Over on his blog Derek (OK9SGC) has recently uploaded a very comprehensive beginners guide to receiving HRPT weather satellite images. HRPT reception can be a little daunting as it requires a good L-Band dish setup which involves choosing and building a feed, and importantly, a way to track the satellite with the dish as it moves across the sky. Tracking can be achieved manually by hand, but that can be very difficult and so a motorized tracking mount is recommended.
This is unlike the much easier to receive NOAA APT or Meteor LRPT satellite signals in the VHF band which can be received by a V-dipole antenna, or the geostationary GOES HRIT satellites that can be received with a WiFi grid dish and LNA. Both of which do not require tracking.
The advantage of HRPT however, is that you end up with high resolution, close-up, and uncompressed images of the earth. For example Derek notes that NOAA APT gives 4km/px resolution, and Meteor LRPT gives much better 1km/px resolution but it is heavily compressed. Whereas HRPT gives peak resolutions of 1km/px uncompressed. There are also nine satellites in operation sending HRPT, so there are more opportunities to receive.
Derek has created a very comprehensive beginners guide that covers almost everything from purchasing and building the hardware, to finding and tracking the satellites, to setting up the software and decoding images. He notes that an RTL-SDR can be used as the receiver, and that a WiFi dish with GOES SAWBird LNA can work, although the difficult tracking requirements are still there so a smaller offset dish with custom helix feed might be preferred. Derek also provides useful tips, like the fact that the NOAA15 HRPT signal is quite a lot weaker than others.
Thanks to a tweet by @rf_hacking we recently came across an interesting project called "r2cloud". This is an open source program provided on a ready to use image for the Raspberry Pi that can be used to set up an automated satellite recording station for NOAA APT and Meteor LRPT signals, as well as for CubeSats.
The software presents a web based user interface that is easy to setup and view decoded images on. It appears that the software also communicates with a public server that can aggregate and log your data, and also provide it to SatNOGS and provide FunCube satellite telemetry to FunCube Warehouse.
Russian weather satellite Meteor M2 is a popular reception target for RTL-SDR radio enthusiasts, as it allows you to receive high resolution images of the Earth. However, currently it appears to be exhibiting orientation issues, causing off center and skewed images and sometimes poor/no reception. Russian blog "aboutspacejornal", writes that the orientation of the satellite can sometimes be restored presumably by a reset command from Earth, but shortly after goes back into uncontrolled rotation.
These sorts of off-axis images were commonly received from the older decommissioned Meteor-M1 satellite, which woke up from the dead in 2015. The resurrection was speculated to be from the batteries shorting out, allowing power to directly flow from the solar panels while in full sunlight. These days Meteor-M1 is no longer transmitting.
Hopefully Meteor-M2 can be fixed, but if not, Meteor M2-2 is due to be launched on July 5 which should also have an LRPT signal that can be received easily with an RTL-SDR. Hopefully the launch is more successful than the November 2017 launch of Meteor M2-1 which unfortunately was a complete loss as it failed to separate from the rocket.
Over on GitHub dbdexter-dev has released a new lightweight and open source Meteor M2 demodulator. Meteor M2 is a Russian weather satellite that transmits images down in the digital LRPT format. This provides much higher resolution images compared to the NOAA APT signals. With an RTL-SDR, appropriate satellite antenna and decoding software it is possible to receive these images.
This new lightweight demodulator may be especially useful for single board PCs like the Raspberry Pi. Previously, on Linux GNU Radio based demodulators have been used, and GNU Radio isn't exactly a light weight piece of software. To use the software you first need to record an IQ file of the Meteor M2 LRPT signal, downsample the IQ file to 140 kHz (if required), then pass it into the demodulator. This will spit out an 8-bit soft-QPSK file which can be used with LRPTofflinedecoder (now known as M2_LRPT_Decoder) on Windows or meteor_decoder on Linux to generate an image.
