The LoRa radio protocol is well known to hardware hackers because of its Long Range (hence the name) but also its extremely low power use, making it a go-to for battery powered devices with tiny antennae. But what if the power wasn’t low, and the antenna not tiny? You might just bounce a LoRa message off the moon. But that’s not all.
The team that pulled off the LoRa Moonbounce consisted of folks from the European Space Agency, Lacuna Space, and the CA Muller Radio Astronomy Station Foundation which operates the Dwingeloo Radio Telescope. The Dwingeloo Radio Telescope is no stranger to Amateur Radio experiments, but this one was unique.
Operating in the 70 cm Amateur Radio band (430 MHz) meant that the LoRa signal was not limited to the low power signals allowed in the ISM bands. The team amplified the signal to 350 Watts, and then used the radio telescope’s 25 Meter dish to direct the transmission toward the moon.
The result? Not only were they able to receive the reflected transmission using the same transceiver they modulated it with — an off the shelf IOT LoRa radio — but they also recorded the transmission with an SDR. By plotting frequency and doppler delay, the LoRa transmission was able to be used to get a radar image of the moon- a great dual purpose use that is noteworthy in and of itself.
We don’t know where [Scott M. Baker] calls home, but it must be a pretty humid place indeed. After all, he has invested quite a bit in fancy vacuum storage containers to keep his 3D-printer filament dry, with the result being this sensor-laden filament drying farm.
[Scott] wasn’t content to just use these PrintDry containers without knowing what’s going on inside. After a little cleaning and lube to get all the containers working, he set about building the sensors. He settled on a wireless system, with each container getting a BME280 temperature/humidity/pressure sensor and an SYN115 315-MHz ISM band transmitter module. These go with an ATtiny85 into a compact 3D-printed case holding a little silica desiccant. The transmitters are programmed to comply with ISM-band regulations – no need to run afoul of those rules – while the receiver is just an SDR dongle and a Raspberry Pi running rtl_433. The long-ish video below details design and construction.
The idea behind these vacuum containers would seem to be to pull out humid air and prevent it from coming back in. But as [Scott] quickly learned from his telemetry, following the instructions results in the equivalent atmospheric pressure of only about 2700′ (823 meters) elevation – not exactly a hard vacuum. But as [Scott] points out, it’s enough to get a nice, tight seal, and his numbers show a lowered and constant relative humidity over time.
There are a few options if you want to network computers on amateur radio. There are WiFi hacks of sort, and of course there’s always packet radio. New Packet Radio, a project from [f4hdk] that’s now on hackaday.io, is unlike anything we’ve seen before. It’s a modem that’s ready to go, uses standard 433 ISM band chips, should only cost $80 to build, and it supports bidirectional IP traffic.
The introductory documentation for this project (PDF) lays out the use case, protocol, and hardware for NPR. It’s based on chips designed for the 433MHz ISM band, specifically the SI4463 ISM band radio from Silicon Labs. Off the shelf amplifiers are used, and the rest of the modem consists of an Mbed Nucleo and a Wiznet W5500 Ethernet module. There is one single modem type for masters and clients. The network is designed so that a master serves as a bridge between Hamnet, a high-speed mesh network that can connect to the wider Internet. This master connects to up to seven clients simultaneously. Alternatively, there is a point-to-point configuration that allows two clients to connect to each other at about 200 kbps.
Being a 434 MHz device, this just isn’t going to fly in the US, but the relevant chip will work with the 915 MHz ISM band. This is a great solution to IP over radio, and like a number of popular amateur radio projects, it started with the hardware hackers first.
Taking inspiration from our own [Gregory L. Charvat], whose many radar projects have graced our pages before, this plunge into radar is spare on the budgetary side but rich in learning opportunities. The front end of the radar set is almost entirely contained in a LimeSDR Mini, a software-defined radio that can both transmit and receive. The only additional components are a pair of soup can antennas and a cheap LNA for the receive side. The rest of the system runs on GNU Radio Companion running on a Raspberry Pi; the whole thing is powered by a USB battery pack and lives in a plastic tote. [Luigi] has the radar set up for the 2.4-GHz ISM band, and the video below shows it being calibrated with vehicles passing by at known speeds.
