Latest antics

Here I am a month after the last post and it is has been a month of very little ‘radio antics’.

I was acutely aware that since the end of September my wife had become a radio widow so promised not to lock myself away in the shack for a while and have been doing some much needed painting and decorating around the house.

I haven’t been in much of a radio mood anyway as I have been unwell and am still not fully over my last wobble. Band and weather conditions have been rubbish with a sustained period of high wind and rain including storms Abigail and Barney. As a precaution I dropped the pole and it became apparent I had some maintenance to do on the OCFD.

The shack too had been in need of some sorting out, which I thankfully I did muster enthusiasm to tidy up.

While being largely uninspired I haven’t been completely radio silent, I did get on air for the South Kesteven ARS 2m net but found myself suffering some QRM again


It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this sort of signal, but I had thought it had gone away, it seems it is back and stronger! This was an ARISS contact I monitored back in 2013 before I was licensed with a similar noise.


After using the SDR to identify the noise I realised I have been neglecting the FUNCube Dongle for far too long. So ordered some new SMA adapters from HamGoodies and pressed it back into service. I have been using it to decode the telemetry from the FOX-1A (AO-85) satellite with the updated software and have now got myself on the leader board even if the collinear is currently horizontal about four feet off the ground!

South Kesteven ARS had a talk in October by Sean Burton 2E0ENN about amateur DMR where he demonstrated some handsets and the new DV4Mini which allows gateway and internet linking.

I remembered I dabbled a few years ago with decoding PMR DMR using the SDR and a scanner with a discriminator tap using various programs but they were very hit and miss at the time. I reacquainted myself with the various projects and had a go at decoding some amateur transmissions.

I downloaded the latest program called DSDPlus  (support at RadioReference.com) and monitoring the nearby GB7RR DMRPlus repeater managing to get some clear decodes with little effort.

Finally this week I gave a presentation at SKARS on the subject of HABs and how to plan a HAB launch. Following on from the Eggsplorer-1 and Hamfest “Pigs In Space” HAB launch I decided to try to explain everything I had learned for anyone else contemplating giving it a go!

It was a long talk (perhaps too long) as I covered everything from building the electronics, software, making the payload box, getting the right balloon, parachute, gas, obtaining permission and then the prediction, launching tracking and recovery.

It was a great turnout with a lot of interest.

FUNCube-1 & FUNCube-2 Decoding Update

In the film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” there is a scene where the lucky children (and parents) enter the “Land of Candy” where everything is edible and they run around grabbing a taste of everything. I am beginning to know how they felt.

Amateur radio has so many different things to try and over the last year I have found myself jumping around having a dabble at new things. Doing this and time being scarce has inevitably impacted the HAB payload and other Arduino projects. I have also neglected some of my previous satellite monitoring activities.

I had been regularly decoding the FUNCube-1 (AO-73) telemetry and uploading packets to the data warehouse (see earlier posts). To do this I had been using a discone in the loft and a FUNCube Dongle on the ageing main computer in the house.

This computer was on 24/7 but I couldn’t leave the FUNCube dashboard running continually as the processor load would cause the noisy fans to kick in, besides for most of the day there wasn’t a receivable pass. So I would just start up the dashboard when needed which meant remotely logging in from work. Due to an increasingly busy work load I would often forget or be unable to start it up and have got out of the habit. I therefore missed many opportunities to climb up the uploading ranking chart (it is really for the science honest!)

Of late there have been a large number of new satellites launched including the UKube-1 and the QB50 satellites which have modules and transponders as part of the FUNCube project.

Catching up with news after the holiday to Skye I noticed the announcement that an enhanced version of the FUNCube decoder dashboard has been released promising improved performance. The dashboard will also capture and upload (but not display) the FUNCube-2 telemetry transmitted from UKube-1

Looking at the FC1 upload ranking list I saw I had dropped down significantly and decided it wasn’t acceptable!

As part of my antenna upgrade I have put up the X-50 dual-band collinear on the top of the pole feed with nice low loss RG213. This is currently connected to the FUNCube Dongle Pro+ dongle on the shack laptop, with the latest dashboard software installed.

It has been running 24/7 for the majority of the last week and has captured close to 2000 telemetry packets from FC1 a significant performance increase compared to my earlier set up, and I have now surpassed the 10,000 packet milestone (currently 11,626). I have also uploaded over 500 telemetry messages received from the FUNCube-2 on UKube-1. I have actually received more but a fault in the warehouse meant a lot were rejected due to a incorrect data field.

