SatNOGS is an open source project that aims to make it easy for volunteers to build and run RTL-SDR or other SDR based RF ground stations that automatically monitor satellites, and upload that data to the internet for public access. The antennas used in a typical home based SatNOGS station are small enough for a single person to handle, however recently the SatNOGS team have been working on setting up a monitoring station at the Dwingeloo Radio Observatory in the Netherlands.
Dwingeloo has a large 25 meter satellite dish antenna, and they connect it to an RTL-SDR on a laptop running the SatNOGS software. In the video they show it tracking the PRISM amateur radio satellite, and note that the use of this large dish will only be used in special circumstances. They write:
This week the Dwingelooradio Observatory tested their 25 meter dish as a SatNOGS station! Although not set up as a permanent SatNOGS station it is great to see this historic observatory linked to the network. Dwingeloo radio observatory was built between 1954 and 1956 near the village of Dwingeloo in the Netherlands. Since 2009 this single 25 meter dish has been a national heritage site.
Dwingeloo Radio Observatory as a SatNOGS 📡 station
Othernet (previously known as Outernet) are currently having a 50% off sale on all their products. This means that you can snag a discounted Dreamcatcher at only US$75, and a moRFeus at US$99. The sale expires midnight on the 26th.
The sale is exclusive to RTL-SDR Blog readers (although feel free to share the coupon) and the coupon code to use at checkout is rtlsdrblog83759.
Dreamcatcher and Othernet Data Signal Information
If you weren't already aware, the Othernet project aims to bring live data such as news, weather, video, books, Wikipedia articles and audio broadcasts to the world via a free satellite service and cheap receivers. Although an internet connection provides the same data, Othernet's satellite broadcast is receivable in remote areas, will continue working in disasters, and costs nothing to continually receive roughly 200MB of data a day. The trade off is that the service is downlink only, so the data that you get is only what is curated by the Othernet team.
Othernet can provide this service for free because they are funded by private customers whom they provide private data/audio satellite channels to. One such private customer is attempting to implement an Othernet based Tsunami early warning system in Vanuatu which would work even when the cell phone system fails in a disaster. Each siren is equipped with an Othernet receiver and LNB that receives the Othernet signal. The goal is to allow for any village to be able to set up their own low cost warning system. At the same time the Othernet Tsunami warning receiver is made use of in normal circumstances as it receives a satellite radio broadcast which is then re-transmitted to the village over regular FM radio.
Currently the public service is in a test period and is only available in North America, but public service for the EU and possibly Oceania is planned to begin in Q1 2019. The rest of the world should eventually follow after. Some more information about the data service can be found on our previous post.
Alternatively, if you have no interest in the data service then your Dreamcatcher could also be used as a TX/RX capable LoRa radio. In a previous post we had some fun with two Dreamcatchers and a LoRa chat application.
The moRFeus is a low cost signal generator. It's capable of generating a tone anywhere from 85 MHz to 5400 MHz, and it can also be used as a frequency mixer component for implementing things like homebrew upconverters and downconverters.
Today SpaceX have successfully launched and deployed the Es'hail-2 satellite which is now in geostationary orbit. This launch is special for amateur radio enthusiasts because it is the first geostationary satellite that contains an amateur radio transponder on it. The satellite is positioned at 25.5°E which is over Africa. It will cover Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern Brazil and the west half of Russia/Asia. Unfortunately, North America, Japan, most of South America, Australia and NZ miss out.
The satellite has a two bandwidth segments, a 250 kHz narrow band for modes like SSB, FreeDV, CW, RTTY etc, and a 8 MHz wide band for digital amateur TV (DATV) modes like DVB-S and DVB-T.
The downlink frequencies are at 10 GHz so a low cost TV LNB could be used as the antenna. For receiving the narrowband modes, an RTL-SDR or similar SDR could be used, and for the 8 MHz DATV modes a standard DVB-S2 set top box can be used to receive and decode the video. For uplink, the transmission frequency is at 2.4 GHz.
According to the commissioning order of the satellite, it is expected that the AMSAT transponders will be activated only after all tests have been passed, and after other higher priority commercial telecommunications systems have been activated. This is expected to take about 1-2 months.
2018: Es'hail-2 and its amateur radio payload - Graham Shirville (G3VZV) & Dave Crump (G8GKQ)
USA-Satcom is the programmer of XRIT Decoder (not to be confused with XRITDecoder by CM2ESP), which is a popular (paid) Windows decoding application for GOES weather satellites. Recently, over on the SDRplay forums RSP2user made a note about the latest update:
USA-Satcom has just released v126.96.36.199 of the XRIT Decoder. Along with enhancements for the XRIT Decoder, a new RSP Streamer X has been released and is operable with the RSP1A, RSP2, and RSPduo - new features include operation with two streams simultaneously (provided that the PC being used has sufficient processing power and an RSPduo or more than one compatible RSP are being used). Also new is the XRIT File manager which allows for improved operation with both LRIT and HRIT files, improved LUT for excellent false color images, user-selectable automated black filling of the white background on full disk visual and false color HRIT images, and country as well as state map overlays.
The new color enhancements are excellent:
If you are interested in receiving and decoding GOES images, we now have several previous blog posts on this topic which may be helpful.
Aleksey Smolenchuk (lxe) has recently uploaded a step-by-step guide to setting up a GOES weather satellite receiver with an RTL-SDR dongle, Raspberry Pi and the goestools software. GOES 15/16/17 are geosynchronous weather satellites that beam high resolution weather images and data. In particular they send beautiful 'full disk' images which show one side of the entire earth. Compared to the more familiar and easier to receive low earth orbit satellites such as NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT, the geosynchronous GOES satellites require slightly more effort as you need to set up a dish antenna, use a special LNA, and install Linux software.
