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

I’m famous! and ICube-1, MOVE and Velox-PII telemetry decodes

My confirmation of ICube-1 successful deployment was featured on the AMSAT-UK website on Sunday.

Screenshot of the Amsat-UK webpage

My very quick and patchy decode of the CW beacon was sufficient to identify and verify ICube-1 but I had only been able to decode the words ***ISTAN and CUBESAT. For my own pride I wanted to decode more of the CW message “iCUBE-1 First CubeSat of Pakistan”

I had the IQ file from SDR# so could process it as much as I needed and have used a couple of Morse/CW decoder tools before, but find the free ones often struggle with the faint Doppler shifting CW, just a little too much noise and not enough signal.

Audible decoding isn’t an option (yet) but I can visually decode, but the signal going up the waterfall shows the dots and dashes but is too quick for me, and ideally I would like it horizontal rather than vertically.

Then I remembered I had installed Spectravue a few years ago, Spectravue is a powerful spectral analysis/receiver program primarily for use with SDR devices, it was the program used to calibrate my first FUNCube Dongle.

Spectravue is able to take the IQ file and play it back at varying speeds, it can demodulate signals and importantly allows pausing of the playback and easy access to the section of interest, something SDR# is sadly lacking, also it allows a horizontal waterfall display and the ability to save images.

I set about processing and decoding and as you can see from the screenshots below, I managed to identify most of the message (the letters have been added later) The FUNcube-1 telemetry signal can be seen at the top of the images, along with some QRM.

Partial decode of ICube-1 CW beacon

Partial decode of ICube-1 CW beacon

During the process I also spotted two further signals from Velox-PII (145.980 MHz) and the First-Move Cubesat (145.970 MHz) – both of these were recorded in the first decent pass over the UK after deployment  (10:21 on 21 November 2013) the incorrect time shown on the bottom of the screen shots comes from the fact the files processed were copies and the file time stamp had been altered in the process.

I can only wonder when the first reception reports were made? Then again I shouldn’t be greedy, one first-to-report is probably enough 😉

Velox-PII Telemetry/CW beacon

First-Move Telemetry and partial ICube-1

VELOX-PII is the first Singapore picosatellite to operate in low-earth orbit, and was developed under the Nanyang Technological University’s Undergraduate Satellite Program. Details here including how to read the telemetry message.

FIRST-MOVE built by students at the Technical University of München. MOVE stands for München Orbital Verification Experiment. Details here

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

NERD-1 development prototype

The NERD-1 HAB development prototype has been coming on in leaps and bounds. The first stage was to take the breadboard transmitter layout and construct a veroboard ‘shield’  the transmitter module plugs into some sockets and the addition of an enable control allows me to turn it off and on. What cannot be seen on the photo below is a dual-colour LED to indicate the fix status of the GPS.

Veroboard shield with transmitter fitted

I am still waiting for delivery of the uBlox GPS module/breakout board which is on a slow boat from China, but in the meantime I have purchased a number of other breakout boards (pictured below) to evaluate potential additions and to generally experiment.

Top-Bottom, SD Card module, RTC/EEPROM module and GY-80 IMU

These include a SD Card module, which will be used to log flight telemetry via the SPI interface. The board on the right is a Real Time Clock (RTC) including a button cell and some EEPROM memory accessed and controlled via the I2C/Wire interface. This really isn’t needed but was literally a couple of £s.

The smaller board at the bottom is the really interesting one! It is a GY-80 IMU clone, containing a three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer, three-axis magnetic sensor and a temperature and pressure sensor, again all accessed simply via the I2C interface. Popular in aeronautical RC and personal UAV projects such as Quadcopters it seemed worthy of some experimentation.

All the devices were purchased from Etang Electronics on eBay and was impressed as it all arrived the day after ordering.

I am using the only proper serial port for the GPS data and  I wanted some method of getting debugging and instrumentation from the device during testing. I could have constructed a software serial port but I had an unused LCD character display so decided to connect it up (won’t be included on a proper payload!)

It looks nice and is ‘cool’ however the backlight LEDs do draw an awful lot of current so have been disconnected since the picture was taken.

LCD Character display

At the moment the whole thing is a little messy, but is functional and sits in it’s own foam lined box!

The prototype connected up (still no GPS module)

The software development has been pretty straightforward, I am no stranger to the use of I2C and SPI in my day job and there are plenty of software libraries and guides available. Once I have perfected the software and settled on the final design then I am planning on constructing a veroboard flight prototype with all the unnecessary parts removed.

I have also yet to investigate another transmitter unit I have purchased.  

