Tagged: satellites

Discovery Dish April Manufacturing Update

This was posted over on our Discovery Dish Crowd Supply updates page and we are cross-posting here too.

It’s been over a month since our last update so we thought we’d share some of the recent progress. As mentioned in our last update, during the month of February all manufacturing was shut down due to the Chinese New Year holiday. In early March, staff returned to the factories and began making progress on finishing Discovery Dish.

We have a snazzy new logo, and we are working on obtaining some stickers to include with the feeds.


Dish Manufacturing Progress

The molds for the dish stamping machine were successfully created in March and the test stamps have come out great. The manufacturer is still tweaking the secondary mold that stamps the mounting and connecting holes, but we expect that to be completed shortly. Once that is done and tested, we can begin stamping the dish segments en masse.

The Dish mounting system was also finalized and we added 45-degree markers to it, which can help with aligning skew.

We are still awaiting the results of the anodizing tests, but they should be completed by the end of this month. Anodizing the dish is important as the dish must be a dark non-reflective matte color, so that it does not focus hot sunlight onto the feed point plastic head.

Feed Manufacturing Progress

PCB Upgrades

While waiting for the manufacturers to finish up with the molds, we’ve been further refining the PCB feed. Our final version of the PCB has now moved to a PTFE substrate with significantly lower loss at higher frequencies. This has yielded an over 1 dB increase in SNR at the GOES 1.69 MHz frequency.

The change to PTFE was not without problems. An interesting RF engineering problem occurred with the move to PTFE that we wanted to share. When moving to PTFE the only changes to the board layout are PCB trace width changes to keep the impedances matched. Other than that, the boards and layout are essentially identical. However, we discovered that the dual LNA design started oscillating when we moved the PTFE substrate. Oscillations can occur with LNAs when RF essentially bounces back and forth between the two LNAs, which causes undefined behavior in the LNA, such as poor gain, multiple spikes in the spectrum, and unexpected current draw values.

We found this quite odd because oscillations were not occurring in the original FR4 PCB, and the QPL9547 LNA is advertised as ‘unconditionally stable’ which means that it should never oscillate. However, we found that unconditionally stable guarantees may not apply to two-stage designs. In the end, the fix was simple, we just needed to add a damping resistor to one of the inductors on the circuit which reduces its Q-value. It seems that the change from FR4 to PTFE effectively increased the Q-value of this inductor so much, which in turn induced an oscillation in the circuit.

Discovery Dish Feed Head Enclosure

We’ve also refined the entire feed assembly. The feed arm pipe now has a ruler laser etched onto it so that mounting it at the correct distance is easy. A skew angle guide has also been added around the neck. A thumbscrew locking mechanism has been added to the feed head neck too, so that skew can easily be adjusted without the need for a screw driver or Allen wrench to loosen the set screw.

The PCB enclosure has been slightly refined and the injection molding die is currently in production and due to be completed in mid-May. While waiting for the die to be made, we’ve been testing different plastic mixes for the head enclosure to make sure that they are UV stable. The plastic mix has certain strict requirements and choosing the correct mix is crucial. It has to be RF-transparent with a low relative permittivity value, it has to endure direct sun, UV damage, and freezing weather, as well as be water-proof too.

S-Band Feed

Previously as noted in prior updates we were testing an S-band feed with the FR4 substrate. But we found that there was too much loss and the SNR values we got were not great. The move to PTFE substrate means that our experimental S-band feed is now working very well. We will be releasing this in the near future as an additional feed product that can be used with Discovery Dish. This feed will have a frequency range of 2.2 GHz - 2.3 GHz. This covers the main S-band weather satellites, other satellites like Coriolios and JASON as well as the many dump-only S-band satellites that transmit signals only over certain regions.

As requested by most people interested in an S-band feed, the S-band feed will not include a downconverter, so to use it you will either need an SDR like the HackRF which is capable of tuning to the S-band, or a third-party downconverter product.

Discovery Dish Outdoor Metal Enclosure Progress

Our enclosure set is now complete, and the final packing has almost been completed. The user manual can be found here Discovery Dish Outdoor Enclosure User Manual.pdf.