Most readers of this blog are probably familiar with the more commonly received APT images that are broadcast by the NOAA satellites at 137 MHz, or perhaps the LRPT images also broadcast at 137 MHz by the Russian Meteor M2 satellite. HRPT signals are a little different and more difficult to receive as they are broadcast in the L-band at about 1.7 GHz. Receiving them requires a dish antenna (or high gain Yagi antenna), L-band dish feed, LNA and a high bandwidth SDR such as an Airspy Mini. The result is a high resolution and uncompressed image with several more color channels compared to APT and LRPT images.
In his video Tysonpower shows how he receives the signal with his 3D printed L-band feed, a 80cm offset dish antenna (or 1.2m dish antenna), two SPF5189Z based LNAs and an Airspy Mini. As L-band signals are fairly directional Tysonpower points the dish antenna manually at the satellite as it passes over. He notes that a mechanised rotator would work a lot better though. For software he uses the commercial software available directly from USA-Satcom.com.
Currently there are multiple satellites broadcasting HRPT signals including NOAA 19, NOAA 18, NOAA 15, Meteor M2, Fengyun 3B, Fengyun 3C, Metop A and Metop B.
The difference in difficulty of receiving APT and LRPT versus HRPT transmissions typically occur in the L-band at about 1.7 GHz, and requires a directive high gain antenna with tracking motor to track the satellite as it passes over. This makes these images many times more difficult to receive compared to APT and LRPT which only require a fixed position antenna for reception at the more forgiving 137 MHz.
Over on his post RSP2user shows how he uses a repurposed Meade Instruments telescope tracking mount and controller to drive the tracking of a 26 element loop Yagi antenna. A 0.36dB noise figure LNA modified with bias tee input is used to boost the signal and reduce the noise figure. The signal is received by a SDRplay RSP2 and processed on a PC with USA-satcoms HRPT decoder software, which is available for purchase by directly contacting him. The HRPT signal bandwidth appears to be about 2.4 MHz so possibly an RTL-SDR could also be used, but it might be pushing it to the limit.
If you are interested, RSP2user also uploaded an APT weather satellite image reception tutorial on another post. This tutorial shows how to build a quality quadrifilar helix antenna as well.
This software decoder appears to be an excellent choice for those people who want to perform their reception and decoding of Meteor M satellites all in Linux. Previously as explained in this previous post, you were able to receive the QPSK data in Linux with an RTL-SDR and a GNU Radio program, but then you’d still need to boot into Windows or run Wine to run LRPTofflinedecoder in order to generate the image. Now it appears that the image generation can be performed natively in Linux too with meteor_decoder. This help with creating portable automated Raspberry Pi based Meteor M decoder servers.
Meteor M is a class of Russian weather satellites that transmit live weather images of the earth as they pass over your location. They are somewhat similar to the NOAA satellites, although the Meteor satellites transmit higher quality images via a digital LRPT signal, rather than the analog APT signals used by NOAA. With an RTL-SDR, an appropriate antenna and decoding software they can easily be received.
Recently RTL-SDR.com reader Mark wrote in and wanted to share his modified version of otti-soft’s GNU Radio flowgraph for decoding Meteor-M2 weather satellite images on Linux. The modified version allows for real time decoding, whereas the original version requires several offline decoding steps to be performed after recording the signal.
I have modified one of otti-soft’s gnuradio flowgraphs so that they work with RTL-SDR and output the demodulated symbols to a TCP socket, from which the new version of LRPT Analizer (from robonuka.ru) can decode the data in real-time.
(AFAIK, only the AMIGOS version is able to decode the data from a socket, which is required for real-time decoding).
The program is to be run under a 32-bit version of Wine.
When the satellite is overhead, open and run the flowgraph (attached) in gnuradio-companion and leave it running. You might need to adjust the gain.
Then, run the LRPToffLineDecoder.exe executable from the extracted archive. It should display a constantly-updating constellation diagram. When the data is decoded, the channel images will start to appear in each section of the window.
That’s it, when the image is decoded, one can save it and close the windows of gnuradio-companion and the decoder.
Notes: when running the flowgraph, no other processes (rtl_sdr, rtl_power, gqrx, …) should use the SDR device.