Back in January 2021 we posted about the release of the SATRAN product, which is a low cost automatic motorized satellite antenna rotator kit. The rotator is deigned to be used for pointing high gain directional antennas such as a Yagi or satellite dish at low earth orbit satellites which can move across the sky quickly. They also supply an Android App for easily controlling the rotator.
Recently SATRAN MK3 (version 3) has been released a few days ago and costs € 175,00 for the kit, but does not include the plastic parts which need to be 3D printed. Unfortunately the kit appears to already be sold out, but we suspect they are working on getting more kits soon. Also of note is that they are based in Sweden and cannot ship to the US or Canada.
The email announcement reads:
"There's a new Satran in town!"
I'm glad to announce the newest Satran MK3 Rotator which is now available in the shop. The former cast aluminum version has been abandoned since the production was way too time-consuming and expensive.
The new MK3 has taken all the advantages of both older versions and returned to a more open source and 3D-printable design. This cuts the price by two thirds, while still getting a really user-friendly, compact and able device.
...and there's a new app!
Some users have reported issues with their Android app crashing, so today a new version of the app (2.3) has been finished and will be available in a day or two. If you don't get an update notification automatically in your app, visit Google Play to check for the latest version.
The app also have a more extensive list of satellites and the possibility to search for a satellite by its Norad ID.
The project emerged from a desire to understand the process of decoding APT audio recordings into NOAA satellite images, and a need for an accessible browser-based decoder for new practitioners during open-weather DIY Satellite Ground Station workshops.
While we were inspired by Thatcher's APT 3000, we felt accessibility, documentation and features could be expanded and improved. open-weather apt allows you to select an audio file on your computer, choose a demodulation method, add histogram equalisation and download images. The website does not store your personal data, including your location or any files you upload.
Thank you to Sasha for submitting news about the release of their latest application called "apt_color". The most popular application for decoding APT weather satellite images from NOAA polar orbiting satellites is WXtoIMG. However, WXtoIMG is closed source and is abandonware. There are APT decoder alternatives, however unlike WXtoIMG most other open source APT decoders only provide black and white images, and do not have a false color feature.
The apt_color application can be used to turn black and white APT images received from NOAA satellites into false color images. Sasha writes:
I am working on an APT false color application here. The application is still in the very, very, early stages but still seems to produce good results. It does not need to rely on any overlays, it simply works off the data you give it - the original decoded image data. I will attach some results. NOAA-18 seems to be the best suited spacecraft for this program.
Tech YouTuber Lon.TV has recently uploaded a video demonstrating how to identify and decode various digital transmissions with an RTL-SDR dongle. In the video he explains how to use VB Cable to pipe audio from SDR# into various decoders, and then goes on to show DMR, APRS, POCSAG, L-Band AERO, FT8, and JS8/JS8CALL all being decoded via an RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongle.
Software Defined Radio Part 2 - Decoding Digital Transmissions with an RTL-SDR USB Radio
Over on Twitter @dereksgc has been monitoring the 'Meridian' communications satellites, which are Russian owned and used for civilian and military purposes. The satellites are simple unsecure repeaters, meaning that actually anyone with the hardware can transmit to them, and have their signal automatically rebroadcast over a wide area. This has been taken advantage of recently by anti-Russian invasion war activists who have been trolling the satellite with SSTV images of the Ukrainian flag, as well as audio.
Apart from intentional abuse, a side effect of being an open repeater is that sometimes the satellite can pick up powerful terrestrial signals unintentionally, such as analogue broadcast TV from Turkmenistan. Over on his blog, @dereksgc has written up an excellent post documenting the background behind this finding, his entire setup involving the hardware he's using and how he's aligning with the satellite, and what software he is using to decode the TV signal. In his hardware setup he notes that he uses a HackRF, but that a RTL-SDR would suffice.
Recently on Twitter @arvedviehweger (Arved) has tweeted that he has successfully received images from the Russian Arctic monitoring satellite known as ARKTIKA-M1, via it's X-band downlink at 7865 MHz. We've reached out to Arved and he's provided the following information on his setup and how he's receiving and decoding the images.
My first good picture from the ARKTIKA-M1 satellite on 7865 MHz!
It appears that the satellite downlink is a lot stronger now which allows me to finally get a clean decode. I really hope it will stay that way! pic.twitter.com/qy7HDA2uAP
The Arktika-M1 satellite is a Russian weather satellite which operates in a HEO orbit. It was launched in February 2021 and has downlinks on multiple bands. The main payload downlink for the imagery is on 7865 MHz (which is also known as the lower X-Band). The satellite only transmits imagery on the X-Band at the moment, it is currently unknown whether it will ever transmit any image data on L-Band.
