Tagged: APT

A Tutorial on Receiving HRPT Weather Satellite Images with an SDRplay RSP2

RSP2user's HRPT equipment

Over on the SDRplay forums user 'RSP2user' has put up a quality post describing how he receives HRPT weather satellite images with his SDRplay RSP2. HRPT stands for 'High Resolution Picture Transmission' and provides a much higher resolution image compared to the APT weather satellite images typically downloaded from NOAA satellites. Somewhat confusingly the picture quality of HRPT is similar to LRPT (low rate picture transmission) which is used on the Russian Meteor M series weather satellite. HRPT provides 1.1 km resolution, whilst LRPT provides 1 km resolution.

Currently there are multiple satellites broadcasting HRPT signals including NOAA 19, NOAA 18, NOAA 15, Meteor M2, Fengyun 3B, Fengyun 3C, Metop A and Metop B.

The difference in difficulty of receiving APT and LRPT versus HRPT transmissions typically occur in the L-band at about 1.7 GHz, and requires a directive high gain antenna with tracking motor to track the satellite as it passes over. This makes these images many times more difficult to receive compared to APT and LRPT which only require a fixed position antenna for reception at the more forgiving 137 MHz.

Over on his post RSP2user shows how he uses a repurposed Meade Instruments telescope tracking mount and controller to drive the tracking of a 26 element loop Yagi antenna. A 0.36dB noise figure LNA modified with bias tee input is used to boost the signal and reduce the noise figure. The signal is received by a SDRplay RSP2 and processed on a PC with USA-satcoms HRPT decoder software, which is available for purchase by directly contacting him. The HRPT signal bandwidth appears to be about 2.4 MHz so possibly an RTL-SDR could also be used, but it might be pushing it to the limit.

If you are interested, RSP2user also uploaded an APT weather satellite image reception tutorial on another post. This tutorial shows how to build a quality quadrifilar helix antenna as well.

Receiving the HRPT signal on USA-Satcoms' HRPT decoder.
Receiving the HRPT signal on USA-Satcoms' HRPT decoder.

Using a TV Dipole Antenna for NOAA Satellite Reception

Over on YouTube icholakov has uploaded a video showing how effective a simple old TV bunny ears antenna can be at receiving NOAA satellite images. The old TV antenna is telescoping so it can be adjusted to be resonant for many frequencies, and for NOAA satellites about 20 inches makes it resonant. Using the antenna as a V-Dipole and placing it in a North to South direction optimizes the radiation pattern towards the sky, allowing for good reception of the NOAA satellite. Using it this way also helps to null out strong vertically polarized stations. More information on the V-Dipole can be found on our previous post where we posted about Adam 9A4QV’s idea to use the V-Dipole for satellite reception.

Also related to this post is a sneak preview on our new product: We’ve also caught onto the idea that TV antenna dipoles are extremely versatile, and are in the final stages of releasing a simple telescopic dipole product similar to the TV antenna used in this video. It will be released as an antenna set that comes with some portable mounting solutions like a suction cup and bendy tripod, and 3M of RG174 coax so that the antenna can be used anywhere. Target price is $10 -15 USD incl. shipping from China. This will probably also replace the stock telescopic whip antenna currently used in our dongle sets since the telescopic dipole is simply much more versatile.

Instructions for Building a Portable Double Cross Antenna: Great for NOAA/Meteor Weather Satellites

Over on Reddit user merg_flerg has uploaded an imgur post that carefully details a step by step guide for building a double cross antenna. A double cross antenna is great for reception of satellites like NOAA and Meteor since it has a sky oriented radiation pattern with very few nulls. This means that it can receive satellite signals coming from the sky well. Alternative antennas for NOAA/Meteor include turnstiles and QFH antennas, although the double cross antenna seems to have the least nulls, meaning that the signal is less likely to fade in and out as the satellite moves across the sky.

merg_flerg’s design is also modified from the standard design slightly, allowing it to become easily disassembled and carried within a backpack. At the end of his tutorial he writes that he gets much better reception with his double cross antenna than he does with his QFH.

