Tagged: satellite

A Tutorial on Receiving HRPT Weather Satellite Images with an SDRplay RSP2

RSP2user's HRPT equipment

Over on the SDRplay forums user 'RSP2user' has put up a quality post describing how he receives HRPT weather satellite images with his SDRplay RSP2. HRPT stands for 'High Resolution Picture Transmission' and provides a much higher resolution image compared to the APT weather satellite images typically downloaded from NOAA satellites. Somewhat confusingly the picture quality of HRPT is similar to LRPT (low rate picture transmission) which is used on the Russian Meteor M series weather satellite. HRPT provides 1.1 km resolution, whilst LRPT provides 1 km resolution.

Currently there are multiple satellites broadcasting HRPT signals including NOAA 19, NOAA 18, NOAA 15, Meteor M2, Fengyun 3B, Fengyun 3C, Metop A and Metop B.

The difference in difficulty of receiving APT and LRPT versus HRPT transmissions typically occur in the L-band at about 1.7 GHz, and requires a directive high gain antenna with tracking motor to track the satellite as it passes over. This makes these images many times more difficult to receive compared to APT and LRPT which only require a fixed position antenna for reception at the more forgiving 137 MHz.

Over on his post RSP2user shows how he uses a repurposed Meade Instruments telescope tracking mount and controller to drive the tracking of a 26 element loop Yagi antenna. A 0.36dB noise figure LNA modified with bias tee input is used to boost the signal and reduce the noise figure. The signal is received by a SDRplay RSP2 and processed on a PC with USA-satcoms HRPT decoder software, which is available for purchase by directly contacting him. The HRPT signal bandwidth appears to be about 2.4 MHz so possibly an RTL-SDR could also be used, but it might be pushing it to the limit.

If you are interested, RSP2user also uploaded an APT weather satellite image reception tutorial on another post. This tutorial shows how to build a quality quadrifilar helix antenna as well.

Receiving the HRPT signal on USA-Satcoms' HRPT decoder.
Receiving the HRPT signal on USA-Satcoms' HRPT decoder.

Testing the Prototype Outernet Patch Antenna with Built in RTL-SDR

A few months ago satellite data broadcasting company Outernet created a limited number of prototype receivers that combined an L-band satellite patch antenna, LNA and RTL-SDR into a signal unit. This was never produced in bulk as they found it to be too noisy having the RTL-SDR so close to the antenna, but nevertheless it still worked fairly well.

Over on YouTube max30max31 bought one of these prototype units and made a video about using it for receiving and decoding various L-band satellite signals. In the video he first shows an overview of the product and then shows it receiving and/or decoding some signals like Inmarsat STD-C, AERO and Inmarsat MFSK.

Decoding the ALERT Protocol from a USGS Streamgage with an RTL-SDR

Over on his YouTube channel GusGorman402 has uploaded a video that shows how he was able to capture and decode data from a USGS (United States Geological Service) streamgage.

A streamgage is a sensor for streams and rivers that is used for measuring the amount of water flowing. In particular the ALERT (Automated Local Evaluation in Real-Time) streamgages are designed for the warning of flooding. The ALERT streamgages are wireless with some transmitting data upwards to the GOES-15 geosynchronous satellite with a cross Yagi and some transmitting locally via a standard Yagi. Gus shows if you’re close to a streamgage antenna then you can still receive the signal on the ground with an RTL-SDR. Gus also mentions that all streamgages in his area are slowly being converted to satellite uplink.

His first video simply shows the RTL-SDR receiving a Streamgage satellite uplink signal at 400 MHz. In his second video he moves to a streamgage with terrestrial link at 170 MHz and shows that the data can actually be decoded into a binary string using minimodem. Another program called udfc-node can then be used to turn the data into a human readable format. The binary packets consist of an address that identifies the particular streamgage, and some data that describes the current level of the stream and how much precipitation it has counted.

