Category Archives: Satellites

Satgazing – New Hobby, New Word?

A series of cool and clear moonless nights opened up a whole new world to me recently. One that has been there for years I just never bothered to notice. Excellent outdoor conditions prompted me to do some “stargazing”  from my backyard about an hour after sunset. Lying there and looking up I see a fast moving object moving from north to south. Of course I knew it was a satellite of some kind, I have seen the International Space Station plenty of times. A few minutes later another, then another and another! Some from East to West, North to South and from all different directions. I was up to nine confirmed sightings.

I was definitely curious about what objects I witnessed streaking across the sky. A little bit of “Googling” brought me to heavens-above.com. It has everything you need to start “Satgazing”, such as star charts, printable schedules, magnitude filter and so on.  They also have a mobile friendly version that will use the location from your smartphone and present you with a real-time star chart. A must have utility for my next satgazing opportunity!

Fortunately the next night was just the same weather-wise. Shortly after sunset with my smartphone in hand and the heavens-above website on the ready I started watching. Within ten minutes I saw my first object streaking across the sky, it was a Cosmos 2322 Rocket. The mobile version gave a magnitude of 2.2 which was very easily viewed by the naked eye. The launch date for the rocket was October 31, 1995. Another object went streaking across the darkening night sky. A quick look on the phone revealed it was the Cosmos 1937 Rocket.  The process continued: I would see an object, check the phone or check the phone and wait for the object. I tallied over fifteen sightings in all, more than I expected to be able to see. I also witnessed a few objects that were not listed on the app. One such object produced a few quick flashes in succession that made me wonder if I was seeing things. I am still not sure what that was but most likely an object that was spinning along with its orbit. It might take some digging into different TLEs  and using my satellite tracking software to figure those out.

I became very curious to find out the oldest object I could still see. It turns out the oldest floating space debris I saw that night was the Atlas Centaur 2  ID: 1963-047A. It was launched on November 27,1963 19:03 (UTC).  “Wow, I didn’t know this old stuff was still orbiting the Earth!”. I did a quick search and found that the oldest object still orbiting Earth is the Vanguard-1 Satellite, it was launched on March 17, 1958 at 12:15 UTC. I would not have guessed that the fourth artificial satellite to ever be launched was still orbiting the earth!

Recently I have been so caught up in listening to different cubesats that I never really bothered to take a close look at what was actually visible in the sky.  So, for those that are curious, pick a clear moonless night and begin watching shortly after sunset. You will be amazed at how many man-made objects are still floating by during the night sky.

For fun: Google “satgazing”   — At the time of this writing only 299 hits. If the word takes off I want credit… 🙂

Credit: Wikipedia

Atlas Centaur Rocket

Also check out this interesting history of the Atlas Centaur rocket and the groundbreaking reasearch!

 

Credit: Wikipedia

Vanguard 1 – The oldest Satellite still in orbit

RTL-SDR + SDR Radio + Funcube Sat = Fun!

With the recent record number of cubesat launches this month most  Amateur Radio enthusiasts been busy, myself included. There hasn’t been a better time to get into receiving these satellites. With the inexpensive hardware,  free software,  a ton of information and an active community it is “easy” and quite a thrill to get into this hobby.

I will focus on one satellite and one method of receiving and decoding in this post. There are so many ways to do this but I think this method is the least expensive and provides really good results.

You will need:

  1. RTL-SDR Dongle – E4000 or R820T model (I prefer the R820T model and they are the easiest to find now)
  2. SO-239 Pigtail adapter for the Dongle – This is great if you don’t want to cut and solder on a connector like I did!
  3. Zadig Drivers – For the RTL-SDR USB
  4. RTL-SDR Libraries for SDR-Radio.com V2 software – Choose SDR-Radio.com.RTLUSB-20130209.zip
  5. SDR-Radio.com V2 Software – I used the November 15th, 2013. Version 2.1 build 1571
  6. Good receiving antenna – 2m Yagi, Quadrifilar Helicoidal (QFH), Ground Plane,etc
  7. VB-Cable Driver – Virtual Audio cable (Center Column)- NOTE: Please Donate if you use it. As a bonus once you donate you get to download A and B Channels.  I am glad I did, the extra channels are nice to have!
  8. Funcube Dashboard Software
  9. Time to put it all together!