Aleksey's tutorial first shows where to purchase the required hardware and notes that the total cost of the system is around $185. Next he goes on to show the hardware connection order, and then how to install and configure the goestools decoding software onto a Raspberry Pi.
On The Thought Emporium YouTube channel a new video has been uploaded showing the full disk images of the earth that they've been able to receive from GOES geosynchronous weather satellites. Over the past couple of years GOES satellite reception has become much easier for hobbyists to achieve with the release of the NooElec SAWbird LNA+Filter, information on how to use a cheap 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antenna for reception and the release of free open source decoder software. It was also shown that an RTL-SDR dongle is sufficient for receiving these images as well. With all these new developments it is now possible to build a GOES receiving station for under $100.
The Thought Emporium video blurb reads:
In the fall of 2016 I saw my first rocket launch and little did I know that the satellite on that rocket would come to shape and fill my thoughts for many years. We're no strangers to getting data out of space on this channel, but GOES-16 is special, and not just because I was there when it left earth. Unlike the satellites we looked at in the past, GOES is in geostationary orbit and has an amazing suite of cameras and sensors on board. While it's a bit harder to receive data from GOES the extra effort is absolutely worth it, especially because it can see then entire globe all at once and send out those images in stunning high resolution. And it even comes with the added bonus of rebroadcast data from other satellites giving us a view of the opposite side of the planet as well.
In this video we go through the hardware and software needed to receive these gorgeous images and what is contained in the signals we receive.
How to Receive Beautiful Images of the Earth Directly From Space | GOES-15,16,17 and Himawari 8 HRIT
NooElec has just released their new "SAWbird" GOES LNA for sale. This is an LNA and filter combination designed to help receive GOES weather satellite images. On the PCB is a 1688 MHz SAW filter and a low noise amplifier. It can be powered with 3V - 5.5V connected directly or via bias tee. The SAWbird is currently available on Amazon and their store for US$34.95. They also have a version for Inmarsat and Iridium, so make sure you choose the correct one.
GOES 15/16/17 are geosynchronous weather satellites that beam high resolution weather images and data. In particular they send beautiful 'full disk' images which show one side of the entire earth. As GOES satellites are in a geosynchronous orbit, the satellite is in the same position in the sky all the time, so no tracking hardware is required and images can be constantly pulled down throughout the day without having to wait for a satellite to pass over.
However, compared to the more familiar and easier to receive low earth orbit satellites such as NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT, geosynchronous satellites like GOES are quite a bit further away, and transmit at 1.7 GHz. So to receive the signal you'll need a dish antenna that you can accurately point, a good low noise figure LNA and possibly a filter. So setting up a receiver is a bit more difficult when compared to receivers for NOAA and Meteor satellites. The SAWbird should help however, by providing a ready to use LNA+Filter combination.
Over the past few months several testers have already received engineering samples of the SAWbird and have been successful at receiving GOES images. From the results of several experimenters, it appears to be possible to use a cheap 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antenna with some minor modifications as a GOES satellite antenna. Get one with at least a one meter long width and bend the feed as described here or here to tune reception for the 1.7 GHz GOES frequency. Pieter Noordhuis has also shown that it's possible to use an RTL-SDR to receive GOES images, so an entire GOES system can be built on a budget.
GOES 15/16/17 are geosynchronous weather satellites that beam back high resolution weather images and data. In particular they send beautiful high resolution 'full disk' images which show one side of the entire earth. As the satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, they are quite a bit further away from the earth. So compared to the more easily receivable low earth orbit satellites such as the NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT satellites, a dish antenna, good LNA and possibly a filter is required to receive them. However fortunately, as they are in a geosynchronous orbit, the satellite is in the same position in the sky all the time, so no tracking hardware is required.
In the tutorial RSP2user notes that he's been using a $16 2.4 GHz WiFi grid dish antenna and the NooElec SAWbird LNA. In the past we've also seen GOES reception from Pieter Noordhuis who used a 1.9 GHz grid antenna from L-Com which seems to be a better match to the 1.7 GHz GOES frequency. However, 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antennas are much more common and therefore much cheaper. In the past there has been debate on whether or not these cheaper WiFi antennas would be good enough for GOES, so it's good to see that the cheaper option is confirmed to work, at least for the satellite elevations found in the RSP2user's part of the USA.
The SAWBird is a 1.7 GHz LNA which is required to improve SNR by reducing system noise figure, and to filter any interfering out of band signals. The SAWbird is currently not available for public sale, but NooElec have noted that it is due to be released soon. RSP2user also notes that the polarization of the dish is important, so the dish may need to be rotated, and also that flipping the secondary reflector significantly increases the gain at 1.69 GHz.
For software the XRIT demodulator from USA-Satcom for a small fee is used together with the SDRplay RSP2. As seen by Pieter Noordhuis' results, it's also possible to receive these signals with an RTL-SDR and Pieters free software. So it may be possible to reduce the costs of a GOES reception system by using an RTL-SDR, SAWBird and 2.4 GHZ WiFi grid antenna. With those components the total cost would be well under $100.
As a bonus, in later posts on his forum thread, RSP2user shows that the system can also be used to receive HRPT images from the low earth orbit NOAA 19 satellite by hand tracking the antenna as the satellite passes over.