The final set consists of:

  • 1x Metal Enclosure
  • 3x Custom metal cable glands
  • 1x Vent
  • 1x Electronics mounting board
  • 1x Pole mounting set (with hose clamps)
  • 1x Wall/DIN mounting set
  • 1x 10 mm x 10 mm x 8 mm thermal pad (to be placed under the electronics mounting board)
  • 1x 10 mm x 10 mm x 3 mm thermal pad (to be placed under electronics on top of the mounting board)
  • 1x Set of various screws and washers

(Note that there will be some minor changes from this image in sets going out of customers - the hose clamp will be shorter, and the mounting rails will be longer)

Meteor M2-4 Launch

We mentioned in our last update that a new weather satellite Meteor M2-4 was due to launch. The launch was successful and the satellite is now in orbit. The satellite was briefly turned on after launch, and we were able to receive HRPT images from it in the L-band. However, now it is currently in a testing phase so the transmitters are often turned off. We don’t know how much longer it will be in testing, but we assume it won’t be more than a few more months.

GOES-U / GOES-19 Launch Updates

We’ve been keeping an eye on the expected launch date for the next GOES satellite. Currently, it has been delayed from April 30, 2024, to the new date of June 25, 2024, when it will be launched on a Falcon Heavy from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Elektro-L4 Updates

In the last update, we mentioned that we were having some problems getting SatDump to receive Elektro L4 properly on computing devices that used ARM processors. After some investigation, we determined that this was a problem with buffer size settings in SatDump and we were able to suggest a fix in https://github.com/SatDump/SatDump/pull/616 which was implemented. New versions of SatDump have this problem fixed.

Driver Tweaks

We have been looking at the RTL-SDR drivers and have found a few tweaks that can improve performance at L-band frequencies. We’ve put a modified version of the librtlsdr/librtlsdr fork up our the rtlsdrblog GitHub at https://github.com/rtlsdrblog/librtlsdr. With this fork and the PTFE feed upgrades, we now get around 5-6 dB of SNR on GOES-18.

Antenna Rotator

The low-cost antenna rotator is finishing up with prototype testing, and we are now working on improving the design’s manufacturability.


The ramping of progress from the Chinese New Year holidays to now has been a little slower than expected, but if everything goes perfectly to plan, we will be on time for shipping by the end of June. However, this is currently a best-case scenario. There are still a few manufacturing stages to get through like the final mass production, CE testing and sea freight shipping. Unfortunately, from prior manufacturing experience, there are always setbacks along the way that slow progress, so we are conservatively pushing our advertised timeline back by about 1-2 months. We apologize for any potential delays, but we are working hard to get the product out to you ASAP!

Customer Questions

We have had a few more customer questions over email which we’d like the answer publicly below:

Would it be practical to use this kit indoors to do hydrogen-line astronomy? I ask because I live in a flat in a block of retirement flats, and wouldn’t be able to place an aerial or dish outside, but could find space for a Discovery dish + rotation gear inside.

Unfortunately, indoor Hydrogen line astronomy is out of the question. The hydrogen line signal is just too weak to be seen indoors, and there would most likely be too much interference indoors as well.

What all do i need to purchase and get for the Discovery Dish for Radio Astronomy?

You’ll need these two components from the Discovery Dish Crowd Supply store:

  • Discovery Dish (Dish & Mount Only)
  • Hydrogen Line Discovery Feed

You will also need a software defined radio, such as an RTL-SDR Blog V3/V4 which can be purchased separately, a computer and somewhere to mount your dish (e.g. a mast/tripod etc).

Have you tested this for C-Band / Aero downlink reception?

Currently, we do not have a C-band feed, so we have not tested it for this purpose. Generally, a larger 1.2 m+ dish is required for C-band AERO, so the 70 cm Discovery Dish may not be suitable. We may test this with Discovery Dish in the near future just in case however.

I want to purchase a hydrogen antenna. Where should I buy it? Also, please tell me what is needed to observe seti radio waves.

The Discovery Dish (Dish & Mount) and Hydrogen Line Discovery Feed can be pre-ordered from the Discovery Dish Crowd Supply store. I’m not sure exactly what you are referring to with SETI radio waves. An alien signal could in theory be on any frequency, but the 1.42 GHz Hydrogen line frequency could be a good bet as it’s a universal frequency of interest that any technological civilization would be observing. Realistically the Discovery Dish would be too small to detect potential alien signals unless they were very strong.

I’ve seen a small home made 3D-printed dish called a ‘heliocone dish’ being used for HRPT. How is Discovery Dish different?

