Tagged: satellite

Outernet’s Old Antenna Stock for Sale: L-Band Active and Filtered Ceramic Patch Antennas

In the past the Outernet project operated on L-band frequencies, and for the service they manufactured a number of active L-band active ceramic patch antennas for use with RTL-SDR dongles. Outernet has since moved on to faster Ku-band delivery, and hence their old L-band antennas can no longer be used for their service.  There are a few of these patch antennas left over in Outernet's stock and they are currently selling them on eBay for US $29 + shipping.

Although no longer useful for Outernet, these antennas are still very useful for receiving other L-band services such as STD-C SafetyNET and AERO. SafetyNET is a text broadcast intended for sailors at sea, but contains many interesting and potentially useful messages for others too. Often they transmit data like military sea live firing warnings, reports of marine pirate activity, search and rescue reports, scientific vessel reports as well as weather reports. AERO is the satellite version of ACARS, and is used by aircraft to communicate with text messages to and from ground stations. L-Band AERO signals only contain information from the ground station up to the aircraft. For air to ground you'll need a C-band receiver set up. AERO is the satellite communications protocol that was so heavily centered on during the MH370 flight disappearance investigation.

In the past we've reviewed the Outernet L-band ceramic patch and found it to work very well. Certainly STD-C and AERO signals are easy to receive with the antenna if you point it at the satellite. The antenna requires bias tee power and can easily be used in combination with the bias tee on our RTL-SDR V3 dongles. The onboard filter helps reduce problems from interfering signals, but restricts reception to 1525 - 1559 MHz, so Iridium signals cannot be received with this antenna.

The L-Band Active Ceramic Patch Antenna.
The L-Band Active and Filtered Ceramic Patch Antenna.

Building A Low Cost GOES Weather Satellite Receiver with an RTL-SDR

Over on Twitter and his github.io page, Pieter Noordhuis (@pnoordhuis) has shared details about his low cost RTL-SDR based GOES satellite receiving setup. 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 past we've seen people receive these images with higher end SDRs like the Airspy and SDRplay. However, Pieter has shown that it is possible to receive these images on a budget. He uses an RTL-SDR, a 1.9 GHz grid dish antenna from L-Com, a Raspberry Pi 2, the NooElec 'SAWBird' LNA, and an additional SPF5189Z based LNA. The SAWBird is a yet to be released product from NooElec. It is similar to their 1.5 GHz Inmarsat LNA, but with a different SAW filter designed for 1.7 GHz GOES satellites. The total cost of all required parts should be less than US $200 (excluding any shipping costs).

Pieter also notes that he uses the stock 1.9 GHz feed on the L-com antenna, and that it appears to work fine for the 1.7 GHz GOES satellite frequency. With this dish he is able to receive all three GOES satellites at his location with the lowest being at 25 degrees elevation. If the elevation is lower at your location he mentions that a larger dish may be required. It may be possible to extend the 1.9 GHz L-Band dish for better reception with panels from a second cheaper 2.4 GHz grid dish, and this is what @scott23192 did in his setup.

For software Pieter uses the open source goestools software that Pieter himself developed. The software is capable of running on the Raspberry Pi 2 and demodulating and decoding the signal, and then fully assembling the decoded signal into files and images.

Pieters GOES RTL-SDR Receiving Setup
Pieters Low Cost GOES RTL-SDR Receiving Setup

The NOAA-15 Weather Satellite May be Failing

Over the last few days the NOAA-15 APT weather satellite has begun to show signs of failure with people receiving corrupted images. NOAA 15, 18 and 19 are weather satellites that can be easily received with an RTL-SDR and a satellite antenna such as a V-Dipole, QFH or Turnstile (tutorial here). NOAA 15 was launched on 13 May 1998, making it one month away from being 20 years old. To put it into perspective, NOAA-15 was only built to the spec of being designed to last 2 years minimum. 

The problem currently appears to be intermittent and is due to a loss of lubricant on the scan motor. NOAA released a message:

The N15 AVHRR global imaging became corrupted on April 12 at ~0000 UTC due to sync issues. This may be caused by erratic scan motor current due to loss of lubricant. The problem appears to have corrected itself, as the global image is no longer corrupted. The issue is still under investigation.

In the Tweet below UHF Satcom displays an example of a corrupted image that was received.

The issue is intermittent, and hopefully it can be fixed, but if not we still have NOAA 18 and 19 which were launched in 2005 and 2009 respectively, as well as the Russian Meteor M2 satellite which was launched in 2014. 

If you're interested discussion of this topic can be found on various Reddit threads [1], [2], [3].

Art from Satellite Transmissions: SatNOGS and Software Defined Radio used in a Sound Art Installation

One of the piezo speakers playing the satellite transmissions.
One of the piezo speakers playing the satellite transmissions.

