Tagged: rtl2832

Understanding, Listening and Recording Trunked Radio Systems with an RTL-SDR and Trunk-Recorder

Trunked radio systems for voice communications can be easily found when browsing the spectrum with an SDR. Listening to a voice communication is easy, but actually following a conversation along is almost impossible to do manually. This is because in a trunking system the frequency in use during a conversation can change often. The frequency of the voice is dictated by a control channel that all radios listen to. This allows multiple talk groups (Police, EMS, business etc) to share one chunk of the spectrum without having to allocate fixed channels for each user.

Over on his blog Andrew Nohawk has uploaded an excellent guide that explains trunked radio, how it works, how to use radioreference to look up trunked radio frequencies in your area, and how to use an RTL-SDR to listen in. He then shows how to use a program called "trunk-recorder" which will automatically record and upload trunked radio conversations to a site like openmhz.com for sharing. 

Voice Trunking Seen on GQRX with an RTL-SDR
Voice Trunking Seen on GQRX with an RTL-SDR

Testing out the SDR-Kits L-band Inmarsat Patch Antenna for AERO

The SDR-Kits L-band Patch antenna is a modified GPS antenna designed for receiving Inmarsat satellite stations such as AERO and STD-C. They have another version for receiving Iridium frequencies as well. The patch costs £12.90 inc VAT in UK, or approx US$14 for non-UK customers. 

Over on his channel Frugal Radio has uploaded a video where he tests this patch antenna with an RTL-SDR Blog V3. The built in bias tee on the V3 is used to power the antenna. In the video he shows how he's able to receive and decode AERO using the JAERO decoding software and how he uses a a metal backing to improve reception.

SDR-Kits frugal L-band Inmarsat patch antenna review decoding CPDLC ADS-C with RTL-SDR v3 dongle!

Trump Tweets about Pushed Buffalo Protestor Scanning to Jam Police Radios with an RTL-SDR and Android Phone

In political news 75 year old Buffalo protestor Martin Gugino has been generating controversy due to a video of him being pushed to the ground by a police officer, then subsequently lying motionless while bleeding from the head and being ignored by other officers.

Recently US president Donald Trump tweeted about a video news report by "One America News" (OAN) indicating that Gugino may have been trying to scan police with a "capture scanner". Whilst talking about the capture scanner they show an image of an RTL-SDR dongle and Android phone running the SDR Touch software. OAN go on to say that these capture scanners are designed to "skim microphones" in order to capture police communications, and are a tool commonly used by Antifa. Credit to @hackerfantastic for initially tweeting about the RTL-SDR being featured in the video.

Trump's tweet reads "Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment @OANN
I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?".

We're not entirely sure where this theory from OAN came from as there is no need to get so close in order to listen to police radio communications, since if unencrypted, they can be listened to from anywhere in the city. It's also unclear as to what microphones police would be using, and how these could be "skimmed" with an RTL-SDR. As for blacking out the equipment, an RTL-SDR cannot transmit so it would be impossible to use to jam the radios. An illegal jammer could be used after scanning, but police frequencies are already well known anyway, and there would be no need to scan for them so close even if low power comm links were used.

The video also shows that he appears to be filming police badge numbers with his phone before he was pushed, so it is unlikely that he was using an RTL-SDR and running SDR Touch at the same time as the camera app. No cables, antenna or dongle can be seen in the video either.

In the past we have seen a Slovenian researcher almost jailed for performing University research with an RTL-SDR, and a UN expert arrested for possessing an RTL-SDR in Tunisia. So this is a timely reminder to be careful as police and media do not always understand what an SDR is.

EDIT: Please note that this is not a political post or blog. We only post it to highlight the severe lack of understanding that can surround SDR and our technical hobbies. Comments inciting violence against protestors or anyone are NOT OK, and will be removed. Please keep discussions technical and civil in nature.

OAN indicates that Martin Gugino may have used an RTL-SDR on police
OAN indicates that Martin Gugino may have used an RTL-SDR "capture scanner" on police

Imaging the Milky Way in Neutral Hydrogen with an RTL-SDR

Over on Facebook Job Geheniau has recently been sharing how he's taken an image of our galaxy (the Milky Way) with a radio telescope consisting of a 1.5 meter dish, RTL-SDR and a few filters and LNAs. In the past we've posted several times about others observing the Hydrogen line with an RTL-SDR, and we have a tutorial here showing how to observe it on a budget.

In this case, Job went a step further than just a single measurement. He used a used a motorized dish and RTL-SDR to scan the entire Milky Way over one month, resulting in a full radio image of the galaxy. As his posts and pdf document are on Facebook and not visible to those without Facebook accounts, we asked for permission to reproduce some of them here for all to see. We have also mirrored his PDF file here, which contains more information about his radio telescope, results and setup.

To make a very long story short. After a month of angel patience (and that says something to me) I managed to take a 'picture' of our entire galaxy (galaxy) in neutral hydrogen! I attach some pictures. If you are more interested, please come after this and PDF with explanation. It was a hell of a job I can tell you. But here's the ' picture s' of the house (230 million light years wide) in which we live and in which we all have a big mouth......

Hydrogen Line Image of the Milky Way produced by Job Geheniau
Hydrogen Line Image of the Milky Way produced by Job Geheniau

For the Scientists among us... a beautiful plot of the Milky Way Graphically explained in neutral hydrogen....... In short, summarized... if you look up on a beautiful summer evening you will see a beautiful galaxy, this is graphically the same but then on a different frequency than the eye can perceive. own dates of course.....

