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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Leandvb is command line based lightweight DVB-S decoder designed for receiving Digital Amateur TV, including signals like HamTV from the International Space Station. The RTL-SDR can be used together with leandvb and it turns out that leandvb can also be used to decode the Outernet signal. If you were unaware, Outernet is a free L-band based satellite service that provides content such as news, weather data, APRS repeats and more. Currently you can get about 20MB of data a day. Outernet receivers are also all based around the RTL-SDR, allowing for very cheap receivers to be built. At the moment you’ll need a C.H.I.P or their specialized Dreamcatcher hardware to run their special Skylark OS with software decoder, but a general Armbian decoder is in the works.
Alternatively leandvb can be used, and over on their website the folks behind the leandvb software have uploaded a tutorial showing how to use leandvb to decode Outernet. Thanks to some reverse engineering attempts by Daniel Estévez, it was discovered that the Outernet modulation is very similar to DVB-S so the standard decoder can be used with some custom flags. Leandvb only outputs raw frames, not decoded data. They haven’t tested it, but it may be possible to feed the frames into Daniel Estevez’s free-outernet project for obtaining the final files.
During the testing they also discovered some interesting notes about the E4000 and R820T RTL-SDRs. For example by patching the R820T2 drivers to add some additional VGA gain they were able to make the R820T2 chips more sensitive at the Outernet frequency compared to the E4000 chip by bringing the signal further out of the quantization noise. They also tested a 60cm dish vs a patch antenna and found that the dish works significantly better.