In the past we've seen software defined radio's like the HackRF use to create art installations such as the 'Holypager', which was an art project that aimed to draw attention to the breach of privacy caused by pagers used by doctors and staff at hospitals.

Recently another art installation involving a software defined radio was exhibited at Wichita State University. The project by artist Nicholas A. Knouf is called "they transmitted continuously / but our times rarely aligned / and their signals dissipated in the æther" and it aims to collect the sounds of various satellite transmissions, and play them back using small piezo speakers in the art gallery. To do this he built a SatNOGS receiver and used a software defined radio to capture the audio. He doesn't mention which SDR was used, but most commonly RTL-SDR's are used with the SatNOGS project. Nicholas describes the project below:

This 20-channel sound installation represents the results of collecting hundreds of transmissions from satellites orbiting the earth. Using custom antennas that I built from scratch, I tracked the orbits and frequencies of satellites using specialized software. This software then allows me to collect the radio frequency signals and translate them into sound.

The open source software and hardware, called SatNOGS and developed by a world-wide group of satellite enthusiasts, enables anyone to build a ground station for tracking satellites and their transmissions, which are then uploaded to a publicly accessable database. Data received by my ground stations can be found here. These transmissions are mostly from weather satellites, CubeSats (small satellites launched by universities world-wide for short-term research), or amateur radio repeaters (satellites designed for ham radio operators to experiment with communication over long distances).

I made the speakers hanging from the grid from a piezoelectric element embedded between two sheets of handmade abaca paper that was then air dried over a form.

The project was also discussed over on the SatNOGS forum.

The SatNOGS art installation
The SatNOGS art installation

Decoding Meteor-M Images on a Raspberry Pi with an RTL-SDR

Thanks to Andrey for writing in and showing us his Java based Meteor-M decoder for the RTL-SDR which he uses on a Raspberry Pi. The decoder is based on the meteor-m2-lrpt GNU Radio script and the meteor_decoder which he ported over to Java. Essentially what he's done is port over to Java a bunch of GNU Radio blocks as well as the meteor decoder. The ported Java blocks could also be useful for other projects that want to be cross platform or run without the need for GNU Radio to be installed.

In his blog post (blog post is in Russian, use Google Translate for English) Andrey explains his motivation for writing the software which was that the Windows work flow with SDR# and LRPTofflineDecoder is quite convoluted and cannot be run headless on a Raspberry Pi. He then goes on to explain the decoding algorithm, and some code optimizations that he used in Java to speed up the decoding. Andrey notes that his Java version is almost 2x slower compared to the GNU Radio version, but still fast enough for real time demodulation.

Meteor-M2 is a Russian weather satellite that operates in the 137 MHz weather satellite band. With an RTL-SDR and satellite antenna these images can be received. Running on a Raspberry Pi allows you to set up a permanent weather satellite station that will consistently download images as the satellite passes over.

Decoded Images with Andry's Meteor-M software on Raspberry Pi.
Images received with Andry's Meteor-M software running on a Raspberry Pi.

Outernet 3.0: Implementation Details and a 71,572km LoRa World Record

Outernet Dreamcatcher Board running with an LNB
Outernet Dreamcatcher Board running with a cheap satellite TV LNB

Outernet 3.0 is gearing up for launch soon, and just today they've released a blog post introducing us to the RF protocol technology behind the new service. If you weren't already aware, Outernet is a free satellite based information service that aims to be a sort of 'library in the sky'. Their aim to to have satellites constantly broadcasting down weather, news, books, radio, web pages, and files to everyone in the world. As it's satellite based this is censorship resistant, and useful for remote/marine areas without or with slow/capped internet access.

Originally a few years ago they started with a 12 GHz DVB-S satellites service that gave 1GB of content a day, but that service required a large dish antenna which severely hampered user adoption. Their second attempt was with an L-band service that only needed a small patch antenna. This service used RTL-SDR dongles as the receiver, so it was very cheap to set up. Unfortunately the L-band service had a very slow data rates (less than 20MB of content a day), and leasing an L-band transmitter on a satellite proved to be far too expensive for Outernet to continue with. Both these services have now been discontinued.

Outernet 3.0 aims to fix their previous issues, giving us a service that provides over 300MB of data a day, with a relatively cheap US$99 receiver that is small and easy to set up. The new receiver uses a standard Ku-Band LNB as the antenna, which is very cheaply available as they are often used for satellite TV reception. The receiver itself is a custom PCB containing a hardware (non-SDR based) receiver with a LoRa decoder.

