Tagged: JAERO

Frugal Radio: Review of our RTL-SDR Blog L-Band Patch Antenna

Over on YouTube Rob from Frugal Radio has uploaded a video reviewing our new L-Band Patch antenna which we released for sale late last month. The patch is currently on a release sale for US$44.95 including free standard airmail shipping to most countries. We will be ending the sale this Wednesday at which point the price will go to US$49.95, still with free standard airmail shipping to most countries. The patch can be purchased from our web store at www.rtl-sdr.com/store.

In the video Rob demonstrates the patch receiving Inmarsat signals strongly, and decodes a few AERO signals using JAERO. He shows that the patch works on any RTL-SDR with bias tee capability as well as an Airspy Mini. Lastly he compares the unit against the SDR-Kits patch.

We note that we are also supplying a kit for a giveaway to Frugal Radio subscribers that we will announce in an upcoming video coming out a few days time.

RTL-SDR updated L-band patch antenna review - perfect for your SDR radio!

UPDATE: Giveaway information now available in the latest video below.

RTL-SDR L-Band Patch Antenna Giveaway

Mike Tests out L-Band STD-C and AERO with a Low Cost Modified GPS Antenna

SDR-Kits.net have begun selling low cost GPS antennas that are modified to receive the Inmarsat satellite frequencies between 1535 MHz to 1550 MHz. They also have a version for Iridium satellites that receives 1610 MHz to 1630 MHz. The antennas are powered by a 3-5V bias tee, so they should work fine with SDRplay, Airspy and RTL-SDR Blog V3 units.

Mike Ladd from SDRplay has recently sent us a guide to receiving AERO and STD-C messages on L-band with the SDR-Kits antenna and an SDRPlay unit running SDRUno (Megaupload link).

AERO messages are a form of satellite ACARS, and typically contain short messages from aircraft. It is also possible to receive AERO audio calls. STD-C aka FleetNET and SafetyNET is a marine service that broadcasts messages that typically contain text information such as search and rescue (SAR) and coast guard messages as well as news, weather and incident reports. Some private messages are also seen. To decode AERO Mike uses JAERO, and for STD-C he uses the Tekmanoid STD-C decoder.

Mike has also created a very handy bank of frequencies for the SDRUno frequency manager which can be downloaded from here.

We note that if you're interested in waiting, at the end of September we will have an L-band patch antenna set available too. Our antenna will work from 1525 up to 1637 MHz. Prototypes have shown have shown good Inmarsat, Iridium and GPS reception. More details coming next month when manufacturing gets closer to finishing up.

Screenshot of the Tekmanoid Decoder from Mikes Tutorial
Screenshot of the Tekmanoid Decoder from Mikes Tutorial

Videos on Compiling JAERO and libAEROAMBE for AERO C-Channel Voice Audio Reception

At the beginning of last month we posted about an update to JAERO which allows us to now listen to AERO C-Channel voice audio. AERO is a satellite based communications service used by modern aircraft, and it's possible to easily receive the signals with an RTL-SDR, L-band patch antenna and LNA. The C-Channel conversations are typically about Medlink which is a support line for medical emergencies, but other conversations may be heard too.

While it is possible to listen to these conversations, due to legal reasons regarding patents it is necessary to compile the audio decoder manually from source, and this can be quite an involved multi-step process on Windows. Fortunately, YouTuber Corrosive, who has been making SDR related videos for some time now has put up a three part video series on the process.

For those who prefer text based tutorials, he's also uploaded three blog posts that document the procedure. The first covers setting up the development environment, the second covers compiling the dependencies and JAERO itself, and finally the third covers the compilation of libaeroambe.

Compiling JAERO Satcom ACARS Decoder for Inmarsat Part 2 - JAERO and Dependancies

AERO C-Channel Voice Audio Now Decodable with JAERO

JAERO was recently updated by programmer Jonti, and it now supports the decoding of AERO C-Channels which are voice audio channels that exist on both the L-Band and C-Band frequencies of AERO. AERO is a satellite based communications service used by modern aircraft. The information transferred are normally things like aircraft telemetry, short crew messages, weather reports and flight plans. It is similar information to what is found on VHF/HF ACARS.

