Sending Christmas Greetings to the ISS

There was much media coverage in the UK of the “Santa pass” (Telegraph, Daily Mail) The International Space Station passed over the UK in the late afternoon and early evening on Christmas Eve and around 17:20GMT promised an especially bright display in the dark skies. So imaginatively we were asked to observe and imagine that the bright moving point of light was actually Santa off delivering his presents.

As luck would have much of the UK had a crystal clear sky and I even managed to get my 80 plus year old Mother-in-law out in the garden to watch the spectacle. She was impressed and it was great to overhear lots of excited children coming out in the nearby homes to watch Santa as he flew overhead.

Back in October 2013 after becoming a newly licensed radio amateur I managed to send APRS packets to the International Space Station which were digipeated and received back on earth by other operators. Back then I used a lowly Baofeng UV5R handheld and I decided to repeat the exercise this time using the FT857D (this time running around 20W) to talk to Santa!

The computer I used back then has been decommissioned so on the laptop I installed the UISS program from ON6MU which makes easy work of APRS to the ISS and instead of the cumbersome AGWPE I used the excellent soundcard modem from UZ7HO.

I attempted to send a message on the pass at 15:43 but failed completely, discovering I’d got my soundcard incorrectly set up. I corrected this and left the autobeacon mode running in UISS during the Santa pass and checking back much later could clearly see I’d sent and had a message repeated back from the ISS.

Checking the ariss website ( I could see the repeated message had been received by another station and my position was showing up on the map (M0NRD)

I have successfully done it again today on Christmas Day! As the raw packets below confirm.

M0NRD>CQ,RS0ISS*,qAR,DM2RM:73' Happy Christmas from Andrew IO93OB
M0NRD>CQ,RS0ISS*,qAR,MB7USS:=5304.08N/00048.47W-73' Happy Christmas from Andrew
M0NRD>CQ,RS0ISS*,qAR,HG8GL-6:73' Happy Christmas from Andrew IO93OB

It was a nice achievement and another nice Christmas present was achieved early this morning while running WSPR on 40m, managing to get received in New Zealand

Anyway enjoy the rest of the festive season and I wish you all the best in 2015

Another Day Another Arduino Project

Yes another day, another Arduino project (seriously this is a great development environment)

As I mentioned in passing yesterday I have a number of Arduino based projects buzzing around in my head. One of them is to produce a satellite antenna pointer/indicator.

I have used an Android AR tracking solution before (flaky at best) and can see the relevant information in Orbitron or SatPC32 to know where to point the antenna but it is difficult to see a PC screen when stuck out in the middle of the lawn!

My idea is this, I will make a large tripod to which I can attach appropriate antenna as I need, then during the satellite pass it has indicators to show where to point the antenna manually.

I envisage the azimuth indicator to be a large horizontal circle with 36 LEDs positioned at 10 degree intervals, the elevation will be a quarter circle with 20 LEDs positioned at 5 degree intervals. Then during the pass the appropriate LEDs will light and assuming I keep the antenna aligned to these I should in theory get the best signal… Crazy??

Yes I know I could make or buy an azimuth/elevation rotator, eBay is full of low speed high torque geared DC motors with auto-stop/hold and numerous software solutions exist to drive them but this would require a bit more engineering and isn’t something I can easily fabricate at the moment. My contraption would be much more rustic being made of rough cut timber!

Bright LEDs are ridiculously cheap and controlling this number from the Arduino will require the use of multiplexer drivers. The popular ones are the MAX 7219/7221

I won’t go into the details of exactly what multiplexing is, other than to say that each display element (LED) is driven one at a time but by switching the electronics at high speed combined with the persistence of vision make the viewer believe the entire display is continuously active.

This technique can be used for individual LEDs, an LED grid matrix, or for 7 segment displays. Last night I successfully got a MAX7219 based 8-Digit 7-Segment LED module working.

The next stage was to investigate how an Arduino could calculate the appropriate azimuth and elevation data. Thankfully a library already exists qrpTracker (code is here), within this library is a port of the Plan-13 algorithm first written in Basic by James Miller G3RUH in 1990, subsequently ported to C by Edson Pereira, N1VTN and further updated by Howard Long, G6LVB.

