Open Sourcing Satellite Telemetry

Launched in 1978, the International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 was sent on a mission to explore the Earth’s interaction with the sun. Several years later, the spacecraft changed its name to the International Cometary Explorer, sent off to explore orbiting ice balls, and return to Earth earlier this year. Talking to that spacecraft was a huge undertaking, with crowdfunding campaigns, excursions to Arecibo, and mountains of work from a team spanning the globe. Commanding the thrusters onboard the satellite didn’t work – there was no pressure in the tanks – but still the ICE mission continues, and one of the lead radio gurus on the team has put up the telemetry parser/display crafted for the reboot project up on Github.

The guy behind the backend for the ICE/ISEE reboot project should be well-known to Hackaday readers. He’s the guy who came up with a Software Defined Radio source block for a cheap USB TV tuner, waking everyone up to the SDR game. He’s also played air traffic controller by sitting out near an airport with a laptop, and has given talks at Black Hat and DEFCON.

The ICE/ISEE-3 telemetry parser/display allows anyone to listen to the recorded telemetry frames from the satellite, check out what was actually going on, and learn how to communicate with a device without a computer that’s rapidly approaching from millions of miles away. He’s even put some telemetry recordings up on the Internet to practice.

Although the ICE/ISEE-3 reboot project will have to wait another decade or two until the probe makes its way back to our neck of the woods, [Balint] is taking it in stride an organizing a few Software Defined Radio meetups in the San Fransisco area. He just had the first meetup (Video below) where talks ranging from creating a stereo FM transmitter in GNU radio, a visual introduction to DSP for SDR and SETI signals from the Allen Telescope Array were discussed. There will be another meetup in a few weeks at Noisbridge, with some very cool subjects on the roster.

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Hackaday Prize Finalist: A Portable SDR

No other project to make it to The Hackaday Prize has people throwing money at their computer screen hoping something would happen than [Michael Colton]’s PortableSDR. It’s a software defined radio designed for coverage up to 30MHz. Amateur radio operators across the world are interested in this project, going so far as to call this the first Baofeng UV-5R killer. That’s extremely high praise.

[Michael] was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about how his entry to The Hackaday Prize has gone. You can check that out below, along with the final round video of the project. Anyone who wants their own PortableSDR could really help [Michael] out by taking this survey.

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SDR: Satellite Death Receiver

Halloween may be over, but [happysat] has found a way to listen to the dead. Satellites, that is, specifically those in the 136-138 MHz and 150-400 MHz ranges. He’s using an RTL-SDR dongle and a QFH antenna to detect the death throes of decommissioned navigation and space research satellites.

[happysat] was listening to NOAA/Meteor on the 137MHz band when he made this discovery. When a satellite is near end of life, the last bit of fuel is used to push it into graveyard orbit. This doesn’t always work, however, and when the light is just right, a chemical reaction makes the long-dead batteries conduct and these satellites in purgatory transmit once more.

They’re not sending out anything proprietary useful, just unmodulated carrier that sometimes interferes with currently operational satellites on the 136-138 MHz band. [happysat] captured some audio from two of the oldest satellites that are still broadcasting, and links to a TLE set of dead satellites he created. Check out his frequency database for SDR# as well. Don’t have a weather satellite-capable antenna? Build one!

[via /r/RTLSDR]

Hacklet 19 – Ham Radio

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Amateur, or ham radio operators have always been hackers. For much of the early 1900’s, buying a radio was expensive or impossible. Hams would build their own rigs, learning electronics and radio theory along the way. Time moves on, but hams keep hacking. Today we’re highlighting some of the best ham radio projects on Hackaday.io!

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We start with [DainBramage1991] and his very practical RTL-SDR With Upconverter and Case. [DainBramage1991] fell in love with his low-cost RTL software defined radio dongle. He even added a Ham-It-Up upconverter to cover HF bands. The only problem was RF noise. the Realtek USB sticks tend to have little or no filtering, which means they are very susceptible to noise. [DainBramage1991] used the time-honored technique of insulating with copper clad board. Bits of PCB hold the RTL-SDR and upconverter in place. More PCB separates the two boards. Everything goes into a steel enclosure which keeps that unwanted RF at bay.

foxhunt-attenNext up is [Ryan Miller’s aka KG7HZQ]’s  ham radio fox hunt attenuator. Ham radio fox hunt’s don’t involve baying dogs or horses. In this case a fox hunt is a contest to find hidden low power transmitters. If you’ve never tried one, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. One of the challenges with a fox hunt is to find the direction to the transmitter when you’re very close. Even with directional antennas, reflections and swamped receivers make it hard to figure out just where the transmitter is. The solution is an attenuator, which simply reduces the signal to a more reasonable value. [Ryan] also used copper clad PCB for his circuit. Since the attenuator parts are soldered directly to the PCB, this is more of a Manhattan style design. Two ceramic 1k pots help him achieve his goal of near perfect linear attenuation. We’re betting this attenuator will help [Ryan] win some contests!

