DSLWP-B and the solar eclipse

On July 2, there will be a total solar eclipse observable from parts of the Pacific Ocean, Chile and Argentina. This gives the opportunity to image the eclipse with the Inory eye camera on-board DSLWP-B, the Chinese lunar orbiting Amateur satellite. Wei Mingchuan BG2BHC has already started planning for the eclipse observation, and I have run my usual calculations using the 20190618 ephemeris from dlswp_dev.

The main interest in trying to do an imaging session during the eclipse is to photograph the shadow of the Moon on the surface of the Earth. The camera doesn’t have a large resolution, and the Earth looks small in the image, but perhaps it will be possible to distinguish the shadow clearly.

Besides this, it is also interesting to try to get the Moon in the image, as it has been done in other occasions. This not only gives a more interesting picture, but also helps the camera auto-exposure algorithm by providing a large bright object in the field of view. Past attempts to image the Earth alone have all yielded over-exposed images. It turns out that the orbit of DSLWP-B is ideal to image the eclipse, partly by chance and partly because of the nominal satellite attitude.

Recall that the camera of DSLWP-B is always pointing away from the Sun, because the satellite aims its solar panel towards the Sun. Since DSLWP-B orbits the Moon, this means that the Earth will be in the centre of the camera field of view whenever a solar eclipse happens. However, the satellite could be at any point of its orbit. It might happen that the Moon is between the satellite and the Earth, hiding the view, or, more likely, that the Moon is outside of the field of view of the camera.

The total eclipse is observable between 18:01 and 20:45 UTC, with the maximum happening at 19:23. The two figures below show the positions of the Moon and Earth within the field of view of the camera. As explained above, the Earth is near the centre of the image during the eclipse. In the bottom figure we see that the Earth is hidden by the Moon until 19:27.

Therefore, it seems that this is an optimal chance to image the eclipse. The Earth will emerge behind the Moon very near to the eclipse maximum. Since DSLWP-B is orbiting at a lower altitude in comparison with other imaging sessions, the Moon will move rather quickly through the camera field of view and disappear in a matter of 10 minutes.

Thus, my recommendation is that instead of taking images every 10 minutes, as it has been done in other occasions, a smaller interval of 2 minutes is used instead. A series of 9 images starting at 19:20 is shown in the plot above as green lines. This gives good coverage of the eclipse and the Earth appearing behind the Moon.

The figure below shows the simulation of the view in GMAT. Note that the field of view of the camera is smaller than what this image shows.

GMAT simulation of the eclipse view

Report for DSLWP-B June imaging

In my previous post, I spoke about the opportunity to take images of the Moon and Earth using the Inory eye camera on DSLWP-B during the first week of June. All the tentative plannings for programming the image taking and downloading the images listed in that post were eventually made final, so the observation runs have been done without any modifications to the schedule.

On June 3, a series of 9 images with 10 minutes of spacing was taken starting at 03:05 UTC. This gives a nice sequence of the Earth hiding behind the Moon and reappearing. One of the images was partially downloaded during the same 2 hour activation of the Amateur payload on June 3. Several of the remaining images were downloaded between June 4 and June 6. On June 7, the station of Reinhard Kuehn DK5LA, which is normally used as the uplink station, wasn’t available, so a single image outside of the Moon series was downloaded using Harbin as uplink station.

This is a report of the images taken and downloaded during this week.

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DSLWP-B June lunar imaging and VLBI

Yesterday, Wei Mingchuan BG2BHC sent an email to the team of DSLWP-B collaborators saying that the first week of June would give good opportunities both to take images of the Moon and Earth (as it has been done in other occasions) and to perform VLBI sessions involving Dwingeloo, Shahe, Harbin, and perhaps Wakayama University, which has a 12m dish. Here I show the preliminary plan proposed by Wei and a few graphs useful for camera and VLBI planning.

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Receiving a LoRa high altitude balloon

Last Sunday, Julián Fernández EA4HCD, released a high altitude balloon carrying a LoRa payload as a preliminary test for the FossaSat-1 pocketqube that he is devolping with Fossa Systems. You can see a video of the release in this tweet. The balloon was launched near Madrid, and burst at an altitude of approximately 24km, having travelled some 180km southeast.

