Over on her YouTube channel, SignalsEverywhere, Sarah has uploaded a new video showing how she uses a PlutoSDR, HackRF and mixer to transmit DVB-S digital amateur TV to a standard satellite set top box. In this video the idea is to get a little more range by using the PlutoSDR to transmit in the 70cm band, then upconverting that to the 23cm band right at the satellite receiver. Transmitting at the lower frequency yields a higher power output from the PlutoSDR and less cable loss. The mixer consists of a passive mixer chip and a HackRF is used as the mixer LO signal source as a temporary test solution.
The Electrosense network is an open source project aiming to deploy radio spectrum sensors worldwide. The idea is to help analyze and understand radio spectrum usage across the globe. Each sensor consists of an RTL-SDR, Raspberry Pi and an optional downconverter to receive the higher bands. If you're interested we wrote an overview of the project in a previous post.
Recently we received a sample of their Up/Downconverter expansion board which is used to expand the frequency range of the RTL-SDR to 0 MHz to 6 GHz. The converter board is entirely open source with the design files available on GitHub. The team note that they are also working on a V2 version which will be cheaper and smaller. The schematic and Firmware for the V2 is also available right now, but it is still under early testing and may change.
The board is not for sale, however you can apply to be considered for a free unit if you want to host your own Electrosense node and meet their criteria. If you do not you can still produce the board yourself. The team mention that the design is easily hand soldered, but there are a few difficult LGA components like the PLL, crystals and mixer which require a heat gun to solder. A the same time they also note that it is possible to get PCB manufacture and SMT assembly done for you for dirt cheap by PCB prototype companies like JLC PCB.
The Expansion Up/Downconverter Board
The converter board has 4-input SMA ports (only 3 are used) and one output port which connects to the RTL-SDR. The first input port is for the HF antenna input. This input connects to the circuit which converts 0 - 30 MHz into a higher frequency which can be received by the RTL-SDR. The second port is simply a pass through for the standard 24 MHz - 1.766 GHz range of a normal SDR. The third port is unused, and the fourth port connects the antenna to the downconverter circuit which allows us to receive from 1.766 GHz to 6 GHz.
A few days ago we posted about the release of the new NooElec Ham-It-Up Nano upconverter which sells for US$49.95 on their store and Amazon. Upconverters enable SDRs that cannot tune in the HF bands to receive HF by shifting the low HF frequencies "up" into a range receivable by most VHF/UHF capable SDRs.
In his latest video Techminds reviews the Nano together with an E4000 tuner based RTL-SDR with built in bias tee. In the video he demonstrates it working with the SDR# software, and shows how to set the Shift parameter to ensure that the correct frequency offset it set. He goes on to demonstrate reception through the various HF bands confirming that the unit works as expected.
Today NooElec have released a new product called the "Ham-it-up Nano" for US$49.95 on their store and Amazon. The original Ham-it-up is an HF upconverter that enables reception of the HF bands with SDRs that do not natively support HF. Upconverters work by shifting these low HF frequencies "up" into a range receivable by most VHF/UHF capable SDRs.
The new nano version is much smaller than the original design and about $15 cheaper if you compare against the version with metal case. The nano can also be powered directly via bias tee capable SDRs, so no external power source is required. Compared to the original version the nano misses out on the pass through switch and bonus noise source circuit.
The Ham-it-up Nano probably most directly competes with the SpyVerter from Airspy, which is another small form factor and bias tee powered upconverter for US$49.00. Spec-wise, the SpyVerter appears to remain superior with better LF/VLF support, less conversion loss and it's ability to use a 10 MHz external reference clock for advanced users. But the Ham-It-Up Nano is designed and made in the USA vs designed in France and made in China for the SpyVerter. The nano may also be a little cheaper and faster in terms of shipping to obtain via Amazon.
Below is a table comparing the advertised specifications with specs taken from the Ham-it-up Nano datasheet and SpyVerter sales page. Overall, most HF dabblers probably won't notice a major difference between the two unless you are truly setting up HF DX antennas. And as always our advice is if you are heavily interested in HF and DX, then it may be wiser to spend a little more and get yourself an Airspy HF+ Discovery (US$169) or an SDRplay RSP1A (US$109) or RSPdx (US$199.95) instead of an RTL-SDR + upconverter (US$20 + US$50 = $70).
