Back in early and mid March we posted about how several amateur radio hobbyists worked together to receive and figure out how to decode text telemetry as well as live video from SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets using low cost antennas and SDRs.
Unfortunately the fun has abruptly come to an end, with listeners discovering that the latest launch is now fully encrypted. Given the fact that the data stream was undiscovered and likely unencrypted for the last decade, it seems reasonable to assume that SpaceX added encryption in response to media publicity from the decoding discovery. There is also speculation that it may be due to NOAA space camera laws which caused livestream censorship back in 2018.
Last week we posted about how several users on Reddit & Twitter worked together to receive and decode text telemetry from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch using a HackRF, 1.2m dish with custom 2232.2 MHz feed and GNU Radio. In that thread it was hinted that the text telemetry was only a small portion of data contained in the entire signal. It turns out that the remaining data is the SpaceX engineering video feed which is often shown in the official live coverage streams.
So today at 10:21UTC i got my own recording of Falcon9 video feed downlink on S band 2272.5MHz and with u/Aang253's software SatDump i could easily decode it from the recording straight down to mxf, avi or mp4 video file! Even with very simple recieving setup!
Setup used for receiving was simple wifi grid mesh dish antenna (100x60cm) on a tripod with old MMDS TV downconvertor and Airspy MINI. here is a photo of the setup few minutes before launch But of course its doable without convertor with SDR such as HackRF , two SPF5189Z LNAs and same antenna or even TV dish with DIY S band feed!
Here is the decoded video feed i got today from S band transponder on 2272.5MHz from second stage of #SpaceX#Falcon9 rocket as it was passing above EUrope! Thanks a lot to @aang254 for the decoder software and @r2x0t for the extensive RE work he did on the downlink! Good work! pic.twitter.com/IgEESBA9A1
It's extremely interesting that we can see views of the liquid oxygen floating around inside the stage two tank which is not shown during the official live streams.
As a bonus, this story was also covered by the very popular space YouTuber Scott Manley who has put out a great video popularizing the discovery and touching on a few interesting points such as how SpaceX may be legally required to encrypt these videos in the future (but hopefully not!).
How Amateur Radio Fans Decoded SpaceX's Telemetry & Engineering Video
Over on the Reddit /r/SpaceXLounge discussion board user /u/Xerbot has made an interesting post showing how u/derekcz was able to receive the telemetry signals from the latest SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch using a HackRF and a 1.2m prime focus dish with homebuilt feed designed for the 2232.5 MHz downlink frequency. Then after demodulating the signal with GNU Radio, /u/Xerbot was able to convert that signal into binary data, and then into plain text strings.
Another user /u/Origin_of_Mind then figured out that these strings are debug messages being sent by the software-defined GPS receiver, which amongst other data contains the GPS coordinates of the second stage. The GPS data indicates that the second stage was tracking over the north of Serbia at an altitude of 219 km and velocity of 7483m/s. /u/derekcz was able to then confirm that he was indeed recording the signal when the satellite would have been crossing Serbia, confirming the received telemetry was correct.
The entire thread is an interesting read, with multiple users dissecting the plaintext and finding out information about the launch. /u/Origin_of_Mind's post in particular explains the meaning of each of the data fields, which includes the system time, the XYZ coordinates in the earth-centered earth-fixed (ECEF) coordinate system, the loss of precision due to unfavorable GPS satellite positions and the number of GPS satellites currently received.
Another user /u/softwaresaur even notes that there was an "radiation_fdir_activation_guard" event. FDIR stands for Fault Detection, Isolation and Recovery (FDIR) and this event was triggered due to 0.06 s mission time discrepancy between the rocket and GPS true time.