In the post he demonstrates the final constructed antenna decoding a NOAA APT weather satellite image with an RTL-SDR and the WXtoIMG software. See our tutorial for information on decoding NOAA weather satellite images.

The finished double cross antenna connected to a PC running an RTL-SDR and WXtoIMG.
The finished double cross antenna connected to a PC running an RTL-SDR and WXtoIMG.

Building a simple NOAA APT Antenna out of an Umbrella

In order to optimally receive NOAA weather satellite images a special satellite antenna tuned for 137 MHz should to be built. Generally either a QFH or turnstile antenna is recommended as these receive signals coming from the sky very well. If you are interested in receiving weather satellite images from NOAA satellites with an RTL-SDR dongle then we have a tutorial available here.

While QFH and turnstile antennas are not difficult or expensive to build, they still do require a small amount of electrical and construction skills. Over on YouTube user Wanderlinse shows us a possible alternative NOAA antenna that is simply made out of an old umbrella (the video is narrated in German, but it is easy to understand from the visuals). He uses a short BNC cable with crocodile clips, and connects one clip to the spines of the umbrella, and the other to the central metal shaft. For some reason this seems to create a good antenna that receives NOAA APT signals very well. To prevent wind issues he also cuts out some holes in the umbrella fabric.

Wanderlinse also shows that he can receive other signals with this umbrella antenna too, such as long wave, medium wave, shortwave, aircraft radio and ham radio.

Setting up an RTL-SDR based APT/Meteor Satellite Weather Station Receiver

Recently a reader of our blog, Initrd, wrote in to let us know about a new tutorial he created that shows how to set up a dual NOAA APT and Meteor LRPT weather satellite monitoring station with an RTL-SDR dongle. These weather satellites transmit a live image of the portion of the earth that they are currently over, providing a valuable tool for weather analysis. APT transmissions are analogue and are transmitted by the American NOAA satellites, and the newer Meteor M2 satellite transmits a higher resolution image in the LRPT format. We also have posted separate tutorials that show how to set up NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT decoding with an RTL-SDR, but Initrd’s tutorial appears to be a good all in one guide.

His tutorial takes you step by step through a process that involves setting up the satellite tracking software Orbitron, all the required SDR# plugins, the APT decoder WXtoIMG and the LRPT decoder. The tutorial also shows how to connect them all together and set them up so that APT and LRPT decoding can coexist.

sdrsharp_apt

A Tutorial on Decoding NOAA and Meteor M2 Weather Satellite Images in Ubuntu

Recently an RTL-SDR.com reader by the name of Pete wrote in to let us know about a comprehensive tutorial that he has written about setting up NOAA and Meteor M2 weather satellite decoding in Ubuntu Linux with an RTL-SDR.

Pete’s tutorial starts from a fresh install of Ubuntu and uses GQRX, GNU Radio Companion, WxtoIMG and the MeteorM2 decoding tools. He shows how to set up the audio piping within Linux, how to run the MeteorM2 LRPT Offline decoder Windows tool in Wine, a Linux Windows emulator and how to use WxtoIMG together with GQRX.

The NOAA and Meteor M2 weather satellites transmit images that they have taken of the earth. With an RTL-SDR and appropriate antenna you can receive these images. On this blog we have Windows tutorials on receiving NOAA and Meteor M2 satellites.

The Windows LRPTOfflineDecoder tool running in Linux with Wine.
The Windows LRPTOfflineDecoder tool running in Linux with Wine.

An Alternative NOAA Weather Satellite Tutorial using RTL_FM and WxToImg

The RTL-SDR software defined radio is often used to receive signals from NOAA APT weather satellites. Once decoded these signals produce a freshly captured image of the earth over your current location. We have a simple tutorial on setting this up here.

However, recently Marco Johansson wrote into RTL-SDR.com to explain an alternative method to the one described in our tutorial. His method uses rtl_fm as the receiver instead of the GUI based software SDR# and uses several other pieces of software to automate the whole process. Marco believes that his method may be useful for some people and his tutorial is presented below. Also, if you are interested Marco has a WxtoImg generated webpage which shows all his recently received images here wxsat.haastaja.net.