psdrWho says amateur radio won’t take you places? It may well be taking [Michael R Colton] to space! [Michael’s] project PortableSDR is one of the five finalists in The Hackaday Prize. We covered Michael earlier in the contest. PortableSDR started as a ham radio project: a radio system which would be easy for hams to take with them on backpacking trips. It’s grown into so much more now, with software defined radio reception and transmission, vector network analysis, antenna analysis, GPS, and a host of other features. We seriously love how [Michael] optimized a small LCD for waterfall display, tuning, and bandpass filter adjustment.

e2ra[W5VO] is working on an Ethernet to Radio Adapter. Every foot of coax in a radio system loses signal. Connections are even worse. It can all add up to several dB loss. [W5VO] wants to put an SDR at the antenna feed-point. With the signal path minimized, more watts make it out when transmitting, and more signal gets back to the receiver when listening. The interface between the SDR and host computer will be all digital; Ethernet to be precise. [W5VO] isn’t the first person to do something like this, microwave systems have had the transmitter and LNB at the antenna for years. That doesn’t take away from [W5VO’s] design at all  He’s been quiet for a while, but we’re hoping he continues on his design!

Where is everyone else? We’re a bit light on projects this week, but we have a good reason. There just aren’t enough ham radio projects on Hackaday.io! We’re hoping to change that though. Are you an amateur radio enthusiast? Document your project on the site. Get input from other hams and push the envelope! You might even find yourself on the Ham Radio List!

That’s all for this episode of The Hacklet. As always, QRX is next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io! 73’s!

THP Hacker Bio: Michael R Colton

With many hackers out there realizing how much you can do with a few RF blocks connected to a computer, it’s no surprise software defined radio would make a showing in the semifinalists for The Hackaday Prize. [Michael]’s project is the PortableSDR, a small, self-contained unit that handles just about everything below 30MHz. No, [Michael] isn’t dealing with gigahertz accessible with fancier SDRs, but that’s not the point: PortableSDR is meant to do everything – vector analysis, a neat waterfall display, transmit and receive – in a small, portable package you can take anywhere. It’s also fairly cheap to build, and of course completely open source.

This isn’t [Michael]’s first rodeo; he’s built a number of equally cool projects before. He was kind enough to send in a short bio, available below.

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Hackaday Links: August 30, 2014

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Adafruit did another Circuit Playground, this time concerning frequency. If you’re reading this, no, it’s probably not for you, which is great because it’s not meant to be. If you have some kids, though, it’s great. Not-muppet robots and oscilloscopes. Just great.

The Hack42 space in Arnhem, Neterhlands recently got an offer: clean out a basement filled with old computer equipment, and it’s yours. Everything in the haul had to fit through an 80cm square door, and there are some very heavy, very rare pieces of equipment here. It’ll be a great (and massive) addition to their museum. There’s a few pics from the cleanout here and here.

[Mike] has been working on a project to convert gerber files into SVGs and it’s great.

[Carl] did a roundup of all the currently available software defined radios available. It’s more than just the RTL-SDR, HackRF, and BladeRF, and there’s also a list of modifications and ones targeted explicitly to the ham crowd.

This is a Facebook video, but it is pretty cool. It’s a DIY well pump made in Mexico. A few rubber disks made out of an old inner tube, a bit of PVC pipe, and a string is all you need to bring water to ground level.

What can you do with a cellphone equipped with a thermal imaging camera? Steal PIN codes, of course. Cue the rest of the blogosphere sensationalizing this to kingdom come. Oh, what’s that? Only Gizmodo took the bait?

About a year ago, we saw a pretty cool board made by [Derek] to listen in on the CAN bus in his Mazda 3. Now it’s a Kickstarter, and a pretty good one at that.

Your connectors will never be this cool. This is a teardown of a mind bogglingly expensive cable assembly, and this thing is amazing. Modular connectors, machined copper shields, machined plastic stress relief, and entire PCBs dedicated to two caps. Does anyone know what this mated to and what the list price was?

 

DEFCON 22: The HackRF PortaPack

What do you get when you combine one of the best (and certainly one of the best for the price) software defined radios with the user interface of a 10-year-old iPod? The HackRF PortaPack, developed by [Jared Boone], and demonstrated at DEFCON last weekend.

[Jared] is one of the original developers for the HackRF, a 10MHz to 6GHz software defined radio that can also transmit in half duplex. Since the development of the HackRF has (somewhat) wrapped up, [Jared] has been working on the PortaPack, an add-on for the HackRF that turns it into a portable, ARM Cortex M4-powered software defined radio. No, it’s not as powerful as a full computer running GNU Radio, but it does have the capability to listen in on a surprising amount of radio signals.

Because [Jared] is using a fairly low-power micro for the PortaPack, there’s a lot of tricks he’s using to get everything running smoothly. He gave a lightning talk at the Wireless Village at DEFCON going over the strengths and weaknesses of the chip he’s using, and surprisingly he’s using very little floating point arithmetic in his code. You can check out the video for that talk below.

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