In the past we've posted a couple of times about the NOAA-APT decoder software as it is a worthy alternative to the now abandonware software WXtoIMG. However, it lacks certain features which makes WXtoIMG still the go to program for NOAA weather satellite decoding.
As NOAA-APT is open source it has recently seen a few new updates from another contributor, as well as the original author. These changes make it quite a bit more useful, although admittedly not perfect. Hopefully we'll see continued refinement over time. Regardless, this is still a great piece of software which is open source and multi-platform. Martin Bernardi, the original contributor writes:
Although I wasn't planning to continue working in my program, the quarantine happened so I worked on the program a little. Later, a person (Arcadie Z) added more features too, so I created a new version in case you want to add a blog post about it.
Added features since the last blog post:
- Redesigned GUI. - Satellite prediction and map overlay (but has offsets I can't fix yet). - False color images - Histogram equalization (improves the contrast and brightness of images) - Automatic image rotation depending on pass direction
In the end, the map overlay and false color does not work very well, but it is better than nothing I guess.
Back in June we posted about the release of Zbigniew Sztanga's NOAA-HIRS-Decoder which can decode HIRS instrument data which measures the vertical temperature profile of the Earth's surface. This HIRS signal is broadcast by NOAA satellites at the same time as their APT images and the HIRS frequency is close by at 137.350 MHz.
Recently Zbigniew has released a new decoder for the Microwave Humidity Sounder (MHS) instrument which is available on NOAA-19 only. This MHS instrument observes the Earth in the 89-190 GHz microwave band, which can be useful for measuring humidity levels. However, unlike the APT and HIRS signals which downlink data at around 137 MHz, the MHS data is broadcast in the L-band within the HRPT signal, so a motorized or tracked satellite dish will be required to receive it. Zbigniew writes:
The MHS (Microwave humidity sounder) is an instrument on NOAA-18 and NOAA-19. It replaced the older AMSU-B. It has a resolution of 90px per line and 5 channels.
Data from the instrument is present in HRPT and can be decoded with my new software. Unfortunately, only MHS on N-19 is working, because N-18's NHS is dead.
The instrument can be used to monitor low clouds, percipation and water vaopr in the atmosphere. I attached a sample image to the email.
Thank you to John First for submitting his guide all about the setup and use of the software required to receive NOAA weather satellite images on Windows 10 (pdf file) with an RTL-SDR dongle. John's guide covers the use of SDR# for receiving the signal, WXtoIMG for decoding the signal, and Orbitron for tracking the satellite and automatically tuning SDR# when a satellite is in range.
He also explains the use of the VB-Audio Virtual Cable for piping audio between SDR# and WXtoIMG, as well as the DDE Tracking and Scheduling Plugin for interfacing SDR# with Orbitron, and finally how to do NTP clock synchronization to ensure the local time is accurate.
From Sasha's Twitter feed we note that they are also working on upcoming public workshops in the UK and Germany on the topic of reflections on what it means to bring an intersectional feminist ethos to satellite image decoding + weather sensing, & new creative collaborations in 2020. If you are interested in their work please follow @sashacakes and @sophiecdyer on Twitter.
Just after our post a few days ago about an art project involving weather satellite reception with SDRs, we received a story submission about an artistic performance with similar weather satellite and SDR themes. The submission from Sasha Engelmann reads:
Open Work, Second Body asks: From the climate crisis to coronavirus: what are the tools we need to make sense of events unfolding on vastly disparate scales? Through spoken word, field recordings and live radio reception of two NOAA satellite images, the work probes the porous boundaries between our bodies, local atmospheres and weather systems.
Due to lockdown constraints in London, Sophie and Sasha were not able to be in the same place or to leave their apartments, so they performed the work via simultaneous streams from their respective balconies in South East and North West London. Using RTL-SDRs, Turnstile antennas, Open Broadcast Software and collaborating with two NOAA satellite passes, Sophie and Sasha shared the process of decoding NOAA satellite images with hundreds of viewers around the world, employing spoken word poetry and field recordings to complicate relationships of local and global, weather and climate, the individual and the collective.
Recordings of the performances can be found at the links below.
Open Work, Second Body is part of Sophie and Sasha's larger artistic research and design project Open Weather, which employs ham radio, open data and feminist theories and approaches to build new and diverse communities around satellite image decoding and weather sensing. The Open Weather web platform will be launched in Summer 2020 and will host an archive of SDR-generated weather images, visually rich how-to guides for those with no radio and engineering experience, and material about Sophie and Sasha's collaborative artistic practice.