The payload had two transmitters: An SX1278 LoRa transceiver transmitting at 434.5MHz with 10mW alternating between LoRa and RTTY, and an 868MHz 25mW LoRa transceiver that was received on The Things Network. Simple groundplane 1/4-wave monopole antennas were used.

I went to the countryside just outside my city, Tres Cantos, and set up a station to record the transmissions on 434.5MHz. The station consisted of a 7 element yagi by Arrow Antennas, set in vertical polarization and placed on a camera tripod on the roof of my car, and a FUNcube Dongle Pro+. This is a brief analysis of the recording.

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DSLWP-B lunar impact prediction

In my last post, I spoke about the future lunar impact of DSLWP-B on July 31. Edgar Kaiser DF2MZ asked over on Twitter if the impact would be visible from Earth. As I didn’t know the answer, I have made a simulation in GMAT to find this out.

The figure below shows the orbit of DSLWP-B between July 28 12:00 UTC and the moment of impact, on July 13 14:47 UTC. The orbital state used for DSLWP-B is the 20190426 tracking file from dslwp_dev. The reference frame is arranged so that the +X axis points towards the Earth, and the Y axis lies on the Earth-Moon orbital plane. As we can see, unfortunately, the impact will happen on the far side of the Moon, where it is not observable from Earth.

Future impact of DSLWP-B on the far side of the Moon

However, it is possible to arrange a manoeuvre to modify the orbit slightly and make the impact point fall on the near side of the Moon, where it is visible from Earth. In the previous post we observed that, ignoring the collision with the lunar surface, the periapsis radius would continue to decrease after July 31, until reaching a minimum value in January 2020.

Therefore, it is possible to raise the periapsis radius slightly in order to delay the collision approximately half a lunar month, so that the periapsis faces the Earth at the moment of impact. The delta-v required to make this manoeuvre is small, as the adjustment to the orbit is subtle.

For instance, performing a prograde burn of 7m/s at the first apoapsis after July 1 delays the collision until August 13, producing an impact in the near side of the Moon. The resulting orbit can be seen in the figure below, which shows the path of DSLWP-B between July 28 and the moment of impact.

Impact of DSLWP-B on the near side of the Moon if a correction manoeuvre is applied

Adjusting the delta-v more precisely would make it possible even to control the time of the impact, so as to guarantee that the Moon will be in view of the groundstations at China and The Netherlands when the collision happens. However, this adjustment requires a very precise delta-v and is quite sensitive to the orbital state, so perhaps it is not feasible without performing a precise orbit determination and maybe some smaller correction manoeuvres following the periapsis raise.

Another possible problem that can affect the prediction of the impact point are the perturbations of the orbit caused by the lunar mascons, which can be noticeable when the altitude of the orbit starts getting small, and which haven’t been considered very carefully in this simulation (the non-spherical gravity of the Moon was only simulated up to degree and order 10).

The GMAT script used for this post can be found here.

DSLWP-B deorbit and mission end

On January 24, the periapsis of the lunar orbit of DSLWP-B was lowered approximately by 500km, so that orbital perturbations would eventually force the satellite to collide with the Moon. This was done to put an end to the mission and to avoid leaving debris in orbit. It is expected that the collision will happen at the end of July, so there are only three months left now for the DSLWP-B mission. Here I look at the details of the deorbit.

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Detecting the Sprites from KickSat-2

The Sprites chipsats are tiny satellites built on a 3.5×3.5cm PCB with the bare minimum electronics to do something useful: a CC430 microcontroller with integrated FSK transceiver, an IMU, and solar cells.

Sprite chipsat (taken from the KickSat webpage)

The Sprites have been developed as part of the KickSat project, led by Zac Manchester, from Stanford University. The idea is to carry up to 128 Sprites in a cubesat and deploy them in a swarm once the cubesat is in orbit. The first test of this concept was done by the KickSat 3U cubesat in 2014. The test was a failure, since the Sprites couldn’t be deployed before KickSat reentered.

