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.
Recently a reader of our blog, Initrd, wrote in to let us know about a new tutorial he created that shows how to set up a dual NOAA APT and Meteor LRPT weather satellite monitoring station with an RTL-SDR dongle. These weather satellites transmit a live image of the portion of the earth that they are currently over, providing a valuable tool for weather analysis. APT transmissions are analogue and are transmitted by the American NOAA satellites, and the newer Meteor M2 satellite transmits a higher resolution image in the LRPT format. We also have posted separate tutorials that show how to set up NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT decoding with an RTL-SDR, but Initrd’s tutorial appears to be a good all in one guide.
His tutorial takes you step by step through a process that involves setting up the satellite tracking software Orbitron, all the required SDR# plugins, the APT decoder WXtoIMG and the LRPT decoder. The tutorial also shows how to connect them all together and set them up so that APT and LRPT decoding can coexist.
RTL-SDR.com reader Happysat recently wrote in with some news. A few days ago a weather satellite image decoding enthusiast from Argentina was waiting for a pass of the Russian Meteor M-N2 satellite when he discovered a strong LRPT signal at 137.1 MHz, even though the Meteor M-N2 satellite was not in sight yet. It turns out that the signal was coming from the old Meteor M-N1 satellite which was supposed to have been shut down in September 2014 due to several problems it had. The received signal is strong enough to produce a good black and white weather image, but because the satellite is not longer physically stable, sometimes the Earth’s curve can be seen in the images.
The exact reason as to why it is transmitting again is unknown, but it is speculated that it is due to a breakdown of the chemicals in the batteries. Last year we posted about how sometimes satellites which have been decommissioned and shut down can spontaneously begin transmitting again when their batteries undergo a chemical change due to thousands of failed recharge cycles. The chemical change allows the batteries to conduct electricity from the solar panels directly to the electronics, which on Meteor M-N1 could be reactivating the transmitters and imaging sensors. If this is what happened then the satellite will only be able to transmit during the day.
Happysat who submitted this news originally writes:
A few days ago some guy in Argentina was waiting for the pass of Meteor M-N2 and on SDRSharp waterfall he did see LRPT Digital signals on 137.100MHz, but Meteor M-N2 was not in sight yet…
This relatively strong signal was coming from the defunct Meteor M-N1 satellite left out of control in September 2014 last year and was shutdown, although LRPT Transmissions in the past where very limited and sporadic.
Meteor M-N1 did suffer from many problems at this was the first Russian digital weather satellite in the M-series onboard many hardware in experimental stages.
After this report I tried also to capture some signals from Meteor M-N1 (some other amateurs already got small portions of images) but the satellite only transmits in direct sunlight, batteries are not charging any more.
Indicating maybe like the other older ‘deadsat’ some chemical reaction did occur inside the batteries so the power goes from the solar panels directly to the transmission parts. It did happen before, mostly on older satellite’s only a unmodulated carrier is present when the sunlight conditions are optimal.
Surprisingly after I did record and process the 80K symbol rate QPSK signal from Meteor M-N1 with Vasili’s excellent QPSK Plugin a very nice image was generated!
Not only the sunlight provides power to the transmission part but also there is enough power to activate the imaging system which is quite amazing!
Visible channels 1-2-3 are fully working but the image is only Black and White Calibaration of the sensor are not okay so no color images can be created.
Nevertheless its a very nice addition for current LRPT weather amateurs and a big surprise its even working better when nobody controls it 😉
Because the stabilisation system failed there is no proper correction to orientate the camera and on some passes one can see the earths curve!
There are some conflicting reports about the status of Meteor M-N1 found on the internet:
Status Inactive Details on Status (as available)
MSU-MR was functional with limitations (calibration issues and higher noise level in the IR channels).
MTVZA-GY instrument was functional with limitations due to failures of on-board memory and atmospheric sounding channels.
Severjanin instrument non-operational.
DCS was functional with limitations due to interferences to signals from ground sources.
GGAK-M was operational with significant limitations.
LRPT was functional with limitations due to information compression errors.
Finally, the stabilisation system failed on 23 September 2014 and the instruments could longer be operated.
On October 1, 2014 Meteor-M No 1 was withdrawn from operational use and transferred to the study of the chief designer. The decision on further operation of the spacecraft will be taken upon completion of the research program.
Its not clear the problems did got solved, and I ‘think’ M-N1 started a second life on his own. Time will tell how long the satelitte will function.