For Amateur reception that means having access to X-Band RF gear. It usually consists of a low noise pre-amplifier and a downconverter to convert 7865 MHz down to a lower frequency for easier reception with a high bandwidth SDR such as the LimeSDR, a USRP etc.
In my personal setup I use a surplus pre-amplifier made by MITEQ (around 36dB of gain, 1dB NF), my own self-made DK5AV compact X-Band downconverter and a LimeSDR-USB.
My L-Band gear is now mounted on top of my X-Band gear which allows me to do both at the same time 🙂 I will probably try that on FY3B in the future. pic.twitter.com/SFdy04EwuT
The L-Band gear is mounted on top (helix and the pre-amp behind it) and the X-Band gear is right below. From left to right you can see the feed, the downconverter (silver box) and the LNA (mounted to a heatsink and a fan). Recording is done with a LimeSDR-USB running at a sample rate of 50 MSPS. The satellite transmits every 15 minutes once it reaches its apogee, each transmission including the idle period lasts for about 10 minutes. Some pictures of the idle transmission and the actual data transmission can be found in this Tweet, [noting that Idle = more spikes, actual data looks weaker]:
Depending on the geographical location a rather large satellite dish is also required for Arktika-M1. Reception reports all over Europe clearly show that the satellite has a beamed antenna (similar to ELEKTRO-L2).
In my setup I can get away with a 2.4m prime focus dish (made by Channel Master) in North Eastern Germany. It produces around 9 - 10 dB of SNR in the demod of @aang254’s excellent SatDump software. Anything above 5dB will usually result in a decode but since the satellite does not have any FEC you will need more than that for a clean picture. (Image of SNR in Satdump)
Over on his blog Derek (OK9SGC) has recently uploaded a very comprehensive beginners guide to receiving HRPT weather satellite images. HRPT reception can be a little daunting as it requires a good L-Band dish setup which involves choosing and building a feed, and importantly, a way to track the satellite with the dish as it moves across the sky. Tracking can be achieved manually by hand, but that can be very difficult and so a motorized tracking mount is recommended.
This is unlike the much easier to receive NOAA APT or Meteor LRPT satellite signals in the VHF band which can be received by a V-dipole antenna, or the geostationary GOES HRIT satellites that can be received with a WiFi grid dish and LNA. Both of which do not require tracking.
The advantage of HRPT however, is that you end up with high resolution, close-up, and uncompressed images of the earth. For example Derek notes that NOAA APT gives 4km/px resolution, and Meteor LRPT gives much better 1km/px resolution but it is heavily compressed. Whereas HRPT gives peak resolutions of 1km/px uncompressed. There are also nine satellites in operation sending HRPT, so there are more opportunities to receive.
Derek has created a very comprehensive beginners guide that covers almost everything from purchasing and building the hardware, to finding and tracking the satellites, to setting up the software and decoding images. He notes that an RTL-SDR can be used as the receiver, and that a WiFi dish with GOES SAWBird LNA can work, although the difficult tracking requirements are still there so a smaller offset dish with custom helix feed might be preferred. Derek also provides useful tips, like the fact that the NOAA15 HRPT signal is quite a lot weaker than others.
SDRAngel is a general purpose software defined radio program that is compatible with most SDRs including the RTL-SDR. We've posted about it several times before on the blog, however we did not realize how much progress has occurred with developing various built in plugins and decoders for it.
Thanks to Jon for writing in and sharing with us a demonstration video that the SDRAngel team have released on their YouTube channel. From the video we can see that SDRAngel now comes stock with a whole host of built in decoders and apps for various radio applications making it close to an all-in-one SDR platform. The built in applications include:
ADS-B Decoder: Decodes aircraft ADS-B data and plots aircraft positions on a map
NOAA APT Decoder: Decodes NOAA weather satellite images (in black and white only)
DVB-S: Decodes and plays Digital TV DVB-S and DVB-S2 video
AIS: Decodes marine AIS data and plots vessel positions on a map
VOR: Decodes VOR aircraft navigational beacons, and plots bearing lines on a map, allowing you to determine your receivers position.
DAB+: Decodes and plays DAB digital audio signals
Radio Astronomy Hydrogen Line: With an appropriate radio telescope connected to the SDR, integrates and displays the Hydrogen Line FFT with various settings, and a map of the galaxy showing where your dish is pointing. Can also control a dish rotator.
Radio Astronomy Solar Observations: Similar to the Hydrogen line app, allows you to make solar measurements.
Broadcast FM: Decoding and playback. Includes RDS decoding.
Noise Figure Measurements: Together with a noise source you can measure the noise figure of a SDR.