Tagged: LNA

New LNA + Filter for Radio Astronomy Hydrogen Line Observations Released by NooElec

NooElec have recently released a new LNA + filter combo called the "SAWbird+ H1 Barebones" which significantly lowers the entry bar for new amateur radio astronomers. It's designed to be used with RTL-SDR or other SDRs for radio astronomy, and in particular reception of the Hydrogen line.

The filter is centered at 1.42 GHz with a 70 MHz bandpass region. The LNA has a minimum gain of 40dB. For hydrogen line observations it is important that the LNA have very low noise figure, and this LNA fits the bill with a ~0.5dB to ~0.6dB noise figure. An additional feature on the PCB is an RF switch that is electrically controlled via expansion headers. This switch allows you to switch out the LNA for a 50 Ohm reference which is useful for calibration in more serious radio astronomy work.

This LNA draws 120mA of current meaning that it will work with the RTL-SDR V3 and Airspy's bias tee, but probably not with the SDRplay's bias tee which is limited to 100mA and seems to trip a fuse at higher current draws. For an SDRplay you could use external power instead, although you will need an additional DC blocking cap to prevent power from entering the SDR and destroying the ESD diodes.

If you don't know what the Hydrogen line is, we'll explain it here. Hydrogen atoms randomly emit photons at a wavelength of 21cm (1420.4058 MHz). Normally a single hydrogen atom will only very rarely emit a photon, but space and the galaxy is filled with many hydrogen atoms so the average effect is an observable RF power spike at 1420.4058 MHz. By pointing a radio telescope at the night sky and integrating the RF power over time, a power spike indicating the hydrogen line can be observed in a frequency spectrum plot. This can be used for some interesting experiments, for example you could measure the size and shape of our galaxy. Thicker areas of the galaxy will have more hydrogen and thus a larger spike. You can also measure the rotational speed of our galaxy by noting the frequency doppler shift.

Although this LNA lowers the entry bar, in order to receive the Hydrogen line with the SAWBird+ H1 you will still need a ~1m+ satellite dish and a feed tuned to 1.42 GHz or high gain Yagi, horn or helical antenna. Antennas and feeds like this are not yet available off the shelf, but if you search our blog for "hydrogen line" you'll see many project examples

The NooElec SAWBird+ H1. For Hydrogen Line Observations.
The NooElec SAWBird+ H1. For Hydrogen Line Observations.

Testing a $2 USB Powered LNA with RTL-SDR

Over on his blog '19max63' has posted about his tests with a $2 Aliexpress low noise amplifier (LNA) and his RTL-SDR. The LNA is advertised as for boosting HDTV signals, but 19max63 has found that it does a decent job on other frequencies too. It can be found on Aliexpress for less than $2 including free shipping, by searching for "TV Antenna signal amplifier". One example listing is this one.

An LNA is useful to help lower the noise figure of a radio system which results in higher SNR values (especially at the UHF and higher bands), and can be used to overcome losses in the signal chain from components like coax cables and connectors. However, an LNA will not always help and when combined with strong in or out of band signals will make reception worse by causing overload and intermodulation products. Better quality LNAs have a low noise figure, and are able to handle stronger signals and not overload so easily.

Ultra Cheap $2 LNA
Ultra Cheap $2 LNA

Upon opening the cover, 19max63 found that the cheap LNA consists of a BFG425W transistor which should cover 40 MHz to 3 GHz, but may be band limited by the passive components. The BFG425W also has a max gain of 20dB at 2GHz and a noise figure of 0.8 dB at 900 MHz. 

In 19max63's tests, the LNA was able to improve his DAB radio (174 to 240 MHz) reception significantly, allowing him to receive several extra stations. His further tests also seem to show that it does a decent job at other frequencies from 137 MHz NOAA satellites to 1090 MHz ADS-B. Many of the comparison images do seem to show signs of overloading and intermodulation, but ADS-B in particular looks to be boosted quite nicely. So this looks like it might be a very cheap way to try and improve ADS-B reception.

Check out the his post for multiple SNR comparison images.

Cheap LNA PCB
Cheap $2 LNA PCB

New Products in Our Store: Wideband LNA + Spare V3 Metal Enclosures

We've just released two new products in our store. The first is a low cost general purpose wideband LNA and the second is some spare RTL-SDR V3 aluminum enclosures. The wideband LNA is currently available for shipping from our Chinese warehouse and will be available on Amazon in a few days time. It costs US$17.95 including worldwide free shipping. The spare aluminum enclosure is only available from our Chinese warehouse and costs US$5.95.

