More data from LES-5

Yesterday I looked at decoding some data transmitted by LES-5. Today I have analysed a longer recording made by Scott Tilley VE7TIL to perform an eclipse timing on 2020-03-25. The study has been done in this Jupyter notebook, which looks at the sequences of symbols extracted before and after the eclipse (they are kept as two separate sequences because the transmit frequency changed slightly after the eclipse, so decoding required two separate passes).

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Decoding LES-9

After decoding a recording of the LES-5 236.7MHz telemetry beacon made by Scott Tilley VE7TIL, I have decoded an older recording made by Scott of the S-band beacon of LES-9. This satellite was launched in 1976 and it has a 100 baud BPSK beacon at 2250MHz. Scott twitted about it in April 2019, and in January 2020 he reported that the modulation had stopped and the beacon was now a CW carrier.

I have used this recording made by Scott in 2020-01-13. The GNU Radio demodulator, which is very similar to the one for LES-5, is here and the Jupyter notebook with the results is here. Below, I make a brief summary of the results.

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Decoding LES-5

LES-5 is a satellite launched in 1967. It was built by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and its main payload was an experimental transponder for the military 230MHz band. It was placed in a subsynchrounous orbit with an altitude of around 33400km (GEO altitude is 35786km). Its operations ceased in 1971.

A couple days ago, Scott Tilley VE7TIL discovered that LES-5 was still transmitting, and was able to receive its beacon at 236.749MHz. Scott reports that LES-5 is the oldest GEO-belt object that he knows to be still transmitting.

The beacon is modulated, rather than being a CW carrier, so Scott sent me a short recording for analysis. This post is a summary of my study.

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Coherence and QO-100

My tweet about the AMSAT-BR QO-100 FT8 QRPp experiment has spawned a very interesting discussion with Phil Karn KA9Q, Marcus Müller and others about weak signal modes specifically designed for the QO-100 communications channel, which is AWGN albeit with some frequency drift (mainly due to the imperfect reference clocks used in the typical groundstations).

Roughly speaking, the conversation shifted from noting that FT8 is not so efficient in terms of EbN0 to the idea of using something like coherent BPSK with \(r=1/6\) CCSDS Turbo code, then to observing that maybe there was not enough SNR for a Costas loop to work, so a residual carrier should be used, and eventually to asking whether a residual carrier would work at all.

There are several different problems that can be framed in this context. For me, the most interesting and difficult one is how to transmit some data with the least CN0 possible. In an ideal world, you can always manage to transmit a weaker signal just by transmitting slower (thus maintaining the Eb/N0 constant). In the real world, however, there are some time-varying physical parameters of the signal that the receiver needs to track (be it phase, frequency, clock synchronization, etc.). In order to detect and track these parameters, some minimum signal power is needed at the receiver.

This means that, in practice, depending on the physical channel in question, there is a lower CN0 limit at which communication on that channel can be achieved. In many situations, designing a system that tries to approach to that limit is a hard and interesting question.

Another problem that can be posed is how to transmit some data with the least Eb/N0 possible, thus approaching the Shannon capacity of the channel. However, the people doing DVB-S2 over the wideband transponder are not doing it so bad at all in this respect. Indeed, by transmitting faster (and increasing power, to keep the Eb/N0 reasonable), the frequency drift problems become completely manageable.

In any case, if we’re going to discuss about these questions, it is important to characterize the typical frequency drift of signals through the QO-100 transponder. This post contains some brief experiments about this.

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Decoding images from AMICal Sat

AMICal Sat is a 2U cubesat developed by the Space Centre of the Grenoble University, France, and the Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics in the Lomonosov Moscow State University. Its scientific mission consists in taking images of auroras from low Earth orbit. The satellite bus was built by SatRevolution. Currently, the satellite is in Grenoble waiting to be launched on a future date (which is uncertain due to the COVID-19 situation).

A few weeks ago I was working with Julien Nicolas F4HVX to try to decode some of the images transmitted by AMICal Sat. Julien is an Amateur radio operator and he is helping the satellite team at Grenoble with the communications of the satellite.

This post is an account of our progress so far.

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Fifth alpha for gr-satellites 3

Today I have released gr-satellites v3-alpha4, the fifth alpha in the series that will lead to the refactor of gr-satellites in which I’ve been working since September. This alpha release has been focused on improving the performance of the BPSK and FSK demodulators. Here I summarise the improvements and new features that this alpha brings, and look at the roadmap leading to the release of gr-satellites 3.0.0.

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