Receiving HADES-D

HADES-D is the 9th PocketQube developed by AMSAT-EA. It is the first one that hasn’t failed early in the mission. Among the previous AMSAT-EA satellites, GENESIS-L and -N suffered the launch failure of the Firefly-Alpha maiden flight, EASAT-2 and HADES presumably failed to deploy their antennas, GENESIS-G and -J flew on the second Firefly-Alpha flight, which only achieved a short-lived orbit, with all the satellites reentering in about a week, URESAT-1 had the same kind of antenna deployment problem, and GENESIS-A is a short duration payload scheduled to fly in the Ariane-6 maiden flight, which hasn’t happened yet.

HADES-D launched with the SpaceX Transporter 9 rideshare on November 11. This PocketQube was carried in the ION SCV-013 vehicle, and was released on November 28. The antennas have been deployed correctly, unlike in its predecessors, the satellite is in good health, and several amateur stations have been able to receive it successfully, so congratulations to AMSAT-EA.

Since HADES-D is the first PocketQube from AMSAT-EA that is working well, I was curious to measure the signal strength of this satellite. Back around 2016 I was quite involved in the early steps of AMSAT-EA towards their current line of satellites. We did some trade-offs between PocketQube and cubesat sizes and calculated power budgets and link budgets. Félix Páez EA4GQS and I wanted to build an FM repeater amateur satellite, because that suited best the kind of portable satellite operations with a handheld yagi that we used to do back then. Using a PocketQube for this always seemed a bit of a stretch, since the power available wasn’t ample. In fact, around the time that PocketQubes were starting to appear, some people were asking if this platform could ever be useful for any practical application.

Fast forward to the end of 2023 and we have HADES-D in orbit, with a functioning FM repeater. My main interest in this satellite is to gather more information about these questions. I should say that I was only really active in AMSAT-EA’s projects during 2016. Since then, I have lost most of my involvement, only receiving some occasional informal updates about their work.

More about the QO-100 WB transponder power budget

Last week I wrote a post with a study about the QO-100 WB transponder power budget. After writing this post, I have been talking with Dave Crump G8GKQ. He says that the main conclusions of my study don’t match well his practical experience using the transponder. In particular, he mentions that he has often seen that a relatively large number of stations, such as 8, can use the transponder at the same time. In this situation, they “rob” much more power from the beacon compared to what I stated in my post.

I have looked more carefully at my data, specially at situations in which the transponder is very busy, to understand better what happens. In this post I publish some corrections to my previous study. As we will see below, the main correction is that the operating point of 73 dB·Hz output power that I had chosen to compute the power budget is not very relevant. When the transponder is quite busy, the output power can go up to 73.8 dB·Hz. While a difference of 0.8 dB might not seem much, there is a huge difference in practice, because this drives the transponder more towards saturation, decreasing its gain and robbing more output power from the beacon to be used by other stations.

I want to thank Dave for an interesting discussion about all these topics.

Measuring the QO-100 WB transponder power budget

The QO-100 WB transponder is an S-band to X-band amateur radio transponder on the Es’hail 2 GEO satellite. It has about 9 MHz of bandwidth and is routinely used for transmitting DVB-S2 signals, though other uses are possible. In the lowermost part of the transponder, there is a 1.5 Msym QPSK 4/5 DVB-S2 beacon that is transmitted continuously from a groundstation in Qatar. The remaining bandwidth is free to be used by all amateurs in a “use whatever bandwidth is free and don’t interfere others” basis (there is a channelized bandplan to put some order).

From the communications theory perspective, one of the fundamental aspects of a transponder like this is how much output power is available. This sets the downlink SNR and determines whether the transponder is in the power-constrained regime or in the bandwidth-constrained regime. It indicates the optimal spectral efficiency (bits per second per Hz), which helps choose appropriate modulation and FEC parameters.

However, some of the values required to do these calculations are not publicly available. I hear that the typical values which would appear in a link budget (maximum TWTA output power, output power back-off, antenna gain, etc.) are under NDA from MELCO, who built the satellite and transponders.

I have been monitoring the WB transponder and recording waterfall data of the downlink with my groundstation for three weeks already. With this data we can obtain a good understanding of the transponder behaviour. For example, we can measure the input power to output power transfer function, taking advantage of the fact that different stations with different powers appear and disappear, which effectively sweeps the transponder input power (though in a rather chaotic and uncontrollable manner). In this post I share the methods I have used to study this data and my findings.