Please Click Here to Visit our Store

Wideband LNA

The Wideband LNA is based on the Qorvo SPF5189Z LNA chip (datasheet pdf) which has the following declared specs:

  • Frequency range of 50 MHz to 4000 MHz
  • Noise figure = 0.6dB @ 900 MHz
  • OIP3 = 39.5 dBm @ 900 MHz
  • P1 Saturation = 22.7 dBm @ 1960 MHz
  • Gain = 18.7 dB @ 900 MHz

Compared to most of the other SPF5189Z LNAs found on eBay, our wideband LNA comes standard with a full conductive metal case, includes ESD protection on the antenna input, and is by default powered via 3 - 5V bias tee power. Our RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongles have a 4.5V bias tee built in, so they can be used to power this LNA. Direct power can be enabled simply by changing a jumper position, and removing the metal case.

This is a general purpose wideband LNA. It is useful for reducing the noise figure and thus increasing SNR, and for overcoming coax loss on all supported frequencies between 50 - 4000 MHz. However, because it is wideband you may need additional filtering if you have strong overloading signals in your area. If you're mostly interested in improving ADS-B reception, then we instead recommend our Triple Filtered ADS-B LNA which is also available at our store. The specs of the SPF5189Z are similar to that of PGA-103+ or PSA4-5043+ based LNAs. In the image slider below we compare the gain with the LNA4ALL which is a PSA4-5043+ based LNA.

Spare Aluminum Enclosure

The second product is some spare RTL-SDR Blog V3 aluminum enclosure. A few readers of this blog contacted us as they found RTL-SDR V3 enclosures to be a good fit (after being cut down to size) for home made filters, other LNAs and for FlightAware dongles. Our spare enclosures come with two SMA side panels, and one USB side panel. There is only limited stock of this product at the moment. Note that we're not including a thermal pad, since FlightAware dongles do not require additional cooling since they operate at 1.09 GHz. Additional cooling via thermal pad is only needed for stable operation when using RTL-SDRs above ~1.5 GHz.

WidebandLNA_Store
WidebandLNA_PCB_Store
wideband_lna_gain
spare_enclosure_shop
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New LNA + Filter for Radio Astronomy Hydrogen Line Observations Released by NooElec

NooElec have recently released a new LNA + filter combo called the "SAWbird+ H1 Barebones" which significantly lowers the entry bar for new amateur radio astronomers. It's designed to be used with RTL-SDR or other SDRs for radio astronomy, and in particular reception of the Hydrogen line.

The filter is centered at 1.42 GHz with a 70 MHz bandpass region. The LNA has a minimum gain of 40dB. For hydrogen line observations it is important that the LNA have very low noise figure, and this LNA fits the bill with a ~0.5dB to ~0.6dB noise figure. An additional feature on the PCB is an RF switch that is electrically controlled via expansion headers. This switch allows you to switch out the LNA for a 50 Ohm reference which is useful for calibration in more serious radio astronomy work.

This LNA draws 120mA of current meaning that it will work with the RTL-SDR V3 and Airspy's bias tee, but probably not with the SDRplay's bias tee which is limited to 100mA and seems to trip a fuse at higher current draws. For an SDRplay you could use external power instead, although you will need an additional DC blocking cap to prevent power from entering the SDR and destroying the ESD diodes.

If you don't know what the Hydrogen line is, we'll explain it here. Hydrogen atoms randomly emit photons at a wavelength of 21cm (1420.4058 MHz). Normally a single hydrogen atom will only very rarely emit a photon, but space and the galaxy is filled with many hydrogen atoms so the average effect is an observable RF power spike at 1420.4058 MHz. By pointing a radio telescope at the night sky and integrating the RF power over time, a power spike indicating the hydrogen line can be observed in a frequency spectrum plot. This can be used for some interesting experiments, for example you could measure the size and shape of our galaxy. Thicker areas of the galaxy will have more hydrogen and thus a larger spike. You can also measure the rotational speed of our galaxy by noting the frequency doppler shift.

Although this LNA lowers the entry bar, in order to receive the Hydrogen line with the SAWBird+ H1 you will still need a ~1m+ satellite dish and a feed tuned to 1.42 GHz or high gain Yagi, horn or helical antenna. Antennas and feeds like this are not yet available off the shelf, but if you search our blog for "hydrogen line" you'll see many project examples

The NooElec SAWBird+ H1. For Hydrogen Line Observations.
The NooElec SAWBird+ H1. For Hydrogen Line Observations.