A composite weather satellite image received from the NOAA-18 satellite by Marco
A composited weather satellite image made up of several images received from NOAA satellites by Marco Johansson

Note that the following tutorial is written by Marco Johansson.

Marco’s NOAA APT Decoding Tutorial

As a Windows user I had some serious problems using an RTL-Dongle as a receiver for WxtoImg. Signal drops, CPU load, and no receiver control. I had to use 5 different pieces of software to get automatic reception to work and every day one of the programs had some weird problems causing the whole system to stop working. I read several forum posts about similar problems. A huge bit of help came from WxtoImg’s own forum where a user told how he was able to use rtl_fm as a receiver. His system was Linux based, so I was not able to use his scripts, but it gave me enough information to find a Windows based solution.

I stumbled on to a software program that solves my problem totally. It is originally made to control Windows MCE (Media Center), but since it’s release it has been enhanced to work as a universal remote control for the Windows system.

Steps:

1) Install WxtoImg normally
2) Install VB Cable Virtual Audio Cable software to be able to pipe audio from receiver to WxtoImg (http://vb-audio.pagesperso-orange.fr/Cable)
3) Install virtual COM port BRIDGE(!) for COM-communication between programs (I tested with: http://freevirtualserialports.com)
4) Install rtl_fm for windows (http://sdr.osmocom.org/trac/attachment/wiki/rtl-sdr/RelWithDebInfo.zip)
5) Install SoX for Windows (http://sourceforge.net/projects/sox/files/sox)
6) Install MCE Control to act as a command-shell between WxtoImg and MCE Controll (http://mcec.codeplex.com)

In WxtoImg I selected “Baykal” receiver, port COM1 and 2400baud. The protocol for remote control is very easy to understand and after every command WxtoImg sends CR/LF to receiver, which is mandatory to get commands to work.

Control commands are handled with MCE controller. It listens to COM2 (bridged with COM1) and when it hears a valid command string (A Magic ‘word’) it activates a task. Tasks are .bat files, one for every satellite and a “kill” to stop receiver after the satellite pass.

When satellite is coming (one minute before it is over head) WxtoImg sends a command “MUA” that triggers “kill.bat”. Then WxtoImg sends a command “RF0xxxxxxx” where xxxxxxx is the frequency of the satellite, “1371000” for NOAA19 – this triggers “rec-noaa19.bat”. When the pass is over, Wxtoimg sends again “MUA” to kill the receiver program.

Now I can control recordings directly from WxtoImg without any other software (Orbitron, SDR#, DDE client etc).

.bat files and other configurations are provided below for others to use. I ended up to have separate .bat to start the tasks as in that way I can set the system start and stop recording in the background without a command prompt popping around my desktop every 90 mins 🙂

My system is Windows 8.1, I have not tested this in 7, 8 or 10 but I believe it should work without any modification. The HW ID of the RTL-Dongle I use for wx_rtl_fm.exe is “3” (‘-d 3’ in script). If you have only one RTL-Dongle, then this should be set to “0”. I use the bandwidth of 55 kHz that seems to be enough for good APT reception including doppler error as in this method the doppler error is not corrected in the receiver at all (no AFC).

NOTE! I have copied the original ‘rtl_fm.exe’ to ‘wx_rtl_fm.exe’ to be able to start other rtl_fm.exe instances without the risk that WxtoImg kills my other receiver accidentaly. And of course, remember that these are from my system and the correct path used in scripts will be different for you 🙂 Also, the original ‘sox.exe’ is copied to ‘play.exe’ as instructed in the SoX’s manual for Windows user. And because I’m lazy, I copied rtl_fm and SoX binaries to same directory so that I do not have to put so long path strings into my .bat scripts 🙂

Final words:

.bat’s used in this are very dirty hacks and there are lot’s of improvement available for sure – but it works! Also, the remote protocol for Baykal receiver actually sends two more commands, one is used for telling the modulation of the transmission (RM NFM) and second to do something I do not know (MUF).

