DIY Passive Radar System Verifies ADS-B Transmissions

Like most waves in the electromagnetic spectrum, radio waves tend to bounce off of various objects. This can be frustrating to anyone trying to use something like a GMRS or LoRa radio in a dense city, for example, but these reflections can also be exploited for productive use as well, most famously by radar. Radar has plenty of applications such as weather forecasting and various military uses. With some software-defined radio tools, it’s also possible to use radar for tracking aircraft in real-time at home like this DIY radar system.

Unlike active radar systems which use a specific radio source to look for reflections, this system is a passive radar system that uses radio waves already present in the environment to track objects. A reference antenna is used to listen to the target frequency, and in this installation, a nine-element Yagi antenna is configured to listen for reflections. The radio waves that each antenna hears are sent through a computer program that compares the two to identify the reflections of the reference radio signal heard by the Yagi.

Even though a system like this doesn’t include any high-powered active elements, it still takes a considerable chunk of computing resources and some skill to identify the data presented by the software. [Nathan] aka [30hours] gives a fairly thorough overview of the system which can even recognize helicopters from other types of aircraft, and also uses the ADS-B monitoring system as a sanity check. Radar can be used to monitor other vehicles as well, like this 24 GHz radar module found in some modern passenger vehicles.

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Breadboard SDR Doesn’t Need Much

[Grug Huhler] built a simple Tayloe mixer and detector on a breadboard. He decided to extend it a bit to be a full-blown software defined radio (SDR). He then used WSJT-X to monitor FT8 signals and found that he could pick up signals from all over the world with the little breadboard system.

A Raspberry Pi Pico generates a quadrature clock that acts as the local oscillator for the radio. All the processing of the input signal to a quadrature signal is done with a 74LV4052A, which is nothing more than an analog multiplexer. In principle, the device takes a binary number from zero to three and uses it to connect a common signal to one of four channels. There are two common lines and two sets of four channels. In this case, only half of the chip is in use.

An antenna network (two resistors and a capacitor) couples the antenna to one of the common pins, and the Pi generates two square waves, 90 degrees out of phase with each other. This produces select signals in binary of 00, 01, 11, and 10. An op amp and a handful of passive components couple the resulting signals to a PC soundcard, where the software processes the data. The Pi can create clocks up to about 15 or 20 MHz easily using the PIO.

The antenna is a 20-meter-long wire outside, and that accounts for some of the radio’s success. There are several programs than can work with soundcard input like this and [Grug] shows Quisk as a general-purpose receiver. If you missed the first video explaining the Tayloe mixer design, you can catch it below the first video.

This isn’t the first breadboard SDR we’ve seen, but they all use different parts. We’ve even seen a one-bit SDR with three components total (not including the microcontroller). Seriously.

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Long-Distance Wi-Fi With Steam Deck Server

It’s no secret that the Steam Deck is a powerful computer, especially for its price point. It has to be capable enough to run modern PC games while being comfortable as a handheld, all while having a useful amount of battery life. Thankfully Valve didn’t lock down the device like most smartphone manufacturers, allowing the computer to run whatever operating system and software the true owner of the device wants to run. That means that a whole world of options is open for this novel computer, like using it to set up an 802.11ah Wi-Fi network over some pretty impressive distances.

Of course the Steam Deck is more of a means to an end for this project; the real star of the show is DragonOS, a Debian-based Linux distribution put together by [Aaron] to enable easy access to the tools needed for plenty of software-defined radio projects like this one. Here, he’s using it to set up a long-distance Wi-Fi network on one side of a lake, then testing it by motoring over to the other side of the lake to access the data from the KrakenSDR setup running on the Deck, as well as performing real-time capture of IQ data that was being automatically demodulated and feed internally to whispercpp.

While no one will be streaming 4K video over 802.11ah, it’s more than capable of supporting small amounts of data over relatively large distances, and [Aaron] was easily able to SSH to his access point from over a kilometer away with it. If the lake scenery in the project seems familiar at all, it’s because this project is an extension of another one of his DragonOS projects using a slightly lower frequency to do some impressive direction-finding, also using the Steam Deck as a base of operations.

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Passionate Hams Make Their Mark On The Hack Chat

Let’s be honest — there are some not very pleasant stereotypes associated with amateur radio, at least if you ask outsiders. Hams are often thought of as being in two camps: old guys who can’t figure out modern technology or conspiracy theorists who think their knowledge of radio will give them an edge after the world becomes a post-apocalyptic hellscape. We’ll leave it to you to decide which is the worse brush to be painted with.

