Radiometry for DELFI-PQ, EASAT-2 and HADES

On January 13, the SpaceX Transporter-3 mission launched many small satellites into a 540 km sun-synchronous orbit. Among these satellites were DELFI-PQ, a 3U PocketQube from TU Delft (Netherlands), which will serve for education and research, and EASAT-2 and HADES, two 1.5U PocketQubes from AMSAT-EA (Spain), which have FM repeaters for amateur radio. The three satellites were deployed close together with an Albapod deployer from Alba orbital.

While DELFI-PQ worked well, neither AMSAT-EA nor other amateur operators were able to receive signals from EASAT-2 or HADES during the first days after launch. Because of this, I decided to help AMSAT-EA and use some antennas from the Allen Telescope Array over the weekend to observe these satellites and try to find more information about their health status. I conducted an observation on Saturday 15 and another on Sunday 16, both during daytime passes. Fortunately, I was able to detect EASAT-2 and HADES in both observations. AMSAT-EA could decode some telemetry from EASAT-2 using the recordings of these observations, although the signals from HADES were too weak to be decoded. After my ATA observations, some amateur operators having sensitive stations have reported receiving weak signals from EASAT-2.

AMSAT-EA suspects that the antennas of their satellites haven’t been able to deploy, and this is what causes the signals to be much weaker than expected. However, it is not trivial to see what is exactly the status of the antennas and whether this is the only failure that has happened to the RF transmitter.

Readers are probably familiar with the concept of telemetry, which involves sensing several parameters on board the spacecraft and sending this data with a digital RF signal. A related concept is radiometry, where the physical properties of the RF signal, such as its power, frequency (including Doppler) and polarization, are directly used to measure parameters of the spacecraft. Here I will perform a radiometric analysis of the recordings I did with the ATA.

Decoding James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope probably needs no introduction, since it is perhaps the most important and well-known mission of the last years. It was launched on Christmas day from Kourou, French Guiana, into a direct transfer orbit to the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point. JWST uses S-band at 2270.5 MHz to transmit telemetry. The science data will be transmitted in K-band at 25.9 GHz, with a rate of up to 28 Mbps.

After launch, the first groundstation to pick the S-band signal from JWST was the 10 m antenna from the Italian Space Agency in Malindi, Kenya. This groundstation commanded the telemetry rate to increase from 1 kbps to 4 kbps. After this, the spacecraft’s footprint continued moving to the east, and it was tracked for a few hours by the DSN in Canberra. One of the things that Canberra did was to increase the telemetry rate to 40 kbps, which apparently is the maximum to be used in the mission.

As JWST moved away from Earth, its footprint started moving west. After Canberra, the spacecraft was tracked by Madrid. Edgar Kaiser DF2MZ, Iban Cardona EB3FRN and other amateur observers in Europe received the S-band telemetry signal. When Iban started receiving the signal, it was again using 4 kbps, but some time after, Madrid switched it to 40 kbps.

At 00:50 UTC on December 26, the spacecraft made its first correction burn, which lasted an impressive 65 minutes. Edgar caught this manoeuvre in the Doppler track.

Later on, between 7:30 and 11:30 UTC, I have been receiving the signal with one of the 6.1 metre dishes at Allen Telescope Array. The telemetry rate was 40 kbps and the spacecraft was presumably in lock with Goldstone, though it didn’t appear in DSN now. I will publish the recording in Zenodo as usual, but since the files are rather large I will probably reduce the sample rate, so publishing the files will take some time.

In the rest of this post I give a description of the telemetry of JWST and do a first look at the telemetry data.

Imaging Cygnus A at 8.45 GHz with ATA

Earlier this year, I published a post showing our results of the interferometric imaging of Cassiopeia A and Cygnus A at 4.9 GHz with the Allen Telescope Array. Near the end of July, I decided to perform more interferometric observations of Cygnus A at a higher frequency, in order to obtain better resolution. I chose a frequency of 8.45 GHz because it is usually a band clean of interference (since it is allocated to deep space communications), it is used by other radio observatories, so flux densities can be compared directly with previous results, and because going higher up in frequency the sensitivity of the old feeds at ATA starts to decrease.

This post is a summary of the observations and results. The code and data is included at the end of the post.

GPS spectrometry at Allen Telescope Array

Over the last few weeks I have been helping the Allen Telescope Array by calibrating the pointing of some of the recently upgraded antennas using the GNU Radio backend, which consists of two USRP N32x devices that are connected to the IF output of the RFCB downconverter. For this calibration, GPS satellites are used, since they are very bright, cover most of the sky, and have precise ephemerides.

The calibration procedure is described in this memo. Essentially, it involves pointing at a few points that describe a cross in elevation and cross-elevation coordinates and which is centred at the position of the GPS satellite. Power measurements are taken at each of these points and a Gaussian is fitted to compute the pointing error.

The script I am using is based on this script for the CASPER SNAP boards, with a few modifications to use my GNU Radio polarimetric correlator, which uses the USRPs and a software FX correlator that computes the crosscorrelations and autocorrelations of the two polarizations of two antennas. For the pointing calibration, only the autocorrelations are used to measure Stokes I, but all the correlations are saved to disk, which allows later analysis.

In this post I analyse the single-dish polarimetric spectra of the GPS satellites we have observed during some of these calibrations.

