Decoding ESEO

ESEO is an educational satellite project for university students led by ESA. It is a microsatellite based on the S-50 platform by SITAEL and indeed serves as an in-orbit validation of that platform. It carries payloads developed by students in 10 European universities, and also a FUNcube payload from AMSAT-UK. It was launched last Monday in the SSO-A launch.

The satellite transmits 9k6 GFSK telemetry in the 70cm Amateur satellite band (do not confuse this telemetry with the telemetry sent by the FUNcube payload in the 2m Amateur satellite band). Last week I wrote an open letter to the directors of the ESEO program requesting the publication of the complete specifications for this telemetry. The existing documentation is published here as two documents called attachment 1, which describes the coding of the frames, and attachment 2, which describes the structure of the telemetry frames.

The main problem motivating my open letter was that the information in attachment 2 was insufficient to produce a telemetry decoder for ESEO. However, last Tuesday an updated version of this document was published. This new version seems to include all the information we need. Apparently, this new version has been published due to my open letter and the pressure made by some people at ESA surrounding the ESEO project.

I would like to thank all the people that have expressed their opinion about the importance of having well documented protocols in the Amateur radio service, as well as all the people in ESA that have pushed for the publication of the documentation, and understood that this is an important matter.

In this post we look at the coding used by ESEO, that is, everything described in attachment 1, and how the decoder in gr-satellites is implemented.

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Uploading PW-Sat2 telemetry with gr-satellites

Yesterday I spoke about decoding the telemetry of PW-Sat2 with gr-satellites. Today I have added to gr-satellites a telemetry submitter block that sends the frames to the PW-Sat2 telemetry server. All users of the PW-Sat2 decoder from gr-satellites are recommended to set this up and submit telemetry to the PW-Sat2 telemetry server, as well as to the SatNOGS database. Here are the instructions to configure the submitter.

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Decoding PW-Sat2 with gr-satellites

PW-Sat2 is a students satellite made by the Students Space Association at Warsaw University of Technology, in Poland. The project started in 2013 and was finally launched last Monday in the SSO-A launch. The satellite carries a sail to aid in deorbiting. This will be deployed on the 39th mission day. The deorbit is expected to happen in one year.

The satellite team has made available a lot of open-source software, such as groundstation software for Radio Amateurs, a telemetry server and even the software that runs on the on-board computer. There is also a good amount of design documentation. This is something a bit unusual and admirable for a university satellite.

PW-Sat2 transmits standard G3RUH-scrambled BPSK AX.25 frames in the 70cm Amateur Satellite band. The baudrate can be selected between 1k2, 2k4, 4k8 and 9k6 by the satellite team. The interesting thing is that there are many types of packets besides telemetry. For instance, it can list and transfer on-board files, such as the images taken by the satellite camera. These packets can be decoded by using the FramePayloadDecoder software.

Since the FramePayloadDecoder software is quite complex and it is written in Python, I have decided to make a telemetry parser for gr-satellites that simply loads this software into GNU Radio and passes the frames to the decoder. Here are the instructions to set this up.

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Decoding 3CAT-1

A few days ago I spoke about my Reaktor Hello World decoder in gr-satellites. Another of the satellites that were launched with Reaktor Hello World in the November 29 PSLV launch is 3CAT-1, a 1U cubesat from the NanoSat Lab in Universidad Politècnica de Catalunya. It is designed as a technology demonstrator of COTS parts, and integrates four scientific payloads.

The communications system of 3CAT-1 uses a Texas Instrument CC1101 FSK transceiver chip, which is very similar to the CC1125 used in Reaktor Hello World. It transmits a 9k6 FSK telemetry beacon in the 70cm Amateur band. An interesting thing about this beacon is that it is powered by a temperature gradient that generates naturally within the satellite. A Peltier module is used to collect energy from the gradient and power the communications module. This is called “eternal self-powered beacon demonstrator” by the designers of the satellite, since it doesn’t depend on batteries or solar cells.

