Using an external reference with the LimeSDR Mini

A while ago I spoke about feeding an external reference to the LimeSDR USB. Now I wanted to use an external reference with the LimeSDR Mini that I have in my QO-100 groundstation to lock all the system to GPS. Preferably I wanted to use 27MHz as the reference, since this is what I am using in my LNB, so this would save me from having to run 10MHz or another frequency to the groundstation.

I wasn’t so sure how well this would work, since there are a few threads with questions in the MiriadRF forums, but I haven’t seen any explaining things in a clear way. There are different anecdotes of things that worked or didn’t work for several people, but not that many definitive answers. Among all the threads, this one seems mostly helpful.

Somewhat surprisingly, everything has worked well on the first try. I am now using a 27MHz external reference with my LimeSDR Mini. Hopefully this post will be of help to other people.

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Second alpha for gr-satellites 3

Following the first alpha, I have released today v3-alpha1, the second alpha for gr-satellites 3. As I introduced in September, gr-satellites 3 will be a large refactor of gr-satellites, bringing many UI and under-the-hood changes. I am releasing a series of alphas during the development to get feedback from users. Each of the alphas focuses on a different aspect.

The second alpha is focused on input and output formats. New functionality has been implemented to allow the user to choose the input and output in a flexible way. This post describes the main features added.

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First alpha for gr-satellites 3

In my last post, I introduced my plans to do a large refactor of gr-satellites, which when ready will originate a version 3.0.0 running on GNU Radio 3.8. During the development of this refactor, I intend to release alpha versions showing important new concepts or functionalities. The main goal of this is both to test if my ideas work well in practice and that interested people can start testing the new software and give feedback.

I have now published the first alpha release, which is called v3-alpha0. In this post I describe the functionality implemented in this alpha and how to use the software.

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gr-satellites roadmap

In my talk at GRCon19 last week I presented the roadmap I have planned for gr-satellites for the next months and some longer term developments. The relevant slide can be seen below.

gr-satellites roadmap in my talk in GRCon19

Here I will describe the roadmap in more detail, including how certain things will be done (or how to find your way among the different releases and branches in the Github repository), in order to get feedback from the community.

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Ephemeris quality during the Galileo outage

I have spoken about the Galileo incident that occurred in July in several posts already: here I took a look at the navigation message during the outage, here I used MGEX navigation RINEX files to look at the navigation message as the system was recovering, and here I did the same kind of study for the days preceding the outage. Other people, such as the NavSAS group from Politecnico di Torino, and Octavian Andrei from the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute, have made similar studies by looking at the \(\mathrm{IOD}_{\mathrm{nav}}\), data validity and health bits of the navigation message.

However, I haven’t seen any study about the quality of the ephemerides that were broadcast on the days surrounding the outage. The driving force of the studies has been whether the ephemerides were being updated or not, without taking care to check if the ephemerides that were broadcast were any good at all.

The NavSAS group commented seeing position errors of several hundreds of metres during the outage when using the broadcast ephemerides. That is to be expected, as the ephemerides were already many hours old (and indeed many receivers refused to use them, considering them expired). Here I will look at whether the ephemerides were valid (i.e., described the satellite orbit and clock accurately) in their time interval of applicability.

This post is an in-depth look written for a reader with a good GNSS background.

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Measuring the ED4YAE 10GHz beacon

Last week, the 10GHz beacon ED4YAE on Alto del León was installed again after having been off the air for quite some time (I think a couple of years). The beacon uses a 10MHz OCXO and a 500mW power amplifier, and transmits CW on 10368.862MHz. The message transmitted by the beacon is DE ED4YAE ED4YAE ED4YAE IN70WR30HX, followed by a 5.8 second long tone.

On 2019-08-31, I went to the countryside just outside my city, Tres Cantos, to receive the beacon and do some measurements. The measurements were done around 10:00 UTC from locator IN80DO68TW. The receiving equipment was a 60cm offset dish from diesl.es, an Avenger Ku band LNB, and a LimeSDR USB. Everything was locked to a 10MHz GPSDO. The dish was placed on a camera tripod at a height of approximately 1.5 metres above the ground.

In this post I show the results of my measurements.

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Światowid image decoder

Yesterday I spoke about the Światowid image downlink protocol. Today, Piotr Kuligowski SQ4NOW has published an image that he has been able to decode from Światowid. The image was taken at around 3:29 UTC and downlinked at 6:38 UTC over Warsaw.

Looking at SatNOGS recordings of this event, I have noticed that the image data is sent with sequence numbers, contrary to what I stated in the description of the protocol in my previous post. This is something that SatRevolution must have added down the road, since it wasn’t present when I worked with them in June.

