The Death Of A Weather Satellite As Seen By SDR

What is this world coming to when a weather satellite that was designed for a two-year mission starts to fail 21 years after launch? I mean, really — where’s the pride these days?

All kidding aside, it seems like NOAA-15, a satellite launched in 1998 to monitor surface temperatures and other meteorologic and climatologic parameters, has recently started showing its age. This is the way of things, and generally the decommissioning of a satellite is of little note to the general public, except possibly when it deorbits in a spectacular but brief display across the sky.

But NOAA-15 and her sister satellites have a keen following among a community of enthusiasts who spend their time teasing signals from them as they whiz overhead, using homemade antennas and cheap SDR receivers. It was these hobbyists who were among the first to notice NOAA-15’s woes, and over the past weeks they’ve been busy alternately lamenting and celebrating as the satellite’s signals come and go. Their on-again, off-again romance with the satellite is worth a look, as is the what exactly is going wrong with this bird in the first place.

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Familiar Parts Make Interfacing Weather Station Easy

Hackers love to measure things, and enjoy monitoring the world around them. Weather stations are a big part of this, and many tinkerers have tried to interface such hardware with varying levels of success. [Ray] is one such individual, and was pleasantly surprised when working on a recent project.

Unlike more old-school models, the model [Ray] found himself working on was a modern unit with a significant number of sensors, a WiFi interface, and even a color screen. Reading the manual, [Ray] noted the device used the IP 192.168.4.1, which is commonly used by the ESP8266 when running in AP mode. The hunch proved to be correct, and opening the device revealed an ESP-WROOM-2 running the show.

Now working with familiar parts, it was simple to hook up to the onboard serial port to scope for data. To [Ray]’s delight, the device was outputting all the weather data out over the connection, and in plaintext to boot. The station also featured the ability to connect to Weather Underground, and watching the debug messages during this process helped [Ray] to understand the format of the information.

It’s rare that manufacturers make it so easy, but debug ports can often be a treasure trove of information to the budding hacker. We’ve seen others cracked before, too.

Let A Spooky Owl Tell You The Weather

There can be few readers who were young in the 1970s who did not want to share in the adventures of the fearless animated ghost-hunting young crime-fighters of Scooby-Doo. What do you remember from the series though? The Mystery Machine van? Scooby snacks? Or perhaps the improbably haunted theme parks whose owners would have got away with it if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids? For [Alex Shakespeare] it seems to have been the trope of haunted pictures whose subject’s eyes would follow the protagonists around the room, because when he made a wall-mounted weather indicator he gave it an owl with eyes doing just that.

The weather part of the device is straightforward enough, an ESP8266 board drives a set of servos that move dial indicators according to data from the Dark Sky API. The owl’s moving googly eyes are the party piece though, for them the ESP takes input from an Adafruit AMG8833 thermal sensor array and drives a servo and lever arrangement to do the moving. Finally, the thermal camera’s output is available to see on the ESP’s web server. All the details of the project can be found via a GitHub repository.

The result is shown in the video below the break, and as you might expect in the spirit of its inspiration it’s more comedic than haunting. But maybe there’s the root of the popularity of artworks that follow the viewer, of which this is merely the latest in a long line.

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Low Power Weather Station Blows The Competition Away

Building a weather station isn’t too tall of an order for anyone getting into an electronics project. There are plenty of plans online, and you can even put your station on Weather Underground if it meets certain standards. These usually have access to a reliable source of power, though, and like any electronics project can get challenging quickly once it needs to work reliably in a remote location. The weather station from [Tegwyn☠Twmffat] has met this challenge though, and has been working reliably for three years now.

Getting that sort of reliability from any circuit that has to be powered by an unreliable source (solar, wind, etc.) and a battery is quite a challenge. Not only do you need to sort out the power management and make sure that you can get enough sun in the winter for your application, but you’ll need to do some extreme low power modifications to your circuitry as well. This weather station accomplishes all of that, helped by using LoRa for communication, and also comes complete with a separate hardware watchdog timer that can reboot the weather station if it loses power or hangs up for some reason.