Testing a $2 USB Powered LNA with RTL-SDR

Over on his blog '19max63' has posted about his tests with a $2 Aliexpress low noise amplifier (LNA) and his RTL-SDR. The LNA is advertised as for boosting HDTV signals, but 19max63 has found that it does a decent job on other frequencies too. It can be found on Aliexpress for less than $2 including free shipping, by searching for "TV Antenna signal amplifier". One example listing is this one.

An LNA is useful to help lower the noise figure of a radio system which results in higher SNR values (especially at the UHF and higher bands), and can be used to overcome losses in the signal chain from components like coax cables and connectors. However, an LNA will not always help and when combined with strong in or out of band signals will make reception worse by causing overload and intermodulation products. Better quality LNAs have a low noise figure, and are able to handle stronger signals and not overload so easily.

Ultra Cheap $2 LNA
Ultra Cheap $2 LNA

Upon opening the cover, 19max63 found that the cheap LNA consists of a BFG425W transistor which should cover 40 MHz to 3 GHz, but may be band limited by the passive components. The BFG425W also has a max gain of 20dB at 2GHz and a noise figure of 0.8 dB at 900 MHz. 

In 19max63's tests, the LNA was able to improve his DAB radio (174 to 240 MHz) reception significantly, allowing him to receive several extra stations. His further tests also seem to show that it does a decent job at other frequencies from 137 MHz NOAA satellites to 1090 MHz ADS-B. Many of the comparison images do seem to show signs of overloading and intermodulation, but ADS-B in particular looks to be boosted quite nicely. So this looks like it might be a very cheap way to try and improve ADS-B reception.

Check out the his post for multiple SNR comparison images.

Cheap LNA PCB
Cheap $2 LNA PCB

New Products in Our Store: Wideband LNA + Spare V3 Metal Enclosures

We've just released two new products in our store. The first is a low cost general purpose wideband LNA and the second is some spare RTL-SDR V3 aluminum enclosures. The wideband LNA is currently available for shipping from our Chinese warehouse and will be available on Amazon in a few days time. It costs US$17.95 including worldwide free shipping. The spare aluminum enclosure is only available from our Chinese warehouse and costs US$5.95.

Please Click Here to Visit our Store

Wideband LNA

The Wideband LNA is based on the Qorvo SPF5189Z LNA chip (datasheet pdf) which has the following declared specs:

  • Frequency range of 50 MHz to 4000 MHz
  • Noise figure = 0.6dB @ 900 MHz
  • OIP3 = 39.5 dBm @ 900 MHz
  • P1 Saturation = 22.7 dBm @ 1960 MHz
  • Gain = 18.7 dB @ 900 MHz

Compared to most of the other SPF5189Z LNAs found on eBay, our wideband LNA comes standard with a full conductive metal case, includes ESD protection on the antenna input, and is by default powered via 3 - 5V bias tee power. Our RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongles have a 4.5V bias tee built in, so they can be used to power this LNA. Direct power can be enabled simply by changing a jumper position, and removing the metal case.

This is a general purpose wideband LNA. It is useful for reducing the noise figure and thus increasing SNR, and for overcoming coax loss on all supported frequencies between 50 - 4000 MHz. However, because it is wideband you may need additional filtering if you have strong overloading signals in your area. If you're mostly interested in improving ADS-B reception, then we instead recommend our Triple Filtered ADS-B LNA which is also available at our store. The specs of the SPF5189Z are similar to that of PGA-103+ or PSA4-5043+ based LNAs. In the image slider below we compare the gain with the LNA4ALL which is a PSA4-5043+ based LNA.

Spare Aluminum Enclosure

The second product is some spare RTL-SDR Blog V3 aluminum enclosure. A few readers of this blog contacted us as they found RTL-SDR V3 enclosures to be a good fit (after being cut down to size) for home made filters, other LNAs and for FlightAware dongles. Our spare enclosures come with two SMA side panels, and one USB side panel. There is only limited stock of this product at the moment. Note that we're not including a thermal pad, since FlightAware dongles do not require additional cooling since they operate at 1.09 GHz. Additional cooling via thermal pad is only needed for stable operation when using RTL-SDRs above ~1.5 GHz.

