IM-1, the first lunar lander mission from Intuitive Machines, also called Odysseus, was launched on February 15 from KSC, and landed on February 22 near Malapert crater, in the lunar south pole region. The mission has been a partial success. The vehicle did not manage to land upright, and broke one of its legs due to landing with too much horizontal velocity. Despite this unfavourable attitude, communications with the lander have been able to proceed at reduced data rates, and some images and science data have been returned. On February 29, the mission ended, as lunar night started on the landing location. Congratulations to Intuitive Machines for all the milestones achieved in their first mission.
In this post I will examine some recordings of the S-band telemetry signal done by AMSAT-DL with the 20 metre antenna in Bochum observatory. These recordings were done while the lander was still in-orbit. When landed on the Moon, IM-1 used the same configuration, but the recordings done at Bochum are probably too weak to decode, due to the orientation of the lander antennas.
In my previous post, I looked at the Doppler of the SLIM S-band telemetry signal during its landing on the Moon. I showed some waterfall plots of the signal around the residual carrier. In these, a reflection on the lunar surface was visible. The following figure shows a waterfall of the signal around the residual carrier, after performing Doppler correction and using a PLL to lock to the residual carrier. I was intrigued by the patterns made by these reflections, specially by some bands that look like a ‘1’ shape (the most prominent happens at 14:58).
In this post I study the geometry of the lunar reflection and find what causes these bands.
SLIM, JAXA’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, landed near Shioli crater on January 19. Shortly after the landing, the spacecraft was powered down to conserve power, since the probe had landed in an unexpected attitude which shaded its solar panels. After a few days of trying to contact SLIM, JAXA succeeded to reestablish communication with it on January 29. By then the Sun had moved west in the sky at SLIM’s location and had started illuminating the solar panels.
AMSAT-DL recorded the S-band signal from SLIM during the landing with the 20-meter antenna in Bochum Observatory. In this post I will analyse a recording done between 14:51:51 and 15:21:54 UTC (the touchdown was at 15:20 UTC). I will study the Doppler of the residual carrier and other radiometric quantities rather than the telemetry.
The information about the telemetry signal of LEV-1 is scarce. Its website just says
Telemetry format of LEV-1 stands on CCSDS. The contents of telemetry are under developing.
The IARU coordination sheet contains other clues, such as the mention of PCM/PSK/PM, CW, and bitrates of 31, 31.25 and 32 bps, but not much else. Regardless of the mention of CCSDS, I have found that the signal from LEV-1 is quite peculiar. This post is an account of my attempt to decode the data.
Peregrine Mission One is a lunar lander built by Astrobotic Technology. It is the first mission to be launched under the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, and Astrobotic’s first mission. It was launched in January 8 from Cape Canaveral in the maiden flight of ULA‘s Vulcan Centaur. Shortly after the launch, the team detected an issue with a propellant leak that prevented the spacecraft from achieving a soft landing on the Moon. Since then, the team has continued operating the spacecraft to the best of their capacity and collecting as much engineering and science data as they can for the next mission. Astrobotic has been doing a superb work of communicating the progress of the mission with regular updates in the Twitter account, which should specially be praised because of the difficulties they’ve faced. Congratulations for all they have achieved so far, and best luck in the upcoming missions.
In this post I won’t speak about propulsion anomalies, but rather about low-level technical details of the communications system, as I usually do. Peregrine Mission One, or APM1, which is NASA DSN‘s code for the mission, uses the DSN groundstations for communications, as many other lunar missions have done. However, it is not technically a deep space mission. In CCSDS terms, it is a Category A mission rather than a Category B mission (see Section 1.5 in this CCSDS book), since it operates within 2 million km of the Earth. Communications recommendations and usual practices are somewhat different between deep space and non-deep space missions, but APM1 is specially interesting in this sense because it differs in several aspects of what typical deep space missions and other lunar missions look like.
MOVE-II is a cubesat from Technical University of Munich that was launched in December 2018. It transmits telemetry in the 145 MHz amateur satellite band using a protocol that uses CCSDS LDPC codewords. Back in the day, there was a GNU Radio out-of-tree module developed by the satellite team to decode this satellite. Given the additional effort required to support LDPC decoding for just this satellite and since there was already a GNU Radio decoder available, I never added a decoder for MOVE-II to gr-satellites.
Fast forward 5 years, and MOVE-II is still active, but apparently its GNU Radio out-of-tree module has bit rotten. The Gitlab repository where this was hosted (I believe it was a self-hosted Gitlab) has disappeared, and while it was originally developed for GNU Radio 3.7, it was never ported to newer GNU Radio versions. Some days ago, some amateurs including Scott Chapman K4KDR and Bob Mattaliano N6RFM started doing some experiments to try to get a decoder for MOVE-II working.
I have now added an example decoder flowgraph for MOVE-II to gr-satellites. Here I describe the details of this example, and why it is only an example instead of a fully supported decoder as the ones that exist for other satellites.
