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-1 a thank you received from space!

I posted a few weeks ago about issues I and others were having decoding the telemetry from FUNCube-1. Initially this seemed to be related to a dashboard software update, but even downgrading to an earlier version has been giving variable results.

What seems to have been the issue is a reduced quality of received signal. Operators with higher gain, optimised antennas appear not to have seen problems. Why there has been such a fall off isn’t clear, the power output of FUNCube-1 hasn’t altered and appears not to be tumbling.

The FUNCube team have now released a new version of the Dashboard Software. Version 820 can be downloaded from The major change in Version v820 centres on improved decoding routines which give better results, especially with weak signals at low elevations and simpler antennas.

I have been running this now for several days and can confirm it is much better, as promised low elevation passes now get successful decodes and night time passes when the telemetry is on low power get successful decodes something I wasn’t getting before.

Now I have the shack sorted I have set up a dedicated receiver using the original FUNCube Dongle using the X-30 white stick collinear and this has been pulling in decodes nicely.

This morning I had surpassed the 2000 telemetry decodes milestone, as can be seen on the rankings page.

Another nice result over the weekend was seeing my callsign in one of the FITTER messages

Rx’d my callsign in the ‘Thank You’ Fitter messages from FUNCube-1 over the weekend, nice touch!
— Andrew Garratt M6GTG (@nerdsville) February 3, 2014

It is a nice touch that the FUNCube-1 have started acknowledging the receivers, hopefully with the improved software there will be more participants.

The next stage for me? Well must sort out trying to have a QSO via FUNCube-1 and the other satellites..

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! 😉

Mentioned in Practical Wireless! and some Christmas stress

I am not a fan of this time of the year. I know Christmas is supposed to be a time for joy and a time for families to re-connect and come together. Well this year it is true, the only problem is they are all coming here for Christmas day, night and Boxing day!

This has meant I have had to tackle some long put off home renovation projects. The first was to redecorate the bathroom and what should have been a simple paint job has snowballed into a major project and has sapped a lot of free time. Thankfully it is now all but done.

The second was to turn the third bedroom back into an actual bedroom rather than the study/computer room/indoor radio shack it had become. Again this involved more work than planned including dismantling and remodelling of a home-made desk and the removal of piles of collected radio/computer junk and books.

The upshot of all this work and de-cluttering is my outside workshop has turned into a bomb site! Most of the junk has been dumped in it and it is very untidy with tools scattered everywhere. I also had a minor catastrophe when trying to retreive a workmate when my beloved 2Meter YAGI, fell off its perch breaking off the reflector and a director! Thankfully Justin at InnovAntennas was able to sort me out some replacement boom insulators

With all this upheaval, combined with work pressures I have been unable to really do any radio or electronics for most of this month. Do I sound like the Grinch?

Despite this I have been able to capture the odd FUNCube-1(AO73) pass and have nearly reached 1000 telemetry packets.

It came as a pleasant surprise was finding out I was mentioned in the January issue of Practical Wireless magazine. Tim Kirby (G4VXE) reported on my ISS SSTV capture and APRS experiments. Tim  the magazines VHF/UHF editor has his own blog and is someone I converse with on twitter (@G4VXE)

I realised I didn’t blog my SSTV capture back in October, but did post it on twitter feed (@nerdsville)

Not sure what it is, but this SSTV image just received from the ISS with completely the wrong antenna!
— Andrew Garratt M6GTG (@nerdsville) October 28, 2013

Here is a scan of my mention and the picture.. I can forgive Tim misspelling my name, it happens a lot! It also seems I might get mentioned in the February issue to following my ICube-1 reception report.

From Practical Wireless – January 2014 Issue

From Practical Wireless – January 2014 Issue

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

All three Phonesats received and decoded

Yesterday the delayed Antares rocket launched and successfully deployed the three Phonesats

After downloading the TLE this morning and checking the orbital prediction I found as luck would have it that a decent pass would occur when I am home during my lunch break.

So it was out with the 70cm yagi on the tripod fixed pointing south at around 45 degrees elevation and my older FUNCube Dongle on the laptop running SDRSharp (SDR#). It was pleasant sitting on the bench at the top of the garden in the sunshine with the dogs eating my lunch waiting for the pass, and yes at around 14:17BST (13:17UTC) I started to get signals, which came in very strongly.

