Grab your own images from NOAA weather satellites

Can you believe that [hpux735] pulled this satellite weather image down from one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather satellites using home equipment? It turns out that they’ve got three weather satellites in low earth orbit that pass overhead a few times a day. If you’ve got some homebrew hardware and post processing chops you can grab your own images from these weather satellites.

The first step is data acquisition. [hpux735] used a software defined radio receiver that he built from a kit. This makes us think back to the software-radio project that [Jeri Ellsworth] built using an FPGA–could that be adapted for this purpose? But we digress. To record the incoming data a Mac program called DSP Radio was used. Once you do capture an audio sample, you’ll need something to turn it into an image. It just so happens there’s a program specifically for weather image decoding called WXtoImg, and another which runs under Linux called WXAPT. Throw in a little post processing, Robert’s your mother’s brother, and you’ve got the image seen above.

[Hpux735] mentioned that he’s working on a post about the antenna he built for the project and has future plans for an automated system where he’ll have a webpage that always shows the most current image. We’re looking forward hearing about that.

Send a satellite into space for $300

There’s a new Kickstarter campaign that promises to launch a personalized satellite into orbit for 300 bones.

The KickSat project is headed by [Zac Manchester], [Mason Peck], [Justin Atchison] and a few more contributors hailing from Cornell University. Their goal is to launch a CubeSat filled with hundreds of postage stamp-sized satellites and release these ‘Sprites’ into low Earth orbit.

The Sprite concept has been in development for a while now and has been featured on IEEE Spectrum. The tiny satellites are simple PCBs with a microcontroller and a radio powered by solar cells and capacitors. The first version of the Sprite is designed to beam down a few bytes of data – just a unique identifier and a Kickstarter backer’s name. Future versions will undoubtedly include more advanced sensors such as cameras, thermometers, and very tiny particle detectors.

The KickSat team will use the funding from the Kickstarter campaign to test and integrate the systems. The team hopes to hitch a ride on one of NASAs many CubeSat launches, but if they get funding from 400 people, they’ll get to fly on a commercial launch by early 2013.

We were wondering about the amazing amount of space junk this KickSat/Sprite build will produce, but the team says not to worry: The Sprites fly in a pretty low orbit and will reenter the atmosphere a few weeks after being deployed. Not bad, considering Sputnik orbited for only 3 months.

Hacking SPOT personal satellite tracker to pass more information

For less than $100 you can buy a little tracking module that will upload your location to a satellite. But you’ll only get latitude and longitude information. [Natrium42] spent some time reverse engineering the hardware, and the communications protocol, to allow custom data to be transferred using a SPOT module.

The flat fee for the hardware includes a one-year service plan allowing you to tack your device on the SPOT website. [Natrium42] started poking around in the transmitted data packages, and figured he could push custom messages like altitude data if he had some way to encode it as a valid latitude/longitude package. He found that location data is transmitted as two sets of three bytes each. The four least significant bits of each set get rounded by the server, leaving a total of 40 usable bits between the two data sets. He wrote encoding and decoding functions that will allow you to transfer whatever information you want.

So what is this good for? To get the process working he removed the MSP430 microcontroller from the board and is using his own replacement. So you can transmit GPS data from the onboard module, your own module, or sensor data for anything you’re able to hook up the to the replacement uC.

Tracking commercial aircraft with salvaged electronics

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Early last year, [Edward] started work on an aircraft tracking system using components from old electronics he had sitting around the house. As you may or may not know, most modern aircraft continuously broadcast their current position over the 1090MHz band using the ADS-B protocol. [Edward] found that his old satellite receiver module was able to pick up the signals without too much trouble, and was more than happy to share how he did it.

The whole project cost him just under 5 Euros and requires the aforementioned satellite tuner as well as an ATMega48 microcontroller to decode the ADS-B messages. When the receiver is hooked up to a nice aerial and preamp he can listen in on planes within a 200km radius, but even with a simple piece of wire, he can locate aircraft up to 25 km away.

Raw ADS-B data isn’t terribly useful, so [Edward] put together a small application that plots nearby aircraft on a map for him. We imagine that it wouldn’t be too incredibly difficult to do the same sort of thing with the Google Maps API as well.

If you’re interested in putting together an aircraft tracking receiver of your own, be sure to swing by his site – he has a ton of useful information that will likely be a huge help along the way.

[Thanks, David]

Obama-1 Desk Spy Satellite Aims for High Approval Ratings

This miniature “spy satellite” may not gain the ire of the Chinese People’s Army, but it will certainly look rad on your desk.  Besides looking cool, this “satellite” is able to transmit video up to 300 feet away and has sun tracking solar panels for battery recharging. Additionally, it has a LED “thruster” and speakers.

One cool thing about this build is that the body was made out of a lamp from Goodwill. Recycled/thrift store enclosures always make a good addition to your project as they won’t break the bank. Additionally, they may yield some other bonus parts when taken apart. In this case, the lamp fit into the project scope perfectly, but anyone trying to duplicate it might not be so lucky.

Creative use of other household materials rounds out this build, with solar panels taken off home garden lights, and part of a nose hair trimmer used as the “thruster” body. This well-build project is a great example of how to convert household items into something totally different and unique.

Photographing near-space objects we’re not supposed to know about

[Thierry Legault] doesn’t just look up at the stars, the uses a motorized telescope base of his own making to track and photograph secret objects orbiting the earth. What do we mean by ‘secret objects’? Spy stuff, of course.

Last month he captured some video of the X-37B, an unmanned and secretive reusable spacecraft (read: spy shuttle) which is operated by the United States Air Force. That was back on the 21st of May but a few nights later he also saw the USA-186, an optical reconnaissance (Keyhole) satellite.

After trying to cope with manual tracking using the RC control seen above [Thierry] set out to upgrade his equipment. He ended up designing his own software package (and then released it as freeware) to automatically track the trajectory of orbiting objects. He uses a second telescope to locate the object, then dials it in with the bigger telescope. Once in frame, the software takes over.

[Wired via Dangerous Prototypes]

Arduinos…. In…. Spaaaaaace…..

Since 2007, [Adam Kemp] has been leading a team of students from Thomas Jefferson High School, guiding them through the process of designing and building a small satellite that NASA selected for launch early next year.

The CubeSat, officially named TJ³Sat, uses commercial, off-the-shelf components for nearly all its systems. The team ran into a problem interfacing the FM430 Flight Module (PDF warning), so [Adam] designed an Arduino-based replacement. Based on an ATMEGA328, the entire board is a drop-in replacement for the FM430 Flight Module. On July 1st, the TJ³Sat will begin testing at Orbital Sciences Corp. to make sure the entire satellite is up to snuff.

The TJ³Sat’s payload will take data from the ground controllers and using a TextSpeak module convert serial data into spoken voice. This audio will then be transmitted over amateur radio frequencies and will be picked up by hams all over the world. We’d like to wish the students at Thomas Jefferson High a hearty congratulations for being the first High School to build a satellite and hope the testing and launch go as planned.