Tagged: frequency drift

Detecting Pulsars (Rotating Neutron Stars) with an RTL-SDR

The RTL-SDR has been used for some time now as an amateur radio astronomy tool. Radio astronomers Peter W East and GM Gancio have recently uploaded a paper that details their experiments with detecting Pulsars with an RTL-SDR (doc file).

A pulsar is a rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. If this beam points towards the earth, it can then be observed with a large dish antenna and a radio, like the RTL-SDR. The abstract of the paper reads: 

This project sought to determine the minimum useful antenna aperture for amateur radio astronomers to successfully detect pulsars around the Hydrogen line frequency of 1420MHz. The technique relied on the collaboration with GM Gancio, who provided RTL SDR data of the Vela pulsar (B0833-45, J0835-4510) and others, collected with a 30m radio telescope. This data was processed to determine the achievable signal-to-noise ratio from which, the minimum useful dish size necessary for some effective amateur work, could be calculated. Two software packages were developed to do synchronous integration, a third to provide a power detection function and a fourth for spectrum analysis to recover pulsar rotation rate.

With their system the authors were able to detect and measure the rotation period of the Vela pulsar. Also, from their data they were able to estimate that the minimum dish aperture required to observe the Vela pulsar would be 6m, noting that the Vela pulsar is probably the strongest pulsar ever detected. They also write that by utilizing 5 RTL-SDRs to gather 10 MHz of bandwidth together with some processing that the minimum required dish aperture could be reduced to 3.5m.

The Vela pulsar pulse power integrated over a 50 second 100MB file, combining some 560 pulsar pulses
The Vela pulsar pulse power integrated over a 50 second 100MB file, combining some 560 pulsar pulses.

In addition to these Pulsar experiments, Peter has also uploaded new papers about improving his Hydrogen Line RTL-SDR Telescope (pdf), and has updated his paper on improving the frequency stability of RTL-SDR’s with air cooling (doc file). Peter found that the frequency stability of the RTL-SDR (with standard oscillator) could be significantly improved by adding heat sinks and aircooling them. The graph from his paper below summarizes his results.

Results from air cooling the RTL-SDR.
Results from air cooling the RTL-SDR.
The air cooled and heatsinked RTL-SDRs
The air cooled and heat sinked RTL-SDRs

All of Peters papers can be found on his website at y1pwe.co.uk/RAProgs/index.html. He has many RTL-SDR radio astronomy related resources there, so check it out if you are interested.

Another TCXO RTL-SDR for Sale And Aluminium Cases

Recently we posted about a new US based source for modded TCXO RTL-SDR dongles. Now Nooelec, one of the most popular sellers of standard RTL-SDR dongles have started selling their own version of TCXO modded dongles as well. Their dongles come with a 0.5 ppm TCXO oscillator as well as an external aluminium casing for interference shielding.

A TCXO is a temperature controlled oscillator. Its advantage over a standard oscillator like the one used in a normal RTL-SDR is that its frequency will not drift as the temperature of the dongle changes.

Nooelec are also selling the aluminium casing by itself in silver and in blue for use in shielding dongles that you already have.

Nooelec TCXO Dongle
Nooelec TCXO Dongle

TCXO RTL-SDR Soon Available Internationally

Andy, programmer of the RTL1090 ADSB decoder software, and owner of the 1090Mhz webstore has notified us that he will soon be selling to international buyers the TCXO RTL-SDR dongle modified by Nobu Saitou. We recently featured a story about the TCXO RTL-SDR and also gave it a review on this blog. From the review we concluded that the TCXO RTL-SDR is a good product and will be useful for applications that need good frequency accuracy and stability.

Interested buyers can look for the contact us link on the 1090MHz shop TCXO page description to contact Andy for a reservation and notification on when the TCXO RTL-SDR becomes available for sale. Andy expects the first batch of TCXO RTL-SDRs to arrive in January.

Cooling the RTL-SDR

Over at the SDR for Mariners blog, Akos has put together a write up on his methods for cooling the RTL-SDR dongle. Cooling can help reduce temperature related frequency drift, which occurs as the dongles crystal oscillator heats up over time.

One of his recommendations is to try oil cooling the dongle. This involves completely immersing the dongle in sunflower or vegetable oil. Since oil is not electrically conductive, it will not short the circuits, and the oil will help to dissipate the heat buildup generated by the dongle. Some of his other recommendations involve drilling extra holes in the dongle casing, and adding fan cooling.

Oil Cooling the RTL-SDR Dongle
Oil Cooling the RTL-SDR Dongle