The Vaisala RS41 radiosonde is a weather radiosonde that is currently being launched in Madrid Barajas and other sounding sites in Spain, Europe and Australia. I have already spoken about how to decode it. One of the most interesting aspects of this model is that the RS41 contains a STM32F1 ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller, a SiLabs FSK transmitter, and a uBlox GPS receiver, whereas the older RS92 contained custom ASICs to perform these functions. Thus, it is easy to reflash this radiosonde and write custom firmware for it, giving a lot of possibilities for experimentation.
In STARcon 2018, Julián Santamaría from AEMET (the Spanish meteorological office) gave me an RS41. While I have some long-term ideas about how to use it as a propagation sounder, I have just started playing with it. In this brief note, I explain how to flash the radiosonde with custom firmware.
In the past, I’ve talked about the RS92-SGP radiosonde launched from Madrid-Barajas. Recently, Barajas has replaced the RS92-SGP with the newer Vaisala RS41-SGP (except for ozone sounding, which is is still done with the RS92). The new radiosondes transmit at 401MHz and are released daily at 11:15 and 23:15 UTC.
In that post, I described about how to receive the position data from the RS92 and plot it in Viking in real time. Since then, a few features such as FEC decoding have been added to the RS decoder software, so I have decided to give this a go again with the newer RS41. This will be a complete walk through, since some people are interested in setting up unattended decoders, perhaps running on a Raspberry Pi.
In a previous post, I talked about the possibility of changing the transmit frequency of a Vaisala RS92-SGP radiosonde by modifying the settings on its EEPROM. The lowest frequency you can achieve using this method is 400MHz and the highest probably depends on the particular unit, but it is somewhat between 410MHz and 423MHz. There are also reports of very low output power on the highest frequencies (I’ll explain why below). Clearly, this can’t be used to make the radiosonde transmit in 430MHz, inside the 70cm Amateur band. In fact, from what I’ve read online, the impression is that it’s not possible to modify the radiosonde to make it transmit in 430MHz. However, I wanted to try to feed an external reference to see what happened. Short story: it doesn’t work either. However, I discovered some interesting information about the RF section of the RS92-SGP along the way.
I’ve started to experiment with the RS92-SGP radiosonde that I recovered some days ago. The radiosonde has a M95256-W 32KB SPI EEPROM where all the code and settings are stored, since the onboard CPU/DSP doesn’t have any flash memory. Several parts of the firmware, including some of the settings have being reverse engineered. Thus, it is useful to interface the EEPROM to a microcontroller to rewrite some settings, perhaps to change the transmit frequency or the radiosonde’s ID (the serial number which is also printed on the radisonde’s box).
A few days ago, I talked about the radiosondes that are launched every 12 hours from Madrid-Barajas Airport. Yesterday, I went with my mother on a trip to try to recover the radiosonde that was launched at 11:00UTC. This radiosonde managed to ascend to 31000m before bursting. This is quite high for a radiosonde of this kind, as they usually burst between 24000 and 28000m.
We left home at 13:00UTC, so the radiosonde was quite far from us by that time. The last telemetry we managed to decode was when the radiosonde was 3800m high and on its way down. It was flying over Sacedón, in Guadalajara, and slowly drifting eastwards along the road. We were still on our way to Guadalajara, more than 40km away.
Each day, at 01:00UTC and 11:00UTC a Vaisala RS92-SGP radiosonde is launched from Madrid-Barajas airport. This is a small electronics package tied to a helium balloon that ascends up to between 24 and 28km high before bursting and descending on parachute. It is designed to measure atmospheric parameters on its way up. It includes temperature, pressure and humidity sensors, as well as a GPS receiver. The launch on Wednesdays at 11:00UTC also includes a plug-in ozone sensor (which is a much larger and more expensive package). The data is transmitted at 403MHz using Manchester-encoded 4800bps GMSK and protected using Reed-Solomon. You can find more information about the RS92-SGP model in its technical datasheet and about the launches at Madrid-Barajas and other launches in Spain in the Spanish AIP Section 5.3 (other activities of a dangerous nature). Also, there is somebody who feeds the radiosonde data into the APRS network using SM2APRS, so you can track the launches by following OKER-11 on aprs.fi.
Usually, the Sondemonitor software is used to receive and plot the parameters measured by the radiosonde and track the GPS data. Of course, this program is very nice and complete, but it is shareware, costs 25€ and runs only in Windows. I wanted to try if it is possible to track the GPS data in Linux using free software.