The FC2 subsystem on UKUBE-1 may not be enabled on every pass while the satellite is commissioned and the FUNCube team will be releasing an updated dashboard shortly for when it is operating full time.

At present both satellites are passing one after the other, with UKube-1 gradually gaining. So as FC1 goes LOS (loss of signal) UKube-1 rises elsewhere for AOS (acquisition of signal)

On one pass yesterday I thought I would capture some screen shots and show how I’ve got the dashboard set up for both payloads.

As already mentioned the existing dashboard can be used to receive both FUNCube-1 and 2, if using the FUNCube Dongle Pro+ by setting the central frequency to 145.905MHz and adjusting the upper and lower filter curtains both payloads can be received.

On the Orbitron prediction software you can see FC1  is overhead, with UKube-1 over the North pole.

The reception window on the dashboard is limited by moving the curtains. I have the lower one set at 145.906MHz just enough to filter out the centre SDR spike,  the upper one is at 145.945MHz. The telemetry signal on FC1 is at 145.935MHz but due to the Doppler effect the received frequency will vary above and below this nominal value, 10kHz either size is sufficient to compensate.

If you were just interested in one satellite you would move the lower curtain to around 10kHz below the nominal download frequency. However since UKube-1 is on 145.918MHz the lower curtain is set to below this again to compensate for the Doppler shift.

The resulting receive window will allow both to be received. However this does risks problems should QRM occur in the pass band as the decoder can lock on to this, luckily the improved dashboard software discriminates between the signal and noise much better than previous versions.

The dashboard below is receiving the FUNCube-1 signal (click to enlarge)
 

The data is being uploaded and checking the real time display on the warehouse confirms this (my old callsign M6GTG) however you might not show up every single time and the FUNCube-1 Flight Model tab must be chosen as seen below.

As the pass finishes and UKube-1/FC2 comes overhead and due to the omni-directional X-50 I don’t need to change anything.

The dashboard soon detects the new signal at the lower frequency and begins decoding.


The received payload ID is shown in the bottom right of the dashboard

Again the upload can be confirmed by viewing the real time data page on the warehouse by selecting the UKube-1 FC2 Payload tab. It should be noted that it seems FC2 is sometime sending spurious data elements in the telemetry which the warehouse is rejecting so some uploads may not be displayed.

It is really that simple.

FUNCube Decode Issues

I had a pleasant surprise last week at the AGM/Prize giving evening of the South Kestevan Amateur Radio Society (SKARS) being awarded the Most Promising Newcomer!

I also had a small write up in Tim Kirby’s (G4VXE) VHF/UHF section of the February issue of Practical Wireless about my I-Cube1 reception which I have mentioned on here before.

I haven’t progressed very far with my Arduino projects. There has been a set back in the plans to build and use an Ultimate3 QRSS kit. I had incorrectly assumed as it was a kit being sold commercially that it would satisfy my foundation conditions. However I have been advised that Foundation license holders may use radio equipment constructed using commercially available kits which satisfy IR 2028 which is all a bit vague and woolly, but I don’t believe this particular kit does.

There is a simple solution, I will just have to take my intermediate assessment and exam at the first opportunity!

I have been doing a little WSPR spotting, getting some nice spots.

Over the Christmas/New Year period I have neglected the FUNCube-1(A073) satellite and was slipping down the telemetry upload rankings, sad I know!

Now I have got back the upstairs ‘shack’ I set up my original FUNCube Dongle on the laptop running the dashboard application continually to capture/decode the telemetry using the loft mounted discone. I took the opportunity to upgrade to the latest version 8.14 of the dashboard software, however something was amiss when checking the statistics I was only adding the odd frame here and there, sometimes not making a single decode during the high power daylight passes.

I switched back over to the newer FUNCube Dongle PRO+ running my main PC, which I had also updated to the version 8.14 dashboard and saw the same behaviour, rather than getting daylight decodes of 30+ frames I was just getting the odd 1 or 2.

My first thought it was an antenna or interference issue, but checking the SDR waterfall the signal is still very strong with little QRM. Suspecting a software issue introduced by the update I checked the FUNCube forum and found a thread which appeared to confirm my suspicions.