The whole communication in my system goes like this:

1) “MUA” => Kill all wx_rtl_fm.exe processes currently running (if any). This happens one minute before satellite pass starts.

2) “RF0xxxxxxx” => Start wx_rtl_fm & SoX, xxxxxxx=frequency of the satellite and is used to select correct .bat for different satellites (see MCE Control XML-file for details). This happes when satellite pass starts.

3) “RM NFM” => Not used in my system. Could trigger something fun if needed :). This happens right after ‘RF0xxxxxxx’ command.

4) “MUF” => Not used in my system. Could trigger something fun if needed :). This happens right after ‘RM NFM’ command.

5) “MUA” => Kill all wx_rtl_fm.exe processes currently running. This happes right after satellite pass.

SoX is a very powerfull tool for audio manipulation. There are options that could greatly improve the audio quality of the received signal – denoice, better dynamics etc. I am not that keen to try everything SoX could do as the results are already very good in my system, but if there are someone who knows better ways to handle SoX then please do not hesitate to comment!

Used .bat Files

“Kill the receiver”:

kill.bat is triggered by MCE control and calls kill-wx_rtl_fm.bat to do the actual killing.

kill.bat

cd C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox start /min kill-wx_rtl_fm.bat ^& exit

This triggers;

kill-wx_rtl_fm.bat

taskkill /IM wx_rtl_fm.exe /F

“Start recording”:

Recording is started after MCE Control gets the correct ‘word’ from WxtoImg. For every satellite there are separate ‘words’ and separate .bat files.

rec-noaa15.bat

cd C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox start /min noaa15.bat ^& exit

This triggers;

noaa15.bat

cd C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox play -r 55k -t raw -e s -b 16 -c 1 "|wx_rtl_fm -d 3 -M fm -f 137.62M -s 55k -l 0" -t waveaudio

rec-noaa18.bat

cd C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox start /min noaa18.bat ^& exit

This triggers;

noaa18.bat

cd C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox play -r 55k -t raw -e s -b 16 -c 1 "|wx_rtl_fm -d 3 -M fm -f 137.9125M -s 55k -l 0" -t waveaudio

rec-noaa19.bat

cd C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox start /min noaa19.bat ^& exit

This triggers;

noaa19.bat

cd C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox play -r 55k -t raw -e s -b 16 -c 1 "|wx_rtl_fm -d 3 -M fm -f 137.1M -s 55k -l 0" -t waveaudio

And finally, the MCE Control magic ‘words’. By default, MCE Control understands over 200 separate commands originally meant to remote control Windows MCE (Media Center). Fortunately, one can create their own commands and get MCE Control to do much more – control Wx-system!

MCE Control uses an XML configuration file for these extra commands. The file is located in the same directory where the main executable is located. My system uses following XML file to be able to control ‘wx_rtl_fm.exe’:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> <MCEController xmlns:xsd="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"> <Commands xmlns="http://www.kindel.com/products/mcecontroller"> <!-- Place command definitions here --> <!-- ================================================================== StartProcess Commands File: The full path to the executable you want to start. ================================================================== --> <StartProcess Cmd="RF01376200" File="C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox\rec-noaa15.bat"/> <StartProcess Cmd="RF01379125" File="C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox\rec-noaa18.bat"/> <StartProcess Cmd="RF01371000" File="C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox\rec-noaa19.bat"/> <StartProcess Cmd="MUA" File="C:\Users\Mac Radio\ownCloud\SDR\rtl_fm_sox\kill.bat"/> </Commands> </MCEController>

NOAA Weather Satellite Antenna and Software Guide

Over on the SDR for mariners blog, author Akos has written two new beginners posts on getting up and running with receiving and decoding NOAA weather satellite APT images.

The first post discusses antennas that are useful for NOAA satellite reception, and shows how to build a homemade turnstile and QFH antenna. His second post shows a beginners guide to the software that can be used to decode the APT signal in order to obtain a live weather satellite image.

sdrformariners_apt_image QFH Antenna