Tagged: telemetry

Decoding Radio Telemetry Heard on News Helicopter Video Footage with GNU Radio

Twitter user @d0tslash was watching news helicopter footage of the BLM protests on the 28th of May when he heard something that sounded like an RF telemetry feed in the background audio on the helicopter's video feed. Having seen this previous success at decoding similar helicopter telemetry, he contacted his friend proto17 who proceeded to reverse engineer and figure out how to decode the telemetry, in the end discovering that it was providing location data for the helicopter.

Over on GitHub proto17 has documented the complete process that he took in reverse engineering the telemetry. He first explored the audio in Baudline discovering that there was a 1200 Hz wide FSK signal. Next he used GNU Radio to further analyze the signal, discovering it's baud rate, resampling the signal and then using a GFSK block to demodulate the signal into 1's and 0's.

Finally he used some clever terminal tricks and a Python script to discover the bit pattern and convert the bits into ASCII characters which reveals the helicopter coordinates. The coordinates decoded indicate that the helicopter was indeed circling the protest area.

We looked into the news helicopters in use during the protests and found that Denver news stations all share one helicopter with registration N6UX. Plugging that into adsbexchange.com and looking at the helicopter ADS-B history on the 28th gives a good match to proto17's decoded data. 

News helicopter telemetry audio vs ADS-B history
News helicopter telemetry audio vs ADS-B history

Decoding the NOAA Weather Satellite Telemetry Beacons

It is well known that the NOAA satellites broadcast weather satellite images which can be received and displayed with an RTL-SDR and computer. What is less known is that there is a telemetry beacon that is also transmitted by the same satellites. The telemetry not only contains data such as the current spacecraft time, day and ID, but also contains scientific data from on board instruments such as:

  • The HIRS/3 and HIRS/4 instruments which is a high resolution infrared sounder which can be used to create a low resolution multi-spectral scan of the earth. (more info)
  • The Space Environment Monitor (SEM-2) which has a Medium Energy Proton and Electron Detector (MEPED), and a Total Energy Detector (TED). This experiment is used to measure the effect of the sun on satellite communications. (more info)
  • The experimental DCS/2 transmitter which retransmits signals from 401.65 MHz sea buoys, arctic fox collars, sea ice monitors, weather balloons and more. (more info pdf)
  • The ARGOS Advanced Data Collection System (ADCS) which amongst other uses is used in research for tracking animal GPS collars around the world.

On GitHub user nebarnix has been working on a standalone C based decoder for these NOAA satellite telemetry beacons. So far from her wiki log, it appears that she has been able to get HIRS decoding and producing an image, receive and graph SEM-2 data, and decode the locations of some fixed DCS transmitters.

A HIRS multispectrum scan of the earth from the NOAA-18 satellite telemetry beacon.
A HIRS multispectrum scan of the earth from the NOAA-18 satellite telemetry beacon.

Using the RTL-SDR to listen to the Funcube Satellite

Recently, the FUNcube-1 satellite was successfully launched. The FUNcube is a CubeSat (a low cost miniature 10cm cube sized satellite) which is intended mainly for educating young people about radio, space, physics and electronics, but has also piqued the interest of amateur radio hobbyists.

Amateur radio hobbyist N4JTC’s has shared on his blog his experiences with receiving the FUNcube-1’s telemetry using his RTL-SDR dongle. By using the RTL-SDR to receive the telemetry beacon as the satellite passes overhead, he was able to use the FUNcube Dashboard software to record and decode and view the satellites telemetry data.

Receiving the FUNcube-1 Satellite
Receiving the FUNcube-1 Satellite