If you've been following our blog, or have your own RTL-SDR based weather satellite station, then you'll know that the NOAA-15 APT satellite has been experiencing issues lately. There appear to be problems with it's camera scan motor resulting from it running low on lubrication. This is fully understandable as the satellite is 21 years old and well past it's expected life span. The satellite appears to be working some days, and producing garbage image other days.
When NOAA-15 fails for good, don't feel too bad as we still have NOAA-18 and NOAA-19, the Russian Meteor M2, and Meteor M2-2 satellites, and the GOES satellites, all of which can be received by an RTL-SDR. Several new weather satellites are also planned for 2020 and onwards.
With so many independent people receiving weather satellite images from the NOAA satellites daily, an interesting collaborative task is to stitch these images together to create a wide area composite image. Fortunately the WXtoIMG software already has stitching as a feature.
We also wanted to provide a brief update on some weather satellites that we RTL-SDR users often receive.
NOAA 15: About two weeks ago NOAA 15 failed and was producing glitched images. However after a few days it came right again, only to have failed again at the end of last month. It appears that the camera scanning motor is getting stuck due to being low on lubricant as the satellite is now well past it's intended life cycle at 11 years old. If you're interested, some info on how the camera on these satellites works can be found here. There is currently no plan for a fix, the only hope is to wait and see if the motor unsticks.
Meteor M2-1: Meteor M2-1 has also recently suffered problems yet again with it's orientation control, and we're regularly seeing off-axis or distorted images that show the curvature of the earth. Over the weekend it was turned off, and should be reset this week. This problem seems to occur and be fixed often, so hopefully it will be back online soon.
Meteor M2-2: The recently launched Meteor M2-2 is functional, but it is still in the testing phase, so is sometimes being turned off. Do not be alarmed if no signal is received sometimes.
GOES-17: GOES-17 is reported to be experiencing problems with it's infrared camera due to a blocked heatpipe, however it appears that they are able to work around this issue and obtain 97% uptime.
Back in April 2018 we posted how the NOAA-15 APT weather satellite that many RTL-SDR users enjoy receiving images from was having problems with it's scan motor resulting in image errors. The satellite recovered from that problem, but today the problem appears to be back and in a much worse way now.
NASA have put out a statement indicating that yet again it is a problem with the scan motor, and the problem could be permanent.
The NOAA-15 AVHRR Scan Motor current began showing signs of instability at approximately 0400Z on July 23, 2019. At about 0435Z the current rose sharply to about 302mA where it has remained. Scan motor temperature began rising about the same time and is currently steady at ~26M-0C. Black body temperatures dropped sharply at about the same time. The instrument appears to no longer be producing data. This behavior is consistent with a scan motor stall, but requires further investigation. Options for recovery are limited.
Having been launched in 1998 with a minimum spec of 2 years operation, NOAA-15 has already well outlived it's time and may finally be failing for real. We hope it will recover, but if not we should be thankful that Russian weather satellite Meteor M2-2 is now fully operational and transmitting beautiful high resolution images.
NOAA weather satellites broadcast an Automatic Picture Transmission (APT) signal, which contains a live weather image of your area. With an RTL-SDR and antenna they can be received and downloaded every time one of the satellite's passes overhead which could be multiple times a day.
Our standard NOAA weather satellite tutorial makes use of SDR#, audio piping and the WXtoIMG to receive NOAA satellite images. Martin's guide and software might be slightly easier for newbies as it only involves recording an audio WAV file, then loading it up into his software. The disadvantage is that the image is not colorized, and not displayed in real time as it is in WXtoIMG.
As you may already know, the old standard software in NOAA image decoding, WXtoIMG, is now considered abandonware, and the only place to get it is from a third party mirror rehosting the now defunct WXtoIMG website. As WXtoIMG is closed source no further development can occur on it. Martin's NOAA-APT still misses a lot of the advanced features of WXtoIMG but it is fully open source and multiplatform, and so it is a very promising program.
Receiving NOAA satellite images with noaa-apt and SDR#
Last year in December we posted about Matt's element14 sponsored video which showed us how to create a portable briefcase contained NOAA satellite received based on a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR dongle. The build consisted of a heavy duty briefcase, modified ATX PSU and stripped down LCD monitor panel. This build resulted in a rugged and portable receiver. The full series of videos demonstrating the briefcase, ATX PSU conversion, LCD teardown, and NOAA satellite receiver demo can be found on his YouTube Playlist.
In his latest video Matt goes over the software installation procedure for creating an automated NOAA weather satellite receiver on the Raspberry Pi. He uses gpredict for predicting the satellite passes, and the Raspberry Pi version of WXtoImg for decoding the images. The rest of the video shows how to set up the software for your particular location, and how to set up decoding automation.
How To Set Up a Raspberry Pi as a NOAA Satellite Receiver with RTL-SDR
Electronics distributor element14 has uploaded a video to their 'element14 presents' YouTube channel showing presenter Matt building and setting up a portable Raspberry Pi & RTL-SDR based NOAA weather satellite receiver. More information is also available on their supplemental content page.
The build consists of a Raspberry Pi, RTL-SDR and QFH antenna as the basic components. However, it is made into a very nice portable unit by using a stripped down LCD monitor placed into a heavy duty waterproof brief case. The whole thing is powered via a PC power supply. After the build is completed, Matt leaves the case on the roof for a few days collecting images.
Emboldened by the success of his Raspberry PIrate radio, Matt indulges in some more radio hacking by building a specialized QFH antenna and a briefcase form-factor satellite receiver in an attempt to intercept "faxes" from OUTER SPAACEEE!!! Connect with Matt on the element14 community: http://bit.ly/2RiSXC5
Project TIROS is a self-contained, Raspberry Pi-based satellite signal reception system designed to automatically download images and data from NOAA's POES spacecraft as they pass overhead and display the data on an integrated LCD panel. In this video, Matt will walk through how to set up an RTL-SDR module with a Raspberry Pi for automated satellite downloads as well as how to design and build a quadrifilar helical antenna for polar-orbiting signal reception.
Compared to the features found in WXtoIMG the software is fairly basic, but as WXtoIMG has been abandoned it's good to see new APT decoders still being worked on. The software can also be used to simply resample the .WAV file into a sample rate required by other more featured decoders like aptdec.
NOAA weather satellites broadcast an Automatic Picture Transmission (APT) signal, which contains a live weather image of your area. With an RTL-SDR and antenna they can be received and downloaded every time one of the satellite's passes overhead. We have a tutorial on using an RTL-SDR with WXtoIMG available here.
Earlier this month we posted about The Thought Emporium who uploaded a video to YouTube where they documented the first steps of their construction of a tracking mount for a 2.4 GHz grid WiFi dish which they intend to use for HRPT weather satellite reception.
If you didn't already know, receiving HRPT weather satellite signals is a little different to the more commonly received NOAA APT or Meteor M2 LRPT images which most readers may already be familiar with. HRPT is broadcast by the same NOAA satellites that provide the APT signal at 137 MHz, but is found in the L-band at around 1.7 GHz. The signal is much weaker, so a high gain dish antenna with motorized tracking mount, LNA and high bandwidth SDR like an Airspy is required. The payoff is that HRPT images are much higher in resolution compared to APT.
In this video they document the steps required to finish the physical build and add the electronics and motors required to control and move the dish. The final product is a working tracking mount that should be able to track the NOAA satellites as they pass over. In the next video which is not yet released they plan to actually test reception.