Jonti notes that these C-Channel voice signals are very weak as they are spot beams, so a good antenna system is required to receive them. Over on Jonti's JAERO website there is now some information about these C-Channels (scroll all the way down to the C-Channel heading and read to the end of the page), as well as a frequency list. An excerpt of the information is pasted below:

Inmarsat C and in particular AERO C channels provide circuit switched telephony services to aircraft. The channels of interest are those that carry AMBE compressed audio at a channel rate 8400 bps and voice rate of 4800bps. There is also an older speech codec still in use, LPC at a voice rate of 9600 bps and an overall channel rate of 21000bps.

Telephone channels are two-way duplex. In the from-aircraft direction transmissions are roughly in the 1646 to 1652 Mhz range. The satellite up-converts these transmissions to C band, similar to T and R channel burst transmissions. So it is possible to receive the from-aircraft transmissions although it is significantly more difficult than those in the to-aircraft direction on the L band. So for those who want to get started receiving these transmissions the L band is by far the easiest place to start.

Another aspect of the C channels is that they most often use spot beams rather than global beams which makes it more difficult to receive transmissions for aircraft using a spot beam that is aimed at another region. However if you are inside the spot beam the transmissions are relatively easily received on L band. A 60 cm dish with an LHCP helical and L band LNA will provide excellent results but even with a patch antenna it can be done.

Decoding these channels to audio in JAERO takes a little effort to setup. Due to the uncertain legal status of the digital audio AMBE codec, the codec code needs to be compiled manually first, and then placed into the JAERO directory. Jontio has uploaded the AERO AMBE codec source code at https://github.com/jontio/libaeroambe. Since JAERO is a Windows program, compilation of libaeroambe involves using MSYS2.

Once fully set up with the audio codec, the audio will come out of default soundcard set in Windows audio properties, so ensure that any Virtual Audio Cables are not set as the default device.

On the L-band link you can get conversations from the ground to the plane. The C-band link would get you the plane to ground side of the conversation too, but that is a challenging signal that would require a large dish and Jonti doesn't know of anyone who has managed to receive that before. Typically the conversation topics are things like Medlink which is a multilingual medical support line that can provide backup to doctors or aircrew handling medical emergencies in the air. In Europe the USAF also apparently use C-Channel.

AERO C-Channel Being Received with JAERO
AERO C-Channel Being Received with JAERO

Decoding 12 AERO Channels Simultaneously with an Airspy, Outernet Patch Antenna and SDR-Console V3

In a post uploaded last month we noted that Outernet was selling off some of their old L-Band satellite antennas cheaply. Nils Schiffhauser (DK8OK) decided to take advantage of the sale and bought one. Now Nils has created a blog post that shows how he's been able able to decode 12 L-Band AERO channels simultaneously with the Outernet L-band antenna, an Airspy R2 and SDR-Console V3. AERO is the satellite based version of aircraft ACARS, and it's L-band signals contain short ground to air messages like weather reports and flight plans. Multiple channels are often in use at any one time.

To achieve this Nils uses the multi-channel tuning capabilities of SDR-Console V3, which allows him to open up 12-channels, each tuned to a different AERO frequency. He then opens up 12 instances of the AERO decoder known as JAERO, and then uses VB-Cable to pipe the audio from each channel into a JAERO instance. Nils writes that the key to making JAERO run with multiple instances is to install JAERO into different folders on your PC, and give each JAERO.exe a unique file name like JAERO_1.exe.

He collects all the data into a program called Display Launcher and Nils notes that the whole set up has been stable digesting 54,000 messages over the last 24 hours. 

12x JAERO Decoders Running
12x JAERO Decoders Running

Recent Updates to the JAERO L-Band and C-Band AERO Decoder

JAERO is a program by Jonti that was released late last year which allows us to use a SDR such as an RTL-SDR to receive L-band and C-Band AERO messages. AERO is essentially the satellite based version of ACARS, and the L-band signals contains short ground to air messages with things like weather reports and flight plans intended to be transmitted to aircraft. The C-band signals are the air to ground portion of AERO and more difficult to receive as they require an LNB and large dish. However they are much more interesting as they contain flight position data, like ADS-B.

Over March JAERO has had some minor updates. It is now possible to display planes on a map by using it’s SBS1 protocol output and outputting the data to Virtual Radar Server. The second more recent update now allows JAERO to simultaneously monitor up to two C-band AERO channels. To do this you will need to use the AUX VFO plugin for SDR#.

If you enjoy JAERO, please remember consider donating to Jonti.

