Receiving Arecibo in HF

The well known Arecibo observatory, besides being used as a radiotelescope and planetary radar, has a powerful HF transmitter that is used to artificially excite the ionosphere, in order to study ionospheric effects using 430MHz incoherent scatter radar. More information about this can be found in the HF proposals page of the observatory web, and in this poster that details the characteristics of the HF facilities.

The HF transmitter has a power of up to 600kW and can use the frequencies 5.1MHz and 8.175MHz. At those frequencies, the dish has a gain of 22dB (13º beamwidth) and 25.5dB (8.5deg) respectively, so the power that is beamed up to the ionosphere is huge. The 430MHz incoherent scatter radar is even more powerful, with up to 2MW. For an introduction to ionospheric incoherent scatter radar, see this lecture by Juha Vierinen, which explains why such huge powers are needed, due to the very weak radar return of ionospheric plasma.

A few days ago, on Wednesday 24, Chris Fallen tweeted that the Arecibo transmitter was active at 5.1MHz. According to the telescope schedule, which can be seen in the figure below (click on the image to view it in full size), there was an experiment that involved the HF transmitter on 2020-06-24 from 18:00 to 22:00 UTC, on 2020-06-25 from 17:00 to 21:00 UTC, and on 2020-06-26 from 17:00 to 21:00 UTC.

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gr-satellites FSK BER

A few months ago I talked about BER simulations of the gr-satellites demodulators. In there, I showed the BER curves for the BPSK and FSK demodulators that are included in gr-satellites, and gave some explanation about why the current FSK demodulator is far from ideal. Yesterday I was generating again these BER plots to check that I hadn’t broken anything after some small improvements. I was surprised to find that the FSK BER curve I got was much worse than the one in the old post.

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On the DSCS-III X-band 1kbaud beacon

Over the last few days, I’ve been looking at some recordings of the DSCS-III A-3 X-band beacon made by Scott Tilley VE7TIL. The beacon has a central carrier, which is BPSK modulated at 800baud and whose details we know pretty well due to this Master’s thesis by James Coppola. It also has two subcarriers modulated with 1kbaud BPSK of which we know very little. In this post I explain what I’ve been able to find about the data in this 1kbaud subcarriers (which isn’t that much, to be honest).

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Reverse-engineering the DSCS-III convolutional encoder

One thing I left open in my post yesterday was the convolutional encoder used for FEC in the DSCS-III X-band beacon data. I haven’t seen that the details of the convolutional encoder are described in Coppola’s Master’s thesis, but in a situation such as this one, it is quite easy to use some linear algebra to find the convolutional encoder specification. Here I explain how it is done.

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A look at the DSCS-III X-band beacon

The DSCS satellites are a constellation of US military communication satellites. While the constellation is old and it is being replaced by WGS, there are still several active DSCS-III satellites. A few days ago, Scott Tilley VE7TIL tweeted about the DSCS-III-A3 X-band beacon. The satellite DSCS-III-A3, also known as USA-167, is the second most recent DSCS-III satellite, having been launched in 2003. It has an X-band beacon at 7604.6MHz.

Scott’s tweets included a very impressive and interesting find: a Master’s thesis about a DSCS-III beacon decoder made by James Coppola in 1992. The thesis contains a wealth of information about the beacon, as well as the complete C source code for the decoder.

Scott has also been kind enough to share with me some recordings that he made of the beacon, so in this post I’ll be looking at these and how they relate to the information in the thesis.

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Ranging through the QO-100 WB transponder

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do since Es’hail 2 was launched is to perform two-way ranging by transmitting a signal through the Amateur transponder and measuring the round trip time. Stefan Biereigel DK3SB first did this about a year ago. His ranging implementation uses a waveform with a chip rate of only 10kHz, as it is thought for Amateur transponders having bandwidths of a few tens of kHz. With this relatively slow chiprate, he achieved a ranging resolution of approximately 1km.

The QO-100 WB transponder allows much wider signals that can be used to achieve a ranging resolution of one metre or less. This weekend I have been doing my first experiments about ranging through the QO-100 WB transponder.

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Advances with delta-range and delta-range rate observations in GMAT

A month ago I started modifying the GMAT EstimationPlugin to support delta-range observations. This work is needed in order to perform orbit determination with the VLBI observations that we did with DSLWP-B (Longjiang-2) during its mission. Now I have a version which is able to use both delta-range and delta-range rate observations in simulation and estimation. This is pretty much all that’s needed for the DSLWP-B VLBI observations.

The modified GMAT version and accompanying GMAT scripts for this project can be found in the gmat-dslwp Github repository. This post is an account of the work I’ve made.

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Decoding Crew Dragon Demo-2

The launch last Saturday of Crew Dragon Demo-2 undoubtedly was an important event in the history of American space exploration and human spaceflight. This was the first crewed launch from the United States in 9 years and the first crewed launch ever by a commercial provider. Amateur radio operators always follow this kind of events with their hobby, and in the hours and days following the launch, several Amateur operators have posted reception reports of the Crew Dragon C206 “Endeavour” signals.

It seems that the signal received by most people has been the one at 2216 MHz. Among these reports, I can mention the tweets by Scott Tilley VE7TIL (and this one), USA Satcom, Paul Marsh M0EYT. Paul also managed to receive a signal on 2272.5 MHz, which is not in the FCC filing, so this may or may not be from the Crew Dragon.

Scott has also shared with me an IQ recording of one of the passes, and as I showed on Twitter yesterday, I have been able to demodulate the data. This post is my analysis of the signal.

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LES-5 telemetry Grafana dashboard

Scott Tilley VE7TIL is making a serious effort and a great job of recording and processing LES-5 telemetry. He is recording all the passes over his home in western Canada (which last several days, due to the sub-synchronous orbit), and sharing the data on a Github repository, together with Jupyter notebooks that analyse the data and plot some of the telemetry variables, such as the values recorded by the RFI experiment.

I am storing this data in InfluxDB 2.0 and using Grafana to plot it and explore it. The Grafana server has been running for quite some time now, but I never announced it publicly, so very few people have used it. I guess that now is a good time to share it with a wider audience. The server is at and the LES-5 dashboards can be accessed by using user “les5” and password “les5”.

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Update on the QO-100 local oscillator wiggles

This post is a follow up to my study of the “wiggles” observed in the local oscillator of the QO-100 NB transponder. After writing that post, I have continued measuring the frequency of the BPSK beacon with my station almost without interruptions. Now I have some 44 days of measurements, spanning from April 9 to May 23. This data can be interesting to look at, so I’m doing this short post to share the data and look at it briefly.

The Jupyter notebook with all the data can be found here. The data is also linked in my jupyter_notebooks Github repository, which now uses git-annex to store the data in my home server. See the README for instructions on how to download some or all of the data files in the repository.

The whole time series can be seen in the figure below. We note that the typical Doppler sinusoidal curve varies slowly due to orbit perturbations and sometimes suddenly as a consequence of a station-keeping manoeuvre. I tweeted about one of the manoeuvres a while back.

There are now too many days in order to see things clearly when the frequency curves for each day are overlaid, but hopefully the figure below gives a good idea. We can see that the wiggles still happen approximately between 21:00 and 06:00 UTC, and between 11:00 and 17:00 UTC.

If we add an artificial offset of -15 Hz per day to the curves to prevent them from overlapping, we obtain the figure below. We see that the pattern of the wiggles keeps changing slightly, but also remains quite similar.

In my last post about this topic I said that it seemed that the wiggles repeated with a period of a sidereal day. Now it is clear that it is not the case. The wiggles seem to repeat roughly with a period of a solar day (24 hours). In fact, in 44 days sidereal time “advances” 2.88 hours with respect to solar time. However, it is clear that the wiggles haven’t shifted that much in time.