Plan-13 processes keplerian elements, time and (optionally) observer location, and uplink downlink frequencies; it outputs satellite latitude and longitude, azimuth and elevation, and Doppler shifted frequencies. At the standard 16 MHz Arduino clock speed, this code can complete these calculations in approximately 30 ms. This code is reported to be highly accurate, if provided with proper data.

The important data are the observer location (longitude/latitude) and the current time. Step forward my well used GPS module which once lock is achieved can supply that data.

The next is get the appropriate up to date Keplerian twin element sets (TLE) and extract the appropriate information from it and pass that data to the Plan-13 functions.
The standard TLE follows the following format

You need to extract the Epoch Year/Day (including partial data), Inclination, Right Ascension, Eccentricity, Perigee, Mean anomaly and Mean Motion for a calculation (drag/orientation aren’t critical) For the moment I have just extracted this manually from the latest TLE and entered it directly into the program.

After just an hour or so of research and programming I have the LED displaying the current azimuth and elevation of the FUNCube-1 satellite (AO73) based on the current position and time derived from the GPS!

The first four digits is the azimuth, the second four the elevation.

The next stage is to sort out the LED disc indicators, build the antenna tripod and formulate a method to upload the appropriate up to date TLE files from the PC which can be stored in the EEPROM of the micro-controller.


ICUBE-1 Reception Reports Needed

I have been messaging with Dr Khurram Khurshid the manager of the ICube-1 team and they are struggling a little

 “.. we received icube for a couple of days using FunCube / HumSat TLE’s but not anymore we are looking for our own TLE’s but haven’t been able to track icube for the past few days”

They may officially ask for assistance but after unexpectedly making the first signal report back on the 21st November, I thought I was just ask if anyone could keep an ear out.

ICube-1 was released as part of the UNISAT-5 payload and if still functional is in CW mode on 145.947MHz and the message is “First Cubesat of Pakistan”

Some info/links

I have done an analysis of my first capture

 The ICube-1 facebook page

Thanks Andrew M6GTG

Did I make ICube-1’s first signal report?

Just like a excited child at the moment! Why you ask? 

Well this morning saw the launch of the numerous satellites from the Dnepr rocket including Funcube-1, and this morning saw the first passes over the UK. Like many others I eagerly sat in front of my computer awaiting the chance to decode the telemetry. However I was doing it remotely using a VNC connection as I was in work…

Sure enough at 10:21 the pass started and a nice strong signal appeared on the waterfall and the FUNCube dashboard sprang to life. I managed 29 packets on the first pass!

The upload ranking at the FUNcube data warehouse

However I noticed another CW signal further up the spectrum which seemed to be on the edge of the FUNCube transponder allocation (145.950MHz) I went to twitter and asked if FUNCube-1 was transmitting a CW beacon? Peter 2E0SQL thought it might be another satellite.

At start of earlier FUNCube-1 pass, what looks like CW on transponder downlink frequency? #funcube
— Andrew Garratt (@nerdsville) November 21, 2013

I had captured the pass as an IQ file, and set about trying to decode the CW. I had several attempt using fl-digi remotely but chasing a fast moving doppler on a laggy remote connection wasn’t good but I seemed to repeatedly get ***ISTAN.

On the next pass the same thing happened, this time I got the word CUBESAT several times..

The signal had the same doppler shift as FUNCube-1 so was from the same launch constellation and a quick check and I spotted ICube-1 the first cubesat launched by Institute of Space Technology in Pakistan.. which was listed as broadcasting on 145.947MHz using AFSK.

It must be.. ***ISTAN… CUBESAT…. So I sent them a message on their Facebook page and they confirmed that at this stage of the mission they were indeed supposedly broadcasting a CW beacon and what I decoded was part of the message!

Khurram project manager of ICube-1 said “Thanx Andrew … your message was a great relief for us”

and on their facebook page 

First Signal has been received from ICUBE-1 in UK … Alhamdulillah the ICUBE-1 mission is successful … Congrats everyone. Satellite will pass over IST around 9:30 pm today

So it seems lowly M6GTG may have made the first signal report confirming Pakistan’s first successful cubesat deployment!

