PolyITAN-2-SAU, or QB50 UA01, is a cubesat from National Technical University of Ukraine, that was launched on May 2017 as part of the QB50 proyect. When it was launched, I made a recording of several QB50 satellites, including PolyITAN-2-SAU. Presumably, the modulation and coding used by this satellite is 9k6 BPSK AX.25, with G3RUH scrambling. Back then, I commented that although the signal was strong and I could get a clean constellation plot, I was unable to get valid AX.25 packets.

I had completely forgotten this satellite, but the other day I saw that Andy UZ7HO had added support for PolyITAN-2-SAU to his SoundModem. I asked Andy for some help, since I suspected that the coding wasn’t exactly standard G3RUH AX.25.

The trick is that this satellite uses two “layers” of NRZI encoding. The relevant part of the decoder is shown below. The BPSK symbols come in from the left of the figure and the AX.25 packets exit by the right. A standard G3RUH AX.25 decoder wouldn’t have the extra NRZI decoder on the right.

Note that NRZI decoding and G3RUH descrambling commute, since the G3RUH polynomial has an odd number of terms. Therefore, the decoder can also be organized in a different way, with both NRZI decoders at one side (either the input or output) of the descrambler.

Having two NRZI decoders in chain is a really funny concept, so it almost seems as some kind of mistake from the satellite team (most QB50 satellites use standard BPSK or FSK AX.25 packet radio for compatibility). In fact, if we write an NRZI decoder as \(y_n = 1 + x_n + x_{n-1}\), where \(x_n\) is the input sequence, \(y_n\) is the output sequence and the operations are performed on the finite field \(GF(2)\), then the effect of two NRZI decoders in chain can be written as\[z_n = 1 + y_n + y_{n-1} = 1 + x_n + x_{n-2},\] which is a rather strange form of differential decoder.

Thanks to Andy for giving me the clue about the extra NRZI decoder, as I would have had a hard time in finding it by myself (although, in retrospective, it is not that difficult to guess it by looking at the descrambled stream and seeing how HDLC 0x7e flags can be obtained from it). I have now added a decoder for PolyITAN-2-SAU to gr-satellites.