WidebandLNA_Store
WidebandLNA_PCB_Store
wideband_lna_gain
spare_enclosure_shop
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Japanese RTL-SDR Products Now Available for International Shipping on Amazon.co.jp

Thanks to 'Nobu' for letting us know that his RTL-SDR products sold on Amazon.co.jp are now available for international shipping (in Japanese, please use the Google Translated version if needed). Before Amazon.co.jp offered international shipping you had to use a third party Japanese forwarding service in order to purchase his products.

Japan has a strong RTL-SDR scene, with a few small Japanese companies and individuals (including Nobu) selling custom RTL-SDR products on their local Amazon store. Products such as upconverters, galvanic isolators, LNAs, filters, cooling products and more are available. Back in 2015 we reviewed some of these products in a post available here. Since then we've found continued use in particular with the galvanic isolator which helps reduce noise from the computer and nearby electronics at HF frequencies. 

Some Japanese RTL-SDR Products available for International Shipping on Amazon.co.jp
Some Custom Japanese RTL-SDR/RF Products available for International Shipping on Amazon.co.jp

NooElec SAWBird: An LNA + Filter for GOES Weather Satellite Reception Now Available

NooElec has just released their new "SAWbird" GOES LNA for sale. This is an LNA and filter combination designed to help receive GOES weather satellite images. On the PCB is a 1688 MHz SAW filter and a low noise amplifier. It can be powered with 3V - 5.5V connected directly or via bias tee. The SAWbird is currently available on Amazon and their store for US$34.95. They also have a version for Inmarsat and Iridium, so make sure you choose the correct one.

GOES 15/16/17 are geosynchronous weather satellites that beam high resolution weather  images and data. In particular they send beautiful 'full disk' images which show one side of the entire earth. As GOES satellites are in a geosynchronous orbit, the satellite is in the same position in the sky all the time, so no tracking hardware is required and images can be constantly pulled down throughout the day without having to wait for a satellite to pass over. 

However, compared to the more familiar and easier to receive low earth orbit satellites such as NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT, geosynchronous satellites like GOES are quite a bit further away, and transmit at 1.7 GHz. So to receive the signal you'll need a dish antenna that you can accurately point, a good low noise figure LNA and possibly a filter. So setting up a receiver is a bit more difficult when compared to receivers for NOAA and Meteor satellites. The SAWbird should help however, by providing a ready to use LNA+Filter combination.

Over the past few months several testers have already received engineering samples of the SAWbird and have been successful at receiving GOES images. From the results of several experimenters, it appears to be possible to use a cheap 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antenna with some minor modifications as a GOES satellite antenna. Get one with at least a one meter long width and bend the feed as described here or here to tune reception for the 1.7 GHz GOES frequency. Pieter Noordhuis has also shown that it's possible to use an RTL-SDR to receive GOES images, so an entire GOES system can be built on a budget.

NooElec SAWbird LNA + Filter for GOES reception.
NooElec SAWbird LNA + Filter for GOES reception.
GOES Full Disk Image of the Earth
GOES Full Disk Image of the Earth

Getting the V3 Bias Tee to Activate on PiAware ADS-B Images

A few owners of our RTL-SDR V3 and/or our Triple Filtered ADS-B LNA (or other bias tee powered LNAs) have been having trouble getting the V3 bias tee to activate on the FlightAware PiAware Raspberry Pi image. The core stumbling point is that the PiAware image activates the dump1090 ADS-B decoder immediately upon boot. To activate the bias tee, the bias tee software requires access to the dongle which it cannot get since dump1090 is blocking it. So to get around this the bias tee must be activated first before dump1090 runs.

PiAware is FlightAware's Raspberry Pi image which feeds their flightaware.com flight tracking service using RTL-SDR dongles. By using our Triple Filtered ADS-B LNA, users can expect increased range and decoded messages, especially when using long runs of coax cable, and/or in environments with strong interfering signals.

In the instructions below we'll explain how to set up a PiAware image that automatically enables the Bias Tee upon boot.

Downloading the V3 Bias Tee Software onto PiAware

First we assume that you're starting fresh from a new PiAware image, so we need to enable WiFi and SSH connections which is part of the standard set up for PiAware. See the following links for instructions.

Enable WiFi via config file https://flightaware.com/adsb/piaware/build

Enable SSH by adding ssh file to boot https://flightaware.com/adsb/piaware/build/optional#password

 
Now log in to your PiAware machine using SSH and PuTTY (or any other terminal software) using username "pi" and password "flightaware".