I have been in contact with Juan Fran Muñoz from NanoSat Lab, who has been kind enough to send me a telemetry recording for 3CAT-1. With this, and following my implementation of the Reaktor Hello World decoder, I have added a decoder for 3CAT-1 to gr-satellites.

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Decoding Reaktor Hello World

Reaktor Hello World is a 2U cubesat built by the Finnish company Reaktor Space Lab as a test of their cubesat platform and demonstration of the first miniature infrared hyperspectral imager. It was launched on November 29 by a PSLV from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, together with several other cubesats. It transmits 9k6 GFSK telemetry in the 70cm Amateur satellite band.

The satellite uses a Texas Instruments CC1125 FSK transceiver chip. This is very similar to the CC1101 that I used a few years ago in my 70cm Hamnet experiments, so I already knew the coding and features of this chip quite well. The satellite team has a Github repository with a GNU Radio decoder based on the gr-cc11xx decoder block for the CC11xx series of chips. Since gr-cc11xx doesn’t seem to be maintained anymore, I wanted to implement my own CC11xx decoder in gr-satellites and use it to decode Reaktor Hello World.

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Decoding TANUSHA-3

On August 15, during a Russian EVA on the ISS, a total of four Russian nanosatellites were deployed by hand. Although different online sources give incomplete and contradictory information about which satellites were released, it seems that they were SiriusSat 1 and 2, from the Sirius educational centre in Sochi, and Tanusha 3 and 4 from the Southwest State University in Kursk (see also Jonathan McDowell’s space report).

The SiriusSats are using 4k8 FSK AX.25 packet radio at 435.570MHz and 435.670MHz respectively, using callsigns RS13S and RS14S. The Tanushas transmit at 437.050MHz. Tanusha-3 normally transmits 1k2 AFSK AX.25 packet radio using the callsign RS8S, but Mike Rupprecht sent me the other day a recording of a transmission from Tanusha-3 that he could not decode.

It turns out that the packet in this recording uses a very peculiar modulation. The modulation is FM, but the data is carried in audio frequency phase modulation with a deviation of approximately 1 radian. The baudrate is 1200baud and the frequency for the phase modulation carrier is 2400Hz. The coding is AX.25 packet radio.

Why this peculiar mode is used in addition to the standard 1k2 packet radio is a mystery. Mike believes that the satellite is somehow faulty, since the pre-recorded audio messages that it transmits are also garbled (see this recording). If this is the case, it would be very interesting to know which particular failure can turn an AFSK transmitter into a phase modulation transmitter.

I have added support to gr-satellites for decoding the Tanusha-3 phase modulation telemetry. To decode the standard 1k2 AFSK telemetry direwolf can be used. The decoder flowgraph can be seen in the figure below.

TANUSHA-3 gr-satellites decoder

The FM demodulated signal comes in from the UDP source. It is first converted down to baseband and then a PLL is used to recover the carrier. The Complex to Arg block recovers the phase, yielding an NRZ signal. This signal is lowpass filtered, and then clock recovery, bit slicing and AX.25 deframing is done. Note that it is also possible to decode this kind of signal differentially, without doing carrier recovery, since the NRZI encoding used by AX.25 is differential. However, the carrier recovery works really well, because there is a lot of residual carrier and this is an audio frequency carrier, so it should be very stable in frequency.

The recording that Mike sent me is in tanusha3_pm.wav. It contains a single AX.25 packet that when analyzed in direwolf yields the following.

