A brief study of TLE variation

During my research and experiments about using WSJT-X modes through linear transponder satellites, one of the questions I had is by how much do TLEs of different epochs for the same satellite vary. This was glimpsed in part II, where I plotted the "best delay" parameter for TLEs of different age.

The topic of accuracy in TLE computation and propagation is rather complex. A NORAD TLE is the result of an orbit determination after several radar measurements at different epochs, so the elements are in some sense "averaged" over time. Also, the SGP4 propagator is simple and doesn't model many orbit perturbations. However, NORAD TLEs are specially crafted to give improved results when used with SGP4.

Nevertheless, here I present a simple way of studying the rate of change of NORAD TLEs at different epochs. This procedure might not be very meaningful or sophisticate, but still seems to yield some interesting results.

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Waterfall from the FT8 test through FO-29

In the previous post, I detailed my experiments transmitting FT8 through the FO-29 linear transponder. I recorded a complete pass of the FO-29 satellite while I transmitted an FT8 signal trough the transponder on even periods. As I promised in that post, I have now made a waterfall with the recording to show the activity through the linear transponder, and the strength of my FT8 signal in comparison with the SSB and CW signals of other users.

The watefall can be seen below. You can click on the image to view it in full size. A higher resolution version is available here (24MB). The horizontal axis represents frequency and the vertical axis represents time, with the beginning of the pass at the top of the image. The waterfall has been corrected for the downlink Doppler and the DC spike of the FUNcube Dongle Pro+ has been removed.

From left to right, the following signals can be seen: The CW beacon can be seen as a faint vertical signal. Next, there is some interference coming through the transponder in the form of terrestrial FM signals. Then we can see my FT8 signal, being transmitted only on even periods. Finally, around the centre of the image, we have a few SSB and CW signals through the transponder. Note that most of these signals increase in frequency as the pass progresses. This is because many people keep a fixed uplink and only tune the downlink by hand to correct for Doppler. Unfortunately, full computer Doppler correction is not very popular. I also used a fixed uplink frequency for my FT8 signal, but only to simplify the experiment. The best procedure is to correct for the uplink Doppler to keep a constant frequency at the satellite.

Waterfall of FO-29 downlink (Doppler corrected)

We can see that the SSB and CW signals are much stronger than my FT8 signal. Indeed, some of the CW signals are particularly strong at times, perhaps putting too much pressure on the linear transponder.

The waterfalls in this post have been created using this Jupyter notebook.

First FT8 test through FO-29

Continuing with my research on using WSJT-X modes through linear transponder satellites in low Earth orbit (see part I and part II), a few days ago I transmitted and recorded an FT8 signal through the V/U linear transponder on FO-29 during a complete pass. The recording started at 2017/10/23 20:26:00 UTC and ended at 20:42:30 UTC. It was made with a FUNcube Dongle Pro+ set to a centre frequency of 435.850MHz and connected to a handheld Arrow satellite yagi through a duplexer. Here the duplexer was used to avoid desense on transmit.

An FT8 signal was transmitted on every even period during the recording, at a fixed frequency of 145.990MHz, using a Yaesu FT-817ND and the Arrow antenna. The signal was transmitted using lower sideband (i.e., inverted in the frequency domain) to get a correct FT8 signal through the inverting transponder. The transmit power was adjusted often to get a reasonable signal through the transponder and avoid using excessive power. There have been reports and complaints of people using too much power with digital modes through linear satellites. In this post, a study of the power is included to show that it is possible to use digital modes effectively without putting any pressure on the satellite's transponder.

Out of the 33 even periods, a total of 24 can be decoded by WSJT-X using the best TLEs from Space-Track. No measures were taken to correct for the time offset \delta that has been studied in the previous posts, as the TLEs already provided a good Doppler correction. Regarding the choice of TLEs, there are still some remarks to make. First, the epoch of the TLEs used was 2017/10/23 21:39:16 UTC, so these TLEs were actually taken after the pass. The previous TLEs were taken a few hours before the pass, and it is likely that they also provided a good correction, perhaps by using a time offset \delta if necessary. However, I do not know if these previous TLEs were also available from CelesTrak before the start of the pass, as it seems that TLEs take a while to propagate from Space-Track to Celestrack. To explain why the TLEs with no time offset correction are enough, it will be interesting to study the rate of change of TLE parameters for FO-29. This will be done in a future post.

