With an RTL-SDR, an appropriate satellite antenna and LNA it is possible to receive visible light images from geostationary satellites such as GOES/Himawari and GK-2A. However, in a 24 hour cycle there will only be one or two images that show the Earth fully illuminated by the sun. The rest of the day parts or all of the Earth will be dark with not even clouds visible. To get around this the satellites also use an Infrared (IR) camera which can see clouds at all times. However, these images are greyscale and not very visually appealing.
To fix this aesthetic issue there is now a recently released multiplatform tool called "Sanchez" which will combine a high resolution underlay image with the greyscale IR image in order to create a more beautiful image. The software is command line based and can run on a batch of collected images.
As part of his Masters in Design Studies studies Daniel Tompkins created an art installation called "signs of life" which was focused around his interest in weather satellite reception with an SDR.
FM radio headphones were given out at the door. Each set was tuned beforehand to receive a broadcast from my pre-programmed station.
Visitors were then invited to walk around the room, contemplating the artifacts of the exhibit. A V-dipole at one end of the room captures the broadcast and displays a real-time spectrogram of the radio waves on a small display.
Across the room, a satellite dish points back, creating an alignment across the projected GOES-16 "full-disk" image animation of the Earth. Along the back wall, a few dozen images show demodulated signals from the NOAA 15/18/19 satellites as they passed over Cambridge, Massachusetts in the months of October and November 2018.
The experience demonstrated my interest in tapping into an invisible (wireless) environment of digital information. A USB, software-defined radio (SDR) dongle helped me reach the satellites.
In listening to the transmission, the visitors are engaging in a shared experience, but are somehow still alone and unable to communicate while wearing their headphones. The performance of the exhibition is designed to be a place which simulates the real disconnection of techno-humanity. The "reﬂecting pool" of the earth spinning on the ﬂoor might provide a metaphorical reﬂection of humanity and progress.
This installation reminds us of the "Holypager" live art piece which used a HackRF to receive and print out live pager messages with an aim to demonstrate the amount of personal data being sent publicly over pagers. Another related art piece was the "Ghosts in the Air Glow" project by Amanda Dawn Christie, which saw the HAARP Auroral research facility used to transmit various art pieces to be received from all over the world by people with HF radios.
To receive images from GK-2A you'll need an RTL-SDR, 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antenna and an L-band LNA. We have an earlier tutorial about receiving GK-2A and GOES geostationary L-band satellites that goes into more detail about the hardware required.
VKSDR's xrit-rx software decodes the Low Rate Information Transmission (LRIT) signal from GK-2A which provides a 64kbps data stream and full disk images of the earth every 10 minutes. His tutorial explains the various image types that are transmitted, shows a few example images, and shows that some smooth animations can be created with the 144 images received over a day. The rest of the tutorial goes into the software setup, and explains the installation and configuration procedure.
We note that the latest version of xrit-rx now also comes with a nice web based dashboard that allows you to view the latest image, as well as the upcoming image schedule.
In addition, he's also noted how the default config files provided by goestools do not download EMWIN (Emergency Managers Weather Information Network) images. EMWIN images are not photos, but rather weather forecast and data visualizations that may be useful for people needing to predict or respond to weather. Over on his Github he's uploaded a modified version of goestools which has config files for EMWIN and other image products that might be of interest to some.
If you're interested, Carl Reinemann also has various bits of information about building APT/Meteor satellite RTL-SDR receivers on his main site too. Of interest in particular is his notes on creating wide area composites of NOAA APT images with WXtoIMG which we have posted about in the past.
GOES 16/17 and GK-2A are geosynchronous weather satellites that transmit high resolution weather images and data. In particular they are far enough away from the earth to be able to take beautiful 'full disk' images which show the entirety of one side of the Earth. As these satellites are in a geosynchronous orbit, they can be counted on to be in the same position in the sky at all times, so no tracking hardware is required and images can be pulled down constantly throughout the day without having to wait for a polar orbiting satellite to pass over like you would with the NOAA APT or Russian Meteor satellites.
With a low cost WiFi grid dish antenna, LNA and RTL-SDR dongle, any home user within the footprint of one of these weather satellites can receive and decode live images directly from the sky. Setting up a station is overall not too difficult, but it can be a bit fiddly with a number of steps to complete. Below is our comprehensive guide. We'll show how to set up a self contained Raspberry Pi based system with goestools (free), as well as a guide for the Windows PC software XRIT decoder (US$125).
We've attempted to make the tutorial as newbie friendly as possible, but we do need to assume basic RF knowledge (know what antennas, SDRs, coaxial, adapters etc are), basic Linux competency for the goestools tutorial (using the terminal, using nano text editor), and basic Windows competency for the XRIT decoder tutorial (unzipping, editing text files, running programs).
There are two fourth generation NOAA GOES satellites that are currently active, GOES-16 and GOES-17. These transmit HRIT signals, and also transmit shared data from the older third generation GOES 15, and Japanese Himiwari8 satellites. At the moment GOES-16 and GOES-17 are producing full disk images every 30 minutes, and close up "mesoscale" shots of the USA every ~15 minutes. GOES-16 (aka GOES-R) and GOES-17 (aka GOES-S) are also known as GOES-EAST and GOES-WEST respectively. At least one of these satellites can be received from North/South America, Canada, Alaska/Hawaii, New Zealand, Eastern Australia and some pacific islands.
