In the 70's and 80's the US government launched a fleet of satellites called "FLTSATCOM", which were simple radio repeaters up in geostationary orbit. This allowed the US military to easily communicate with each other all over the world. However, the technology of the time could not implement encryption. So security relied entirely on only the US militaries technological advantage at being the only ones to have radio equipment that could reach these satellites.
Of course as time progressed equipment which could reach the 243 - 270 MHz range of the satellites became common place, and the satellites began picking and repeating terrestrial broadcasts of things like cordless phones. These days the satellites are often hijacked by Brazilian radio pirates, who use the satellites for long range communications.
A common hobby of RTL-SDR users is to listen to these pirates. All you need is a simple antenna and to be based in a region where the satellites cover both your ground station and the pirates.
Over on YouTube the "saveitforparts" channel has uploaded an entertaining video overviewing the pirate phenomenon, and showing how it's possible to listen in using a cheap Baogeng scanner and RTL-SDR. He uses a homemade Yagi and cleverly makes use of an old security camera motorized PTZ mount to accurately aim the antenna. Once the Yagi antenna is aimed at the satellite, pirates can be heard on the radio.
On a previous post, we showed an interview by SignalsEverywhere and an anonymous Brazilian radio pirate who explains how and why they do what they do. If you search our blog for 'satcom' you'll also find several previous posts including examples of receiving SSTV from pirates.
Corrosive from the SignalsEverywhere YouTube channel has released a new episode of his podcast. In this episode Corrosive interviews an anonymous informant who has an interesting story about his involvement with the UHF Military SATCOM pirate radio scene in Brazil. Corrosive also explains a bit further about what SATCOM is and why it's so susceptible to piracy. He also notes that piracy on Inmarsat L-band frequencies is also becoming more common.
The UHF-SATCOM band is anywhere between 243 - 270 MHz and contains fairly strong signals from many several US satellites that can be received with a simple antenna and any UHF radio/SDR. Many of the satellites are simple repeaters without security, and pirates from Mexico and South America often hijack the satellite for their own personal use. In the past, and possibly even still today hijackers involved in drug trafficking and other illegal activities made use of these insecure military satellites for long range communications. Reception of these satellites is generally available in Canada, US, Mexico, South America, Europe and Africa.
Over on Twitter Denis (@uhfsatcom) has recently been teasing us with photos of his 16 dongle RTL-SDR V3 setup. The system looks like it's designed to be a satcom band WebSDR receiver.
The satcom band is around 240 - 270 MHz and mostly consists of various military satellites that act as simple repeaters which are often hijacked by pirates. WebSDR is a piece of software that allows for online web streaming of SDR radios. Users from all over the world can listen in if made public. Denis has also uploaded a short video showing a test of 8 dongles running and receiving the satcom band on his WebSDR system.
We look forward to hearing more updates on this project!