For Open Work, Second Body, Sophie and Sasha would like to thank the Soundcamp Team: Grant Smith, Dawn Scarfe, Christine Bramwell, Maria Papadomanolaki and Ciara Drew. They are grateful to Daisy Hildyard for her willingness to be in conversation with them, Bill Liles NQ6Zfor technical advice, Jol Thoms for sound design, Rachel Dedman, Laure Selys and Arjuna Neuman (Radio Earth Hold) for early curatorial input, Akademie Schloss Solitude for the support of a residency, the satellites NOAA 18 and NOAA 19 and the RTL-SDR and wider ham radio community.
As part of his Masters in Design Studies studies Daniel Tompkins created an art installation called "signs of life" which was focused around his interest in weather satellite reception with an SDR.
FM radio headphones were given out at the door. Each set was tuned beforehand to receive a broadcast from my pre-programmed station.
Visitors were then invited to walk around the room, contemplating the artifacts of the exhibit. A V-dipole at one end of the room captures the broadcast and displays a real-time spectrogram of the radio waves on a small display.
Across the room, a satellite dish points back, creating an alignment across the projected GOES-16 "full-disk" image animation of the Earth. Along the back wall, a few dozen images show demodulated signals from the NOAA 15/18/19 satellites as they passed over Cambridge, Massachusetts in the months of October and November 2018.
The experience demonstrated my interest in tapping into an invisible (wireless) environment of digital information. A USB, software-defined radio (SDR) dongle helped me reach the satellites.
In listening to the transmission, the visitors are engaging in a shared experience, but are somehow still alone and unable to communicate while wearing their headphones. The performance of the exhibition is designed to be a place which simulates the real disconnection of techno-humanity. The "reﬂecting pool" of the earth spinning on the ﬂoor might provide a metaphorical reﬂection of humanity and progress.
This installation reminds us of the "Holypager" live art piece which used a HackRF to receive and print out live pager messages with an aim to demonstrate the amount of personal data being sent publicly over pagers. Another related art piece was the "Ghosts in the Air Glow" project by Amanda Dawn Christie, which saw the HAARP Auroral research facility used to transmit various art pieces to be received from all over the world by people with HF radios.
[@aang254] made a custom HRPT decoder and ported HRPT blocks for NOAA, METEOR and MetOp to work with gnuradio 3.8 on Linux. Right now it is the only free and open source decoder for MetOp (that works), and he also thinks about implementing FengYun support. I tested the decoder and it works great.
He's also working on extracting the full data from HRPT, not just the AVHRR/MSU-GS imagery but also all the telemetry and other instrument data.
HRPT is a high resolution weather satellite image signal that is broadcast from the same NOAA satellites that provide the more commonly received low resolution APT images at 137 MHz. HRPT is also broadcast by the FengYun-3, Metop and Meteor satellites. However, HRPT transmits at 1.7 GHz, so a high gain dish antenna with motorized tracking mount (or hand guided tracking), LNA and a high bandwidth SDR like an Airspy is required to receive it.
Apart from APT there is also the HIRS instrument data which is transmitted in the Direct Sounding Broadcast (DSB) telemetry signal that is spaced at a slight offset from the APT frequency. According to NOAA, the HIRS instrument is "a discrete stepping, line-scan instrument designed to measure scene radiance in 20 spectral bands to permit the calculation of the vertical temperature profile from the Earth's surface to about 40 km". The SDR# screenshot below shows what the HIRS signal looks like, and to the sides you can see NOAA APT signals.
NOAA-HIRS-decoder makes use of the Project-Dessert-Tortoise NOAA satellite telemetry decoder that we posted about previously which can be used to decode data from most of the other scientific instruments on the NOAA satellites. The HIRS decoder by Zbigniew uses the raw text data produced by the Project-Dessert-Tortoise decoder and converts it into images. Full instructions on setting up the decoder on Windows is provided on the NOAA-HIRS-decoder website, just click the menu icon on the top right of the page, and go to "usage".
The received data contains 10 channels of long wave infrared, 9 channels of medium wave infrared, and one visible light measurement. The software will plot the 20 channels as images that are 56 pixels wide. This is not a high resolution picture, but it is nevertheless valuable data that can be used for scientific or weather prediction purposes.