|Frequency Range||100 kHz - 65 MHz||1 kHz - 60 MHz|
|Conversion Loss||10dB (typ)||5.2 dB (typ)|
|LO Frequency||125 MHz||120 MHz|
|IIP3||Not Specified||35 dBm|
|Max Input Power||1 dBm||10 dBm|
|Operating Voltage||4 V - 5.5 V||4.2 V - 5.5 V|
|Current Consumption||65 mA (typ)||10 mA (typ)|
|Power Methods||Bias Tee, microUSB, Pin Header||Bias Tee, microUSB|
|LO Stability||0.5 PPM||0.5 PPM|
|10 MHz External LO Capable?||No||Yes|
|Input Return Loss||-10 dB (max)||-10 dB (max)|
|Output Return Loss||-10 dB (max)||-10 dB (max)|
|Phase Noise @ 10kHz||Not Specified||-122 dBc/Hz|
|Dimensions||2.0" x 1.2" x 0.75" (50 x 30 x 18mm)||2.1" x 1.6" x 1" (53 x 40 x 25 mm)|
|Design & Manufacture Country||Designed and Made USA & Canada||Designed in France, Made in China|
|Price||US$49.95 + shipping (free US shipping on Amazon)||US$49.00 + shipping (~US$5 to US, or US$10 via US reseller)|
Thank you to Zoltan for submitting a short post about using a moRFeus to uplink WSPR to the Es'Hail-2 (QO-100) geostationary satellite with amateur radio repeater. moRFeus is a versatile US$99 signal generator and frequency mixer that can be controlled either by it's built in LCD screen, or via software on a Windows or Linux PC. It can generate a clean low phase noise tone anywhere between 85 to 5400 MHz, and can be used as a mixer for upconverting or downconverting signals. We have discussed moRFeus a few times before on this blog as we think it's a useful tool.
In his setup, Zoltan uses a QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter kit that was configured to transmit WSPR at 2m (144 MHz). It is not designed for transmitting the 2.4 GHz QO-100 uplink frequency. To get around that limitation, the moRFeus is used to upconvert the 144 MHz frequency into the QO-100 uplink band by mixing it with a 2,255,634.309 kHz signal. The resulting 2.4 GHz output signal from moRFeus is sent to an amplifier, 2.4 GHz band pass filter, and finally into a 5-turn LHCP helical feed mounted on a 1m parabolic dish.
Successful uplink was confirmed by a UK based WebSDR receiving the QO-100 downlink. Zoltan estimates that the total output power was only 4mW, and actually more like 1-2 mW due to losses in the coax feed.
Over on YouTube Corrosive from the SignalsEverywhere channel has uploaded a new video showing us how you can make a DIY upconverter using a HackRF as a signal source and a cheap $10 RF Mixer. An upconverter converts lower frequencies into higher frequencies. For example, an upconverter is commonly used to convert HF signals into VHF, so that VHF/UHF only SDRs can receive HF.
In the video he uses the HackRF as a local oscillator source, a cheap RF mixer on a breakout board, and an Airspy as the receiver. In most circumstances if you needed and upconverter you'd just purchase one like the Ham-it-up, or the Spyverter for ~$40. However the interesting advantage of using a versatile signal generator like the HackRF is that it results in an upconverter that can upconvert HF to almost any frequency. Even without any filtering (which is recommended to remove signal images), Corrosive fings that he has excellent HF reception.
This video is an excellent way to learn about how upconverters work.
Recently Akos has uploaded three new posts on his RadioForEveryone blog. The first post is a review of the "Ham-It-Up Plus", which is a US$65 upconverter that allows you to listen to HF on RTL-SDR dongles without direct sampling. Compared to the non-plus Ham-It-Up, the plus version includes a TCXO and the noise source circuit is populated. In his post Akos reviews the history of the Ham It Up generations and discusses the connectors and power options. He also reviews the performance and finds that the Plus seems to have better SNR.
In the second post Akos has uploaded his collection of various images of different RTL-SDR dongle brands. The images include circuit board photos so you can easily compare the differences in design between brands.
Finally the third post is an experiment to determine the maximum USB cable length that can be used with RTL-SDRs. His results show that the maximum is 9 meters which is actually more than the USB2.0 spec which states 5m as the maximum. We note that longer than 9m cable runs can also be achieved by using active repeater USB cables or USB hubs.
Thanks to 'Nobu' for letting us know that his RTL-SDR products sold on Amazon.co.jp are now available for international shipping (in Japanese, please use the Google Translated version if needed). Before Amazon.co.jp offered international shipping you had to use a third party Japanese forwarding service in order to purchase his products.
Japan has a strong RTL-SDR scene, with a few small Japanese companies and individuals (including Nobu) selling custom RTL-SDR products on their local Amazon store. Products such as upconverters, galvanic isolators, LNAs, filters, cooling products and more are available. Back in 2015 we reviewed some of these products in a post available here. Since then we've found continued use in particular with the galvanic isolator which helps reduce noise from the computer and nearby electronics at HF frequencies.