Dongles, Dongles Everywhere!

It is dongle overload at the moment at Châteaux Nerdsville,

Firstly I purchased a new (and improved) RTL-based USB DAB/DVB stick.

Like the FUNCube Dongle Pro it seems the manufacturers of these cheap USB receivers have been hit by the shortage of the Elonics E4000 tuner chips. Up to now the E4000 has been the most desirable tuner to have in the devices as it’s the most capable, giving usable coverage from around 60MHz to 1.7GHz. However Elonics has been liquidated and the intellectual property is up for sale and supply and/or stocks of the E4000 have dwindled. Manufacturers have therefore resorted to different tuners.

One of the alternative devices is the Rafael Micro R820T which has support in Linux drivers so the source code was ported to the rtl-sdr project. Several postings I saw hinted that the device could preform down to around 24MHz (which I have yet to confirm) and was more sensitive, so when I saw a dongle for the grand total of £11 including postage I brought one. It is a Newsky dongle and looks exactly like my previous one.

In the meantime the newly designed FUNCube Dongle Pro PLUS has been in production and lucky customers have been slowly receiving theirs. With over a thousand people in front of me on the waiting list I wasn’t expecting one before the new year, so imagine my surprise when I received an email on Thursday inviting me to buy one, which of course I did without hesitation, and it arrived on Friday! So over the weekend I had chance to toy with it and the RTL-USB device.

The first issue I had was my favoured SDR program SDR-Radio doesn’t yet support the new FCDP+, but support is being worked on for the V2 release. There is support using a new EXT-IO dll for HDSDR but I was keen to reacquaint myself with SDR#.

The SDR# (SDR Sharp) project which has become a popular application and I have used it occasionally with the original FCD. The latest download comes complete with all the necessary drivers and libraries to use with the FCD/FCDP+ and RTL-USB devices, indeed it was quite painless and everything seemed to work straight out the box.

The most obvious new feature of the FCDP+ and one of the main reasons I got one is the extended frequency range. It works down in the LW/MW and HF bands and that is what I have spent most of the weekend doing, picking up a lot of SSB/CW Amateur contest traffic as well as other CB operators. The VHF/UHF preformance seems much better and less prone to noise that the original FCD, but have yet to use it in anger.

Here is a recordings made using the FCDP+ down in 20 meter band

and one made showing reception in the 10 meter band of what appears to be SSB transmissions from America.

The RTL-USB device unfortunately had less use over the weekend playing second fiddle to the much more expensive FCDP+, however I did have some attempts at using it and first impressions are that it is more sensitive than the older version, but that really isn’t much of recommendation as the older device was quite deaf, however it does look quite promising.

This is a recording made of some SSB TX by the RTL-USB in the 70cm band. (The recording that was posted earlier was recorded using the FCD)

A Frustrating Afternoon

I have recently took possession a ‘new’ laptop, a nice Lenovo Thinkpad. with a Core i3 and Windows 7 Professional.

I was trying to use it this afternoon with the FUNCube Dongle and having no luck at all getting it to work! I had planned to decode some NOAA-APT transmissions and hastily reverted to my older laptop only to discover that it wasn’t receiving anything either.

In the end I traced it down to a faulty BNC coupler! I remember it was raining last time I used it and it did get slightly damp, so suspect there is some corrosion. Unfortunately by the time I had sorted it out I missed most of the overhead pass of NOAA-19.

I did manage to get two poor decodes of NOAA-18 and NOAA-15 but as you can see I was struggling with fading signals and interference.

NOAA-15 11-Nov-2012

NOAA-18 11-Nov-2012

What was interesting, and not seen before was the visible image (on the right) seems to change when it goes into darkness.

Damn you!

ISS received in the carpark of Derby Hospital

There was an Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) school contact planned with participants at Primarschule Aesch, Forch, Switzerland around 13:50 UTC.

Ideally I would have been at home at that time during my lunch hour and would have brought out the big guns to make a decent recording as I’ve done in the past. Instead yesterday saw me spending most of the day at The Royal Derby Hospital.

But I planned ahead and took along my trusty Realistic PRO-26 to see what I could receive in the car park if I got the chance, which I did!

I actually received a few minutes more but I hadn’t packed a spare battery for the camera and it ran out.. doh!

I was using a Watson W-881 Super Gainer but it’s length precludes being able to stand it up.. hence the horizontal polarisation!