As is often the case, the best way to fight such ignorance is with education and outreach. Events like our weekly Hack Chat are a perfect platform for that, as it allows the curious to ask questions and get answers directly from subject matter experts. This is precisely why we invited Mark Hughes and Beau Ambur to helm last week’s Chat. The fact that they’re both relatively recent licensees makes them uniquely qualified to shed some light on what it’s like to become part of the ham radio community in the 21st century. As an added bonus, they’re both sharp and articulate technologists — about as far as you can get from the mental image of the doddering old granddad who prefers the simplicity of the Morse key to those newfangled smarty-phones.

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Antenna Mount Designed For On-The-Go SDR

Software-defined radio is all the rage these days, and for good reason. It eliminates or drastically reduces the amount of otherwise pricey equipment needed to transmit or even just receive, and can pack many more features than most affordable radio setups otherwise would have. It also makes it possible to go mobile much more easily. [Rostislav Persion] uses a laptop for on-the-go SDR activities, and designed this 3D printed antenna mount to make his radio adventures much easier.

The antenna mount is a small 3D printed enclosure for his NESDR Smart Dongle with a wide base to attach to the back of his laptop lid with Velcro so it can easily be removed or attached. This allows him to run a single USB cable to the dongle and have it oriented properly for maximum antenna effectiveness without something cumbersome like a dedicated antenna stand. [Rostislav] even modeled the entire assembly so that he could run a stress analysis on it, and from that data ended up filling it with epoxy to ensure maximum lifespan with minimal wear on the components.

We definitely appreciate the simple and clean build which allows easy access to HF and higher frequencies while mobile, especially since the 3D modeling takes it a step beyond simply printing a 3D accessory and hoping for the best. There’s even an improved version on his site here. To go even one step further, though, we’ve seen the antennas themselves get designed and then 3D printed directly.

Listen To 64 MHz At Once

We imagine that if [Tech Minds] told us he was listening to the HF bands, we might ask him which one? His reply might just be “All of them.” That’s thanks to the RX-888 MKII SDR he reviewed which delivers a 64 MHz window on the radio spectrum. You can catch the video review, below.

These are not especially inexpensive, but with that bandwidth and 16-bit resolution, it is worth it if you need that kind of horsepower. There is a separate input for VHF signals 64-1700 MHz where the bandwidth is only 10 MHz, but still.

Of course, making a very wideband front end for something like this is non-trivial, so we wonder how the performance is compared to similar-priced units with less bandwidth. On the other hand, it does seem to work well enough in the video. The software used limited the test to a 32 MHz bandwidth, which is still plenty.

Speaking of software, we noticed that the developers of SatDump and SDR++ are not happy with the state of the software for the RX-888. We aren’t sure if this remains a problem, but the device seemed to work well on the video, at least.

There are many options now when it comes to higher-end SDRs. We like the Pluto for both transmitting and receiving. Of course, the RTL-SDR kind of started everything with hobby SDR, but you can’t expect that much bandwidth with one of those.

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Direction-Finding With Help From The Steam Deck

Direction-finding, or fox hunting, is a popular activity in ham radio circles where a group of people armed with radios attempt to locate a broadcasting source. Besides being a hobby for amateurs, it’s also a necessary tool in the belt of regulators who are attempting to track down violators of the air space. There are a lot of ways to figure out the precise location of a radio transmission, but this one manages to pull it off using both a boat and a Steam Deck, each armed with a software-defined radio.

This project comes to us from [Aaron] who is well known in the amateur radio circles for his SDR-focused Linux distribution called DragonOS; which has all the tools needed for a quality SDR experience, in this case KrakenSDR and DF Aggregator. He’s loaded everything up on a Steam Deck and left that in a secure location on the shore of a lake, while he carries second device with the same software with him on a boat. With the two devices listening for a specific signal, he’s able to quickly zero in on his friend on the shore who is broadcasting on the 70 cm band thanks to the help of all of these software packages.

While ham radio isn’t always known for being a youthful and exciting activity, the advent of software-defined radio and other digital modes seem to be shaking things up in that world. Certainly speeding around a lake on a boat is fun on its own as well, and a fox hunt like this can be done with something as small and simple as a Raspberry Pi too.

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