Recently Luigi Freitas wrote in to us and wanted to share his fairly unique Outernet setup which is based on a Grid dish antenna, low cost SPF-5189 LNA, C.H.I.P mini single board computer generic RTL-SDR, and the open source LeanDVB decoder software.
Last month we made a post about LeanDVB, a lightweight DVB-S decoder, which with a few configuration changes can be used to also demodulate the Outernet signal. Luigi places his 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antenna (which still works for the 1.5 GHz Outernet signal) on a tripod and points it towards the Outernet satellite in his area. He connects the antenna up to a SPF-5189 based LNA, which is a 50 – 4000 MHz LNA that is very cheaply found on eBay for about $7 USD. Then a cheap generic no-TCXO $8 RTL-SDR is used together with the LeanDVB software.
In his post Luigi shows how to set up the LeanDVB software for decoding the Outernet signal by piping the output of rtl_sdr into it, and getting all the settings correct. To get the final files he then shows how to pipe the decoded packets in the Skylark decoder, and then the files can be accessed from the regular Outernet web GUI.
Leandvb is command line based lightweight DVB-S decoder designed for receiving Digital Amateur TV, including signals like HamTV from the International Space Station. The RTL-SDR can be used together with leandvb and it turns out that leandvb can also be used to decode the Outernet signal. If you were unaware, Outernet is a free L-band based satellite service that provides content such as news, weather data, APRS repeats and more. Currently you can get about 20MB of data a day. Outernet receivers are also all based around the RTL-SDR, allowing for very cheap receivers to be built. At the moment you’ll need a C.H.I.P or their specialized Dreamcatcher hardware to run their special Skylark OS with software decoder, but a general Armbian decoder is in the works.
Alternatively leandvb can be used, and over on their website the folks behind the leandvb software have uploaded a tutorial showing how to use leandvb to decode Outernet. Thanks to some reverse engineering attempts by Daniel Estévez, it was discovered that the Outernet modulation is very similar to DVB-S so the standard decoder can be used with some custom flags. Leandvb only outputs raw frames, not decoded data. They haven’t tested it, but it may be possible to feed the frames into Daniel Estevez’s free-outernet project for obtaining the final files.
During the testing they also discovered some interesting notes about the E4000 and R820T RTL-SDRs. For example by patching the R820T2 drivers to add some additional VGA gain they were able to make the R820T2 chips more sensitive at the Outernet frequency compared to the E4000 chip by bringing the signal further out of the quantization noise. They also tested a 60cm dish vs a patch antenna and found that the dish works significantly better.