3D Printing a V-Dipole Bracket

Over on his YouTube channel user Tysonpower has uploaded a video that shows how to make a V-Dipole antenna. Back in March we posted about the V-Dipole which Adam 9A4QV first described. A V-Dipole is a simple antenna that normally consists of two metal rods, a terminal block and coax cable. It is particularly effective for reception of low Earth orbit satellites like the NOAA and Meteor M2 weather image satellites with an RTL-SDR or other similar SDR.

In his video Tysonpower shows how to build a slightly more rugged version using a 3D printed part instead of a terminal block. Aluminum welding rods are used for the elements. The 3D printed part ensures that the correct 120 degree ‘V’ angle is maintained and also provides a means for mounting the antenna to a pole. The 3D printing STL files are available on Thingiverse. Note that the video is in German, but English subtitles are available.

Note that we will also have a dipole antenna capable of being used as a V-Dipole available in our store in a few weeks time.

(Almost) Receiving HRPT with the ADALM-PLUTO and a WiFi Grid Antenna

Over on YouTube user Tysonpower has uploaded a video showing how he was (almost) able to receive the HRPT signal from NOAA18 with an ADALM-PLUTO, LNA4ALL and a WiFi grid antenna.

Most readers will be familiar with the low resolution 137 MHz APT weather satellite images transmitted by the NOAA weather satellites. But NOAA 15, 18, 19 and well as Metop-A and Feng Yun satellites also transmit an HRPT (High Resolution Picture Transmission) signal up in the 1.7 GHz region. These HRPT images are much nicer to look at with a high 1.1 km resolution. If you follow @usa_satcom on Twitter you can see some HRPT images that he uploads every now and then.

However HRPT is quite difficult to receive and decode because the bandwidth is about 3 MHz so something with more bandwidth than an RTL-SDR is required. The signal also needs a ~1 meter or larger dish antenna as it is very weak, and you also need a motorized pointing system to track the satellite with the dish as it passes over.

Despite the difficulty in his video Tysonpower showed that he was able to at least receive a weak signal using a non-optimal 2.4 GHz WiFi grid dish antenna, LNA4ALL and his ADALM-PLUTO. The signal is far too weak to actually decode, but it’s still pretty surprising to receive it at all. In the future Tysonpower hopes to be able to improve his system and actually get some image decodes going. Note that the video is in German, but there are English subtitles available.

dopplerscript: Getting Doppler Updates from GPredict into GNU Radio

Thanks to Dave for submitting news of his recent release of his Python script called dopplerscript. This is a tool that can help people automate the reception and decoding of the Meteor M2 weather satellite in Linux with GNU Radio by providing a tool for automatic Doppler correction. He writes:

gr-gpredict-doppler is an out-of-tree gnuradio block for getting doppler updates from gpredict into a flowgraph. I’ve written a small python script (based on pyephem) that replaces gpredict for generating  the doppler updates. This script allows one to automate scripting the  reception of Meteor M2 satellite transmissions while compensating for the doppler shift.

dopplerscript is a command-line tool to input satellite doppler shifts into a gnuradio flowgraph. The doppler.py script replaces gpredict as the source for doppler frequency updates in gr-gpredict-doppler, making it easy to script satellite reception.

As low earth orbit satellites fly very quickly overhead, the signal will be affected by the doppler effect, thus shifting the frequency as it moves towards and away from you. Tools like this can be used to predict and compensate for this effect and thus providing better signal processing. Meteor M2 is a Russian weather satellite in low earth orbit which transmits digital LRPT weather satellite images that can be received with an RTL-SDR or other SDR.

An Example LRPT Image Received with an RTL-SDR from the Meteor-2 M2.
An Example LRPT Image Received with an RTL-SDR from Meteor M2.

Receiving the Bitcoin Blockchain from Satellites with an RTL-SDR

Bitcoin is the worlds first and most popular digital currency. It is steadily gaining in value and popularity and is already accepted in many online stores as a payment method. In order to use Bitcoin you first need to download a large database file called a ‘blockchain’, which is currently at about 152 GB in size (size data obtained here). The blockchain is essentially a public ledger of every single Bitcoin transaction that has ever been made. The Bitcoin software that you install initially downloads the entire blockchain and then constantly downloads updates to the blockchain, allowing you to see and receive new payments.