I am grinning madly at the moment!

November Satellite Madness!

I haven’t done any satellite tracking of late, however this month sees 37 satellites being launched carrying amateur radio payloads. Yes 37!!

Yesterday three cubesats Pico Dragon, ArduSat-1 and ArduSat-2 were jettisoned from the ISS using the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD), a fourth TechEdSat-3p was released this morning.

Today also saw the launch of Minotaur-1 from NASA’s Wallops Island containing 29 satellites, 12 of which are amateur payloads, they have all been deployed.

Tomorrow sees the Yasny Dnepr launch carrying 31 satellites, of which 21 use amateur radio allocations, including FUNCube-1.

Get along to the FUNCube website for further information and to download the handbook and the dashboard telemetry application, after all this is what those FUNCube dongles were designed for!

For up to date information check out the Amsat-UK website, and here is a handy link for a full list of payloads and frequencies

 photo 71dca420-14bc-4c88-9bd2-1ac043cc785e_zpsad07389a.jpg

Phonesats are no more.

Sadly the Phonesats Alexandra, Graham and Bell are no more, they were always going to be shorted lived, but having launched on April 21st aboard the Orbital Sciences Antares test flight, they have sadly now deorbited.

As the Phonesat website now states

Our orbital analysis indicates that the PhoneSats have deorbited on April 27 and have burned up in Earth’s atmosphere as predicted. No one has been able to hear from the satellites since, which confirms the predictions.

The PhoneSat team is continuing to develop the PhoneSats using consumer technology to greatly increase the capability of the satellite whilst developing with a low cost – our next versions are launching late this year so stay tuned.

Thank you again for your support in making this technology demonstration successful!

Must say I really enjoyed chasing these, getting some decent results with very modest equipment.

In the inhibitable words of Dr. Eldon Tyrell

Phonesat – Pictures

The Nasa Phonesat team have now put up the partially completed jigsaw puzzle formed from the submitted picture packets received from Graham and Bell over the past week. They can be viewed here

Over the last few days I have been getting quite a decent number of packets, including pictures from all three phonesats however a number of the picture packets despite being verified and accepted when submitted to the website have returned seemingly invalid webp files.

It appears the images are being broadcast in three forms, a low resolution background, then a medium resolution followed by a high resolution, slowly building up the final images.

The picture from Graham
The picture from Bell

First Phonesat Image Piece

Before leaving for work this morning I set up the 70cm yagi on the tripod pointing due south at around 45 degrees inclination and my ancient laptop with the original FUNCube dongle, hoping to catch some more PhoneSat packets during this afternoons passes, the first at 12:30BST, the other around 14:05BST.

I was hoping to be home for the later one, but unfortunately I was held up and wasn’t, luckily I was able to set both of them to record by logging in remotely. But due to the fixed antenna meant I only was able to get the optimum signal for part of the pass.

Still I grabbed the file for the first pass and was able to analyse the resulting IQ file during a coffee break and successful decoded a handful of packets.

I was especially eager to see the result as in my mailbox this morning was a message from the PhoneSat team

Let the puzzle begin

As scheduled, Graham and Bell have just started transmitting picture packets, so please stay tuned to your radio. Since the picture packets need to be stitched to restore the complete Earth picture, we will need as many packets as possible. Ultimately a new page will be created to display the current construction of the pictures. Let the puzzle begin!

Best regards,
The PhoneSat team

Indeed one of the packets was an image piece, however my excitement was quickly tempered when I discovered it was infact just 20 x 15 pixels in size!

fm KJ6KRW-2 to CQ-0 via TELEM-0 UI  PID=F0

Produced this image, which I have scaled up to 200 x 150 pixels! A hint of blue, cloud and land?

The picture packets are decoded as.webp pictures. These pictures can be converted into png pictures using Google’s webp converter.

CubeSats Galore!

No the Phonesats don’t look like this!

