Aleksey Smolenchuk (lxe) has recently uploaded a step-by-step guide to setting up a GOES weather satellite receiver with an RTL-SDR dongle, Raspberry Pi and the goestools software. GOES 15/16/17 are geosynchronous weather satellites that beam high resolution weather images and data. In particular they send beautiful 'full disk' images which show one side of the entire earth. Compared to the more familiar and easier to receive low earth orbit satellites such as NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT, the geosynchronous GOES satellites require slightly more effort as you need to set up a dish antenna, use a special LNA, and install Linux software.
Aleksey's tutorial first shows where to purchase the required hardware and notes that the total cost of the system is around $185. Next he goes on to show the hardware connection order, and then how to install and configure the goestools decoding software onto a Raspberry Pi.
On The Thought Emporium YouTube channel a new video has been uploaded showing the full disk images of the earth that they've been able to receive from GOES geosynchronous weather satellites. Over the past couple of years GOES satellite reception has become much easier for hobbyists to achieve with the release of the NooElec SAWbird LNA+Filter, information on how to use a cheap 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antenna for reception and the release of free open source decoder software. It was also shown that an RTL-SDR dongle is sufficient for receiving these images as well. With all these new developments it is now possible to build a GOES receiving station for under $100.
The Thought Emporium video blurb reads:
In the fall of 2016 I saw my first rocket launch and little did I know that the satellite on that rocket would come to shape and fill my thoughts for many years. We're no strangers to getting data out of space on this channel, but GOES-16 is special, and not just because I was there when it left earth. Unlike the satellites we looked at in the past, GOES is in geostationary orbit and has an amazing suite of cameras and sensors on board. While it's a bit harder to receive data from GOES the extra effort is absolutely worth it, especially because it can see then entire globe all at once and send out those images in stunning high resolution. And it even comes with the added bonus of rebroadcast data from other satellites giving us a view of the opposite side of the planet as well.
In this video we go through the hardware and software needed to receive these gorgeous images and what is contained in the signals we receive.
How to Receive Beautiful Images of the Earth Directly From Space | GOES-15,16,17 and Himawari 8 HRIT
NooElec has just released their new "SAWbird" GOES LNA for sale. This is an LNA and filter combination designed to help receive GOES weather satellite images. On the PCB is a 1688 MHz SAW filter and a low noise amplifier. It can be powered with 3V - 5.5V connected directly or via bias tee. The SAWbird is currently available on Amazon and their store for US$34.95. They also have a version for Inmarsat and Iridium, so make sure you choose the correct one.
GOES 15/16/17 are geosynchronous weather satellites that beam high resolution weather images and data. In particular they send beautiful 'full disk' images which show one side of the entire earth. As GOES satellites are in a geosynchronous orbit, the satellite is in the same position in the sky all the time, so no tracking hardware is required and images can be constantly pulled down throughout the day without having to wait for a satellite to pass over.
However, compared to the more familiar and easier to receive low earth orbit satellites such as NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT, geosynchronous satellites like GOES are quite a bit further away, and transmit at 1.7 GHz. So to receive the signal you'll need a dish antenna that you can accurately point, a good low noise figure LNA and possibly a filter. So setting up a receiver is a bit more difficult when compared to receivers for NOAA and Meteor satellites. The SAWbird should help however, by providing a ready to use LNA+Filter combination.
Over the past few months several testers have already received engineering samples of the SAWbird and have been successful at receiving GOES images. From the results of several experimenters, it appears to be possible to use a cheap 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antenna with some minor modifications as a GOES satellite antenna. Get one with at least a one meter long width and bend the feed as described here or here to tune reception for the 1.7 GHz GOES frequency. Pieter Noordhuis has also shown that it's possible to use an RTL-SDR to receive GOES images, so an entire GOES system can be built on a budget.
Compared to the features found in WXtoIMG the software is fairly basic, but as WXtoIMG has been abandoned it's good to see new APT decoders still being worked on. The software can also be used to simply resample the .WAV file into a sample rate required by other more featured decoders like aptdec.
NOAA weather satellites broadcast an Automatic Picture Transmission (APT) signal, which contains a live weather image of your area. With an RTL-SDR and antenna they can be received and downloaded every time one of the satellite's passes overhead. We have a tutorial on using an RTL-SDR with WXtoIMG available here.
GOES 15/16/17 are geosynchronous weather satellites that beam back high resolution weather images and data. In particular they send beautiful high resolution 'full disk' images which show one side of the entire earth. As the satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, they are quite a bit further away from the earth. So compared to the more easily receivable low earth orbit satellites such as the NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT satellites, a dish antenna, good LNA and possibly a filter is required to receive them. However fortunately, as they are in a geosynchronous orbit, the satellite is in the same position in the sky all the time, so no tracking hardware is required.