LoRa is an RF protocol that is most often associated with small Internet of Things (IoT) devices, but Outernet have chosen it as their satellite protocol for Outernet 3.0 because it is very tolerant to interference. In Outernet 3.0 the LNB is pointed directly at the satellite without any directive satellite dish, meaning that interference from other satellites can be a problem. But LoRa solves that by being tolerant to interference. From the uplink facility to the satellite and back to their base in Chicago the LoRa signal travels 71,572 km, making it the longest LoRa signal ever transmitted.

According to notes in their forums Outernet 3.0 is going to be first available only in North America. Europe should follow shortly after, and then eventually other regions too. When ready, their 'Dreamcatcher 3.0' receiver and computing hardware is expected to be released for US$99 on their store. You can sign up for their email list on that page to be notified upon release.

Also as a bonus, for those interested in just LoRa, the Dreamcatcher 3.0 is also going to be able to transmit LoRa at frequencies anywhere between 1 MHz to 6 GHz, making it great for setting up long range LoRa links. This might be an interesting idea for hams to play with.

The Outernet 3.0'Dreamcatcher' Receiver.
The Outernet 3.0 'Dreamcatcher' Receiver.

December High Powered Rocket Flight with RTL-SDR used for GPS Measurements

The rocket carrying the RTL-SDR.
The rocket carrying the RTL-SDR.

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.

On their latest flight they still had trouble with the RTL-SDR GPS solution working live during flight, but RF GPS data was still recorded and post-processing the data with SoftGNSS yielded results again as in their previous trials. The post goes over the more details and provides the raw RF data to play with if you want to have a go at extracting the data yourself.

If you are interested in a full summary of Phillip and Paul's experiments, then the GNU Radio blog has a nice summary written by Phillip that explains their full journey of trying to get a working RTL-SDR based GPS system for their rockets.

Rocket Trajectory as measured by the RTL-SDR based GPS receiver.
Rocket Trajectory as measured by the RTL-SDR based GPS receiver.

Outernet 3.0 Coming Soon: Free 30kbps – 100kbps satellite data downlink for news, weather, audio etc

The new Outernet Dreamcatcher v3.01
The new Outernet Dreamcatcher v3.01

Over the past few years we've posted quite a bit about Outernet who offered a free downlink of satellite data such as news, Wikipedia articles and weather updates that was able to be received with a small L-band patch antenna, LNA and an RTL-SDR dongle.

Recently we've seen news on their forums that Outernet is planning on discontinuing their L-band service, and instead opening up a new much more efficient Ku-band service. Unfortunately that means that RTL-SDRs and the previous Outernet L-band hardware will no longer be useful for the downlink, but the new service appears to offer several significant advantages.

Firstly the downlink data rate is much higher at 30kbps, with the plan to eventually go up to 100kpbs. That's 300MB - 1 GB a day which is a lot more compared to the previous L-band implementation that gave less than 20MB a day.

Secondly the hardware seems to be simplified as well. All that is needed is their new Dreamcatcher V3 receiver board and a small Ku-band LNB (11.7-12.75 GHz). They claim that no dish is required as the LNB pointed at the satellite by itself will work just fine. The first iteration of Outernet also used Ku-band satellites, but required a large dish antenna to receive it which was a major hurdle to user adoption. They now appear to have discovered a new way to broadcast in the Ku-band without the need for a dish.

Thirdly, moving to Ku-band means significant cost savings for Outernet allowing them to survive and continue with their free data service. From what we understand the L-Band satellite downlink service is extremely costly to run, whereas a Ku-band service is much cheaper. There are also cost savings for the user as Ku-band LNBs are very common hardware that can be found cheaply for $10 - $20 US.

About the new services that they can offer and the cost savings that they can achieve Syed the CEO of Outernet writes:

The fatter pipe [300MB - 1GB] makes a lot of things possible, one of which is a true radio broadcast. How about a national radio broadcast that isn't SiriusXM? Our new receiver will include a speaker; audio through the speaker while files download in the background. But more data is not the most important thing that comes out of all this. The real win is that leasing standard, commodity Ku bandwidth is far, far more cost effective than the few kilohertz we have on L-band. Long-term sustainability of a free broadcast is no longer the financial burden that it once was--especially considering how much more interesting the service becomes.

There is no concrete hardware release date just yet, but on the forums Syed estimates mid-Jan. You can sign up to the Outernet mailing list on their buy-now page to be emailed when the new hardware is released. In the forums Syed also writes that the target price for the hardware is $99 US, with the intention to provide lower cost options in the future. Of course it might still be possible to DIY your own unit just like it was with the previous Outernet iterations.

We're really looking forward to this and think that this is what will finally make Outernet a very popular and useful service!

The Outernet 3.0 prototype setup
The Outernet 3.0 prototype setup