The results of this test look very promising. Even though this wasn't an overhead pass (the maximum elevation was 40º), the maximum rate of change of the Doppler was over 20Hz/s for the self-Doppler seen on the FT8 signal and 35Hz/s for the downlink Doppler seen on the CW beacon. Most of the periods which couldn't be decoded were near the start or end of the pass. This is the only test that I know of that has decoded FT8 signals in the presence of high rates of change of Doppler. The previous tests by other people were made at low elevations, where the rate of change of Doppler is small. This test has shown that it is possible to get many decodes with high rates of change of Doppler, even using no corrections to the TLEs. Here I continue with a detailed analysis of the recording.

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WSJT-X and linear satellites: part II

This is a follow-up to the part I post about using WSJT-X modes through a linear transponder on a LEO satellite. In part I, we considered the tolerance of several WSJT-X modes to the residual Doppler produced by a temporal offset in the Doppler computation used for computer Doppler correction. There, we introduced a parameter \delta which represents the time shift between the real Doppler curve and the computed Doppler curve. The main idea was that a decoder could try to correct the residual Doppler by trying several values of \delta until a decode is produced.

Here we examine the effect of TLE age on the accuracy of the Doppler computation. The problem is that, when a satellite pass occurs, TLEs have been calculated at an epoch in the past, so there is an error between the actual Doppler curve and the Doppler curve predicted by the TLEs. We show that the actual Doppler curve is very well approximated by applying a time shift to the Doppler curve predicted by the TLEs, justifying the study in part I.

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Charlas en IberRadio

English summary: Slides and recordings for the two talks I gave yesterday in IberRadio. One of the is about gr-satellites and the other one is about Linrad. All the material are in Spanish.

Ayer estuve en la feria IberRadio, en Ávila, dando dos charlas: una sobre gr-satellites y la otra sobre Linrad. Las diapositivas en PDF de las charlas se pueden descargar aquí:

He grabado las charlas usando mi cámara. El enfoque y la exposición no son muy buenos, pero he editado el vídeo incluyendo encima las imágenes de las diapositivas, lo que facilita seguir el vídeo de la charla. Por contra, las demostraciones en directo en la charla de Linrad se ven un poco mal.

Actualización: David EA1FAQ también hizo grabaciones de las charlas. En sus grabaciones se ve mejor el proyector, por lo que las demostraciones en directo durante la charla de Linrad se siguen mejor. Incluyo links más abajo.

Grabaciones con diapositivas por EA4GPZ

Grabaciones por EA1FAQ

AGC for gr-satellites

In a previous post I discussed my BER simulations with the LilacSat-1 receiver in gr-satellites. I found out that the "Feed Forward AGC" block was not performing well and causing a considerable loss in performance. David Rowe remarked that an AGC should not be necessary in a PSK modem, since PSK is not sensitive to amplitude. While this is true, several of the GNU Radio blocks that I'm using in my BPSK receiver are indeed sensitive to amplitude, so an AGC must be used with them. Here I look at these blocks and I explain the new AGC that I'm now using in gr-satellites.

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ÑuSat finally decoded

More than a year ago, I spoke about my efforts to decode ÑuSat-1 and -2. I got as far as reverse-engineering the syncword and packet length, and I conjectured that the last 4 bytes of the packet were a CRC, but without the scrambler algorithm I couldn't do much. Recently I've been exchanging some emails with Gerardo Richarte from Satellogic, which is the company behind the ÑuSat satellites. He has been able to provide me the details of the protocol that I wasn't able to reverse engineer. The result of this exchange is that a complete decoder for ÑuSat-1 and -2 is now included in gr-satellites, together with an example recording. The beacon format is still unknown, but there is some ASCII data in the beacon. Here I summarise the technical details of the protocol used by ÑuSat. Thanks to Gerardo for his help and to Mike DK3WN for insisting into getting this job eventually done.

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D-SAT image downlink

In a previous post, I spoke about the cubesat D-SAT. The thing that first caught my attention about this satellite is its image downlink and the quality of some of the images that Mike DK3WN has managed to receive. Yesterday, Mike sent me an IQ recording of D-SAT downlinking a couple of images. After using the Groundstation software by the D-SAT team to verify that the images in the recording can be decoded, I have reverse engineered the protocol used to transmit images and added an image decoder to the D-SAT decoder in gr-satellites.

