A software-defined radio system in a 3D-printed case with a 7" display and an array of knobs and switches

Hackaday Prize 2023: A Software-Defined Radio With Real Knobs And Switches

When cheap digital TV dongles enabled radio enthusiasts to set up software defined radio (SDR) systems at almost zero cost, it caused a revolution in the amateur radio world: now anyone could tune in to any frequency, with any modulation type, by just pointing and clicking in a computer program. While this undoubtably made exploring the radio waves much more accessible, we can imagine that some people miss the feeling of manipulating physical buttons on a radio while hunting for that one faint signal in a sea of noise. If you’re one of those people, you’re in luck: [Kaushlesh C.] has built a portable, self-contained SDR system with real knobs and switches, called SDR Dock 1.0. Continue reading “Hackaday Prize 2023: A Software-Defined Radio With Real Knobs And Switches”

It’s Numbers All The Way Down With This Tape Measure Number Station Antenna

For all their talk of cooperation and shared interests, the nations of the world put an awful lot of effort into spying on each other. All this espionage is an open secret, of course, but some of their activities are so mysterious that no one will confirm or deny that they’re doing it. We’re talking about numbers stations, the super secret shortwave radio stations that broadcast seemingly random strings of numbers for the purpose of… well, your guess is as good as ours.

If you want to try to figure out what’s going on for yourself, all you need is a pair of tape measures and a software defined radio (SDR), as [Tom Farnell] demonstrates. Tape measure antennas have a long and proud history in amateur radio and shortwave listening, being a long strip of conductive material rolled up in a convenient package. In this case, [Tom] wanted to receive some well-known numbers stations in the 20- to 30-meter band, and decided that a single 15-meter conductor would do the job. Unlike other tape measure antennas we’ve seen, [Tom] just harvested the blades from two 7.5-meter tape measures, connected them end-to-end, and threw the whole thing out the window in sort of a “sloper” configuration. The other end is connected to an RTL-SDR dongle and a smartphone running what appears to be SDRTouch, which lets him tune directly into the numbers stations.

Copying the transmissions is pretty simple, since they transmit either in voice or Morse; the latter can be automatically decoded on a laptop with suitable software. As for what the long strings of numbers mean, that’ll remain a mystery. If they mean anything at all; we like to think this whole thing is an elaborate plan to get other countries to waste time and resources intercepting truly random numbers that encode nothing meaningful. It would serve them right.

Continue reading “It’s Numbers All The Way Down With This Tape Measure Number Station Antenna”

2023 Cyberdeck Contest: Cyberdeck Red Is Ready For Action

What exactly constitutes a cyberdeck is up for debate, but for us, one thing is clear: A cyberdeck needs to look like it’s ready to go to battle. When the machines finally rise up and try to wipe us all out, someone toting around a machine like Cyberdeck Red is probably going to be a sight for sore eyes; clearly, such a person would be equipped to help us fight back the robotic scourge.

If this cyberdeck looks familiar, it’s for a good reason — it’s [Gabriel]’s second stab at this build. We thought the original was pretty keen, enough so that it won second prize in the 2022 contest. But like many cyberdeck builders, good enough isn’t good enough, and so rather than rest on his laurels, he set about improving a few things. The most visible of the changes are the spiffy new case, which is far less utilitarian than version one, and the new custom-made split keyboard. Things are a little different under the hood too; gone is the Raspberry Pi 4, which was replaced by Latte Panda 3 Delta running Windows. And like the original, version two is absolutely stuffed with sensors and diagnostic gear — a Hack RF SDR for radio work, plus an Analog Discovery 2 which provides everything from an oscilloscope and signal generator to a spectrum analyzer and an impedance tester.

But possibly the most useful feature of Cyberdeck Red is the onboard HDMI projector. The palm-sized, short-throw projector would be perfect for an impromptu combat briefing in an improvised command post, or just watching Netflix. If the machines will allow it, of course.

The 2023 Cyberdeck Contest wraps up August 15, so it looks like [Gabriel] just squeaked this one in on time. We wish him and all the other entrants the best of luck!

Listening In On A Deep-Space Satellite As It Returns Home

We’ve covered dozens of projects about getting images of Earth’s weather straight from the source. It’s not too much of a trick to download images straight from our constellation of weather satellites, but what about space weather? We’ve got satellites for that too, of course, but to get a good look at the Sun, they’re out of reach of most homebrew ground stations.

That’s about to change, though, as STEREO-A returns to our neighborhood after a 17-year absence, making citizen science a reasonable proposition. The STEREO mission — Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory — was launched in 2006 with a pair of satellites in heliocentric orbits. STEREO-B was lost in 2014 due to a navigational glitch, but STEREO-A has spent a lot of the intervening years watching the backside of the Sun relative to the Earth. As [Scott Tilley] explains, the satellite is now approaching inferior conjunction, where it will pass between the Earth and the Sun.