Plotting flights positions out of regular ADS-B range which were demodulated from C-Band AERO signals by JAERO.
Plotting flight positions that are out of regular ADS-B range. Demodulated from C-Band AERO signals with JAERO.
Monitoring two C-Band channels in SDR# with the AUX VFO plugin.
Monitoring two C-Band channels in SDR# with the AUX VFO plugin.

YouTube video showing Inmarsat C-Band AERO Reception

Last week we posted how programmer Jonti had successfully implemented a C-Band AERO decoder into his JAERO software. C-band AERO signals are the earth downlink portion of AERO. Planes transmit data upwards towards the satellites and then the Inmarsat C-band transmitter re-transmits the information back to a basestation on earth. This is different to the L-band AERO signals which are signals transmitted from the satellites to the aircraft. C-band signals are interesting because they contain plane position info, and so can be used to track aircraft much like what is done with ADS-B reception, but over a much larger area. However, C-Band signals are much more difficult to receive as they are at 3.616 GHz and require a 1.8m or larger satellite dish.

Over on YouTube user AceBlaggard has uploaded a video showing an example of C-Band signals being received with an Airspy SDR and being decoded with the new version of JAERO. About the hardware used AceBlaggard writes:

Hardware is a 1.8M PF dish and Titanium Satellite C1 PLL LNB feeding a Prof-Tuner 7301 sat card which loops out to an Airspy SDR.

Inmarsat C Band aero feed.

Testing RTL-SDR and SDRPlay receivers for AERO reception

Jonti, the programmer of the JAERO decoder for L-band AERO signals recently bought and received one of our new RTL-SDR Blog dongles and also an SDRplay unit for testing L-band reception. Previously he had been using a standard RTL-SDR dongle. Now he’s done a write up comparing the performance of the three units on L-band AERO reception.

The two most important things to pay attention to when receiving AERO signals are signal SNR and frequency stability. In order to lock on to the signal, the signal’s frequency must remain relatively stable over a short period of time. For the stability test Jonti writes the following, referencing the image posted below:

You can see the old RTL dongle moves almost 3kHz within a couple minutes after being turned on, this speed is so rapid that JAERO can’t keep up with the frequency changed during this period of time. What’s odd is the old RTL dongle does some fairly crazy stuff around 20 minutes in that lasts for about 15 minutes, JAERO also can’t cope with some of that. The other thing to notice in the old RTL’s spectrograph are vertical lines, these lines I believe are caused by interference entering the dongle between the RTL dongle’s tuner and ADC (analog-to-digital converter).

The frequency stability of the new RTL dongle can only be described as amazing!!! There is not much more than 100 Hz change during the whole test.

The range of frequencies for the SDRPlay is similar to that of the old RTL dongle of about 3kHz. The difference being the transition from the lowest frequency to the highest frequency is slow. Any demodulator should not have any issue tracking this slow and steady change. The only problem you will encounter here is when you are trying to tune into a particular frequency your frequencies will be slightly different depending on the temperature of the SDRPlay.

The results of the frequency stability test on an AERO signal. Standard RTL-SDR, RTL-SDR Blog Unit, SDRplay.
The results of the frequency stability test on an AERO signal. Left: Standard RTL-SDR; Middle: RTL-SDR Blog Unit; Right: SDRplay.

Jonti also found that in terms of sensitivity the SDRplay was the best at receiving when a non active antenna (an active antenna is an antenna with a built in LNA) was used. The RTL-SDR dongles could not receive well at all when a non active antenna was used. When an active GPS antenna was used the SDRplay was only about 1dB more sensitive than the RTL-SDR dongles.

In his article Jonti expressed concern that the SDRplay did not see much improvement in SNR over the RTL-SDRs when an active antenna was used. Our thoughts on the sensitivity findings are that the SDRplay does not see much improvement with an active antenna because the noise figure of the system is not reduced any further by adding an additional front end LNA (the noise figure in a RF system is almost entirely determined by the first LNA in a RF chain). Adding an extra LNA could even potentially make reception worse by reducing the overall linearity of the system. An external LNA would only be beneficial if a long run of coax was used between the feed and SDR, and in Jonti’s connections he connected the feed and SDRplay with a very short cable. The RTL-SDR only works well with an active antenna because its raw sensitivity at 1.5 GHz isn’t great, and it needs the extra boost from the LNA.

Testing the SDRplay with a non-active antenna.
Testing the SDRplay with a non-active antenna.