I recorded the IQ file for later analysis and decoding

I originally tried decoding using Multipsk which I have used extensively to decode APRS from the International Space Station but wasn’t having any luck so I downloaded the free and simple to use Qtmm AFSK1200 Decoder, I simply feed it the audio (using virtual audio cable) and it was soon decoding. However I did have to widen the bandwidth quite a lot to accommodate the full signal. 

The resulting decodes were saved into a text file, here is a selection

15:35:11$ fm KJ6KRW-2 to CQ-0 via TELEM-0 UI  PID=F0
15:35:45$ fm KJ6KRW-0 to CQ-0 via TELEM-0 UI  PID=F0
15:36:59$ fm KJ6KRW-1 to CQ-0 via TCPIP-0 UI  PID=F0

Note due to quite large doppler shift I had to keep replaying the IQ file to adjust for it and the time shown is the time I decoded it, not the time it was received.

Going to the Phonesat website, you can register and submit the packet data which checks and displays the decoded information, which I did.

I had to discard the first and last decimal point in the data to successfully submit it the website

I also managed some good signals using the discone in the loft.

STRaND-1 Cubesat

Right I have put the CB to one side, it has sadly proved very frustrating but more on that another time.

The current buzz are the newly launched satellites, including STRaND-1

This satellite has received quite a bit of media coverage by virtue of the fact it is carrying an Android Google Nexus-One smartphone as part of its payload. (BBC new article)

So I’ve blown the dust off the the FUNCube Dongles and removed the cobwebs of the 70cm Yagi and am planning on waving it at the sky in the early evening trying to capture some of the telemetry transmissions on 437.568MHz.

ARISS school contact reception despite the interference

Yesterday morning (10:57 UTC) saw an ARISS School Contact with participants at Ecole Les Muriers, Saint-Maur-Des-Fossés, France.

This was a nice opportunity to listen in since the position of the ground station at the school meant the UK could listen in to the majority (if not all) of the downlink. Usually when it is further east in Europe (Germany/Poland etc) you get the initial calling and the start of the contact but the ISS goes out of range before the session ends.

So I set up my FUNCube Dongle PRO PLUS connected to the discone in the loft and the new SDR-Radio V2 Preview software. I had to start the recording remotely as I was in work, but have played back the IQ file and made a video showing the decoding.

As you can see/hear I appear to get the full contact and the questions were (source)

1. What is the temperature outside the ISS?
2. What does the Earth look like from the ISS?
3. What does the Moon look like from the ISS?
4. Have you already passed through an asteroid belt?
5. Are you able to go outside the station, into the space?
6. What is your speed? Can you feel it?
7. How do you sleep? Do you have the same sleep pattern than on the earth?
8. Do the crew members sleep one after the other, or do you sleep all at the same time?
9. How do you know if it is morning or night on board?
10.Do you do any sports and physical activities? Do you lose weight?
11. Do you shave every day? If so, how?
12. Do you see any space debris? Can you see evidence of pollution of the earth?
13. What are your hobbies on the ISS after a day of work?
14. Are you happy to come back home at the end of your mission?
15. What is your current mission?
16. Why did you choose to become an astronaut?
17. How do you cook food? What is a typical meal in the ISS?

I was lucky to receive it given the interference monster was back! It does manage to get in on the act a few times but thankfully doesn’t stop the show completely.

Over the last few months I’ve been suffering from increasing interference on the VHF/UHF and HF bands. Some of which I know about, the router I have puts out quite a few spikes on VHF but something local to me is putting out huge amounts of QRM.

I know it isn’t internally generated as it disappears when I remove the antenna. I have gone around and powered off all the potential culprits in the house and discovered a switch-mode power supply for an external USB hard drive was throwing out some HF noise as was a digital photo frame.

I’ve suffered with interference on and off since getting back into the hobby back in 2010 and appreciate it is something I have to live with but it is quite annoying at times. I suspect the interference might be one of those power-line networking devices, but if anyone has any idea I would welcome a comment!

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 the hope of a barrage of strange noises!