The image decoder can be tested with the dsat-image.wav recording in satellite-recordings. This WAV file contains the image below, which shows the Southwestern part of Spain and Portugal. The image was taken by D-SAT on 2017-08-17 10:09:54 UTC and received by Mike during the 19:10 UTC pass that evening.

Image of Spain and Portugal taken by D-SAT

According to the TLEs, at the time this image was taken, D-SAT was just above Rincón de la Victoria, in Málaga, passing on a North to South orbit. This means that D-SAT's camera was pointing more or less in a direction normal to the orbit.

This image is a 352x288 pixels JPEG image with a size of 13057 bytes. It took 43 seconds to transfer using D-SAT's 4k8 AF GMSK downlink (yes, the overhead is around 100%, more on that later). In the rest of this post, I detail the protocol used to transmit the images.

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D-SAT support added to gr-satellites

D-SAT is an Italian cubesat that will demonstrate a new deorbit hardware. Apparently this system uses dedicated propulsion to make the satellite re-enter from a 500km orbit in 30 minutes. It also carries three more experiments and it was launched in June 23 together with several other small satellites. According to the information from the team, it transmits 4k8 telemetry in the 70cm band. It is not stated explicitly, but we read attentively, we see that it uses a NanoCom U482C transceiver from GOMspace.

Recently, I have seen Mike DK3WN decode very nice images from D-SAT and I have investigated a bit to see what software he is using.

The satellite team provides some decoding software through their forum, which requires registration. Version 2 of their software can be downloaded directly here using the password dsatmission. Its software is based on GNU Radio and it uses a few components from gr-satellites, namely the U482C decoder and some KISS and CSP blocks. These have been incorporated into their decoder from before gr-satellites was restructured. They include a note thanking me in the README, but I didn't ever hear from them that they were using gr-satellites. It would have been nice if they had contacted me, since this opens up many possibilities for collaboration.

Apart from that, they include a groundstation software which performs telemetry decoding and so on. Unfortunately, the groundstation software is closed-source, distributed only as an x86_64 Linux executable. This is not good for Amateur Radio. We should strive for open source software and open specifications for everything that transmits in our bands. The groundstation software is also distributed in a quite ugly manner as the remains of an Eclipse project (source code stripped, of course). However, it is interesting because it seems that this software is the same they use in their groundstation, and it supports sending commands to the satellite. Naturally, the command transmission is not implemented in the software they distribute, but it is still very interesting to have a peek and see what kinds of commands the satellite supports.

I have added a D-SAT decoder to gr-satellites. The decoder supports sending frames to their groundstation software. Here I describe how to set everything up.

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WSJT-X and linear satellites: part I

Several weeks ago, in an AMSAT EA informal meeting, Eduardo EA3GHS wondered about the possibility of using WSJT-X modes through linear transponder satellites in low Earth orbit. Of course, computer Doppler correction is a must, but even under the best circumstances we cannot assume a perfect Doppler correction. First, there are errors in the Doppler computation because the TLEs used are always measured at an earlier time and do not reflect exactly the current state of the satellite. This was the aspect that Eduardo was studying. Second, there are also errors because the computer clock is not perfect. Even a 10ms error in the computer clock can produce a noticeable error in the Doppler computation. Also, usually there is a delay between the time that the RF signal reaches the antenna and the time that the Doppler correction is computed for and applied to the signal, especially if using SDR hardware, which can have large buffers for the signal. This delay can be measured and compensated in the Doppler calculation, but this is usually not done.

Here we look at errors of the second kind. We denote by D(t) the function describing the Doppler frequency, where t is the time when the signal arrives at the antenna. We assume that the correction is not done using D(t), but rather D(t - \delta), where \delta is a small constant. Thus, a residual Doppler D(t)-D(t-\delta) is still present in the received signal. We will study this residual Doppler and how tolerant to it are several WSJT-X modes, depending on the value of \delta.

The dependence of Doppler on the age of the TLEs will be studied in a later post, but it is worthy to note that the largest error made by using old TLEs is in the along-track position of the satellite, and that this effect is well modelled by offsetting the Doppler curve in time. This justifies the study of the residual Doppler D(t)-D(t-\delta).

Continue reading "WSJT-X and linear satellites: part I"