Tagged: art

Hystérésia: An Art Installation that Listens to Zombie Satellites

Thank you to Stéfane Perraud, Aram Kebabdjian and team for submitting news that they have recently launched an art project in Lausanne, Switzerland called "Hystérésia". The installation is technical art, which consists of an autonomous satellite receiving station designed to receive beacons from old "zombie" satellites, and then broadcast their signals audibly. A description of the ground station can be seen here.

Zombie or Dead satellites are satellites that are officially decommissioned and powered down, but have unintentionally reactivated. This often happens as over time the batteries on these satellites can undertake a chemical reaction from thousands of solar recharge cycles which eventually results in a short circuit. Hence the satellites reactivate when in sunlight. If you are interested we have an old post on this phenomena back from 2014.

The system is based on an antenna rotator with two Yagi's that tracks the zombie satellites as they pass over the sky. A QFH antenna has also been spotted in their images. Based on the waterfall images, an SDRplay RSP is used as the receiver, and some computing device is used to demodulate the signal into audio. Stefan adds:

Technically we are using a double yagi 137 and 145 plus a 777 antenna from diamond to catch 200 mHz

We developed a python based software that’s controlling a sdr software based on gnu radio.

We update TLE everyday, our azimuth and élévation rotor follow the satellites and we catch the signal with a sdr uno, plus a switch that choose antenna with the good satellite.

The machine is monitored by a bench of sensors , wind, humidity, temp. It can be control by internet via the website

The machine search for peaks around the chosen frequency,
Also the sound is processed by max/msp, we denoise it and we make music out of it

The 3 metallics pavillons blows the sound noise to the audience
Each time a satellite shows up, the machine sends a story told by one of our recording, a woman actors voice , it tells a specific history that’s tells a narrative about the satellite that’s on air … but in French

If you are unable to visit the installation in person, it appears that their website also broadcasts the last received satellite's sound. The website also shows photos of the history of the zombie satellites.

If you're interested in other art based on satellites and software defined radios, have a look at our previous post on the open weather project, and the "signs of life" project. Another SDR art project was 'Holypager', an art installation that continuously prints out pager messages received by a HackRF, and "ghosts in the air glow" project which used the HAARP antenna array to broadcast an art project.

Hysteresia montage (click for large version)
Hysteresia montage (click for large version)

Ghosts in the Air Glow HAARP Art Project: Transmitting Until March 28

The famous HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) antenna array will be transmitting again from March 25 - March 28, 2019. HAARP is an antenna array which is used to perform experiments on the Earth's ionosphere and thermosphere by transmitting HF RF energy into it. With an HF capable receiver like the RTL-SDR V3 it is often possible to receive these transmissions from some distance away. As HAARP only rarely transmits, it is an interesting signal to catch when it is transmitting.

HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program)
HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program)

The current set of experiments are being combined with an art project by artist Amanda Dawn Christie (@magnet_mountain). Amanda is an interdisciplinary artist working at Condordia University. On the project website she explains the project:

Ghosts in the Air Glow is an ionospheric transmission art project using the HAARP Ionospheric Research Instrument to play with the liminal boundaries of outer space.

Pairing air glow experiments in the ionosphere—false auroras creating soft, glowing spots in the sky—with SSTV images, audio and image signals articulated by artist Amanda Dawn Christie will be received and decoded via SDR (Software Defined Radio) equipment by amateur radio operators around the world, and streamed live online for audiences who do not have the equipment or expertise for reception.

She also talks about the project on a Concordia University article:

The first art transmission was sent earlier today, and if you missed it Amanda live streamed the signals being received on YouTube and the recording is available here. Future live streams will be available here. DK8OK has also posted about his reception on his blog.

Further transmissions are scheduled every day until March 28, and the transmissions schedule is available here. Each transmission consists of several 'movements', which consist of differing antenna array arrangements, frequencies being used, and signals being transmitted. If the text formatting of the movements is a bit difficult to read, Reddit user 
grink has formatted it into a nice table in his post. To follow the transmissions it would be also wise to follow Amanda on Twitter, where she is posting the most up to date transmission frequencies.

As to how the idea for this project came about, the Concordia University article writes:

The idea for the project came about when Christie met Christopher Fallen, the chief scientist at HAARP, at a hackers conference earlier this year. Fallen, who is an amateur radio operator, was intrigued by Christie’s proposition to use the IRI to create site-specific transmission art.

He agreed to open the facility to her, and when she gained backing from the Canada Council for the ArtsGhosts in the Air Glow officially became the first Canadian-funded project to take place at HAARP.

“Art and science are often seen as separate efforts but they actually share many of the same inspirations and techniques. I’m excited to see HAARP, a unique scientific instrument, used for a comparably unique artistic performance,” says Fallen.

“Amanda’s project will be a valuable contribution to the 50-year collection of scientific work in the field of ionosphere radio modification, and also to the brand new collection of artistic work using powerful high-frequency radio transmitters and the upper atmosphere — it’s art directed from the ground but created in space!”

Interdisciplinary artist Amanda Dawn Christie. Photo by Concordia University
Interdisciplinary artist Amanda Dawn Christie. Photo by Concordia University

If you prefer a video explanation of the project, YouTube user OfficialSWLchannel has prepared a video which is shown below.

HAARP tests and Ghost in the Air Glow from Amanda Dawn Christie

Art from Satellite Transmissions: SatNOGS and Software Defined Radio used in a Sound Art Installation

One of the piezo speakers playing the satellite transmissions.
One of the piezo speakers playing the satellite transmissions.

In the past we've seen software defined radio's like the HackRF use to create art installations such as the 'Holypager', which was an art project that aimed to draw attention to the breach of privacy caused by pagers used by doctors and staff at hospitals.

Recently another art installation involving a software defined radio was exhibited at Wichita State University. The project by artist Nicholas A. Knouf is called "they transmitted continuously / but our times rarely aligned / and their signals dissipated in the æther" and it aims to collect the sounds of various satellite transmissions, and play them back using small piezo speakers in the art gallery. To do this he built a SatNOGS receiver and used a software defined radio to capture the audio. He doesn't mention which SDR was used, but most commonly RTL-SDR's are used with the SatNOGS project. Nicholas describes the project below:

This 20-channel sound installation represents the results of collecting hundreds of transmissions from satellites orbiting the earth. Using custom antennas that I built from scratch, I tracked the orbits and frequencies of satellites using specialized software. This software then allows me to collect the radio frequency signals and translate them into sound.

The open source software and hardware, called SatNOGS and developed by a world-wide group of satellite enthusiasts, enables anyone to build a ground station for tracking satellites and their transmissions, which are then uploaded to a publicly accessable database. Data received by my ground stations can be found here. These transmissions are mostly from weather satellites, CubeSats (small satellites launched by universities world-wide for short-term research), or amateur radio repeaters (satellites designed for ham radio operators to experiment with communication over long distances).

I made the speakers hanging from the grid from a piezoelectric element embedded between two sheets of handmade abaca paper that was then air dried over a form.

The project was also discussed over on the SatNOGS forum.

The SatNOGS art installation
The SatNOGS art installation