Blockstream is a digital currency technology innovator who have recently announced their “Blockstream satellite” service. The purpose of the satellite is to broadcast the Bitcoin blockchain to everyone in the world via satellite RF signals, so that even in areas without an internet connection the blockchain can be received. Also, one problem with Bitcoin is that in the course of a month the software can download over 8.7 GB of new blockchain data, and there is also the initial 152 GB download (although apparently at the moment only new blocks are transmitted). The satellite download service appears to be free, so people with heavily metered or slow connections (e.g. 3G mobile which is the most common internet connection in the third world/rural) can benefit from this service as well.

The service appears to be somewhat similar to the first iteration of the Outernet project in that data is broadcast down to earth from satellites and an R820T RTL-SDR is used to receive it. The blockstream satellite uses signals in the Ku band which is between 11.7 to 12.7 GHz. An LNB is required to bring those frequencies back down into a range receivable by the RTL-SDR, and a dish antenna is required as well. They recommend a dish size of at least 45 cm in diameter. The signal is broadcast from already existing satellites (like Outernet they are renting bandwidth on existing satellites) and already 2/3 of the earth is covered. The software is based on a GNU Radio program, and can be modified to support any SDR that is compatible with GNU Radio. They write that the whole setup should cost less that $100 USD to purchase and set up.

To set it up you just need to mount your satellite antenna and point it towards the satellite broadcasting the signal in your area, connect up your LNB and RTL-SDR and then run the software on your PC that has GNU Radio installed.

More details can be found on the Blockstream Satellite website, and technical details about the software and hardware required can be found on their GitHub page.

How the Blockchain satellite works (From https://blockstream.com/satellite/howitworks/)
How the Blockchain satellite works (From blockstream.com/satellite/howitworks/)

Some may wonder what’s the point if you can’t transmit to the service to make payments with it. Over on this Bitcoin Reddit thread user “ideit” explains why it’s still useful in this nice quote.

You sell goats in a small village. A customer wants to buy a goat, but you have no banks so people have put their money into bitcoin. Your customer goes to the village center which has a few computers hooked up to the internet. He sends you payment then comes to get his goat. You don’t have internet near your goat farm, but you’re connected to the satellite so you can see he sent you payment and you give him his goat.

Or, you live in an area that caps your bandwidth. You want to run a full node, but downloading blocks eats away at your cap. Connecting to a satellite reduces your bandwidth usage.

Or, you’re using an air gapped laptop to sign transactions from your wallet for security reasons. You can now connect that laptop to the satellites so your laptop can generate its own transactions without connecting to the internet.

Or, your internet connection is terrible. You can usually broadcast transactions since they’re small, but downloading blocks and staying in sync with the blockchain is literally impossible. Connect to a satellite and now it’s simple.

Listening to Astronauts on the ISS with an RTL-SDR and V-Dipole (ARISS Contact with Astronaut Paolo Nespoli)

Manuel a.k.a ‘Tysonpower’ has been using his RTL-SDR (and his Baofeng) to listen in on ARISS contacts from the International Space Station (ISS). ARISS stands for Amateur Radio on the ISS, and is a program often used by schools to allow students to contact and ask questions to astronauts on the ISS with a ham radio. It is possible for anyone to listen in on the downlink (astronaut speech) if the ISS is over your location while transmitting. The uplink however may not be able to be heard as the signal is directed upwards towards the station.

For his first try he used a Baofeng (cheap Chinese handheld) and a DIY Carbon Yagi. For the second contact he used his RTL-SDR V3, an FM Trap and an LNA4ALL on a V-Dipole antenna placed on the roof of his car. With this set up he was able to receive the downlink transmissions from 1.6 degrees to 1.3 degrees elevation.