Tagged: weather balloon

Wired Article about Radiosonde (Weather Balloon) Hunting

Wired.com has recently run a short article about Roland F5ZV's hobby of radiosonde hunting. A radiosonde is a small box containing electronic sensors that measure things like wind, temperature, humidity and also give out a GPS location. The radiosonde is carried into the upper atmosphere by a weather balloon, and these probes are usually launched twice a day in many locations around the world by meteorological agencies. The data is useful for weather forecasting and research.

The wired article discusses the hobby of radiosonde hunting, which is the sport of using radios to hunt and collect the radiosonde as it bursts and falls back to earth. He also writes how he was able to convince the Swiss Meteorological agency to allow him to attach a GoPro to a radiosonde which allowed him to capture some interesting images.

We'd like to remind readers that in many places in the world it is possible to receive and decode radiosonde data with an RTL-SDR, and we have a tutorial available here.

Radiosonde in flight captured by a GoPro camera.
Radiosonde in flight captured by a GoPro camera.

Tracking RS41-SGP weather balloons and reporting them to the APRS Network

Over on his blog Daniel Estevez has created a post showing how an RTL-SDR can be used to receive, plot and forward RS41-SGP radiosonde data to the APRS-IS network. Radiosondes are the small payloads used on weather balloons. They transmit weather and positional telemetry data back to a base station at the meteorological agency. But depending on the frequency used in your country it can be fairly easy to receive this data yourself with an RTL-SDR dongle and some decoding software. We have an introductory tutorial for radiosonde decoding available here.

In his area of Barajas, Spain the meteorological agency recently switched to the newer RS41-SGP radiosondes. To decode these Daniel uses the open source "RS" software which is capable of decoding various radiosondes including RS41. He notes that for now it is better to use his fork of "RS" as the base version contains a bug. He also shows how the received data can be plotted in Viking, which is a program used for plotting things like GPS tracks on a map.

Finally he shows how to feed the radiosonde data to the APRS-IS network. APRS is a packet radio system used by hams which works via radio and the internet, allowing for worldwide communication by radio. Feeding the data into APRS-IS allows anyone to see the flightpath on a site like aprs.fi.

Radiosonde Flight Path
RS41 Radiosonde Flight Path recorded by Daniel Estevez

Visualizing the Traveled Path of a Weather Balloon, Tanker Boat and Gliders with an RTL-SDR and CesiumJS

Over on YouTube user pascal poulain has uploaded a short video that shows a timelapse of the flight path of a weather balloon in Cesiumjs as it rises and falls, as well as a time lapse of a marine tanker docking, with the signals received with an RTL-SDR. In a third video pascal also shows a visualization of glider flights tracked via FLARM and the Open Glider Network which also obtains most of it’s data through RTL-SDR contributors.

Cesiumjs is a tool similar to Google Earth. The main difference is that it works on a wider array of devices through a web browser without the need for any plugins. It is often used for visualizing data on the globe. An example of some of its many demos can be found here.

We’re not sure what tools pascal used, but over on GitHub there is a tool called airtrack which can be used together with dump1090 to display flights in real time on Cesiumjs.

Radiosonde Decoding

Over on his blog, nerdsville has posted about his experiences with decoding Radiosondes, a.k.a Meteorological Weather Balloons using his Funcube Dongle, which is an SDR with similar capabilities to the RTL-SDR. Using a program called SondeMonitor he was able to produce graphs balloon sensor data such as temperature, pressure, humidity and altitude.

If you are interested in decoding this type of thing we also have a tutorial on this topic available on our site.

SondeMonitor Graphs
SondeMonitor Graphs

RTL-SDR Tutorial: Receiving Weather Balloon (Radiosonde) Data with RTL-SDR

Around the world meteorological weather balloons are launched twice daily, and continuously transit weather telemetry to a ground station using something called a radiosonde. The RTL-SDR software defined radio combined with a decoding program can be used to intercept this telemetry, and display it on your own computer. You will be able to see real time graphs and data of air temperature, humidity, pressure as well as the location and height of the balloon as it makes it's ascent.

Note that if you are in the USA, then this tutorial may not be applicable for you as different radiosondes are used. Instead have a look at this post which shows how to use the SkySonde software from NOAA. You can also try an alternative command line based decoder called RS available on GitHub.

This tutorial is also applicable to other software defined radios such as the Funcube dongle, Airspy, HackRF, BladeRF or even hardware radios with discriminator taps, but the RTL-SDR is the cheapest option that will work.


In this example YouTube user Superphish shows a radiosonde being received and decoded using a RTL-SDR, SDRSharp and SondeMonitor.

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