This close pass makes STEREO-A’s X-band deep-space beacon readily available to hobbyist-scale equipment, like [Scott]’s 66-cm dish antenna. The dish is mounted on an alt-az telescope mount for tracking, and sports a host of gear at the focus, like LNAs, filters, mixers, and an Ettus B200 SDR. It’s not a cheap setup, but compared to what’s usually needed to listen to STEREO-A, it’s a bargain. The process of demodulating and decoding the signals was a bit more involved, though, requiring not only SatDump and some custom code but also a lot of patience. The images are worth the wait, though; [Scott] shares some amazing shots of our increasingly active Sun as well as animations of recent sunspot activity.

If you’re interested in getting in on the STEREO-A action, you’d better get hopping — the satellite will only be in the neighborhood for a few more months before heading off for another pass around the back of the Sun.

Using An Old Satellite To See The Earth In A New Light

Snooping in on satellites is getting to be quite popular, enough so that the number of people advancing the state of the art — not to mention the wealth of satellites transmitting signals in the clear — has almost made the hobby too easy. An SDR, a homebrew antenna, and some off-the-shelf software, and you too can see weather satellite images on your screen in real time.

But where’s the challenge? That seems to be the question [dereksgc] asked and answered by tapping into S-band telemetry from an obsolete satellite. Most satellite hunters focus on downlinks in the L-band or even the VHF portion of the spectrum, which are within easy reach of most RTL-SDR dongles. However, the Coriolis satellite, which was launched in 2003, has a downlink firmly in the S-band, which at 2.2-GHz puts it just outside the high end of an RTL-SDR. To work around this, [dereksgc] bought a knock-off HackRF SDR and couple it with a wideband low-noise amplifier (LNA) of his own design. The dish antenna is also homebrewed from a used 1.8-m dish and a custom helical antenna for the right-hand circular polarized downlink signal.

As the video below shows, receiving downlink signals from Coriolis with the rig wasn’t all that difficult. Even with manually steering the dish, [dereksgc] was able to record a couple of decent passes with SDR#. Making sense of the data from WINDSAT, a passive microwave polarimetric radiometer that’s the main instrument that’s still working on the satellite, was another matter. Decoded with SatDump and massaged with Gimp, the microwave images of Europe are at least recognizable, mostly due to Italy’s distinctive shape.

Despite the distortion, seeing the planet’s surface via the microwaves emitted by water vapor is still pretty cool. If more traditional weather satellite images are what you’re looking for, those are pretty cool too.

Continue reading “Using An Old Satellite To See The Earth In A New Light”

Russian Weather Satellite Reuses Name, Yields Images

Which Russian weather satellite has the name Meteor 2? According to [saveitforparts], pretty much all of them. He showed how to grab images from an earlier satellite with the same name a while back. That satellite, though, met with some kind of disaster, so he’s posted a new video about reading data from the new Meteor 2 and you can watch it below.

The interesting part, we thought, was that the software he’s using, Raspberry-NOAA v2, doesn’t know about this incarnation of the bird which has only been up for a few weeks. That means he had to find a satellite with similar orbital parameters. Eventually, the program will have the setup for this satellite.

Continue reading “Russian Weather Satellite Reuses Name, Yields Images”

Minimal Mods Make Commodity LNBs Work For QO-100 Reception

A word of advice: If you see an old direct satellite TV dish put out to the curb, grab it before the trash collector does. Like microwave ovens, satellite dishes are an e-waste wonderland, and just throwing them away before taking out the good stuff would be a shame. And with dishes, the good stuff basically amounts to the bit at the end of the arm that contains the feedhorn and low-noise block downconverter (LNB).

But what does one do with such a thing once it’s harvested? Lots of stuff, including modifying it for use with the QO-100 geosynchronous satellite (German link). That’s what [Sebastian Westerhold] and [Celin Matlinski] did with a commodity LNB, although it seems more like something scored on the cheap from one of the usual sources rather than picking through trash. Either way, these LNBs are highly integrated devices that at built specifically for satellite TV use, but with just a little persuasion can be nudged into the K-band to receive the downlink signals from hams using QO-100 as a repeater.

The mods are simple — snipping out the 25 MHz reference crystal on the LNB board and replacing it with a simple LC bandpass filter. This allows the local oscillator on the LNB to be referenced to an external signal generator; when fed with a 25.78 MHz signal, it’s enough to goose the LNB up to 10,490 MHz — right about the downlink frequency. [Sebastian] and [Celin] tested the mods and found that it was easily able to detect the third harmonics of a 3.5-ish GHz signal.

As for testing on actual downlink signals from the satellite, that’ll have to wait. For now, if you’re interested in satellite comms, and you live on the third of the planet covered by QO-100, keep an eye out for those e-waste LNBs and get to work.