There is also the older generation GOES-15 and GOES-14 which have been placed in standby orbits. These transmit LRIT signals which provide images at a slower rate.
There is also the Korean GK-2A (GEO-KOMPSAT-2A) satellite which is very similar to the GOES satellites. GK-2A covers countries like India, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Russia. Note that you may have previously heard of the COMS-1 satellite which used to cover this area. Since July 2019 COMS-1 was replaced by GK-2A. Unlike GOES, GK-2A images are encrypted. However it has been found that "sample" encryption keys found online in demo code work just fine.
GK-2A contains both LRIT and HRIT channels, but at the moment only the LRIT channel can be decoded with the currently available software. The LRIT channel sends full disk IR images every 10 minutes in 2200 x 2200 resolution. Compared to the 5424 x 5424 resolution GOES full disk images, this is smaller, but still large enough to be interesting.
Note that even if HRIT decoding is added by the current software, you would require an Airspy or other wideband SDR as the GK-2A HRIT signal bandwidth is 5 MHz. Also since the HRIT bandwidth is so wide, the signal strength is reduced, meaning that you'll need a larger dish. People who have received the HRIT signal note that a 3M+ sized dish seems to be required.
You might ask why bother receiving these satellite images directly, when you can get the exact same images from NOAA at https://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/GOES/index.php. Well, you might want to set up your own station to be independent from the internet, or you live in a remote location without internet, or maybe just for the fun and learning of it.
To set up a receiver for GOES 16/17 HRIT or GK-2A LRIT you'll need to purchase a dish antenna such as a cheap 2.4 GHz WiFi antenna, an RTL-SDR, GOES LNA, and a Raspberry Pi if using goestools, otherwise a Windows PC can be used. The total cost could be anywhere from $150 - $200 depending on what pieces you already have available.
Before we start the tutorial, you might want to use an augmented reality Android app like "Satellite-AR" to get a rough idea of where either GOES 16/17 or GK-2A (GEO-KOMPSAT-2A) is in your sky, and if receiving them is even feasible for your location. You'll need to find an area on your land where you can mount a small satellite dish with an unobstructed line of sight view to the satellite (no trees or buildings can be blocking the signal path). If the satellite is low on the horizon (below 25 deg elevation), then things get a little more difficult as you have more obstructions and a weaker signal. But it can still be done, and we're able to routinely get good results at 24.5 deg elevation.
Note that for Europe and Africa, unfortunately there are no satellites that can be received easily with an SDR and LNA. But you might instead be interested in the EUMETCAST service, which can be received from EUTELSAT 10A (Ku band), Eutelsat 5 WEST A (C Band) and SES-6 (C Band) . To receive this service you'll need a DVB-S2 receiver and a satellite dish with appropriate band LNB. You also need a license keys and software which all together cost €100. EUMETCAST reception is not covered in this tutorial, instead see this video.
The United States Geological Service maintains over 8500 "Gaging stations" in bodies of water all over the country. Gaging stations are devices that are used to measure environmental data such as groundwater levels, discharge, water chemistry, and water temperature. What's interesting is that they all upload their data in real time to GOES satellites - the same satellites that we can use with an RTL-SDR to receive weather images of the entire earth. The data is then downlinked in the L-band to the USGS scientists via a protocol known as DCP (Data Collection Platform).
In the latest SignalsEverywhere video, Corrosive investigates how these stations work, and how we can receive the downlink at 1.68 GHz with a simple Inmarsat L-band antenna. While a fully functional decoder is not yet available, Corrosive notes that one called goes-dcs is currently being worked on.
USGS Gaging Station | Satellite Uplink to GOES and DCP Messages
EMWIN is an acronym for Emergency Managers Weather Information Network, and is a service for emergency managers that provides weather forecasts, warnings, graphics and other information in real time. EMWIN is broadcast from geostationary NOAA GOES satellites, and if you have a GOES SDR receiver setup it is possible to receive and decode EMWIN data.
However, if you don't want to set up a GOES receiver, KD9IXX writes on his blog how he investigated EMWIN and found that 24/7 dedicated EMWIN VHF repeaters are common around the US. Having found an EMWIN repeater in his area at 163.37 MHz he used the TrueTTY decoder and was able to successfully decode the 1200 baud 8-bit ASCII encoded signal and receive weather text information. He notes that VHF EMWIN is an excellent source of non-internet based weather data that could be useful to anyone requiring weather data in emergency circumstances.
COMS-1 is a geostationary weather satellited operated by the Korean Meteorological Agency (KMA) which was launched back in 2010. It is similar to NOAA GOES satellites as it is also geostationary orbit (@128.2°E - footprint covers all of Asia + AUS/NZ), and so is far away enough to image the entire disk of the Earth at once. Unfortunately, unlike the GOES satellites which have in the past few years become relatively easy for hobbyists to decode, the COMS-1 LRIT and HRIT downlink data is encrypted by KMA. KMA only appear to provide decryption keys to governments, research institutes and large organizations upon request.
However, recently Australian @sam210723 was able to successfully create code to decrypt the key message file and obtain the images. From a previous Twitter post of his, it appears that the encryption keys from the KMA example code are actually valid and can be used without needing to apply for a key.
Sam notes that he'll soon release a full blog post on his results, but for now he has an older post from last year that explains a bit about the satellite and decryption of the LRIT Key. His code is available on GitHub, and in a recent Twitter post he shows some example images that he's been able to receive using an Airspy SDR.