The total cost depending on what antenna you have or choose to build can be between $11 to whatever. Very minimum investment is required to receive and decode the funcube telemetry. This is fantastic for everyone, especially those on a budget that would like to experience this hobby first hand. If there are any educators reading this please take the time to show your students how much fun this can be. After all, it is part of the funcube mission!

I must say this as well: if you can afford to buy a Funcube Dongle, please do! It has better performance than the RTL-SDR and the money goes back to funding the funcube initiatives, like the Funcube satellites.

On to the setup:

I won’t go into detail on each and every install. Please read the pages I linked above for further instructions.

  1. Install SDR-Radio.com V2 Beta
  2. Plug RTL-SDR USB Dongle into computer
  3. Install ZaDig Drivers – NOTE: You may need to click Options and then List All devices. Select Bulk-in, (Interface 0) then click the replace Driver button.
  4. Extract and Copy the three  RTL-SDR DLL’s for SDR-Radio.com V2. NOTE: Overwrite existing files in the SDR-Radio.com’s directory and use the correct architecture!
  5. Install VB-Cable Virtual Audio Interface
  6. Install the Funcube Dashboard

Configuration:

 SDR-Radio.com V2:

  1. Launch SDRConsole (V2)
  2. On the Home Tab click the Select button from the Radio Group
  3. Click Definitions
  4. Click Search and Select the RTL SDR (USB) Option. If that option does not exist please check to make sure you copied the correct DLL’s into the SDR-Radio.com Program Folder
  5. Click Yes on the 1 Entry Found alert and Click OK
  6. Highlight the new entry (ezcap USB2.0 DVB-T/DAB/FM Dongle)
  7. Click Start
  8. Tune into a known frequency like the National Weather Service, this is required to adjust the PPM
  9. On the Home tab again, click the Radio Configuration button
  10. Click the + or – buttons to adjust the PPM. For example one of my dongles is +82 and the other is -133 so they vary widely.
  11. Click the more options selection and click the Internal AGC box. (You can experiment with this, mine worked better with it on)
  12. Select the frequency to 145.927 Mhz and set the Mode to SSB Data-U OR Wide-U, it doesn’t seem to matter
  13. Drag the bandwidth bar out to 24000 Hz to get full coverage. Note: This is required so you don’t have to “chase” the satellite because of the doppler effect, Funcube will always be in the bandwidth coverage. The Funcube Dashboard will Autotune on the transmission. (See screenshots)
  14. On the VFO-A box Click the Audio dropdown (next to the little audio speaker)
  15. Click the Playback device and Select VB-Cable for the output – Took me a while to find this one!!!
  16. For satellite data you can use whatever you are used to but the SDR-Radio’s works great. The current satellite number is 2013-066B and is likely to change to AO-73 in future TLE’s

Funcube Dashboard

NOTE: Be sure to register at the Funcube Data Warehouse to be able to submit your decoded packets automatically. If you ONLY want to decode and not send you can still use the software but not contribute. The more contributors the better though!

  1. Click File; then Settings
  2. Select the Audio Tab and select the Input Device as the Cable Output VB-Audio
  3. Click the Warehouse Tab and fill in your Site ID, Auth Code and click the Stream data to warehouse and Click Save
  4. Click Capture from the Menu and select Capture from Soundcard
  5. On the tuning panel change the High Value to 24000 and make sure the Auto Tune check box is checked
  6. You should see a sudden drop off in the tuning window around 24000 hz (See screenshots)

Final Thoughts:

This should get you started on receiving and sending the telemetry back to the funcube data warehouse. There are other great options out there like Analog receive to Souncard, Funcube Dongle but this seems to be the most inexpensive to get started. Now that you have your station setup for the Funcube you can go chase other sat’s as well!  There are other folks doing much more that I am and have great resources available. Please visit the links sections for more information.

I hope this helps you get started and most importantly have FUN!

