Using CODAR for ionospheric sounding

CODAR is an HF radar used to measure surface ocean currents in coastal areas. Usually, it consists of a chirp which repeats every second. The chirp rate is usually on the order of 10kHz/s, and the signal is gated in small pulses so that the CODAR receiver can listen between pulses. The gating frequency can be on the order of 1kHz.

CODAR can be received by skywave many kilometers inland. Being a chirped signal, it is easy to extract the multipath information from the received signal. In this way, one can see the signal bouncing off the different layers of the ionosphere, and magnificent pictures showing the changes in the ionosphere (especially at dawn and dusk) can be obtained. For instance, see these images by Pieter Ibelings N4IP, or the image at the top of this post, which contains 48 hours worth of CODAR data.

Here I describe my approach to receiving CODAR. It uses GNU Radio for most of the signal processing, and Python with NumPy, SciPy and Matplotlib for plotting.

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Improving signal processing in my OTH radar receiver

This is a follow up post to my experiments studying OTH radar. I have found that the signal processing I did there to obtain the cross-correlation was far from optimal. This produced the strange side-bands below the main reflection. The keen reader might have noticed that I was doing the cross-correlation with a template pulse that lasted the whole pulse repetition cycle. However, the pulses from the radar are shorter. Therefore, it is a better idea to use a shorter template pulse. Ideally, the template pulse should have the same length as the transmitted pulse. However, I don't know this length precisely, because multipath propagation makes the received pulses a bit longer. However, I think that 6.5ms is a good estimate.

I have also changed the window for the pulse. I'm now using a Dolph-Chebyshev window. I use scipy to compute this window, because it is not included in GNU Radio. This window has the property that the side-bands have constant attenuation. Indeed, it minimizes the L^\infty norm of the side-bands. There is a parameter that tunes the side-bands attenuation. For higher attenuations, you have a wider main lobe, while if you want a narrower main love you get less side-band attenuation. These properties make this window useful in radar applications.

Below I'm doing the cross-correlation in GNU Radio with a shorter template pulse shaped with a Dolph-Chebyshev window set for 55dB attenuation.

Cross-correlation with shorter pulse

The good thing about the settable attenuation of the Dolph-Chebyshev window is that it can be used to trade-off performance between different features. First, we use an attenuation of 100dB. The side-bands are below the noise floor in this case, so we have no "false responses" in our cross-correlation. The drawback is that the main lobe is wide so the resolution of the features of the ionosphere in the image below is not very good.

Dolph-Chebyshev window with 100dB attenuation

Next we try with 55dB attenuation. This narrows the main lobe, improving the resolution and crispness of the features of the ionosphere in the image below. However, side-bands start being visible above the noise floor, producing "false responses". However, comparing with the image above, we now know where the false responses are.

Dolph-Chebyshev window with 55dB attenuation

I have updated the gist with the GNU Radio flowgraph and python script used to produce the images.

Looking at an HF OTH radar

Most amateur operators are familiar with over-the-horizon radars in the HF bands. They sometimes pop up in the Amateur bands, rendering several tens of kilohertzs unusable. Inspired by Balint Seeber's talk in GRCon16, I've decided to learn more about radars. Here I look at a typical OTH radar, presumably of Russian origin. It was recorded at my station around 20:00UTC on 8 December at a frequency around 6860kHz. This radar sometimes appears inside the 40m Amateur band as well.

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