We all do it — park our cars, thumb the lock button on the key fob, and trust that our ride will be there when we get back. But there could be evildoers lurking in that parking lot, preventing you from locking up by using a powerful RF jammer. If you want to be sure your car is safe, you might want to scan the lot with a Raspberry Pi and SDR jammer range finder.
Inspired by a recent post featuring a simple jammer detector, [mikeh69] decide to build something that would provide more directional information. His jammer locator consists of an SDR dongle and a Raspberry Pi. The SDR is set to listen to the band used by key fobs for the continuous, strong emissions you’d expect from a jammer, and the Pi generates a tone that varies relative to signal strength. In theory you could walk through a parking lot until you get the strongest signal and locate the bad guys. We can’t say we’d recommend confronting anyone based on this information, but at least you’d know your car is at risk.
We’d venture a guess that a directional antenna would make the search much easier than the whip shown. In that case, brushing up on Yagi-Uda antenna basics might be a good idea.
If you want to wirelessly communicate between devices, WiFi and Bluetooth are obvious choices. But there’s also the ISM (industrial, scientific, and medical) band that you use. There are inexpensive modules like the SX1278 that can handle this for you using LoRa modulation, but they haven’t been handy to use with an Arduino. [Jan] noticed the same thing and set out to build a shield that allowed an Arduino to communicate using LoRa. You can find the design data on GitHub. [Jan] calls it the LoRenz shield.
According to [Jan], the boards cost about $20 to $30 each to make, and most of that cost was in having PC boards shipped. LoRa lets you trade data rate for bandwidth, but typical data rates are fairly modest. As for range, that depends on a lot of factors, too, but we’ve seen ranges quoted in terms of miles.
Depending on where you live, there may be legal restrictions on how you use a radio like the SX1278. You should understand your local laws before you buy into using the ISM bands. We aren’t sure it would be wise, but the board can coexist with three other similar shields. So you could get 4 radios going on one Arduino if you had too and could manage the power, RF, and other issues involved. The breakout board the module uses has an antenna connector, so depending on your local laws, you could get a good bit of range out of one of these.
[Jan] promises a post on the library that makes it all work shortly, but you can find the code on GitHub now. If you look at the code in the examples directory, it seems pretty easy. You’d have to sling some software, but the SX1278 can support other modes in addition to LoRA including FSK and other data modulation techniques.
We’ve seen other LoRa shields, but not many. If you are interested in other wireless technologies, we’ve talked about them quite a bit. If you want a basic introduction to LoRa, [Andreas Spiess’] video below is a good place to start.
If you wanted to name a few things that hackers love, you couldn’t go wrong by listing off vintage console controllers, the ESP system-on-chip platform, and pocket tools for signal capture and analysis. Combine all of these, and you get the ESP32Thang.
At its heart, the ESP32Thang is based around a simple concept – take an ESP32, wire up a bunch of interesting sensors and modules, add an LCD, and cram it all in a NES controller which helpfully provides some buttons for input. [Mighty Breadboard] shows off the device’s basic functionality by using an RFM69HW module to allow the recording and replay of simple OOK signals on the 433 MHz band. This is a band typically used by all sorts of unlicenced radio gear – think home IoT devices, wireless doorbells and the like. If you want to debug these systems when you’re out and about, this is the tool for you.
This is a fairly straightforward build at the lower end of complexity, but it gets the job done with style. The next natural step up is a Raspberry Pi with a full software defined radio attached, built into a Nintendo DS. If you build one, be sure to let us know. This project might serve as some inspiration.
With the wide availability of SPI and I2C modules these days, combined with the ease of programming provided by the Arduino environment, this is a project that just about any hacker could tackle after passing the blinking LED stage. The fact that integrating such hardware is so simple these days is truly a testament to the fact that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.