Lockheed Shares Satellite Connectivity Options

In an unusual turn of events, Lockheed Martin has released technical “payload accommodation information” for three of their satellite busses. In layperson’s terms, if you wanted to build a satellite and weren’t sure what guidelines to follow these documents may help you learn if Lockheed Martin has a platform to help you build it.

An opportunity to check out once-confidential information about satellites sounds like a perfect excuse to dig through some juicy documentation, though unfortunately this may not be the bonanza of technical tidbits the Hackaday reader is looking for. Past the slick diagrams of typical satellites in rocket fairings, the three documents in question primarily provide broad guidance. There are notes about maximum power ratings, mass and volume guidelines, available orbits, and the like. Communication bus options are varied; there aren’t 1000BASE-T Ethernet drops but multiply redundant MIL-STD-1553B might come standard, plus telemetry options for analog, serial, and other data sources up to 100 Mbps. Somewhat more usual (compared to your average PIC32 datasheet) are specifications for radiation shielding and it’s effectiveness.

In the press release EVP [Rick Ambrose] says “we’re sharing details about the kinds of payloads we can fly…” and that’s exactly what these documents give us. Physical ballpark and general guidelines about what general types of thing Lockheed has capability to build launch. Hopefully the spirit of openness will lead to the hoped-for increase in space utilization.

If you take Lockheed up on their offer of satellite development, don’t forget to drop us a tip!

[Via the Washington Post]

At 71,572 KM, You Won’t Beat This LoRa Record

A distance record for LoRa transmission has been set that you probably won’t be able to beat. Pack up your gear and go home, nothing more to achieve here. At a superficial reading having a figure of 71,572 km (44,473 miles) seems an impossible figure for one of the little LoRa radio modules many of us have hooked up to our microcontrollers, but the story isn’t quite what you’d expect and contains within it some extremely interesting use of technology.

So the folks at Outernet have sent data over LoRa for that incredible distance, but they did so not through the little ISM band modules we’re used to but over a suitably powerful Ku-band uplink to a geostationary satellite. They are also not using the LoRaWAN protocols of the earthbound systems, but simply the LoRa modulation scheme. So it’s not directly comparable to terrestrial records such as the 702 km we reported on last year, and they are the first to admit that.

Where their achievement becomes especially interesting though is in their choice of receiver. We are all used to Ku-band receivers, you may even have one on your house somewhere for satellite TV. It will probably involve a parabolic dish with a narrow beam width and an LNB whose horn antenna is placed at its focus. It would have required some skill and effort to set up, because it has to be pointed very carefully at the satellite’s position in the sky. Outernet’s mission of delivering an information service with the lowest possible barrier to entry precludes the extra expense of shipping a dish and providing trained staff to align it, so they take a very different approach. Their receiver uses either an LNB horn or a small patch antenna pointing at the satellite, with none of the dishes or phased arrays you might be used to in a Ku-band installation.

You might wonder how such a receiver could possibly work with such a meagre antenna, but the secret lies in LoRa’s relatively tiny bandwidth as well as the resistance to co-channel interference that is a built-in feature of the LoRa modulation scheme. Even though the receiver will be illuminated by multiple satellites at once it is able to retrieve the signal and achieve a 30 kb/s data rate that they hope with technical refinements to increase to 100 kb/s. This rate will be enough over which to push an SD video stream to name just one of the several examples of the type of content they hope to deliver.

It’s likely that the average Hackaday reader will not be hiring satellite uplink time upon which to place their LoRa traffic. But this story does provide a demonstration of LoRa’s impressive capabilities, and will make us look upon our humble LNBs with new eyes.

Via ABOpen.

Returning A Lost Sheep To The NASA Fold

About three weeks ago, we reported that a satellite enthusiast in Canada found an unexpected signal among his listening data. It was a satellite, and upon investigation it turned out to be NASA’s IMAGE satellite, presumed dead since a power failure in 2005 interrupted its mission to survey the Earth’s magnetosphere.

This story is old news then, they’ve found IMAGE, now move on. And indeed the initial excitement is past, and you might expect that to be it from the news cycle perspective. But this isn’t the Daily Mail, it’s Hackaday. And because we are interested in the details of stories like these it’s a fascinating read to take a look at NASA’s detailed timeline of the satellite’s discovery and subsequent recovery.

In it we read about the detective work that went into not simply identifying the probable source of the signals, but verifying that it was indeed IMAGE. Then we follow the various NASA personnel as they track the craft and receive telemetry from it. It seems they have a fully functional spacecraft with a fully charged battery reporting for duty, the lost sheep has well and truly returned to the fold!

At the time of writing they are preparing to issue commands to the craft, so with luck by the time you read this they will have resumed full control of it and there will be fresh exciting installments of the saga. Meanwhile you can read our report of the discovery here, and read about a previous satellite brought back from the dead.

Picture of IMAGE satellite: NASA public domain.

Search for Military Satellite Finds One NASA Lost Instead

[Scott Tilley] was searching for radio signals from the Air Force’s top-secret ZUMA satellite. He found something that is — we think — much more interesting. He found NASA’s lost satellite called IMAGE. You are probably wondering why it is interesting that someone listening for one satellite found another one. You see, NASA declared IMAGE dead in 2005. It went silent unexpectedly and did not complete its mission to image the magnetosphere.