About channel capacity and sub-channels

The Shannon-Hartley theorem describes the maximum rate at which information can be sent over a bandwidth-limited AWGN channel. This rate is called the channel capacity. If \(B\) is the bandwidth of the channel in Hz, \(S\) is the signal power (in units of W), and \(N_0\) is the noise power spectral density (in units of W/Hz), then the channel capacity \(C\) in units of bits per second is\[C = B \log_2\left(1 + \frac{S}{N_0B}\right).\]

Let us now consider that we make \(n\) “sub-channels”, by selecting \(n\) disjoint bandwidth intervals contained in the total bandwidth of the channel. We denote the bandwidth of these sub-channels by \(B_j\), \(j = 1,\ldots,n\). Clearly, we have the constraint \(\sum_{j=1}^n B_j \leq B\). Likewise, we divide our total transmit power \(S\) into the \(n\) sub-channels, allocating power \(S_j\) to the signal in the sub-channel \(j\). We have \(\sum_{j=1}^n S_j = S\). Under these conditions, each sub-channel will have capacity \(C_j\), given by the formula above with \(B_j\) and \(S_j\) in place of \(B\) and \(S\).

The natural question regards using the \(n\) sub-channels in parallel to transmit data: what is the maximum of the sum \(\sum_{j=1}^n C_j\) under these conditions and how can it be achieved? It is probably clear from the definition of channel capacity that this sum is always smaller or equal than \(C\). After all, by dividing the channel into sub-channels we cannot do any better than by considering it as a whole.

People used to communications theory might find intuitive that we can achieve \(\sum_{j=1}^n C_j = C\), and that this happens if and only if we use all the bandwidth (\(\sum_{j=1}^n B_j = B\)) and the SNRs of the sub-channels, defined by \(S_j/(N_0B_j)\), are all equal, so that \(S_j = SB_j/B\). After all, this is pretty much how OFDM and other channelized communication methods work. In this post I give an easy proof of this result.

Categorised as Maths Tagged

A note about non-matched pulse filtering

This is a short note about the losses caused by non-matched pulse filtering in the demodulation of a PAM waveform. Recently I’ve needed to come back to these calculations several times, and I’ve found that even though the calculations are simple, sometimes I make silly mistakes on my first try. This post will serve me as a reference in the future to save some time. I have also been slightly surprised when I noticed that if we have two pulse shapes, let’s call them A and B, the losses of demodulating waveform A using pulse shape B are the same as the losses of demodulating waveform B using pulse shape A. I wanted to understand better why this happens.

Recall that if \(p(t)\) denotes the pulse shape of a PAM waveform and \(h(t)\) is a filter function, then in AWGN the SNR at the output of the demodulator is equal to the input SNR (with an appropriate normalization factor) times the factor\[\begin{equation}\tag{1}\frac{\left|\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} p(t) \overline{h(t)}\, dt\right|^2}{\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} |h(t)|^2\, dt}.\end{equation}\]This factor describes the losses caused by filtering. As a consequence of the Cauchy-Schwarz inequality, we see that the output SNR is maximized when a matched filter \(h = p\) is used.

To derive this expression, we assume that we receive the waveform\[y(t) = ap(t) + n(t)\]with \(a \in \mathbb{C}\) and \(n(t)\) a circularly symmetric stationary Gaussian process with covariance \(\mathbb{E}[n(t)\overline{n(s)}] = \delta(t-s)\). The demodulator output is\[T(y) = \int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} y(t) \overline{h(t)}\, dt.\]The output SNR is defined as \(|\mathbb{E}[T(y)]|^2/V(T(y))\). Since \(\mathbb{E}[n(t)] = 0\) due to the circular symmetry, we have\[\mathbb{E}[T(y)] = a\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} p(t)\overline{h(t)}\,dt.\]Additionally,\[\begin{split}V(T(y)) &= \mathbb{E}[|T(y) – \mathbb{E}[T(y)]|^2] = \mathbb{E}\left[\left|\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} n(t)\overline{h(t)}\,dt\right|^2\right] \\ &= \mathbb{E}\left[\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty}\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} n(t)\overline{n(s)}\overline{h(t)}h(s)\,dtds\right] \\ &= \int_{-\infty}^{+\infty}\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} \mathbb{E}\left[n(t)\overline{n(s)}\right]\overline{h(t)}h(s)\,dtds \\ &= \int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} |h(t)|^2\, dt. \end{split}\]Therefore, we see that the output SNR equals\[\frac{|a|^2\left|\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} p(t) \overline{h(t)}\, dt\right|^2}{\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} |h(t)|^2 dt.}.\]

The losses caused by using a non-matched filter \(h\), in comparison to using a matched filter, can be computed as the quotient of the quantity (1) divided by the same quantity where \(h\) is replaced by \(p\). This gives\[\frac{\frac{\left|\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} p(t) \overline{h(t)}\, dt\right|^2}{\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} |h(t)|^2\, dt}}{\frac{\left|\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} |p(t)|^2\, dt\right|^2}{\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} |p(t)|^2\, dt}}=\frac{\left|\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} p(t) \overline{h(t)}\, dt\right|^2}{\int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} |p(t)|^2\, dt\cdot \int_{-\infty}^{+\infty} |h(t)|^2\, dt}.\]

We notice that this expression is symmetric in \(p\) and \(h\), in the sense that if we interchange \(p\) and \(h\) we obtain the same quantity. This shows that, as I mentioned above, the losses obtained when filtering waveform A with pulse B coincide with the losses obtained when filtering waveform B with pulse A. This is a clear consequence of these calculations, but I haven’t found a way to understand this more intuitively. We can say that the losses are equal to the cosine squared of the angle between the pulse shape vectors in \(L^2(\mathbb{R})\). This remark makes the symmetry clear, but I’m not sure if I’m satisfied by this as an intuitive explanation.