NERD-1 HAB Development begins!

The prospect of developing a High Altitude Balloon payload doesn’t fill me with dread, after all “embedded software engineer” is my day job. It is a varied job including PC, Linux and other programming but it is mostly microcontrollers and associated electronics.

What did fill me with dread was the prospect of going out and getting some development kit! I like to switch off from work when I get home so I have never duplicated a development set up at home to resist the temptation to carry on working. So how was I going to go about this on a small budget?

The obvious solution was to use one of the educational and hobbyist systems like the RaspberryPI, Arduino, Propeller or BeagleBoards which have become increasingly popular. I hadn’t kept abreast of any of them but after examining the work of HAB enthusiasts and some very rudimentary research I decided to try one out and the cheapest was the Arduino route.

So a quick trip off to eBay and I got hold of an ‘Funduino’ (an Arduino UNO clone) board for £9 and ordered a uBlox GPS module/breakout board from China (which is still to arrive) as well as a couple of radio modules including the Radiometrix NTX-2 used in many HAB flights.

We call me impressed, after installing the Arduino development system I had the board flashing an LED within 30 seconds! When I was learning electronics and computing back in the early 1980s at school I would have killed for a platform like this!

I took the liberty of downloading Steve Smith’s (G0TDJ) ProjectHAB VAYU ino file as a starting point. This ino or ‘sketch’ file is Arduino terminology for a project. They may be called ‘sketches’ but rarely has any of my software ever been called a work of art!

This iteration of VAYU uses the RFM22B radio module controlled by SPI, whereas the NTX-2 is much simpler to control using a digital output and a few resistors. There are many handy guides on the UKHAS Wiki

The GPS data will be coming in serially on the UART the same as VAYU so it was trivial to make the modifications and remove the SPI control to get a barebones flight computer running. I was able to breadboard the NTX-2 and had it successfully transmitting from my lounge floor. It even passed its first environmental test of having one of my dogs lick the circuit board while powered up!

UNO and breadboarded NTX-2
The RTTY transmission being received in another room.

However the current payload might be a bit heavy even for a large latex.

The Payload!

The blue mouse shaped device on the left hand of the laptop is an old Haicom HI-204 GPS module which I have had kicking around for years. It is actually a serial device which once powered up starts outputting NMEA data at 4800 baud, this model has an intergrated serial-usb adapter.

When not running the Arduino IDE the UNO board appears as a standard serial port on the PC and can accept or output data, so all I needed to do was route the serial data from one port to another.

I of course made more work for myself by deciding to taking the open source SharpGPS C# based windows program and customising it. As well as decoding it can now forward the data and NMEA sentences from a GPS device on one port to another serial port. It can now log the raw data and play back logs to emulate a device for testing.

The nice thing is this program informs me of the location data, fix status and information about satellites and if and when I iron out some of the remaining bugs and quirks it will make a nice utility which I will make available. Here are some screenshots of it in action.

Now to the next stage….

SKARS HAB Presentation

Since my last update I have joined the South Kesteven Amateur Radio Society (SKARS) The society are looking at possible balloon launches as part of the Gravity Fields Festival 2014 In a rash moment I offered to give a talk and demonstration of HAB and HAB tracking for other members.

So last week I nervously turned up with my laptop and some kit. I had created a Power Point presentation to hopefully explain the whole concept. It was an introduction to HAB, the types of payload and balloons how they work, how operators track the flights and the UKHAS and its HabHub system.     

To demonstrate the use of the DL-FLDIGI decoding software I had a few SDR recordings which I could play back. I also wanted to show how you could use a conventional receiver so I created a ‘demo payload’ in a plastic lunch box.

It consisted of a simple PMR446 radio in VOX mode, connected to a MP3 player which was playing back a recording of a typical RTTY HAB payload. Steve Smith G0TDJ of ProjectHab was good enough to supply me a 4 minute recording of his VAYU-1 payload made when he was testing it.

I then had a scanner which received the transmission, so being clearly audible I was able to plug a lead into the headphone socket and the microphone input on the laptop to show the decoding.

I also demonstated some SDR recordings being decoded which illustrated the QRM, signal fading and drifting and some of the modes in use (RTTY/DominoEx). I also had videos showing the in action (also posted on here).

Despite being apprehensive I actually quite enjoyed giving the talk and hopefully those that attended were entertained and found it informative.

Since then I have took the plunge and ordered a couple of transmitter modules including a Radiometrix NTX-2, an Arduino UNO development board and a uBlox GPS module so can start developing my own payload. So hopefully if I am asked by anyone else to give a talk I can show a live demo!