Tagged: rtl-sdr

A Simple Guide to Setting up a DIY NOAA Weather Satellite Ground Station

A few weeks ago we posted about Sophie Dyer and Sasha Engelmann's work in creating an artistic performance based on weather satellite reception with SDRs. More recently they have uploaded their own tutorial showing how they receive NOAA APT weather satellite images with an SDR, turnstile antenna and computer. Sasha and Sophie note that they are attempting to create visually rich guides that don't assume any prior knowledge of radio, science or engineering.

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.

Receiving NOAA weather satellites
Receiving NOAA weather satellites

Guest Post: So you’ve bought an RTL-SDR, now what?

Thank you to Merlin from the SignalsEverywhere discord channel for writing this guest post.

A package arrives at the door, a world of signal exploration awaits you. Ripping the package open you quickly install the drivers and begin exploring the beautiful waterfall of signals only to realize… Listening to the police pull someone over or your neighbors baby monitor they forgot to unplug is getting kind of boring. Where do you go from here?

We will show you that there is a whole lot more in the world of radio, ready for YOU to discover out there. 

Broadcast FM DX (yes, really!)

For some out there, the broadcast band (88-108 MHz) is just a droll block to be skipped over, I will say this about that: 7 times out of 10, you’d be right. However there is a lot more there than you realise. On a normal evening, it’s not unusual to hear Billy-Bob and Tina’s evening drive home show on your commute home, this is referred to as local programming and is perfectly normal. However during lifts in band conditions it’s entirely possible to hear radio from all over the world. From my [Merlin of Signals Everywhere] QTH in SE England, I regularly receive broadcast FM from France, Belgium and the Netherlands (music in Dutch is certainly an acquired taste…). 

Hidden amongst the signals is a service called RDS (essentially give you station information such as station name, current song and so on). Oona Räisänen has done some amazing work digging about and documenting some of the things around RDS check out her blog post for more details. 

On a slightly nefarious note; there are surveillance devices which transmit on low power onto the BFM bands, these are a lot more common than you realise and are available for meer $ on amazon and ebay. 

Licence free wireless devices

All over the bands you’ll see a little blip here, a little blip there and you’ll sometimes be thinking to yourself “What was that?” “I wonder if it’s a regular pattern or…”. Upon looking up you’ll notice that you’re sitting around one of the various licence free allocations. As it stands right now, you’ll regularly encounter things around 13 MHz (RFID) 26-27 MHz (remote control cars and the like) 40 MHz (same as previous) 433 MHz (This should be a section in and of itself, we’ll be circling back to this in a future article) 863-869MHz (All different kinds of things again) and 900 MHz. 

There are a few tools that will help you with a lot of this such as rtl_433 or to even break it down further URH. In the 433 MHz area, you’ll find everything from wireless weather stations to tyre pressure monitoring and a lot more in between. As I said previously, this will need an article in and of itself so keep an eye out for it.

Foreign signals

If you’re like me (Merlin) you’ll absolutely love to hunt for signals from other countries. Being closer to continental Europe than I am to London comes with advantages in that I regularly receive signals from the French and Belgian coast (I am still in fact trying to identify a signal from Belgium that appears quite often and I still have no clue as to what it is, if you’re Belgian and can help leave a comment below). I have received everything from the Dutch P2000 network to an unidentified Belgian trunked system to an unidentified French FSK system that no one has been able to identify

You will also encounter (depending on your location) niche systems such as France’s channel hopping UHF pagers, legacy systems such as Motorola type 2 trunks all the way up to the latest and greatest in digital trunked technology. It’s a case of recognising how the weather effects propagation specifically in your location and tuning in to the right places at the right time. Broadcast FM is a fantastic metric of a “lift” in propagation. 


The range of an RTL-SDR is pretty impressive, however when you start looking into things such as satellite communications or Amateur Television you might find that you just can’t reach the frequency ranges you need. This is where downconverters come into play. To keep it simple, a down converter is essentially just a frequency mixer and some filtering. Many of these down converters use active mixers meaning that we must feed them power, the bias-tee of the RTL certainly comes in handy for this although some downconverters (such as a satellite LNB) may require a bit more power than the 5v the RTL provides.

So what does the down converter do? Essentially, it takes the input signal from your antenna and mixes it with it’s own local oscillator frequency, the mixer then spits out the sum and difference of those signals. So, let’s say you want to listen to a 10GHz signal on your RTL, you could use a satellite LNB with a 12v power injector (since it does use an active mixer and LNA) with a local oscillator frequency of 9.75GHz and your 10GHz input signal would come out of the mixer at 250MHz, Perfectly within the range of your RTL-SDR!

Step-by-step Guide to Creating a GNU Radio Based QO-100 SSB Receiver

Thank you to M Khanfar for submitting his video that shows a step-by-step tutorial on building your own SSB receiver in Windows GNU Radio for QO-100 satellite reception.  His tutorial includes adding several tuning sliders in the GNU Radio GUI as well.

QO-100 / Es'hail-2 is a geostationary satellite at at 25.5°E (covering Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern Brazil and the west half of Russia/Asia) providing broadcasting services. However, as a bonus it has allowed amateur radio operators to use a spare transponder. Uplink is at 2.4 GHz and downlink is at 10.5 GHz. We note that we are selling a "bullseye" LNB in our store which allows most SDR dongles to be able to receive the signal with high frequency accuracy.

GNU-RADIO QO-100 SSB Receiver

Frugal Radio: 2020 SDR Guide Ep 1 – The Incredible World of Software Defined Radio (RTL-SDR, Airspy, SDRPlay etc.)