A composite of Hydrogen Line readings at different points of the Milky Way
A composite of Hydrogen Line readings at different points of the Milky Way produced by Job Geheniau
An image of the Galactic Plane (longitude 20 to 240 steps of 5 degrees and latitude 0)
An image of the Galactic Plane (longitude 20 to 240 steps of 5 degrees and latitude 0)

His setup consists of a 1.5m dish, extended to 1.9m with some mesh. A 1420 MHz tuned feed, Mini Circuits ZX6-P33ULN LNA, Bandpass Filter, NooElec SAWBird LNA, Bias-T, RTL-SDR V3, PST Rotator Dish Software, VIRGO software, SDR#, Cartes due Ciel sky chart and a home made netfilter.

He uses a modified version of the VIRGO software to read sky coordinates from a text file, and this points the telescope at each predefined coordinate. He then uses VIRGO to record data for 180 seconds before moving on to the next coordinate. The data is then plotted in Excel, and the highest peak is taken at each coordinate and put back into an 8x21 matrix in excel. Conditional formatting is then used to generate a color gradient resulting in a rough map. Then a Gaussian blur is applied, and it is projected over the Galaxy, resulting in the images above.

Job Geheniau's Radio Telescope Setup
Job Geheniau's Radio Telescope Setup

In the past we've seen a very similar project performed by Marcus Leech from ccera.ca. However, his measurements use 5 months of observations resulting in much higher resolution data.

The Hydrogen Line is an observable increase in RF power at 1420.4058 MHz created by Hydrogen atoms. It is most easily detected by pointing a directional antenna towards the Milky Way as there are many more hydrogen atoms in our own galaxy. This effect can be used to measure the shape and other properties of our own galaxy.

Decoding HIRS Instrument Images from NOAA Weather Satellites

Thank you to Björn Schnabel who has written in to notify us about a website he's created for a program written by Zbigniew Sztanga called NOAA-HIRS-decoder which might be of interest to some RTL-SDR users. Most of us are familiar with the the ability to use an RTL-SDR to receive the APT signal on the NOAA 15/18/19 weather satellites. The APT signal provides a live image of the Earth. If you haven't tried to receive APT yet, we have a tutorial here.

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.

The NOAA HIRS Signal
The NOAA HIRS Signal (Center Signal)

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.

All 20 NOAA HIRS Channels (Image enlarged from 56 pixels)
All 20 NOAA HIRS Channels (Image enlarged from 56 pixels)

TETRA-Kit: A New Open Source TETRA Decoder

Thank you to Larry for submitting information about his latest project called TETRA-Kit. TETRA-Kit is an extensible open source TETRA downlink decoder for Linux that makes use of GNU Radio as the first stage, so it should be compatible with any SDR supported by GNU Radio, including the RTL-SDR. Larry writes:

[TETRA-Kit] is inspired by a lot of existing stuff (see 'Previous work' in the project page) but started from scratch with those following ideas:

  • Stays as close as possible to TETRA specification layers defined in ETSI EN 300 392-2 v3.4.1 (2010-08)
  • Transmit downlink informations (including speech frames) in Json plain text format to be recorded or analyzed by an external program
  • Reassociate speech frames with a simple method based on associated caller id and usage marker (save messages transmitted simultaneously in separated files)
  • KISS

The decoder implements a soft synchronizer allowing missing frames (50 bursts) before loosing synchronization.

It consists in 3 parts:

  • A physical layer transforming PI/4 DQPSK rf signal to bits (RF frontend is NESDR at 2MBPS)
  • A decoder, which is the actual TETRA stack reading bits and transforming it to Json text
  • A recorder, which read Json stack output and reorder speech frames into separate files

The ETSI codec is also provided so unencrypted speech can be played.

Software is written in C++ and licensed under GPLv3 and use few external softwares with compatible licensing.

TETRA is a type of digital voice and trunked radio communications system that stands for “Terrestrial Trunked Radio”. It is used in many parts of the world, but not in the USA.

TETRA-Kit Screenshot
TETRA-Kit Screenshot

Virtual Plane Spotting Livestream by Piping ADS-B Data into Flight Simulator

Over on YouTube we've recently discovered a live stream by channel Information Zulu that has created a virtual live 24hr view of LAX airport air traffic by piping ADS-B data into a flight simulator game. The stream also combines this with live air traffic audio and arrivals and departures information. Other videos on his channel show highlights like go arounds.

We're not sure what he's using to pipe ADS-B data into the simulator or exactly what simulator this is, but in the video description he notes that he uses a Pi 4, RTL-SDR blog V3 with ADS-B LNA, and an AirNav antenna to receive the ADS-B data. 

This reminds us of the Android ADSB Flight Tracker app which also has a 3D view, and the post about using ADS-B data to simulate what aircraft instruments would show on the real aircraft.

24HR LAX airport! Real Time Virtual Airport with LIVE aircraft data livestream

A 3D Printed Dual Screen Cyberdeck with Built in RTL-SDR

A Cyberdeck is a portable retro styled computer on the outside, but on the inside they typically consist of modern components like a Raspberry Pi. Having been inspired by the aesthetic of the Reviiser cyberdeck project, Reddit user u/dapperrogue set out to build his own version with a built in RTL-SDR.

In his Imgur post, dapperrogue documents the build process. The build consists of multiple 3D printed parts for the enclosure, as well as a really cool home made mechanical keyboard and dual LCD screens. Inside is a Raspberry Pi 4, with RTL-SDR Blog V3, as well as supporting components like a 12v to 5v step down converter, USB hub and four cooling fans. The RTL-SDR connects to a BNC port which is accessible from the outside.

CyberDeck with built in RTL-SDR
CyberDeck with built in RTL-SDR