The second test was made this year with the KickSat-2 3U cubesat, a reflight of the KickSat mission carrying 104 Sprites. KickSat-2 was launched to the ISS onboard Cygnus NG-10 in November 2018 and deployed into orbit in February 2019.

On March 19, the Sprites were successfully deployed from KickSat-2, as Zac announced in Twitter, requesting help from the Amateur radio community to receive the signals from the Sprites at 437.240MHz. On March 22, Cees Bassa and Tammo Jan Dijkema tried to detect the Sprites by doing a planar scan with the Dwingeloo 25m radiotelescope. They were successful, detecting several transmissions from the Sprites in the waterfall. At that moment, the Sprites were up to 5 minutes ahead KickSat-2, due to their much higher drag to mass ratio. They all probably reentered a few days after this.

All the Sprites transmit in the same frequency using CDMA, so further analysis is required to identify which Sprites were observed by Dwingeloo. Zac said he was working on decoding the recording, however, I haven’t seen any results published yet. Here I show my analysis of the recording made at Dwingeloo. I manage to detect 4 different Sprites.

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Weekend maintenance to QO-100 NB beacons

This weekend, the beacons of the Es’hail 2 narrowband transponder have undergone maintenance. The beacons have been off for several periods of a few hours on Friday and Saturday. After the maintenance, there are two main changes: the phase noise of the beacons has been fixed, and the beacons are now approximately 3dB stronger.

Since the opening of the transponder on February 14, some phase noise on the two beacon signals was appreciable slightly above the noise floor, and with the latest increase in power of the beacons, the phase noise was more evident. Now the problem is fixed and the transponder is clear of phase noise.

The figure below shows the power of the beacons and transponder noise (measured in 2kHz bandwidth). You can see that the beacon power has daily fluctuations of up to 2dB, but despite of this fact it is clear that the beacons are now approximately 3dB stronger than before (maybe even 4dB).

The figure below shows the CN0 of the beacons, measured both at the transponder and at my receiver (where it is lower due to system noise). The CN0 is now extremely high: 56dB for the BPSK beacon. In a previous post I thought about what could be done with 45dB of CN0. The conclusion was that if you want to fit a digital signal in an SSB channel bandwidth, you are much more bandwidth-limited than SNR-limited. This is now even more true.

With the increased beacon power, it should be fairly easy to decode the beacons with a bare LNB, even despite the fact that the transponder gain has been reduced twice. Also, now that the SNR of the beacons is so high, there is no excuse for being louder than the beacon. Anyone who is stronger than the beacon is most likely using too much power. Their mode of choice probably works equally well with several dB less of SNR.

Changes to the QO-100 NB transponder settings

Yesterday, AMSAT-DL announced that the narrowband transponder of QO-100 was under maintenance and that some changes to its settings would be made. This was also announced by the messages of the 400baud BPSK beacon. Not much information was given at first, but then they mentioned that the transponder gain was reduced by 6dB and a few hours later the beacon power was increased by 5dB.

Since I am currently doing continuous power measurements of the transponder noise and the beacons, when I arrived home I could examine the changes and determine using my measurements that the transponder gain was reduced by 5dB (not 6dB) at around 15:30 UTC, and then the uplink power of the beacons was increased by 5dB at around 21:00 UTC, thus bringing the beacons to the same downlink power as before. In what follows, I do a detailed analysis of my measurements.

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Antarctic expedition

As you may know, between January 14 and February 18 I have been away from home on a research expedition to Antarctica. Several people have asked me for a post detailing my experiences, and I was also thinking to write at least something about the trip. I could spend pages talking about the amazing landscapes and fauna, or daily life in Antarctica. However, in keeping with the spirit of this blog, I will concentrate on the radio related aspects of the trip (and there are indeed enough to tell a story). If I see that there is much interest in other topics, I might be persuaded to run a Q&A post or something similar.

Apparently, my trip and my posts in Twitter raised the attention of a few Hungarian Amateurs, who even discussed and followed my adventures in their Google group. Thanks to Janos Tolgyesi HG5APZ for his interest and for some good discussion over email during my voyage.

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