 Other Links:

I/Q Data and Audio files:

  • Audio from 21 Nov 2013 0352 UTC Pass – Telemetry Only:

Download: 21-Nov-2013-3052UTC-Pass-Telemetry

  • Audio From the 24 Nov 2013 0436 UTC Pass during Active Transponder:

Download: 23-Nov-2013-232647 145.958300 MHz

Screen Shots:

Cubesat Launches

A record number of cubesats are set to launch this month. On November 19th twenty-eight CubeSats are set to launch aboard a Minotaur I rocket from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Another group of cubesats are being launched November 21st from Dombarovsky, Russia.  This assortment of cubsats will offer transponders, beacons, telemetry and even a visual beacon (visible by binoculars and/or telescope). A little bit of everything for us to enjoy! Please see the links below to research each of the cubesats and launch information as there is just too much to duplicate here.

One of the most exciting satellites is the Funcube 1, which is has a software dashboard to decode telemetry and sat health data. The software and the latest news is available at their website. http://funcube.org.uk/.  You can use a SSB receiver or the ever popular Funcube and RTL DVR dongles to receive the transmissions and decode the telemetry.

Happy Sat-ting!

Useful Links:

 

 

PhoneSats and SDR Fun – Build your own Sat Station Cheap!

UPDATE: On 27 Apr 2013 the phonesats are officially silent. Use can still use this guide for many other current and future satellites.

Sidebar update 23 Nov 2013: Please visit my post on how to use RTL-SDR and SDR-Radio.com (V2) to listen to and decode the recently launched Funcube

———————————————-

The recent launch of the PhoneSats got my SDR and satellite juices flowing again. This time I decided to automate things because work seems to get in the way of my satellite listening fun. I found a combination that works great and incorporates FREE software and inexpensive hardware.

What you will need:

Software List

Hardware List

  • Computer – A fairly decent powered computer or laptop is needed to run HDSDR, DDE and Orbitron
  • Cheap Realtek RTL2832U USB DVB Dongle with the E4000 or R820T tuner chipsets
    • Sources:
    • NooElec – Best Price Fast shipping guaranteed compatible chipset R820T
    • Amazon.com – It’s Amazon!
    • Aliexpress – Slow from China shipping but great prices
  • Antenna

Putting it all together:

Please visit the Phonesat.org page for the latest information on the cubesats. NOTE: They are not solar powered and are expected to fail about a week after deployment which occurred on April 21st 2013.

Antares Launch Video – As you can see all systems were nominal and deployed nominally. 🙂

Installation:

  1. Install the Driver with Zadig  – DO NOT install the OEM driver that comes shipped with the device. Use Zadig only. Instructions HERE
  2. Install HDSDR using the defaults
  3. Download the ExtIO_RTL.dll file and place the file in the HDSDR program location (C:Program FilesHDSDR or C:Program Files (x86)HDSDR)
  4. Download and Install Orbitron
  5. Download the MyDDE driver for Orbitron
  6. Unzip the MyDDE driver and place the mydde folder in the Orbitron program directory (C:Program FilesOrbitron or C:Program Files (x86)Orbitron)
  7. Download the PhoneSAT TLE’s and place them in a directory of your choice
  8. Download and unzip UZ7HO’s Sound Modem

Configuration:

  1. Setup Orbitron first by setting your Home location. It will use your Grid square to translate to the lat/long coordinates.
    • Click the Load TLE button and browse to the PhoneSat.txt file. Select the PHONESAT satellite in the Satellites list.
    • Select the Rotor/Radio tab. Input the Downlink frequency, for Phonesats it is 437.425 Mhz.
    • Click the Driver drop down box and select MyDDE
    • Click the Activate button. This will prompt you to browse for the driver. Go to the folder you copied it to under the program directory (C:Program FilesOrbitronmydde or C:Program Files (x86)Orbitronmydde)
    • The MyDDE status window should now be displayed with Satellite data
  2. Launch HDSDR and confirm the  USB Dongle is functioning.
    • Left-click the EXTIO button and turn on the Tuner AGC and RTL AGC.
    •  NOTE: I ran into an issue that required me to launch HDSDR with “Run as Administrator” or I would end up with a ExtIO DLL not active error. Right-click on the HDSDR icon and select “Run as Administrator”. If you want the settings to be persistent you check the run as administrator box located under the compatibility tab while in the shortcut properties.
    • Click on the Options button then Select DDE Client. Set the format to Orbitron and the Sync Type to Tune. If you would like to record the Satellite passes automatically check the “Record all satellite passes” box.
    • Click the Manual connect button and it should give you a green connection successful message.
    • The TUNE indicator on HDSDR should be synced with the Doppler readout in Orbitron. If the Record all satellites option was checked when a satellite comes into view at AOS it will automatically record based on the options set in HDSDR.
  3. Launch UZ7HO’s Sound Modem program
    • In the Modem settings change the modem type to VHF AX.25 1200 baud.
    • Select your input sound device to either Stereo Mix if you have one or you can download VAC (Virtual Audio Cable)
    • Another option would be to use a separate computer or use a Stereo cable loopback. (Actual audio cable looped back to input)