RS8S>ALL:This is SWSU satellite TANUSHA-3 from Russia, Kursk<0x0d>
------
U frame UI: p/f=0, No layer 3 protocol implemented., length = 68
 dest    ALL     0 c/r=1 res=3 last=0
 source  RS8S    0 c/r=0 res=3 last=1
  000:  82 98 98 40 40 40 e0 a4 a6 70 a6 40 40 61 03 f0  ...@@@...p.@@a..
  010:  54 68 69 73 20 69 73 20 53 57 53 55 20 73 61 74  This is SWSU sat
  020:  65 6c 6c 69 74 65 20 54 41 4e 55 53 48 41 2d 33  ellite TANUSHA-3
  030:  20 66 72 6f 6d 20 52 75 73 73 69 61 2c 20 4b 75   from Russia, Ku
  040:  72 73 6b 0d                                      rsk.
------

The contents of the packet are a message in ASCII. The message is of the same kind as those transmitted in AFSK.

Trying to make the DSLWP-B GMSK decoder more robust

If you’ve being following my latest posts, probably you’ve seen that I’m taking great care to decode as much as possible from the SSDV transmissions by DSLWP-B using the recordings made at the Dwingeloo radiotelescope. Since Dwingeloo sees a very high SNR, the reception should be error free, even without any bit error before Turbo decoding.

However, there are some occasional glitches that corrupt a packet, thus losing an SSDV frame. Some of these glitches have been attributed to a frequency jump in the DSLWP-B transmitter. This jump has to do with the onboard TCXO, which compensates frequency digitally, in discrete steps. When the frequency jump happens, the decoder’s PLL loses lock and this corrupts the packet that is being received (note that a carrier phase slip will render the packet undecodable unless it happens very near the end of the packet).

There are other glitches where the gr-dslwp decoder is at fault. The ones that I’ve identify deal in one way or another with the detection of the ASM (attached sync marker). Here I describe some of these problems and my proposed solutions.

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Report for today’s DSLWP-B SSDV session

Today an SSDV transmission session from DSLWP-B was programmed between 7:00 and 9:00 UTC. The main receiving groundstation was the Dwingeloo radiotelescope. Cees Bassa retransmitted the reception progress live on Twitter. Since the start of the recording, it seemed that some of the SSDV packets were being lost. As Dwingeloo gets a very high SNR and essentially no bit errors, any lost packets indicate a problem either with the transmitter at DSLWP-B or with the receiving software at Dwingeloo.

My analysis of last week’s SSDV transmissions spotted some problems in the transmitter. Namely, some packets were being cut short. Therefore, I have been closely watching out the live reports from Cees Bassa and Wei Mingchuan BG2BHC and then spent most of the day analysing in detail the recordings done at Dwingeloo, which have been already published here. This is my report.

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Trying to decode EQUiSat

EQUiSat is a cubesat from Brown University that was launched to the ISS on May 21 with the Cygnus CRS-9 supply ship. It was released from the ISS on July 13. The payload of EQUiSat is rather interesting: an optical beacon, formed by an array of 4 high power LEDs designed to flash and be visible with the naked eye.

The EQUiSat radio system is also quite interesting and unusual. It uses the PacificCrest XDL Micro transmitter in 4FSK mode. This UHF transmitter is normally used to transmit data between survey GNSS receivers. Unfortunately, there is very little documentation about the radio protocol used by this transmitter.

I am in communication with the satellite team, since they are interested in producing a GNU Radio decoder. However, they don’t know much about the radio protocol either. Here is my first try at trying to decode transmissions from EQUiSat.
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K2SAT S-band image receiver

K2SAT is a cubesat developed by the Aeroespace Systems and Control Lab in KAIST, a university in Daejeon, South Korea. It will be launched later this year, between September and October. The main mission of the satellite is to test the transmission of images taken with its onboard camera using an S-band QPSK transmitter that supports up to 2Mbps data rate. This will use the 2.4GHz Amateur satellite band, and the satellite has already coordinated a downlink frequency of 2404MHz. The K2SAT team at KAIST is the same one that built the QB50 KR01 (LINK) cubesat.

Since February, I have been collaborating with Pilwon Kwak and the rest of the K2SAT team to produce a GNU Radio receiver for the S-band image downlink and add it to my gr-satellites project. This receiver has now been publicly released. Here I explain the main details of the transmitter and protocol used by K2SAT and the implementation of the receiver.

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