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 provide 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.
Back in December Tysonpower showed us how he was able to receive HRPT weather satellite images with a 80cm and 1.2m satellite dish, LNA and Airspy Mini.
If you didn't already know, HRPT signals are a little different to the more commonly received NOAA APT or Meteor M2 LRPT images which most readers may be more familiar with. HRPT images are more difficult to receive as they are broadcast in the L-band at about 1.7 GHz and so 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 the last video Tysonpower was successful with receiving HRPT images with his setup. But recently over on his YouTube channel and on his blog Tysonpower has shown how he has improved his HRPT reception by first optimizing the feed and adding in a copper matching line which helps improve the impedance matching of the feed. He also added an L-Band filter tuned to the HRPT signal which he notes made the biggest improvement, and he also moved all the components into a watertight box for permanent outdoor mounting. With these changes he's now able to consistently pull in some very nice imagery. All the images are still received by hand tracking the satellite dish as the satellite passes over, but he notes that he plans to experiment with motorized trackers in the future.
Note that the video shown below is narrated in German, but English subtitles are provided if you turn on YouTube captions.
[EN subs] HRPT - optimierungen und sehr gute Bilder
In addition to the above Tysonpower also writes that he has created a free HRPT decoder for the HRPT signals originating from NOAA satellites. He writes regarding HRPT decoders:
I found it quite complicated to find a decoder for HRPT when i started and there is still no one that you can just Download.
The only free Decoder is the gr-noaa example in gnu radio that has a depricated wx GUI and uses a input from a specific SDR. I used that gr-noaa example and created a decoder that uses the modern QT GUI and has a clean interface. You just put in a wav IQ file from SDR# for example and it will decode the Data into the file you entered. It is not the best one out there in form of signal processing, but a good start i would say.
The decoder can be downloaded from tynet.eu/hrpt-decoder. Below is a second YouTube video where Tysonpower explains how to use the decoder.
[EN subs] Kostenloser HRPT Decoder (GNU Radio) - Und wie man ihn nutzt
Over on his YouTube channel user Tysonpower has uploaded a video that shows how to make a V-Dipole antenna. Back in March we posted about the V-Dipole which Adam 9A4QV first described. A V-Dipole is a simple antenna that normally consists of two metal rods, a terminal block and coax cable. It is particularly effective for reception of low Earth orbit satellites like the NOAA and Meteor M2 weather image satellites with an RTL-SDR or other similar SDR.
In his video Tysonpower shows how to build a slightly more rugged version using a 3D printed part instead of a terminal block. Aluminum welding rods are used for the elements. The 3D printed part ensures that the correct 120 degree ‘V’ angle is maintained and also provides a means for mounting the antenna to a pole. The 3D printing STL files are available on Thingiverse. Note that the video is in German, but English subtitles are available.
Thanks to Dave for submitting news of his recent release of his Python script called dopplerscript. This is a tool that can help people automate the reception and decoding of the Meteor M2 weather satellite in Linux with GNU Radio by providing a tool for automatic Doppler correction. He writes:
gr-gpredict-doppler is an out-of-tree gnuradio block for getting doppler updates from gpredict into a flowgraph. I’ve written a small python script (based on pyephem) that replaces gpredict for generating the doppler updates. This script allows one to automate scripting the reception of Meteor M2 satellite transmissions while compensating for the doppler shift.
dopplerscript is a command-line tool to input satellite doppler shifts into a gnuradio flowgraph. The doppler.py script replaces gpredict as the source for doppler frequency updates in gr-gpredict-doppler, making it easy to script satellite reception.
As low earth orbit satellites fly very quickly overhead, the signal will be affected by the doppler effect, thus shifting the frequency as it moves towards and away from you. Tools like this can be used to predict and compensate for this effect and thus providing better signal processing. Meteor M2 is a Russian weather satellite in low earth orbit which transmits digital LRPT weather satellite images that can be received with an RTL-SDR or other SDR.
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.
Over on his blog Adam 9A4QV (seller of various RTL-SDR related goods including the LNA4ALL) has just made a post detailing a build of a high performance super simple NOAA/Meteor M2 weather satellite antenna. Most antenna designs for polar orbiting weather spacecraft are based on circularly polarized turnstile or QFH designs. However, Adams antenna is based on a very simple linearly polarized dipole, which makes construction almost trivial.
The idea is that by arranging a dipole into a horizontal ‘V’ shape, the radiation pattern will be directed skywards in a figure 0 (zero) pattern. This will be optimal for satellites travelling in front, above and behind the antenna. Since polar orbiting satellites always travel North to South or vice versa, we can take advantage of this fact simply by orienting the antenna North/South.
There is also another advantage to Adams design. Since the antenna is horizontally polarized, all vertically polarized terrestrial signals will be reduced by 20 dB. Most terrestrial signals are broadcast in vertical polarization, so this can help significantly reduce interference and overloading on your RTL-SDR. Overloading is a big problem for many trying to receive weather satellites as they transmit at 137 MHz, which is close to the very powerful FM broadcast band, air band, pagers and business radio. In contrast a circularly polarized antenna like a QFH or turnstile only reduces vertically polarized terrestrial signals by 3 dB.
As the satellites broadcast in circular polarization there will be a 3 dB loss in Adams design from using a linear polarized antenna. But this can be considered as almost negligible. Adam also argues that the home construction of a QFH can never be perfect, so there will always be at least a ~1dB loss from inaccurate construction of these antennas anyway.
The final advantage to Adams design is that construction is extremely simple. Just connect one element to the center coax conductor, and the other to the shield, and spread apart by 120 degrees.
Adam has tested the antenna and has gotten excellent results. If you want more information about the antenna design, Adam has also uploaded a pdf with a more indepth description of the design and his thoughts.
DIY 137 MHz WX sat V-dipole antenna
137 MHz NOAA WX sat reception using V-dipole antenna
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.