The heliocone 3D printer design going around is a great DIY solution for L-Band polar orbiting HRPT satellites. But it has some limitations as it cannot receive the weaker geostationary satellites due to its smaller size and use of a circular polarized feed. It also cannot receive satellites using the opposite circular polarization. It also cannot receive satellites on different frequencies or the Hydrogen Line without designing a new helical feed and using a different LNA+filter combo. Discovery Dish is a more of a general purpose ‘does-it-all’ and ‘ready to use’ out-of-the-box dish. With our dish and feeds you can receive the L-Band polar orbiting HRPT satellites as well as the geostationary satellites. You can quickly swap out the feed for a different feed that covers a different band as well.


Hystérésia: An Art Installation that Listens to Zombie Satellites

Thank you to Stéfane Perraud, Aram Kebabdjian and team for submitting news that they have recently launched an art project in Lausanne, Switzerland called "Hystérésia". The installation is technical art, which consists of an autonomous satellite receiving station designed to receive beacons from old "zombie" satellites, and then broadcast their signals audibly. A description of the ground station can be seen here.

Zombie or Dead satellites are satellites that are officially decommissioned and powered down, but have unintentionally reactivated. This often happens as over time the batteries on these satellites can undertake a chemical reaction from thousands of solar recharge cycles which eventually results in a short circuit. Hence the satellites reactivate when in sunlight. If you are interested we have an old post on this phenomena back from 2014.

The system is based on an antenna rotator with two Yagi's that tracks the zombie satellites as they pass over the sky. A QFH antenna has also been spotted in their images. Based on the waterfall images, an SDRplay RSP is used as the receiver, and some computing device is used to demodulate the signal into audio. Stefan adds:

Technically we are using a double yagi 137 and 145 plus a 777 antenna from diamond to catch 200 mHz

We developed a python based software that’s controlling a sdr software based on gnu radio.

We update TLE everyday, our azimuth and élévation rotor follow the satellites and we catch the signal with a sdr uno, plus a switch that choose antenna with the good satellite.

The machine is monitored by a bench of sensors , wind, humidity, temp. It can be control by internet via the website

The machine search for peaks around the chosen frequency,
Also the sound is processed by max/msp, we denoise it and we make music out of it

The 3 metallics pavillons blows the sound noise to the audience
Each time a satellite shows up, the machine sends a story told by one of our recording, a woman actors voice , it tells a specific history that’s tells a narrative about the satellite that’s on air … but in French

If you are unable to visit the installation in person, it appears that their website also broadcasts the last received satellite's sound. The website also shows photos of the history of the zombie satellites.

If you're interested in other art based on satellites and software defined radios, have a look at our previous post on the open weather project, and the "signs of life" project. Another SDR art project was 'Holypager', an art installation that continuously prints out pager messages received by a HackRF, and "ghosts in the air glow" project which used the HAARP antenna array to broadcast an art project.

Hysteresia montage (click for large version)
Hysteresia montage (click for large version)

SignalsEverywhere Podcast: Satcom Piracy Interview

Corrosive from the SignalsEverywhere YouTube channel has released a new episode of his podcast. In this episode Corrosive interviews an anonymous informant who has an interesting story about his involvement with the UHF Military SATCOM pirate radio scene in Brazil. Corrosive also explains a bit further about what SATCOM is and why it's so susceptible to piracy. He also notes that piracy on Inmarsat L-band frequencies is also becoming more common.

The UHF-SATCOM band is anywhere between 243 - 270 MHz and contains fairly strong signals from many several US satellites that can be received with a simple antenna and any UHF radio/SDR. Many of the satellites are simple repeaters without security, and pirates from Mexico and South America often hijack the satellite for their own personal use. In the past, and possibly even still today hijackers involved in drug trafficking and other illegal activities made use of these insecure military satellites for long range communications. Reception of these satellites is generally available in Canada, US, Mexico, South America, Europe and Africa.

Amazon AWS Satellite Ground Stations Now Available For Hire

Over on the AWS blog Jeff Barr has blogged about Amazon's new rentable ground station system called "AWS Ground Station". AWS, or Amazon Web Services is the server farm division of Amazon. They allow customers to rent out server capability on demand. In a similar sense, AWS Ground Station is aiming to allow customers to rent out satellite ground stations on demand.

Launching low cost micro/nano satellites has become very affordable in recent years and it's now common to see high schools, colleges, organizations and hobbyists designing, fabricating and launching their own satellites. Once launched, a ground station is required to receive the satellite's radio transmission as it passes over. Most low cost satellite owners will not have the budget to deploy ground stations all around the world for continuous monitoring of the satellite. This is where AWS Ground Station can take over, allowing a ground station on the other side of the world to be rented temporarily during a pass.