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.
In my previous post I spoke about the recording of the telemetry signal from the Psyche spacecraft that I made just a few hours after launch with the Allen Telescope Array. In that post I analysed the physical aspects of the signal and the modulation and coding, but left the analysis of the telemetry frames for another post. That is the topic of this post. It will be a rather long and in-depth look at the telemetry, since I have managed to make sense of much of the structure of the data and there are several protocol layers to cover.
As a reminder from the previous post, the recording was around four hours long. During most of the first three hours, the spacecraft was slowly rotating around one of its axes, so the signal was only visible when the low-gain antenna pointed towards Earth. It was transmitting a low-rate 2 kbps signal. At some point it stopped rotating and switched to a higher rate 61.1 kbps signal. We will see important changes in the telemetry when this switch happens. Even though the high-rate signal represents only one quarter of the recording by duration, due to its 30x higher data rate, it represents most of the received telemetry by size.
On Friday, the Psyche mission launched on a Falcon Heavy from Cape Canaveral. This mission will study the metal-rich asteroid of the same name, 16 Psyche. For more details about this mission you can refer to the talk that Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the mission principal investigator, gave a month ago at GRCon23.
The launch trajectory was such that the spacecraft could be observed from the Allen Telescope Array shortly after launch. The launch was at 14:19 UTC. Spacecraft separation was at 15:21 UTC. The spacecraft then rose above the ATA 16.8 degree elevation mask in the western sky at 15:53 UTC. However, the signal was so strong that it could be received even when the spacecraft was a couple degrees below the elevation mask, so I confirmed the presence of the signal and started recording a couple minutes earlier. At this moment, the spacecraft was at a distance of 18450 km. The spacecraft continued to rise in the sky, achieving a maximum elevation of 32.9 degrees at 16:53 UTC, and setting below the elevation mask on the west at 19:22 UTC. At this moment the spacecraft was 103800 km away. The signal could still be received for a few minutes afterwards, but eventually became very weak and I stopped recording.
Since the recording started only 30 minutes after spacecraft separation, we get to see some of the events that happen very early on in the mission. Most of the observations of deep space launches that I have done with the ATA have started several hours after launch. This Twitter thread by Lindy Elkins-Tanton gives some insight about the first steps following spacecraft separation, and I will be referring to it to explain what we see in the recording.
I intend to publish the recordings in Zenodo as usual, but the platform has been upgraded recently and is showing the following message “Oct 14 12:03 UTC: We are working to resolve issues reported by users.” So far I have been unable to upload large files, but I will keep retrying and update this post when I manage.
Update 2023-10-19: Zenodo have now solved their problems and I have been able to upload the recordings. They are published in the following datasets:
On September 24, the OSIRIX-RExsample return capsule landed in the Utah Test and Training Range at 14:52 UTC. The capsule had been released on a reentry trajectory by the spacecraft a few hours earlier, at 10:42 UTC. The spacecraft then performed an evasion manoeuvre at 11:02 and passed by Earth on a hyperbolic orbit with a perigee altitude of 773 km. The spacecraft has now continued to a second mission to study asteroid Apophis, and has been renamed as OSIRIS-APEX.
This simulation I did in GMAT shows the trajectories of the spacecraft (red) and sample return capsule (yellow).
Since the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is in northern California, its location provided a great opportunity to observe this event. Looking at the trajectories in NASA HORIZONS, I saw that the sample return capsule would pass south of the ATA. It would be above the horizon between 14:34 and 14:43 UTC, but it would be very low in the sky, only reaching a peak elevation of 17 degrees. Apparently the capsule had some kind of UHF locator beacon, but I had no information of whether this would be on during the descent (during the sample return livestream I then learned that the main method of tracking the capsule descent was optically, from airplanes and helicopters). Furthermore, the ATA antennas can only point as low as 16.8 degrees, so it wasn’t really possible to track the capsule. Therefore, I decided to observe the spacecraft X-band beacon instead. The spacecraft would also pass south of the ATA, but would be much higher in the sky, reaching an elevation above 80 degrees. The closest approach would be only 1000 km, which is pretty close for a deep space satellite flyby.
As I will explain below in more detail, I prepared a custom tracking file for the ATA using the SPICE kernels from NAIF and recorded the full X-band deep space band at 61.44 Msps using two antennas. The signal from OSIRIS-REx was extremely strong, so this recording can serve for detailed modulation analysis. To reduce the file size to something manageable, I have decimated the recording to 2.048 Msps centred around 8445.8 MHz, where the X-band downlink of OSIRIS-REx is located, and published these files in the Zenodo dataset “Recording of OSIRIS-REx with the Allen Telescope Array during SRC reentry“.
In the rest of this post, I describe the observation setup, analyse the recording and spacecraft telemetry, and describe some possible further work.