I have a number of discussions on twitter with various people including David Johnson (G4DPZ)  an AMSAT-UK Committee Member and one of the developers of the FUNcube ground segment. David kindly performed an analysis of one of the passes yesterday where I managed just 2 frames, and from the results it does appear to be an issue at this end, rather than issue with the spacecraft.

I have uninstalled v8.14 and put back on an earlier version of the dashboard (v8.09) and thanks to a windows update last night have also performed a full reboot!

There was a good pass this morning at 62 degrees maximum elevation (to the east), followed by a lower pass at 22 degrees elevation (to the west so not so good) and it seems things have improved managing 68 and 17 frames respectively. So could this be an issue with the latest dashboard?

If anyone has suffered similar performance fall-off, or indeed not suffered any issues then please add some feedback to the FUNCube forum.

My copy of Radcom arrived but didn’t have much time to read it..

The culprit! 😉

ISS – Russian EVA-32 Comms Received

The International Space Station is currently giving some nice evening passes at the moment, with clear skies and passing close to the crescent moon.

However today they were still undertaking an EVA to add some maintenance, so I programmed in a few frequencies I found on issfanclub.com and had the FUNCube Dongle Pro+ connected to the discone in the loft and really wasn’t expecting much, until a doppler shifting signal appeared around 143.625MHz

Chuffed is an understatement!

Digital SSTV Decoding

I’ve decoded analogue SSTV transmissions before (check out some earlier posts) using the MMSSTV program, but another form of picture transmission is referred to as Digital SSTV.. It isn’t technically slow scan the the SSTV part has stuck because it sends images. In very basic terms it is file transfer using DRM “Digital Radio Mondiale” encoding.

The advantage over analogue SSTV is the use of error correction, with the error correction you can get a perfect image.

This afternoon while the snow was falling outside I had got SDR# with the FCDP+ running and noticed that there was some activitiy on 14.233 Mhz and fired up the EasyPal software and decoded a few images, and made a small video showing one image being received.

As you will observe in the video Easypal actually decoded the image before the end of the transmission because it didn’t need the extra data to error correct because of the very strong clear signal.
 
These were the two nice pictures I decoded today from OE3AWA based in Austria

Interestingly the only other previous D-SSTV image I have received was at the end of December last year, from the same operator!

Getting ready to monitor Quadrantid meteor show with my FUNCube Dongle

Tonight and tomorrow see the Quadrantid Meteor Shower (article on Telegraph website) Nasa scientists are predicting the morning skies are this week set to be filled with hundreds of shooting stars in the year’s first meteor shower.

Recently I have been reading up on amateur Radio Astronomy, one easy project is the detection of meteors using radio scattering.

On the British Astronomical Association, Radio Astronomy Group website there is an interesting project (a  PDF download) which demonstrates how to use a FUNCube Dongle to detect reflection of the Graves Space Surveillance Radar signal from ionisation trails.

The Graves French space surveillance transmitter located near Dijon, operating on a frequency of 143.050MHz the FCD was capable of receiving the weak backscatter echoes from meteors, indeed I experimented last year and with a simple antenna  picked up many squeaks and whistles from the normal ‘background’ meteor activity.

So I’ve set up my equipment again and will be doing some recording overnight.in the hope of a barrage of strange noises!

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)

FUNCube Dongle PRO+ in production!

Howard is busy assembling and shipping out the first units of the FUNCube Dongle Pro+

I registered my interest early on and am one of the few to have got a confirmation email.

Thank you very much for your interest in the FUNcube Dongle Pro+ that you made on 28 September 2012. This is confirmation that your request is on our waiting list and we will be notifying you by email when we have stock.

I apologise for any delay in receiving this confirmation: the ecommerce software were using doesnt seem to automatically send out responses, so far Ive had to come up with a semi-manual alternative. As I write, there are already a total of 1,233 unique emails on the waiting list, so it may take a few weeks to satisfy the demand.

This was the confirmation for my second attempt at registration, so probably missed out of getting one early. Not sure if it means I am 1233rd or one of the 1233… time will tell, but certainly am very eager to get my hands on one.

At the moment the new PRO+ version won’t work with SDR-Radio my SDR software of choice, but integration is apparently being worked on as we speak. But it seems it is supported by SDR# which I have briefly used.
I am very eager to see the filtering and performance improvements and being able to use on the HF bands, mind you tempted to get another of the RTL based receivers this time with a new tuner following the demise of the E4000. Apparently they work from around 25MHz and are much more sensitive.