In the tutorial RSP2user notes that he's been using a $16 2.4 GHz WiFi grid dish antenna and the NooElec SAWbird LNA. In the past we've also seen GOES reception from Pieter Noordhuis who used a 1.9 GHz grid antenna from L-Com which seems to be a better match to the 1.7 GHz GOES frequency. However, 2.4 GHz WiFi grid antennas are much more common and therefore much cheaper. In the past there has been debate on whether or not these cheaper WiFi antennas would be good enough for GOES, so it's good to see that the cheaper option is confirmed to work, at least for the satellite elevations found in the RSP2user's part of the USA.
The SAWBird is a 1.7 GHz LNA which is required to improve SNR by reducing system noise figure, and to filter any interfering out of band signals. The SAWbird is currently not available for public sale, but NooElec have noted that it is due to be released soon. RSP2user also notes that the polarization of the dish is important, so the dish may need to be rotated, and also that flipping the secondary reflector significantly increases the gain at 1.69 GHz.
For software the XRIT demodulator from USA-Satcom for a small fee is used together with the SDRplay RSP2. As seen by Pieter Noordhuis' results, it's also possible to receive these signals with an RTL-SDR and Pieters free software. So it may be possible to reduce the costs of a GOES reception system by using an RTL-SDR, SAWBird and 2.4 GHZ WiFi grid antenna. With those components the total cost would be well under $100.
As a bonus, in later posts on his forum thread, RSP2user shows that the system can also be used to receive HRPT images from the low earth orbit NOAA 19 satellite by hand tracking the antenna as the satellite passes over.
Thank you to Reiichiro Nakano for submitting news about his work on converting the Pascal based meteor_decoder software into a C++ GNU Radio block. meteor_decoder is a decoder for the Meteor M2 weather image satellite. Meteor M2 is a Russian weather satellite that transmits images down in the digital LRPT format. This provides much higher resolution images compared to the NOAA APT signals. With an RTL-SDR, appropriate satellite antenna and decoding software it is possible to receive these images.
Reiichiro works for Infostellar, which appears to be a Japanese company aiming to connect satellites to the internet via distributed and shared ground stations. It appears to be somewhat similar to the SatNOGs project. Reiichiro writes:
Just wanted to share a simple project I built for my company Infostellar, in the past week. I converted https://github.com/artlav/meteor_decoder to C++ and placed it within a GNURadio block for direct decoding of Meteor M2 images. It's a sink that expects soft QPSK demodulated signed bytes. Once the flowgraph stops running, it parses out received packets and dumps the received Meteor images in a specified location.
Just a note that the website for the popular NOAA APT weather satellite decoding software WxtoImg is currently down, and may possibly never be revived. This software is commonly used with RTL-SDR dongles to download weather satellite images from the NOAA 15, 18 and 19 polar orbiting satellites.
It seems that the author of the software has not been maintaining the site and software for a while, although there was a brief update on the site back in 2017 when the professional version keys were released for free. But the keys reportedly no longer work. WXtoImg is closed source, so the code is not available either.
Some of the downloads are still available via archive.org, however it only seems to be the Windows and some of the Linux versions that were archived. Over on two Reddit threads  , some users are also collecting the last free versions and making them available for download again. If anyone has access to the last beta versions for ARM devices please upload them somewhere too.
Also if anyone happens to have the contact details of the author, or someone who knows the author please let us know as we'd like to ask for permission to mirror the files.
Over on Twitter and his github.io page, Pieter Noordhuis (@pnoordhuis) has shared details about his low cost RTL-SDR based GOES satellite receiving setup. GOES 15/16/17 are geosynchronous weather satellites that beam back high resolution weather images and data. In particular they send beautiful high resolution 'full disk' images which show one side of the entire earth. As the satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, they are quite a bit further away from the earth. So compared to the more easily receivable low earth orbit satellites such as the NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT satellites, a dish antenna, good LNA and possibly a filter is required to receive them. However fortunately, as they are in a geosynchronous orbit, the satellite is in the same position in the sky all the time, so no tracking hardware is required.
In the past we've seen people receive these images with higher end SDRs like the Airspy and SDRplay. However, Pieter has shown that it is possible to receive these images on a budget. He uses an RTL-SDR, a 1.9 GHz grid dish antenna from L-Com, a Raspberry Pi 2, the NooElec 'SAWBird' LNA, and an additional SPF5189Z based LNA. The SAWBird is a yet to be released product from NooElec. It is similar to their 1.5 GHz Inmarsat LNA, but with a different SAW filter designed for 1.7 GHz GOES satellites. The total cost of all required parts should be less than US $200 (excluding any shipping costs).
Pieter also notes that he uses the stock 1.9 GHz feed on the L-com antenna, and that it appears to work fine for the 1.7 GHz GOES satellite frequency. With this dish he is able to receive all three GOES satellites at his location with the lowest being at 25 degrees elevation. If the elevation is lower at your location he mentions that a larger dish may be required. It may be possible to extend the 1.9 GHz L-Band dish for better reception with panels from a second cheaper 2.4 GHz grid dish, and this is what @scott23192 did in his setup.
For software Pieter uses the open source goestools software that Pieter himself developed. The software is capable of running on the Raspberry Pi 2 and demodulating and decoding the signal, and then fully assembling the decoded signal into files and images.