NASA did a failure review and concluded that in all likelihood a single event upset caused a power controller to trip. A single event upset, or SEU, is a radiation event and should have been automatically recovered. However, there was a design flaw that failed to report certain types of power controller failures, including this one.

The report mentioned that it might be possible to reset the controller at a specific time in 2007, but given that NASA thought the satellite was out of commission that either never occurred or didn’t work. However, something apparently woke the satellite up from its sleep.

[Scott] did a lot of number crunching to determine that the satellite’s spin rate had only decreased a little from its operational value and that the doppler data matched what he expected. [Scott] can’t read or command the telemetry, so he doesn’t know how healthy the satellite is, but it is at least operational to some degree. It’s really neat to see members of the team that worked on IMAGE leaving comments congratulating [Scott] on the find. They are working to get him data formatting information to see if more sense can be made of the incoming transmissions.

Who knew listening to satellites could be so exciting? If you want to build your own ground station, you might be interested in this antenna mount. If you need to know what’s overhead, this can help.

Grabbing Better Images From A Newer Russian Satellite

The Soviet Union took the world by surprise when it sent its Sputnik satellite into low earth orbit way back in 1957. The event triggered a space race between the Soviets and the United States and ushered in technologies that would go on to touch the lives of every human on earth. Today, several nations have a space program. And one of the more useful things to put in orbit are weather satellites.

In 2014, the Russians launched their Meteor N M-2 weather satellite into a polar orbit. The part that were most interested in is the fact that it transmits images at 137.1 MHz using the standard LRPT protocol. However, the newer Meteor N M-2 transmits images at twelve times the resolution of US NOAA satellites. No typo there –  that’s twelve (12!) times. Have we got your attention now?

We shouldn’t have to tell you to jump on over to [phasenoise’s] blog which gives you everything you need to start grabbing some of these awesome images.

Now, before you get your jumper wires in a bunch – we are well aware that receiving satellite images is nothing new.

Thanks to [Roy Tremblay] for the tip!



Start Tracking Satellites with This Low-Cost Azimuth-Elevation Positioner

Tracking satellites and the ISS is pretty easy. All you really need is an SDR dongle or a handheld transceiver, a simple homebrew antenna, and a clear view of the sky. Point the antenna at the passing satellite and you’re ready to listen, or if you’re a licensed amateur, talk. But the tedious bit is the pointing. Standing in a field or on top of a tall building waving an antenna around gets tiring, and unless you’re looking for a good arm workout, limits the size of your antenna. Which is where this two-axis antenna positioner could come in handy.

While not quite up to the job it was originally intended for — positioning a 1.2-meter dish antenna — [Manuel] did manage to create a pretty capable azimuth-elevation positioner for lightweight antennas. What’s more, he did it on the cheap — only about €150. His design seemed like it was going in the right direction, with a sturdy aluminum extrusion frame and NEMA23 steppers. But the 3D-printed parts turned out to be the Achille’s heel. At the 1:40 mark in the video below (in German with English subtitles), the hefty dish antenna is putting way too much torque on the bearings, delaminating the bearing mount. But with a slender carbon-fiber Yagi, the positioner shines. The Arduino running the motion control talks GS232, so it can get tracking data directly from the web to control the antenna in real time.

Here’s hoping [Manuel] solves some of the mechanical issues with his build. Maybe he can check out this hefty dish positioner for weather satellite tracking for inspiration.

Continue reading “Start Tracking Satellites with This Low-Cost Azimuth-Elevation Positioner”

Accidental Satellite Hijacks Can Rebroadcast Cell Towers

A lot of us will use satellite communications without thinking much about the satellite itself. It’s tempting to imagine that up there in orbit is a communications hub and distribution node of breathtaking complexity and ingenuity, but it might come as a surprise to some people that most communications satellites are simple transponders. They listen on one frequency band, and shift what they hear to another upon which they rebroadcast it.

This simplicity is not without weakness, for example the phenomenon of satellite hijacking has a history stretching back decades. In the 1980s for example there were stories abroad of illicit trans-atlantic serial links nestling as unobtrusive single carriers among the broad swathe of a broadcast satellite TX carrier.

Just sometimes, this phenomenon happens unintentionally. Our attention was drawn to a piece by [Harald Welte] on the unintended rebroadcast of GSM base station traffic over a satellite transponder, and of particular interest is the presentation from a conference in 2012 that it links to. The engineers show how they identified their interference as GSM by its timing frames, and then how they narrowed down its source to Nigeria. This didn’t give them the uplink in question though, for that they had to make a downconverter from an LNB, the output of which they coupled to an aged Nokia mobile phone with a wire antenna placed into an RF connector. The Nokia was able to decode the cell tower identification data, allowing them to home in on the culprit.

There was no fault on the part of the GSM operator, instead an unterminated port on the uplink equipment was enough to pick up the GSM signal and introduce it into the transponder as a parasitic signal for the whole of Europe and Africa to hear. Meanwhile the tale of how the engineers identified it contains enough detective work and outright hardware hacking that we’re sure the Hackaday readership will find it of interest.

If satellite hacks interest you, how about reading our thread of posts on the recapture of ISEE-3, or maybe you’d like to listen for a lost satellite from the 1960s.

Thanks [Kia] for the tip.