Back in April and July of last year we posted about Philip Hahn and Paul Breed's experiments to use an RTL-SDR for GPS logging on their high powered small rockets. Basically they hope to be able to use an RTL-SDR combined with a computing platform like a Raspberry Pi or Intel Compute stick and software like gnss-sdr to record GPS data on their rocket. Using an RTL-SDR would get around the COCOM limits that essentially stop GPS from working if it measures faster than 1,900 kmph/1,200 mph and/or higher than 18,000 m/59,000 ft.
In the past they've been able to get usable data from the flights, but have had trouble with reliability and noise. That said they also tried commercial GPS solutions which have also failed to work properly even on flights travelling under the COCOM limits, whereas the RTL-SDR actually got data that could still be post processed.
In previous posts we showed how Phillip Hahn had been trying to use his RTL-SDR as a GPS receiver on a high powered rocket in order to overcome the COCOM limits which prevent commercial GPS devices from operating when moving faster than 1,900 kmph/1,200 mph and/or higher than 18,000 m/59,000 ft.
In order to test future flights with the RTL-SDR GPS receiver, Phillip has been simulating GPS rocket trajectory signals and using his LimeSDR. The RTL-SDR then receives the simulated GPS signals which are then fed into SoftGNSS for decoding. The simulation simulates the Japanese SS-520-4 rocket which is a 32′ long, 2′ diameter small high powered rocket capable of putting loads like cubesats into orbit affordably. Using the simulated data Phillip is able to calculate the trajectory and see all the motor burns in the velocity profile.
While Phillip intends to use the RTL-SDR on a similar rocket in the future, he notes that the simulation does not take into account problems such as thermal noise, or RF interference, rocket jerk, satellite occlusion and vibration problems.
Back in April we posted about Philip Hahn and Paul Breed’s experiments to use an RTL-SDR for GPS logging on their high powered small rockets. As GPS is owned by the US military, a standard GPS module cannot be used on a rocket like this, as they are designed to fail if the GPS device breaches the COCOM limit, which is when it calculates that it is moving faster than 1,900 kmph/1,200 mph and/or higher than 18,000 m/59,000 ft. The idea is that this makes it harder for GPS to be used in non-USA or home made intercontinental missiles. As SDR GPS decoders are usually programmed in open source software, there is no need for the programmers to add in these artificial limits.
In their last tests they managed to gather lots of GPS data with an RTL-SDR, but were only able to decode a small amount of it with the GNSS-SDR software. In this post Philip discoversa flaw in the way the GNSS-SDR performs acquisition and retrackingthat GNSS-SDR decodes in such a way that makes it difficult to obtain a location solution with noisy high-acceleration data. By using a different GPS implementation coded in MATLAB, he was able to get decoded GPS data from almost the entire ascent up until the parachutes deploy. Once the parachutes deploy the GPS has a tough time keeping a lock as it sways around. His post clearly explains the differences in the way the code is implemented in GNSS-SDR and in the MATLAB solution and shows why the GNSS-SDR implementation may not be suitable for high powered rockets.
In addition, they write that while the flight was just under the artificial COCOM GPS fail limits for speed and height, the commercial GPS solution they also had on board failed to collect data for most of the flight too. With the raw GPS data from the RTL-SDR + some smart processing of it, they were able to decode GPS data where the commercial solution failed.
Over on the SDRGPS blog Philip Hahn and fellow aerospace engineer Paul Breed have been working together to try and use an RTL-SDR to help get accurate GPS data for tracking small high powered rockets. They write that their end goal is to be able to “track high power rockets in high acceleration / speed / altitude environments”.
In their latest attempt they launched a rocket with an RTL-SDR on board with it capturing GPS data to be later processed with GNSS-SDR. The goal was to get a GPS fix throughout the flight. Unfortunately they found that a good fix was only obtained while the rocket was on the ground, and not much data was obtained while it was in the air. They write that they suspect that the fault lies in the vibration in the rocket which can affect the frequency stability of the crystal oscillator, or in the GPS satellite tracking loop algorithm.
They still hope to be able to get some usable information from the flight by trying other algorithms on the data, but they are also seeking advice from anyone who might know how to help them, so please contact them if you know anything that may help.