In the past we've posted a couple of times about the NOAA-APT decoder software as it is a worthy alternative to the now abandonware software WXtoIMG. However, it lacks certain features which makes WXtoIMG still the go to program for NOAA weather satellite decoding.
As NOAA-APT is open source it has recently seen a few new updates from another contributor, as well as the original author. These changes make it quite a bit more useful, although admittedly not perfect. Hopefully we'll see continued refinement over time. Regardless, this is still a great piece of software which is open source and multi-platform. Martin Bernardi, the original contributor writes:
Although I wasn't planning to continue working in my program, the quarantine happened so I worked on the program a little. Later, a person (Arcadie Z) added more features too, so I created a new version in case you want to add a blog post about it.
Added features since the last blog post:
- Redesigned GUI. - Satellite prediction and map overlay (but has offsets I can't fix yet). - False color images - Histogram equalization (improves the contrast and brightness of images) - Automatic image rotation depending on pass direction
In the end, the map overlay and false color does not work very well, but it is better than nothing I guess.
Thank you to John First for submitting his guide all about the setup and use of the software required to receive NOAA weather satellite images on Windows 10 (pdf file) with an RTL-SDR dongle. John's guide covers the use of SDR# for receiving the signal, WXtoIMG for decoding the signal, and Orbitron for tracking the satellite and automatically tuning SDR# when a satellite is in range.
He also explains the use of the VB-Audio Virtual Cable for piping audio between SDR# and WXtoIMG, as well as the DDE Tracking and Scheduling Plugin for interfacing SDR# with Orbitron, and finally how to do NTP clock synchronization to ensure the local time is accurate.
MetOp and FengYun-3 are both polar orbiting satellites that beam back high resolution weather satellite images. Unlike the NOAA polar orbiting satellites which transmit both the easy to receive APT and more advanced HRPT signal, these only transmit a HRPT signal at ~1.70 GHz, so a satellite dish and motorized tracking mount (or hand tracked) is required. You will also need an SDR capable of receiving over 3 MHz bandwidth such as an Airspy Mini or R2. Alan writes:
I recently got FengYun decoding working after the release of my MetOp decoder a while ago. Since gr-hrpt wasn't usable for Windows user without some major hassle, I made some standalone decoders (Windows builds included in the repo) for both MetOp and FengYun.
Decoding is done by first demodulating with the included flowcharts or @petermeteor's, then processed through the decoder which does Viterbi / Differential decoding. The output then needs to be deframed by MetFy3x or any other software that can do so.
From Sasha's Twitter feed we note that they are also working on upcoming public workshops in the UK and Germany on the topic of reflections on what it means to bring an intersectional feminist ethos to satellite image decoding + weather sensing, & new creative collaborations in 2020. If you are interested in their work please follow @sashacakes and @sophiecdyer on Twitter.
Just after our post a few days ago about an art project involving weather satellite reception with SDRs, we received a story submission about an artistic performance with similar weather satellite and SDR themes. The submission from Sasha Engelmann reads:
Open Work, Second Body asks: From the climate crisis to coronavirus: what are the tools we need to make sense of events unfolding on vastly disparate scales? Through spoken word, field recordings and live radio reception of two NOAA satellite images, the work probes the porous boundaries between our bodies, local atmospheres and weather systems.
Due to lockdown constraints in London, Sophie and Sasha were not able to be in the same place or to leave their apartments, so they performed the work via simultaneous streams from their respective balconies in South East and North West London. Using RTL-SDRs, Turnstile antennas, Open Broadcast Software and collaborating with two NOAA satellite passes, Sophie and Sasha shared the process of decoding NOAA satellite images with hundreds of viewers around the world, employing spoken word poetry and field recordings to complicate relationships of local and global, weather and climate, the individual and the collective.
Recordings of the performances can be found at the links below.
Open Work, Second Body is part of Sophie and Sasha's larger artistic research and design project Open Weather, which employs ham radio, open data and feminist theories and approaches to build new and diverse communities around satellite image decoding and weather sensing. The Open Weather web platform will be launched in Summer 2020 and will host an archive of SDR-generated weather images, visually rich how-to guides for those with no radio and engineering experience, and material about Sophie and Sasha's collaborative artistic practice.
For Open Work, Second Body, Sophie and Sasha would like to thank the Soundcamp Team: Grant Smith, Dawn Scarfe, Christine Bramwell, Maria Papadomanolaki and Ciara Drew. They are grateful to Daisy Hildyard for her willingness to be in conversation with them, Bill Liles NQ6Zfor technical advice, Jol Thoms for sound design, Rachel Dedman, Laure Selys and Arjuna Neuman (Radio Earth Hold) for early curatorial input, Akademie Schloss Solitude for the support of a residency, the satellites NOAA 18 and NOAA 19 and the RTL-SDR and wider ham radio community.
Apart from APT there is also the HIRS instrument data which is transmitted in the Direct Sounding Broadcast (DSB) telemetry signal that is spaced at a slight offset from the APT frequency. According to NOAA, the HIRS instrument is "a discrete stepping, line-scan instrument designed to measure scene radiance in 20 spectral bands to permit the calculation of the vertical temperature profile from the Earth's surface to about 40 km". The SDR# screenshot below shows what the HIRS signal looks like, and to the sides you can see NOAA APT signals.
NOAA-HIRS-decoder makes use of the Project-Dessert-Tortoise NOAA satellite telemetry decoder that we posted about previously which can be used to decode data from most of the other scientific instruments on the NOAA satellites. The HIRS decoder by Zbigniew uses the raw text data produced by the Project-Dessert-Tortoise decoder and converts it into images. Full instructions on setting up the decoder on Windows is provided on the NOAA-HIRS-decoder website, just click the menu icon on the top right of the page, and go to "usage".
The received data contains 10 channels of long wave infrared, 9 channels of medium wave infrared, and one visible light measurement. The software will plot the 20 channels as images that are 56 pixels wide. This is not a high resolution picture, but it is nevertheless valuable data that can be used for scientific or weather prediction purposes.
A new video showing how to build a V-dipole for weather satellite reception has been uploaded over on the Tech Minds YouTube channel. A V-dipole isa dipole antenna arranged in a 120 degrees "vee" shape, and mounted horizontally. It was first popularized by Adam 9A4QV who realized that such a simple antenna would work well for low earth orbit satellites like the NOAA and Meteor weather sats.
The video shows how to use some steel rods, a plastic pipe and terminal block to build the v-dipole. After building and mounting the antenna in the required North-South orientation he shows how he's using Gpredict with SDR# and WxToImg to decode the NOAA satellite image.
How To Build A V Dipole For Receiving Weather Satellites
Over on YouTube the "Ham Radio Crash Course" channel has uploaded a new video showing how to receive APT images from NOAA weather satellites. There are many tutorials (such as ours here) and videos on this topic already, but more cannot hurt, and this one makes specific reference to how to download the WXtoIMG software now that the official website has been abandoned.
In the tutorial he uses an SDRplay with SDRuno as the receiver software, VBCable as the audio piping software, and WXtoIMG as the decoding software.
How To Receive Images Directly From NOAA Satellites