to get the RTL-SDR working with Xastir. He uses rtl_fm piped into MultimonNG for the APRS decoding and then sends the decoded APRS information to Xastir via a FIFO buffer.

Xastir Message Log
Xastir Message Log

Decoding APRS with SDR#, APRSISCE32 and an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube user k2nccvids has posted a video showing how he was able to decode APRS signals and plot them on a map using APRSISCE32. APRSISCE32 is an advanced Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) decoder which has mapping capabilities and can also connect to the internet as an iGate. APRS is used by amateur radio hobbyists to send data like messages, announcements and also GPS coordinates.

Monitoring APRS with the RTL-SDR

YouTube user Troy McQuinn has uploaded a video showing how he is able to decode amateur radio APRS signals. APRS is an acronym for Automatic Packet Reporting System and is used by ham radio users to send data like messages, announcements and also GPS coordinates. To decode APRS he uses SDR# and pipes the audio to QTMM AFSK 1200 Decoder.