HackSpace is a monthly magazine dedicated to modern maker projects. This month issue 18 was released and it focuses on space based projects. The HackSpace Magazine is available for free online in PDF form, and physical copies can also be purchased. There are several interesting articles but one in particular shows us how to set up a SatNOGS ground station with a Raspberry Pi 3, RTL-SDR and a satellite antenna such as a turnstile.
A problem with low cost satellites like cubesats is that it is difficult to monitor them as data can only be collected when they are passing over a ground station. So in areas with no ground stations data is simply lost. SatNOGS is an open source project that aims to make it easy for volunteers to build and run RF ground stations that automatically monitor satellite data, and upload that data to the internet for public access. SatNOGS ground stations typically use RTL-SDR dongles as the radio.
A related article in the magazine also discusses cubesats, giving an overview of some previous cubesat launches and what sort of payloads are available. A third article under the space topic discusses the Libre Space Foundation which is the team behind the SatNOGS and various other space based projects that aim to democratize space. Readers may also be interested in the articles showing how to build an ISS countdown timer and how to build a Slim Jim antenna.
Thank you to IZ5RZR for writing in and sharing his two SatNOGS rotator builds with us. SatNOGS is an open source project that aims to make it easy for volunteers to build and run RTL-SDR or other SDR based RF ground stations that automatically monitor satellites, and upload that data to the internet for public access.
IZ5RZR writes that he's now made two rotators and one was modified to use a 5:18 stepper motor (which is upgradable to 50:1) to give more torque so that heavier antennas can be turned smoothly. His rotators are powered by a 12V battery charged by solar, and they can be controlled over WiFi with a PC/tablet/phone. He's also tested the rotators with a 24 dB parabolic grid antenna and found that the rotator could handle it even without a counterweight. He also notes that together with IK5XWA they've fixed a "Meridian Flip" bug in the firmware.
GNU Radio is a very powerful open source platform for implementing various digital signal processing (DSP) algorithms. It is very commonly used with software defined radios like the RTL-SDR, as well as much higher end units. The community that uses GNU Radio is very large, and so every year they hold a conference that highlights some of the most interesting applications and developments related to GNU Radio. The 2018 GNU Radio conference was held in Las Vegas during September 2018. Recently they have uploaded the talks to YouTube, and below we're posting some of our favorites. The full list can be found on their YouTube channel.
Keynote Talk: SatNOGs
In this keynote talk Manolis Surligas discusses the SatNOGs project. SatNOGs is a non-profit organization creating an open source and volunteer based satellite ground station network.
GRCon18 - Keynote: SatNOGs
Open Source Radio Telescopes
John L. Makous discusses his work in creating low cost and home made horn antenna radio telescopes designed to receive the 21cm hydrogen line and other astronomical objects and phenomena. The idea is to provide a low cost solution and easy to build telescope to use in schools.
GRCon18 - Open Source Radio Telescopes
Enter the Electromagic Spectrum with the USRP
Nate Temple gives us an overview of several signals that have been decoded with GNU Radio flowgraphs.
GRCon18 - Enter the Electromagic Spectrum with the USRP
Software Defined Radar Remote Sensing and Space Physics
Juha Vierinen discusses using a USRP to measure propagation conditions with ionospheric chip sounders, and improvements to chirp sounders by using spread spectrum noise. He also discusses various other radar techniques and applications.
GRCon18 - Software Defined Radar Remote Sensing and Space Physics
SatNOGS is an open source project that aims to make it easy for volunteers to build and run RTL-SDR or other SDR based RF ground stations that automatically monitor satellites, and upload that data to the internet for public access. The antennas used in a typical home based SatNOGS station are small enough for a single person to handle, however recently the SatNOGS team have been working on setting up a monitoring station at the Dwingeloo Radio Observatory in the Netherlands.
Dwingeloo has a large 25 meter satellite dish antenna, and they connect it to an RTL-SDR on a laptop running the SatNOGS software. In the video they show it tracking the PRISM amateur radio satellite, and note that the use of this large dish will only be used in special circumstances. They write:
This week the Dwingelooradio Observatory tested their 25 meter dish as a SatNOGS station! Although not set up as a permanent SatNOGS station it is great to see this historic observatory linked to the network. Dwingeloo radio observatory was built between 1954 and 1956 near the village of Dwingeloo in the Netherlands. Since 2009 this single 25 meter dish has been a national heritage site.
Dwingeloo Radio Observatory as a SatNOGS 📡 station
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.
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.
An antenna rotator can be used to automatically point a high gain directional antenna such as a Yagi at a low earth orbit satellite which passes overhead relatively quickly. Such as antenna can be easily connected to an SDR like the RTL-SDR to receive data such as HRPT weather satellite images from satellites.
Manuel's antenna tracker is inspired by the SatNOGs rotator, but he writes that his one was designed to slightly to be smaller and more powerful. For the driving motors he uses NEMA23 steppers which are mounted in a frame made out of 2020 aluminum extrusions. An Arduino Nano with optical end stops controls two TB6600 stepper drivers which control the motors. The rest of the parts such as brackets and gears are all 3D printed.
Attached to the antenna rotator is Manuel's home made carbon Yagi antenna. He also attempted to use his 1.2m dish but found that the rotator could not handle the weight.
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