As an example, let us compute the losses caused by receiving a square pulse shape, defined by \(p(t) = 1\) for \(0 \leq t \leq \pi\) and \(p(t) = 0\) elsewhere, with a half-sine pulse shape filter, defined by \(h(t) = \sin t\) for \(0 \leq t \leq \pi\) and \(h(t) = 0\) elsewhere. This case shows up in many different situations. We can compute the losses as indicated above, obtaining\[\frac{\left(\int_0^\pi \sin t \, dt\right)^2}{\int_0^\pi \sin^2t\,dt\cdot \int_0^\pi dt} = \frac{2^2}{\frac{\pi}{2}\cdot\pi}= \frac{8}{\pi^2}\approx -0.91\,\mathrm{dB}.\]

Trying to observe the Vega-C MEO cubesats

On July 13, the Vega-C maiden flight delivered the LARES-2 passive laser reflector satellite and the following six cubesats to a 5900 km MEO orbit: AstroBio Cubesat, Greencube, ALPHA, Trisat-R, MTCube-2, and CELESTA. This is the first time that cubesats have been put in a MEO orbit (see slide 8 in this presentation). The six cubesats are very similar to those launched in LEO orbits, and use the 435 MHz amateur satellite band for their telemetry downlink (although ALPHA and Trisat-R have been declined IARU coordination, since IARU considers that these missions do not meet the definition of the amateur satellite service).

Communications from this MEO orbit are challenging for small satellites because the slant range compared to a 500 km LEO orbit is about 10 times larger at the closest point of the orbit and 4 times larger near the horizon, giving path losses which are 20 to 12 dB higher than in LEO.

I wanted to try to observe these satellites with my small station: a 7 element UHF yagi from Arrow antennas in a noisy urban location. The nice thing about this MEO orbit is that the passes last some 50 minutes, instead of the 10 to 12 minutes of a LEO pass. This means that I could set the antenna on a tripod and move it infrequently.

As part of the observation, I wanted to perform an absolute power calibration of my SDR (a USRP B205mini) in order to be able to measure the noise power at my location and also the power of the satellite signals power, if I was able to detect them.

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.

More data from Voyager 1

Back in September, I showed how to decode the telemetry signal from Voyager 1 using a recording made with the Green Bank Telescope in 2015 by the Breakthrough Listen project. The recording was only 22.57 seconds long, so it didn’t even contain a complete telemetry frame. To study the contents of the telemetry, more data would be needed. Often we can learn things about the structure of the telemetry frames by comparing several consecutive frames. Fields whose contents don’t change, counters, and other features become apparent.

Some time after writing that post, Steve Croft, from BSRC, pointed me to another set of recordings of Voyager 1 from 16 July 2020 (MJD 59046.8). They were also made by Breakthrough Listen with the Green Bank Telescope, but they are longer. This post is an analysis of this set of recordings.

Computing the symbol error rate of m-FSK

How to compute the symbol error rate rate of an m-FSK modulation is something that comes up in a variety of situations, since the math is the same in any setting in which the symbols are orthogonal (so it also applies to some spread spectrum modulations). I guess this must appear somewhere in the literature, but I can never find this result when I need it, so I have decided to write this post explaining the math.

Here I show an approach that I first learned from Wei Mingchuan BG2BHC two years ago during the Longjiang-2 lunar orbiter mission. While writing our paper about the mission, we wanted to compute a closed expression for the BER of the LRTC modulation used in the uplink (which is related to \(m\)-FSK). Using a clever idea, Wei was able to find a formula that involved an integral of CDFs and PDFs of chi-squared distributions. Even though this wasn’t really a closed formula, evaluating the integral numerically was much faster than doing simulations, specially for high \(E_b/N_0\).

Recently, I came again to the same idea independently. I was trying to compute the symbol error rate of \(m\)-FSK and even though I remembered that the problem about LRTC was related, I had forgotten about Wei’s formula and the trick used to obtain it. So I thought of something on my own. Later, digging through my emails I found the messages Wei and I exchanged about this and saw that I had arrived to the same idea and formula. Maybe the trick was in the back of my mind all the time.

Due to space constraints, the BER formula for LRTC and its mathematical derivation didn’t make it into the Longjiang-2 paper. Therefore, I include a small section below with the details.

Categorised as Maths Tagged ,

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: