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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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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Decoding BepiColombo

BepiColombo is a joint mission between ESA and JAXA to send two scientific spacecraft to Mercury. The two spacecraft, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, built by ESA, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, built by JAXA, travel together, joined by the Mercury Transfer Module, which provides propulsion and support during cruise, and will separate upon arrival to Mercury. The mission was launched on October 2018 and will arrive to an orbit around Mercury on December 2025. The long cruise consists of one Earth flyby, two Venus flybys, and six Mercury flybys.

The Earth flyby will happen in a few days, on 2020-04-10, so currently BepiColombo is quickly approaching Earth at a speed of 4km/s. Yesterday, on 2020-04-04, the spacecraft was 2 million km away from Earth, which is close enough so that Amateur DSN stations can receive the data modulation sidebands. Paul Marsh M0EYT, Jean-Luc Milette and others have been posting their reception reports on Twitter.

Paul sent me a short recording he made on 2020-04-04 at 15:16 UTC at a frequency of 8420.535MHz, so that I could see if it was possible to decode the signal. I’ve successfully decoded the frames, with very few errors. This post is a summary of my decoding.

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DSLWP-B last activities and end of mission

As probably you all know, the Chinese Amateur lunar orbiting satellite DSLWP-B was expected to collide with the Moon on July 31 at 14:20 UTC, so this is the last report about the DSLWP-B activities. The collision was planned since January this year, and was done as a means to end the mission without leaving debris in lunar orbit.

The activation slots for the Amateur payload on-board DSLWP-B for this week were the following:

  • 29 Jul 00:15 to 02:15
  • 29 Jul 04:30 to 06:30
  • 29 Jul 20:00 to 22:00
  • 30 Jul 05:30 to 07:30
  • 30 Jul 16:20 to 18:20
  • 31 Jul 06:30 to 08:30
  • 31 Jul 13:24 to 15.24
  • 1 Aug 05:30 to 07:30

I had calculated a periapsis height of -62km for the July 31 orbit, so the collision with the Moon was quite certain, even taking orbit errors into account. However, a slot was set on August 1 just in case the collision didn’t happen.

This post summarizes the activities done this week with DSLWP-B and the end of the mission.

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DSLWP-B activities for the fourth week of July

During the fourth week of July, the Amateur payload on-board DSLWP-B was active in the following slots.

  • 22 Jul 06:14 to 08:14
  • 22 Jul 22:40 to 23 Jul 00:40
  • 23 Jul 23:20 to 24 Jul 01:20
  • 25 Jul 00:30 to 02:30
  • 26 Jul 10:55 to 12:55
  • 27 Jul 02:30 to 04:30
  • 28 Jul 03:30 to 05:30

Additionally, Wei Mingchuan BG2BHC shared on Twitter the 10 minute slots for the activations of the X band transmitter. This transmitter uses a frequency of 8478MHz (in the Deep Space X band) and 2Mbps BPSK with CCSDS standards. The transmit power is 2W and the gain of the small X-band dish is 22dBi. The signal is detectable with small stations (as shown here), but to demodulate the data a large dish is needed. The Chinese DSN uses 35m and 50m antennas to receive this signal.

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DSLWP-B mission end prediction

Back in May, I spoke about the future collision of DSLWP-B with the lunar surface. It would happen on July 31, thus putting and end to the mission. Now that the impact date is near, I have run again the calculations with the latest ephemeris in order to have an accurate simulation of the event.

The ephemeris I’m using consist of a Moon centred ICRF Keplerian state vector which has been shared by Wei Mingchuan BG2BHC. In GMAT, this state vector is as follows:

DSLWP_B.Epoch = '25 Jul 2019 02:30:00.000';
DSLWP_B.CoordinateSystem = LunaICRF;
DSLWP_B.SMA = 8708.404;
DSLWP_B.ECC = 0.747921;
DSLWP_B.INC = 44.157;
DSLWP_B.RAAN = 52.405;
DSLWP_B.AOP = 86.261;
DSLWP_B.TA = 165.00062091131025;

Using this GMAT script, I have obtained that the impact will happen on 2019-07-31 14:19:57 UTC, near Mare Moscoviense, in the lunar far side. This result is quite close to the calculations I did in May, which predicted an impact at 14:47 UTC.

The images below show the impact simulation in GMAT. Since the impact happens on the far side of the Moon, it will not be visible from Earth. There is an activation of the Amateur payload onboard DSLWP-B for 2019-07-31 13:24 to 15:24 UTC. The satellite will hide behind the Moon around 14:08 UTC. If the Moon was not solid, DSLWP-B would reappear around 14:35 UTC. The absence of radio signals after this moment will confirm that the impact has occurred.

DLSWP-B impact orbit in GMAT (view of Earth and Moon)
DSLWP-B impact orbit in GMAT (top view)
Ground track and location of DSLWP-B impact in GMAT

Second Moon observation with my QO-100 station.

In May 25, the Moon passed through the beam of my QO-100 groundstation and I took the opportunity to measure the Moon noise and receive the Moonbounce 10GHz beacon DL0SHF. A few days ago, in July 22, the Moon passed again through the beam of the dish. This is interesting because, in contrast to the opportunity in May, where the Moon only got within 0.5º of the dish pointing, in July 22 the Moon passed almost through the nominal dish pointing. Also, incidentally this occasion has almost coincided with the 50th anniversary of the arrival to the Moon of Apollo 11, and all the activities organized worldwide to celebrate this event.

The figure below shows the noise measurement at 10366.5GHz with 1MHz and a 1.2m offset dish, compared with the angular separation between the Moon and the nominal pointing of the dish (defined as the direction from my station to Es’hail 2). The same recording settings as in the first observation were used here.

The first thing to note is that I made a mistake when programming the recording. I intended to make a 30 minute recording centred at the moment of closest approach, but instead I programmed the recording to start at the moment of closest approach. The LimeSDR used to make the recording was started to stream one hour before the recording, in order to achieve a stable temperature (this was one lesson I learned from my first observation).

The second comment is that the maximum noise doesn’t coincide with the moment when the Moon is closest to the nominal pointing. Luckily, this makes all the noise hump fit into the recording interval, but it means that my dish pointing is off. Indeed, the maximum happens when the Moon is 1.5º away from the nominal pointing, so my dish pointing error is at least 1.5º. I will try adjust the dish soon by peaking on the QO-100 beacon signal.

The noise hump is approximately 0.085dB, which is much better than the 0.05dB hump that I obtained in the first observation. It may not seem like much, but assuming the same noise in both observations, this is a difference of 2.32dB in the signal. This difference can be explained by the dish pointing error.

The recording I have made also covers the 10GHz Amateur EME band, but I have not been able to detect the signal of the DL0SHF beacon. Perhaps it was not transmitting when the recording was made. I have also arrived to the conclusion that the recording for my first observation had severe sample loss, as it was made on a mechanical hard drive. This explains the odd timing I detected in the DL0SHF signal.

The next observation is planned for October 11, but before this there is the Sun outage season between September 6 and 11, in which the Sun passes through the beam of the dish, so that Sun noise measurements can be performed.

DSLWP-B activities for the third week of July

During this week, the Amateur payload of DSLWP-B was active during the following slots:

  • 14 Jul 19:00 to 21:00
  • 15 Jul 12:00 to 14:00
  • 17 Jul 04:40 to 06:50
  • 18 Jul 20:50 to 22:50
  • 20 Jul 14:20 to 16:20
  • 21 Jul 05:30 to 07:30

Among these, the Moon was visible from Europe only on July 14, 18 and 21, so Dwingeloo only observed these days, which were mainly devoted to the download of SSDV images of the lunar surface. As usual, the payload took an image automatically at the start of each slot, so some of the slots were used for autonomous lunar imaging, even though no tracking was made from Dwingeloo.

This post is a detailed account of the activities done with DSLWP-B during the third week of July.

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DSLWP-B activities for the second week of July

During this week, the Amateur payload of DSLWP-B has been active on the following slots:

  • 2019-07-09 12:30 to 14:30 UTC
  • 2019-07-10 13:50 to 15:50 UTC
  • 2019-07-12 02:00 to 04:00 UTC
  • 2019-07-12 16:30 to 18:30 UTC

In these activations, the last remaining image of the eclipse was downloaded. Also, images of the lunar surface as well as stars have been taken and downloaded. This post is a summary of the activities made with DSLWP-B over the week.

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Results of DSLWP-B eclipse imaging

Probably you’ve already seen the amazing images of the July 2 solar eclipse taken by DSLWP-B. These have have been shared in Twitter by the Harbin Institute of Technology Amateur Radio club BY2HIT, Tammo Jan Dijkema from the Dwingeloo radiotelescope in the Netherlands, and others.

I have devoted the last few posts to the planning of the imaging times for the eclipse test run and the validation of the test run done on June 30. This post is a detailed account of the results of the eclipse imaging. Between July 3 and 5, five of the six eclipse images taken on July 2 were downloaded, as well as some other images taken later. Here I give a summary of the downloads during these days and compare the images to the predictions I made.

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