Run the following commands to update and install some dependencies. 

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install git cmake build-essential libusb-1.0-0-dev

 
Download and install the RTL-SDR V3 Bias Tee software.

cd ~
git clone https://github.com/rtlsdrblog/rtl_biast
cd rtl_biast
mkdir build
cd build
cmake ..
make

Testing the Bias Tee

Over on his blog Akos has created a short guide to activating the bias tee manually, by first stopping dump1090, activating the bias tee, then restarting dump1090. It's a simple one line copy and paste job.

So after installing the rtl_biast software above you can use the following line to test the bias tee. After running this line the FlightAware service should be up and running again, with the bias tee and LNA activated.

sudo service dump1090-fa stop && cd ~/rtl_biast/build/src && ./rtl_biast -b 1 && sudo service dump1090-fa start

Automatically Starting the Bias Tee on Boot

Ideally we don't want to have to reactivate the bias tee manually every time the Raspberry Pi reboots. To make it automatic use the following instructions:

First create a service directory and configuration file

sudo mkdir /etc/systemd/system/dump1090-fa.service.d
sudo nano /etc/systemd/system/dump1090-fa.service.d/bias-t.conf

 
Then paste in the following

[Service]
ExecStartPre=/home/pi/rtl_biast/build/src/rtl_biast -b 1

 
Finally press Ctrl+X then Y to close and save. Now whenever PiAware reboots the bias tee should be automatically activated as this service runs before dump1090 is activated.

Credits:

Thanks to the discussion on the FlightAware forums and in particular user 'obj' for originally finding this automatic solution.

Tysonpower Reviews our Triple Filter ADS-B LNA

Thank you to YouTuber 'Tysonpower' who is known for making various RF related videos as he has recently reviewed our Triple Filtered ADS-B LNA on his blog and on YouTube. Note that his video is in German, but it contains English subtitles. In the review he compares our LNA against a more expensive ADS-B LNA and found that it performs just as good, if not better in some cases. 

Our ADS-B LNA uses a triple filter design, as well as a two stage LNA which aims to significantly cut out interference from out of band signals which could overload the LNA and/or SDR dongle. It also has a low noise figure and high output gain of 27dB which is great for reducing losses on long runs of coax cable. More information about our LNA on the release post, and it can be purchased from our store.

[EN subs] Top ADSB LNA für nur 25€ - RTL-SDR Blog LNA

Radio For Everyone: Testing the RTL-SDR.com Triple Filtered ADS-B LNA, Amplified Coketenna

Akos, author of his blog 'Radio for Everyone' has recently reviewed our new RTL-SDR.com Triple Filtered ADS-B LNA. In the review he compares our ADS-B LNA against another external ADS-B LNA by Uputronics and against the FlightAware Prostick and Prostick+. The tests use the external LNA's plugged directly into the dongle in order to more fairly compare against the FlightAware dongles which have LNA's built in to the dongles themselves. From his results the RTL-SDR.com ADS-B LNA appears to have near identical results with the Uputronics LNA, and slightly better results compared to the FlightAware dongles. Akos has not yet tested the main use-case of the LNA, which is to use it at the end of a run of coax cable, however he plans to do this in a future test. Also in his second post Akos shows how to build a simple amplified Coketenna using our ADS-B LNA.

On the subject of ADS-B performance we note that there are two ways to set up a system for optimal reception (apart from the antenna). The first is to place the computing and radio devices (such as a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR) as close to the antenna as possible (leaving a ~1m coax run to avoid local interference from the Pi). For this type of setup it is cheaper to use a FlightAware Prostick Plus RTL-SDR dongle since this has an ADS-B LNA built into it. However, the disadvantage is that you may need to set up a Power over Ethernet system, or find a remote power source, and possibly place the Pi in a difficult to service location such as in an attic or up a mast.

The second option is to use an external ADS-B LNA close to the antenna, and run coax down to the computing device which is positioned in a more accessible location. The LNA will negate any losses in the coax cable, and with high enough gain on the LNA, using quality coax is not such a high requirement since those losses are negated by sufficient LNA gain. Both methods will yield similar excellent performance.

Tested ADS-B LNA's and ADS-B RTL-SDR Dongles
Tested ADS-B LNA's and ADS-B RTL-SDR Dongles