Recording options:

To access the record options, right-click on the red record button. There are a three ways to record on HDSDR: Full RF, IF RF and AF. Full RF will give you the largest file size but capture the entire RF session to go back and replay and analyze. If you are only interested in the audio portion pick the AF recording option for the smallest file size. I like to record the Full RF to see what I missed or see how far the Doppler settings were off. In the case of the Phonesats you can see all three satellites clearly at different frequencies although they are all transmitting on 437.425 Mhz due to Doppler shift. Very cool to see it visually!

Troubleshooting:

  • If you are running Windows 7/8 Pro you may need to add User modify rights to the Program directories (C:Program FilesHDSDR and C:Program FilesOrbitron). You can install the software in a Non-Program Files location (e.g. User Documents) to avoid this step.
  • Use “Run as administrator” when launching HDSDR
  • Be sure no other programs are running in the background causing your system to slow down. The SDR decoding can be CPU intensive.
  • Make sure EXTIO_RTL.dll is located in the program directory C:Program FilesHDSDR or C:Program Files (x86)HDSDR

I hope you enjoy some satellite listening!

PW-Sat Heard over the USA!

With my homebuilt 4 element Yagi and my trusty Kenwood TR-9000 I was able to capture the  BPSK downlink beacon from the recently launched PW-Sat.  Using the updated TLE’s from Celestrak and gPredict satellite tracking software I was able to successfully record the PW-Sat transmissions. I was not able to decode the packets this time but hopefully later passes will be more successful. I plan on using the Warbler software, an AX.25 1200 bps decoder. This software was used to successfully  decode the AO-16 transmissions.

Note: An excellent resource for satellite info  – DK3WN SatBlog

Audio Recording:  PW-Sat_N4JTC_Audio_21-Feb-2012-2207_Pass

SpectraVUE Image

8 Cubesats Launched on Vega Rocket

Post Updated on 21 Feb 2012 @ 1703 UTC

Space welcomes eight new Amateur satellites, several offer beacons, 1200 baud FSK, BPSK, AFSK  as well as transponder operations. Of particular interest is the PW-Sat that will be configured as a transponder after the drag experiments are completed. It will be configured as a 435 Mhz FM to 145 Mhz DSB transponder. The is reminiscent of the AO-16 satellite.

 

From the Oscar  UK  and AMSAT UK Websites:

The first Vega, flight VV01, lifted off at 1000 UT from the ESA Spaceport at Kourou in the Caribbean carrying eight student built amateur radio satellites and the LARES Laser Relativity Satellite into orbit.

 

Downlink,CW frequency of MaSat-1 and UNICubeSAT were changed.
They are MaSat1: 437.345MHz, UNICubeSAT: 437.305MHz as follows.
The initial TLEs will be opened to public after launch.

Satellite     Uplink      Downlink    Beacon      Mode
----------    -------     --------    -------     -------------------
Xatcobeo         .        437.365     145.940     1200bps FFSK,SSR
e-st@r           .        437.445     437.445     1200bps AFSK
Goliat           .        437.485     437.485     1200bps AFSK
Robusta          .        437.325     437.325     1200bps FM
MaSat-1          .        437.345     437.345     625/1250bps GFSK,CW
PW-Sat1       435.020     145.900     145.900     1200bps BPSK,FM
UNICubeSAT       .        437.305     437.305     9600bps FSK
ALMASat-1        .        437.465    2407.850     1200bps FSK
----------    -------     --------   --------     -------------------

Launch Video

 

‘Onboard Rocket Cam – Satellite release occurs at the 4:20 mark’   – Has been removed ;  Sorry Video has been marked Private after I posted.