Frugal Radio has begun his YouTube channel a few weeks ago, and we've already posted about his YouLoop and SDR-Kits L-band patch antenna reviews as well as his results with the YouLoop on LF & VLF.

He's now begun a new series on his channel where he will be exploring the world of software defined radio in more depth. The first video that he's uploaded today is an overview where he overviews EMS communications, aircraft signals, military air signals, maritime signals, space signals, as well as other interesting signals he's received like wireless earpieces for musicians at concerts and  TV studio talkback links. He writes:

The 2020 SDR Guide Episode 1 has just been released.  It serves as an introduction to the incredible world of Software Defined Radio and will be of interest to both beginners and more advanced users.

Over the next few weeks, Frugal Radio will be exploring various aspects of using SDRs within the  hobby.  These include :
  • Using Free online SDRs
  • Comparison videos (eg Budget dongle shootout - Generic / RTL-SDR V3 / Nooelec SMARt v4)
  • "Must have" software guide
  • Antenna options and more

Users can view the channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/FrugalRadio or visit https://www.youtube.com/c/FrugalRadio?sub_confirmation=1 to subscribe directly.

If you're getting started with SDR, or are looking for new projects this might be a series to follow.

2020 SDR Guide Ep 1 : The Incredible World of Software Defined Radio (RTL-SDR, Airspy, SDRPlay etc.)

Characterizing Yagi Antenna Directionality via ADS-B Reception

Over on his blog Alex Krotz has been investigating whether adding more passive director elements actually affects the directionality of his home made Yagi-Uda antenna. Instead of using modelling software, Alex wanted a more accurate result that took into account all the imperfections of his antenna.

His idea was to receive ADS-B signals with his Yagi and a dipole antenna, then compare the data received in order to determine in which directions the Yagi receives better than the dipole. To do this he first creates a standard 2D map of plane tracks collected over a 24hr period for both the dipole and Yagi. A gaussian blur is applied to the two maps in order to fill in blank space and the data is normalized. Then he simply subtracts the dipole plot from the Yagi-Uda plot. The resulting difference plot reveals a mapping of where the Yagi receives better or worse compared to the dipole in a 2D plane.

Directivity of the Yagi revealed by comparing against a dipole
Directivity of the Yagi revealed by comparing against a dipole

Hak5: Turning a Key Croc into an RTL-SDR Server

The Hak5 Key Croc is a pentesting tool designed for emulating USB devices such as keyboards. It is commonly used by pentesters for keylogging and keystroke injection. It has some advanced features like keyword detection which can be used to detect when a certain word is typed. Under the hood it runs Linux on a quad-core ARM processor.

Over on the Hak5 YouTube channel Glytch shows us that he's been using the Key Croc as a remote RTL-SDR server. The server is setup through a payload script, which is then activated by typing "setup" into notepad on a PC. The keystroke logging and keyword detection feature detects the setup keyword, and runs the payload script which installs the RTL-SDR drivers and rtl_tcp server all while using the keystroke injection feature to output the install progress. Then it is a simple matter of plugging in an RTL-SDR, and connecting to the rtl_tcp server on a program like SDR#. 

Glytch notes that this is useful because you can run the entire Key Croc server and RTL-SDR on a portable battery pack, and now you have a remote SDR that you can place anywhere within your WiFi network.

Turning a KeyCroc into an RTL SDR Server w/ Glytch

DragonOS: Decoding Iridium Satellites with the Iridium Toolkit and an RTL-SDR

DragonOS is a ready to use Linux OS image that includes various SDR programs preinstalled and ready to use. The creator Aaron also runs a YouTube channel that has multiple tutorial videos demonstrating software built into DragonOS.

In his latest video Aaron explores Iridium reception with an RTL-SDR Blog V3, RTL-SDR Blog Active L-Band Patch Antenna and Iridium Toolkit/gr-iridium. Iridium is a satellite constellation that provides services such as global paging, satellite phones, tracking and fleet management services, as well as services for emergency, aircraft, maritime and covert operations too.

In the video he shows how to edit the config file to turn the bias tee on, how to record Iridium data, how to install the AMBE voice decoder, and finally how to decode the Iridum data with Iridium toolkit and play voice recordings.

DragonOS LTS Decoding Iridium satellites with the Iridium toolkit (gr-iridium, RTL-SDR)

DSD (Open Source) with dPMR Decoding and Windows Binaries Released

Digital Speech Decoder (DSD) is an open source program for decoding signals containing digital speech, such as DMR and P25. The open source version has been mostly surpassed in use over the last few years by the closed source DSD+ version. However, work is still ongoing on the open source version, and a recent fork by Louis-Erig HERVE @LouisErigHerve has added support for Digital Private Mobile Radio (dPMR) decoding.

dPMR is an open, non-proprietary trunked radio standard that supports both data and digital voice transmission. A licence free variation for short range communications called dPMR466 uses the 446.1–446.2 MHz band. Other modes allow for efficient peer to peer to peer operation (mode 1), operation with a base station repeater (mode 2), or with a trunking signal (mode 3).  All dPMR signals operate in FDMA mode with an efficient bandwidth of only 6.25 kHz. dPMR is also known as Icom IDAS and Kenwood NEXEDGE.

Code for Louis-Erig's DSD fork can be found on his GitHub, and he has also released binaries for Windows on his website. Over on his Twitter he has also been mentioning that he has been able to get around the basic privacy modes on DMR.

dPMR radios, data stations and repeater hardware.
dPMR radios, data stations and repeater hardware.