If you’ve been looking for a weather station to build, this is a great place to start. [Tegwyn☠Twmffat] also goes through the assembly of the weather station, complete with a guy-wire-supported platform to mount it on. There are other weather stations out there too, if you need even more ideas about saving power in remote areas.

How 5G Is Likely To Put Weather Forecasting At Risk

If the great Samuel Clemens were alive today, he might modify the famous meteorological quip often attributed to him to read, “Everyone complains about weather forecasts, but I can’t for the life of me see why!” In his day, weather forecasting was as much guesswork as anything else, reading the clouds and the winds to see what was likely to happen in the next few hours, and being wrong as often as right. Telegraphy and better instrumentation made forecasting more scientific and improved accuracy steadily over the decades, to the point where we now enjoy 10-day forecasts that are at least good for planning purposes and three-day outlooks that are right about 90% of the time.

What made this increase in accuracy possible is supercomputers running sophisticated weather modeling software. But models are only as good as the raw data that they use as input, and increasingly that data comes from on high. A constellation of satellites with extremely sensitive sensors watches the planet, detecting changes in winds and water vapor in near real-time. But if the people tasked with running these systems are to be believed, the quality of that data faces a mortal threat from an unlikely foe: the rollout of 5G cellular networks.

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Sensor-Laden Pigeons Gather Data For Urban Weather Modeling

When it comes to gathering environmental data in real-world settings, urban environments have to be the most challenging. Every city has nooks and crannies that create their own microenvironments, and placing enough sensors to get a decent picture of what’s going on in all of them is a tough job. But if these sensor-laden pigeons have anything to say about it, the job might get a bit easier.

The idea for using pigeons as biotelemetry platforms comes to us from the School of Geography, Earth, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham in the UK. [Rick Thomas], lead investigator on the “CityFlocks” project, explains that meteorological models are hampered by a lack of data about the air in the urban canyons formed by tall buildings. Placing a lot of fixed sensors has a prohibitive cost, and using drones to do the job would probably cause regulatory problems, especially given recent events. But pigeons are perfect for the job once they’re outfitted with an “Avian-Meteorology Instrumentation Package (AvMIP)”. From the photographs we’re guessing the AvMIP is a pretty simple data logger with GPS and inputs for the usual sensors, all powered by a small LiPo pack. Luckily, the pigeons used are all domesticated racing birds that return to the nest, so no radio transmitter is needed, but if other urban avians such as peregrine falcons and seagulls are used then a future AvMIPS might leverage pervasive WiFi networks to upload data.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen mobile platforms used to fill in gaps in weather data, of course. And if this at all puts you in mind of that time pigeons were used to guide bombs, relax – no pigeons were harmed in the making of this research project.

Thanks to [Itay Ramot] for the tip [via Gizmodo].

Weather Forecasting Clock Makes An Almighty Racket

The old-fashioned alarm clock was a staple of cartoons in years past, with loud clanging bells and slap-to-shutoff functionality. Despite being an excellent dramatic device, these classic timepieces began to lose favor to the digital clock radio, and, in more recent times, the smartphone alarm. However, [LenkaDesign] has come up with this excellent build that combines the best of the old and the new.

The build starts with an old alarm clock. The clockwork internals are removed, but the bells remain, powered instead by a brushed DC motor. An Arduino Nano is the brains of the operation, interfacing with the now-ubiquitous temperature, humidity and barometric pressure sensors. Time is displayed on a Nokia 5110 LCD screen of the type popular a decade ago when options for small hobby project displays were significantly more limited then they are today.

As a nice touch, an old circuit board lends a new face to this clock, with a trio of big chunky buttons to act as controls. The LCD uses attractive icons to help convey information, making the most of the graphical capabilities available. There’s even a rudimentary weather forecasting algorithm that uses barometric pressure changes to predict the likelihood of rain.

Overall, it’s a tidy build that promises to serve as a great alarm clock, given the high volume of the original bells. Alarm clocks have always been a hacker staple, but if you’re still struggling to get out of bed this fire bell build should rattle your fillings loose on a daily basis. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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