Currently the service is just starting, and only has 2 ground stations, but by 2019 they hope to have a total of 12. More information available on the official AWS Ground Station website.

Alternatively, there are other free open source services that could be utilized such as SATNOGS. SATNOGs relies on volunteer ground stations running antenna rotators that can be built with a 3D printer, some low cost motors and electronics, and an RTL-SDR. The antenna rotator carries a Yagi antenna and will automatically track, receive and upload satellite data to the internet for the public to access.

AWS Ground Station Web Site
AWS Ground Station Web Site

SDR# GPredict Satellite Tracking Plugin

Thanks to Alex for submitting news about his new SDR# plugin called "SDRSharp.GpredictConnector". This plugin allows SDR# to interface with GPredict which is a tool used for tracking the orbit of satellites. Just like with the DDE Tracking plugin and the Orbitron satellite tracking program this plugin could be used to automatically tune SDR# to the frequency of a passing satellite using GPredict. It should also be able to compensate for any doppler shift frequency offset.

To use with SDR# simply download the zip file and move the .dll file into the SDR# folder. Then add the 'magicline' to the plugins.xml file using a text editor. In GPredict you can then add a radio interface from the preferences, and then use the 'Radio Connect' interface to connect to the plugin.

Connecting to GPredict using the GPredictConnector SDR# Plugin
Connecting to GPredict using the GPredictConnector SDR# Plugin

Talks from the AMSAT-UK RSGB 2017 Convention

The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) and AMSAT-UK recently presented a number of talks at their latest convention held in October of this year. Some of the talks are SDR related and are interesting for those interested in satellite reception. A couple of interesting SDR related talks are presented below, and the rest of the talks can be accessed on their YouTube page.

Software defined radio for the satellite geek - Alex Csete OZ9AEC

In this talk Alex Csete (Oz9AEC) who is the programmer behind the popular GQRX software that is often used with RTL-SDRs discusses his latest work and some of his experiences with writing software for SDRs.

2017: Software defined radio for the satellite geek - Alex Csete OZ9AEC

Going to space the libre way - Pierros Papadeas, Libre Space Foundation

In this talk Pierros Papadeas who is the founder of the Libre Space Foundation discusses their SatNOGS project. SatNOGS is a project that uses RTL-SDRs in custom 3D printed home made satellite tracking ground stations. It aims to enable easy access to live satellite data online by significantly increasing ground station coverage.

2017: Going to space the libre way - Pierros Papadeas, Libre Space Foundation

Testing a 16x RTL-SDR V3 WebSDR System for the Satcom Band

Over on Twitter Denis (@uhfsatcom) has recently been teasing us with photos of his 16 dongle RTL-SDR V3 setup. The system looks like it's designed to be a satcom band WebSDR receiver. 

The satcom band is around 240 - 270 MHz and mostly consists of various military satellites that act as simple repeaters which are often hijacked by pirates. WebSDR is a piece of software that allows for online web streaming of SDR radios. Users from all over the world can listen in if made public. Denis has also uploaded a short video showing a test of 8 dongles running and receiving the satcom band on his WebSDR system.

We look forward to hearing more updates on this project!

8 rtlsdr websdr test

Modded SUP-2400 Downconverters now Available at RXTXDX.com for $25

Last week we posted about KD0CQ’s interest check on his ready to go modded SUP-2400 downconverter. Interest was strong so the unit is now available for sale on a store he’s just set up at RXTXDX.com. The ready to go unit costs $25 USD including a 9V battery plug and F->SMA or MCX adapter.

Last year KD0CQ discovered that the SUP-2400 is a cheap $5 – $10 DirecTV (US satellite TV) module which can be hand modded into a downconverter for the RTL-SDR. A downconverter allows you to listen to frequencies above the maximum frequency range of the RTL-SDR by converting frequencies down into a range receivable by the RTL-SDR (or of course any other SDR). The modified SUP-2400 allows to you listen up to just over 4 GHz.

The SUP-2400 modification is moderately involved and requires soldering and desoldering SMD pieces, so this product is great for anyone who just wants a cheap and low cost downconverter which is ready to go. And at $25 USD it’s still very good value. Shipping within the USA is $7.75, and internationally it is about $13.50.

The modified SUP-2400 Downconverter
The modified SUP-2400 Downconverter