It is an interesting time if you are into chasing satellites as there is a plethora of CubeSat launches imminent.

Last night I settled down and logged into NASA-TV to watch the Orbital Sciences Antares Test Flight (A-ONE Misson) Antares is a new medium-class space launch vehicle. Following this test launch and a further demonstration mission it will hopefully become a cargo deliverly system to the International Space Station (ISS)

As part of this initial test there were a number of CubeSats on board due for deployment unfortunately with just twelve minutes on the clock the launch was halted due to a premature separation of a launch pad umbilical connection to the Antares upper stage used for data communications. Orbital is currently analysing what happened. The next launch attempt is tentatively set for no earlier than Friday pending a successful resolution of the issue and acceptable weather conditions.

The CubeSats due for deployment were part of the NASA PhoneSat project. Three CubeSats called Alexandra, Graham and Bell are 1U sized and similar to the British STRaND-1 CubeSat utilise Commericial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Electronics, namely a HTC Nexus One smartphone running the Android operating system for the Phonesat 1.0 satellites (Graham and Bell) and a Samsung Nexus S for the Phonesat 2.0 Beta satellite (Alexandra) The satellites also contain an external radio beacon, batteries and a circuit to reboot the phone if it stops transmitting, again all off the shelf commerical parts.

All three satellites are emitting packet transmission over the amateur radio band at 437.425 MHz, utilising the call sign KJ6KRW and will be spaced apart to allow reception of all three during a single pass. More details are available at

Also onboard Antares was the commericial DOVE-1 satellite, a technology development experiment. Originally intended to have a telemetry downlink on 145.825MHz this apparently is no longer the case.

More information about the Antares payload is at

If the Antares does launch on Friday, it will share the skys with Soyuz-2-1a which is due to be launched at 10:00UTC from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Amongst its payload are four CubeSats with amateur radio payloads, OSSI-1, BEESAT-2, BEESAT-3 and SOMP. Again more details can be found at the AMSAT-UK website at

Also next week the launch of CZ-2D from the Jiuquan Space Centre is planned on April 26, carrying the Mode J (145/435) linear transponder satellite TURKSAT-3USAT along with the Argentine CubeBug-1 and Ecuadorian NEE-01 Pegasus TV Cubesat

CubeBug-1 –
NEE-01 Pegasus –

So it looks like being a busy time, once the orbits are known and the TLEs are published.

Sadly it seems STRaND-1, that got me so excited last month has fallen silent after its transmissions became intermittent over the Easter weekend. After failing to receive any radio transmissions the team are apparently asking the EME weak-signal community to listen for the STRaND-1 LO (Local Oscillator) at 312.5MHz to see if it is still alive.

Receiving LES1 a satellite built in 1965!

A few weeks ago I read a news article about the miraculous reactivation of LES1, this satellite was built by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and launched back in 1965. The satellite failed to reach its intended orbit owing to a wiring error and has been drifting out of control ever since, it was abandoned in 1967 as a piece of space junk but has seemingly begun transmitting again after 46 years.

Back in December Phil Williams G3YPQ from Cornwall noticed a peculiar signal and after some research determined it was LES1. The odd signal is probably caused by the satellite tumbling end over end every 4 seconds as the solar panels become shadowed by the engine. ‘This gives the signal a particularly ghostly sound as the voltage from the solar panels fluctuates’ Phil says. It is likely that the on board batteries have now disintegrated and some other component failure has caused the transmitter on 237Mhz, to start up when its in sunlight.

Eager to see if I could receive this ancient satellite I dug out an unused DAB 3-element antenna and mounted it on a tripod and successfully monitored two passes this afternoon.

I used my FUNCube Dongle (original version) and SDR-Radio V1.5 and this was the analysis of the resulting recorded IQ file for the pass that started around 17:30pm. You can clearly see the satellite signal as it undergoes Doppler shift and the four second regular frequency shift caused by the tumbling.

At its most northerly latitude the satellite orbit passes over North Africa, but due to its height has a longer orbit period than most other satellites and is receivable over much of Europe. How long it keeps transmitting is a mystery.