Substitute video: Narrated Launch with telemetry and graphics.

TWiT Ham Nation 16 talks about ARISSat-1

The TWiT network has a new show that is dedicated to all things Ham Radio. The chief TWiT, Leo Laporte has earned his ticket and is now known to the Ham community as W6TWT. He has done a fantastic job promoting Ham radio as something cool and relevant for today.  I follow many of his tech podcasts and this one is among my favorites.

Bob Heil K9EID who is famous for his excellent microphones is the show organizer and primary host.  He also has a famous co-host which is Gordon West WB6NOA. He is known for his educational material that makes it a breeze to become a Ham.

Ham Nation #16’s main topic is ARISSat-1. Please take a look or listen to find out more about this little Sat that could from this week’s special guest Steve Bible, N7HPR. Enjoy!

 

TWiT Show Page

 

More ARISSAt-1 SSTV Fun

Today was a good day for SSTV images. I was trying to capture a stored image of hurricane Irene from ARISSat-1, no such luck. I did however capture some very nice images. I was able to grab two of them during the afternoon pass today. With the new image I performed a little analysis and concluded that the camera lens or mirror assembly was definitely contaminated by something, presumably the battery electrolyte.

I did an overlay image and outlined the concentration of the blurred image and the red/blue hue outline on the magenta images. The images are reversed by a mirror assembly located on the Y axis of the cube according to a design review fact sheet.   This means, from what I can tell, is that the RED and MAGENTA images share a mirror assembly. When you flip and reverse the images it becomes clear that the mirror assembly share the same artifacts in the images. Below are the images along with the original captured images by my station.

The red lines are from the original blurred RED image. The black outlines represent the red/blue hue from the MAGENTA capture image from today. The basic outline match when you flip and reverse the images as a mirror would. Very interesting…

 

 

First Image received today, the best to date. I used a hand-held 4 element Yagi

Proof! Electrolyte Leaked out of ARISSat-1 Batteries

Ok, this is just a theory. I do not know the exact construction so this is simply conjecture.

I have been following ARISSat-1 since the day it launched and probably too closely I might add.. I received a SSTV image on 13 August 2011 0036 UTC. I have been puzzled by it ever since receiving it. I thought it might just be a focus issue, but I looked up the specs on the cameras and they are fixed lenses. Being out of focus should not be an issue with these cameras.

I checked the estimated time of battery failure (12 August 2011) and the dates of other “Red RS01S” stamped images and the one I found looked similar around the time of failure.

Received by me on 13 August 2011 0036 UTC:

Received by VR2RC, VR2GY, VR2UIO, VR2UGP, VR2VBU on 12 August 2011 1206 UTC

I also looked at the specs on the batteries and supposedly they are leak proof.  The batteries use potassium hydroxide for the electrolyte and I am not sure if it was in a liquid state or not. Either way it looks like a leak should not of escaped the confines of the battery. However, lets imagine it did, is the liquid coating the camera lens at the time? Will it evaporate into space or damage other components? I  have looked at recent Red camera images and they look normal.

Say my theory is way off, that begs the question: what is the cause of the “blurriness” in these two images? Either way we are fortunate to have the cells open instead of short so it will continue to operate off the solar cells.

Any ideas? Please email me at jason [at] n4jtc.com

See the ARRISSat-1 Power System page for more information on the power system.

Secret Word Certificate has arrived!

I received the ARISSat-1 certificate yesterday. I just want to say thanks to all that put in so much time and effort into this entire operation. Even though the batteries have failed prematurely, the designers put a lot of thought into keeping this bird alive as long as possible. So we should continue to enjoy it all the way up until re-entry. Kudos to the ARISSat-1 KEDR  team! It has been a ton of fun!!