The protocol is as I described, but the first two bytes of each Reed-Solomon block are used as a little-endian block counter. The remaining 46 bytes are used to send the JPEG file data. The block counter is reset to zero at the start of a new file, and is increased for each Reed-Solomon block.

This block counter allows for automatic detection of lost blocks and start of new images, so I have added an image decoder to the Światowid decoder in gr-satellites. The decoder is based on the 1KUNS-PF image decoder. If there are missing blocks, gaps full of zeros are inserted in the JPEG file in their position. This allows easily merging files decoded from different groundstations just by ORing the files.

As an example showing the image decoder, I have processed this SatNOGS recording, which was made by the station of Cees Bassa in the Netherlands. To process a SatNOGS recording with the gr-satellites decoder, the OGG audio must be converted to WAV (using oggdec, for example), and the gain of the “Multiply Const” block in swiatowid.grc must be changed from 10 to 1, since SatNOGS recordings usually have too much gain.

The recording only contains the beginning of the transmission. The pass was west to east and the transmission was done when the satellite was in view of Warsaw, so by the middle of the transmission the satellite is already below the horizon in the Netherlands. Still, 1128 blocks could be decoded correctly. This amounts to 51888 bytes. The complete file is 204796 bytes long.

The partial image decoded from the SatNOGS recording is shown below.

Image transmitted by Światowid on 2019-08-31 06:38 (partial)

This image matches the one that Piotr has shown on Twitter. I find it interesting that the SatRevolution logo is already added on-board the satellite to the top left corner of the image.

Decoding Światowid

Światowid is an Earth observation 2U cubesat built by the Polish company SatRevolution. It carriers a camera with a resolution of 4 metres per pixel and an Amateur radio U/V FM transponder that was never activated due to power budget constraints. The cubesat was launched to the ISS on April 17 this year and released in orbit on July 3. It transmits on the 70cm Amateur satellite band, using 1k2 AFSK AX.25 APRS plaintext for telemetry and 9k6 FSK with a custom protocol for downlinking the camera images. According to the IARU frequency coordination sheet and SatRevolution, it can also transmit images in the 13cm Amateur satellite band at 500kbps.

During June, I worked under a contract with SatRevolution to adapt gr-satellites for their use with Światowid and KRAKsat. Since I am well aware of the problem of private companies using the Amateur satellite bands as “free spectrum” for their satellites, when I was first contacted by SatRevolution regarding this project I did a small background check and saw that Światowid and KRAKsat had obtained an IARU frequency coordination successfully.

I also showed my IARU R1 proposal to SatRevolution and told them that, even though I was signing an NDA for the project, according to ITU regulations they had to publish all the details for the protocols they used on Amateur bands. Formally, these details were not covered by the NDA, and we also agreed that the modified version of gr-satellites would be publicly released under the GPLv3. The decoder was released here on July 4, and this was also announced by SatRevolution on Twitter.

Some Amateurs were not at all happy with the news that the FM transponder was not going to be activated, and accused SatRevolution of adding only the FM transponder to get through the IARU coordination, without having any real intention to activate it, of possibly causing interference to SO-50 and of not giving back anything to the community. However, all of this happened by the time I was already finishing my project with SatRevolution.

After finishing this project, I didn’t merge back to the main version of gr-satellites any of the modifications I did for SatRevolution, and I am not aware of SatRevolution having published any technical information about the 9k6 custom protocol used by Światowid. I didn’t see any reports of people receiving the 9k6 signal (only the APRS telemetry beacon was often seen), so I didn’t consider sorting this out as a priority, since I wasn’t even sure if the 9k6 protocol was actually being used (maybe they were only using S-band to download the images).

A couple days ago, I saw that Piotr Kuligowski SQ4NOW, Maciej Nowak and Tomek SP9TMQ, from the PW-Sat2 team managed to decode one of the images transmitted by Światowid using the 9k6 custom protocol. Talking with Piotr, I learned that they had used my modified gr-satellites version, but as it didn’t provide a complete solution to decode images (below I explain what was missing), they had to do some reverse engineering of the custom protocol.

Now that I’ve learned about the effort of Piotr, Maciej and Tomek, I have decided to add a complete decoder solution for the Światowid 9k6 custom protocol to the main gr-satellites version and to write this post to document completely the protocol.

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Software for my QO-100 groundstation

You may have heard about my groundstation for QO-100 (Es’hail-2), which is based on a BeagleBone black and a LimeSDR Mini. A description of this station appeared in a LimeSDR field report. However, I haven’t spoken in detail about the software yet, since I was testing various things and using a makeshift setup until I had some time to put together a solution that I really liked.

Now I am quite happy with the result and indeed I have decided to start up a Github repository with the software I am using in case anyone finds it useful. This post is a description of the software I am using for the narrowband transponder.

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