Interferometric imaging with Allen Telescope Array

In the weekend experiments that we are doing with the GNU Radio community at Allen Telescope Array we usually have access to some three antennas from the array, since the rest are usually busy doing science (perhaps hunting FRBs). This is more than enough for most of the experiments we do. In fact, we only have two N32x USRPs, so typically we can only use two antennas simultaneously.

However, for doing interferometry, and specially for imaging, the more antennas the better, since the number of baselines scales with the square of the number of antennas. To allow us to do some interferometric imaging experiments that are not possible with the few antennas we normally use, we arranged with the telescope staff to have a day where we could access a larger number of antennas.

After preparing the observations and our software so that everything would run as smoothly as possible, on 2021-02-21 we had a 18 hour slot where we had access to 12 antennas. The sources we observed where Cassiopeia A and Cygnus A, as well as several compact calibrators. After some calibration and imaging work in CASA, we have produced good images of these two sources.

Many thanks to all the telescope staff, specially to Wael Farah, for their help in planning together with us this experiment and getting everything ready. Also thanks to the GNU Radio team at ATA, specially Paul Boven, with whom I’ve worked side by side for this project.

This post is a long report of the experiment set up, the software stack, and the results. All the data and software is linked below.

Voyager-1 single dish detection at Allen Telescope Array

This post has been delayed by several months, as some other things (like Chang’e 5) kept getting in the way. As part of the GNU Radio activities in Allen Telescope Array, on 14 November 2020 we tried to detect the X-band signal of Voyager-1, which at that time was at a distance of 151.72 au (22697 millions of km) from Earth. After analysing the recorded IQ data to carefully correct for Doppler and stack up all the signal power, I published in Twitter the news that the signal could clearly be seen in some of the recordings.

Since then, I have been intending to write a post explaining in detail the signal processing and publishing the recorded data. I must add that detecting Voyager-1 with ATA was a significant feat. Since November, we have attempted to detect Voyager-1 again on another occasion, using the same signal processing pipeline, without any luck. Since in the optimal conditions the signal is already very weak, it has to be ensured that all the equipment is working properly. Problems are difficult to debug, because any issue will typically impede successful detection, without giving an indication of what went wrong.

I have published the IQ recordings of this observation in the following datasets in Zenodo:

Chang’e 5 low rate telemetry

Even though I haven’t been posting updates about Chang’e 5 lately, we have continued tracking it with Allen Telescope Array most weekends since my last post. The main goal of these observations has been to give Bill Gray updated pointing data so that he can refine his ephemerides. Additionally, we have been decoding telemetry from the recordings we’ve made.

One of the interesting things that have happened is the change to a lower baudrate in the telemetry signals. Until 2020-12-27 the baudrate was 4096 baud, while starting with the observation on 2021-01-02 we are seeing a new baudrate of 512 baud. This means that at some point around the end of last year the spacecraft was commanded to switch to a lower baudrate, to account for the increase in path loss caused by the increasing distance as the spacecraft travels towards the Sun-Earth L1 point.

Chang’e 5 observations from ATA on December 19 and 20

As we’ve been doing lately, last weekend we observed the Chang’e 5 orbiter at Allen Telescope Array as part of the GNU Radio community activities in the telescope. This post contains a large overview of these observations, including the efforts to determine the spacecraft orbit, the study of the signal polarization, and the data obtained by decoding the telemetry.

I am still transferring the IQ data from the telescope, but I will publish the recordings in Zenodo in a few days and update this post.

Edit 2021-01-02: the recordings are now published and can be found in the following datasets.

Chang’e 5 reception from ATA on its return trajectory: polarization

This post is a follow up to my previous post about the recordings made by the GNU Radio team at Allen Telescope Array on December 12 and 13. In that post I looked at the telemetry decoding in two full pass observations done last weekend, each of them lasting around 4 to 5 hours.

In this post, I will study the signal polarization in those recording, following the same method as in my previous post about the Chang’e 5 polarization. In these recordings, only the signal at 8471.2 MHz from the orbiter was active.

Chang’e 5 reception from ATA on its return trajectory: telemetry

Last weekend, we did two long observations of Chang’e 5 with one of the dishes from Allen Telescope Array as part of the activities of the GNU Radio community in the telescope. The recordings were done during the UTC evenings on Saturday 2020-12-12 and Sunday 2020-12-13, and almost lasted for all the time that the spacecraft was above 16.8 degrees, which is the elevation mask for the telescope. Since the Moon was at a low declination, the observations were not so long, only around 4 to 5 hours.

On Saturday, the spacecraft had already performed its TEI-1 (trans-Earth injection burn) and was on an elliptical lunar orbit. On Sunday, the spacecraft had performed TEI-2 and was already on its transfer orbit to Earth, and several degrees away from the Moon, as shown by the blue cross in the figure below, done with Stellarium.

Position of Chang’e 5 on the sky on Sunday evening

The IQ recordings of the observations will be published in Zenodo in a few days, since I need to transfer them over the slow internet connection of the telescope. This post will be updated when they are ready.

Update 2020-12-19: The recordings are now published in the following datasets:

In this post, I look at the telemetry decoded from these recordings. Future posts will look at other aspects, such as the polarization of the signal.