Decoding ERMINAZ

ERMINAZ-1U and ERMINAZ-1V are upcoming 1P PocketQubes by AMSAT-DL that will be launched in Rocket Factory Augsburg first flight from SaxaVord (Shetland, UK) later this year, together with other PocketQubes from AMSAT-EA and Libre Space Foundation. The ERMINAZ-1 satellites are based on the Libre Space QUBIK design and use the same communications system. Recently I have added a decoder for the ERMINAZ-1 satellites to gr-satellites and tested it using some pre-flight recordings that the team has shared with me.

The QUBIK communications stack uses something know as OSDLP (Open Space Data Link Protocol), which was developed by Libre Space based on CCSDS. Unfortunately, there is not much documentation about OSDLP. The best I’ve found are these slides, which only speak about the Data Link and higher layers. A look at the QUBIK transceiver GNU Radio flowgraph that AMSAT-DL is using with these satellites, together with some gr-satnogs blocks used in the flowgraph has been quite useful to figure out how the Synchronization and Coding layer of QUBIK works. In the rest of this post I will document my findings.

Decoding Queqiao-2

Queqiao-2 is the second Chinese lunar relay satellite. It was launched on March 20 from Wenchang, and it carries a large 4.2 m deployable dish for communications on X-band with assets on the lunar surface (up to 10 simultaneous channels, according to Wikipedia). The satellite will be placed on a frozen elliptical orbit that gives a 20 hour communications window with assets near the lunar south pole on each 24 hour orbit. A very interesting experiment that it will perform is LOVEX, the Lunar Orbit VLBI Experiment. During the 4 hours per orbit that it spends around the periapsis over the lunar north pole, the 4.2 m antenna will be used for VLBI, both for radioastronomy and for orbit determination of deep space satellites, as part of the Chinese Deep Space Network.

Queqiao-2 transmits telemetry on S-band, at 2234.5 MHz. In this post I will analyse a short IQ recording that Scott Tilley VE7TIL has shared with me.

Decoding IM-1

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.

Lunar reflections during SLIM landing

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 lunar landing radiometry

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.

Trying to decode LEV-1

LEV-1 is a small lunar hopper that was carried by the SLIM lunar lander. It was released a few metres above the surface on January 19, as part of the lunar landing of SLIM. LEV-1 transmits telemetry in the 435 MHz amateur satellite band (it has an IARU satellite coordination approval), and also in S-band. Shortly after the landing, CAMRAS received the 437.410 MHz signal from LEV-1 using the 25 m radiotelescope at Dwingeloo. They have published a couple of IQ recordings in their directory of miscellaneous recordings (see the filenames starting by slim_).

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.

Decoding Peregrine Mission One

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.

For this post I have used some IQ recordings done by the AMSAT-DL team with the 20 metre antenna at Bochum Observatory. To my knowledge, these recordings are not publicly available.

Decoding MOVE-II

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.

Seeing this, I decided to revisit the situation and try to add a decoder for MOVE-II to gr-satellites. Since this satellite was launched, I have been dealing with CCSDS LDPC for the Artemis Orion, made my own LDPC decoder, and participated in fixing the GNU Radio in-tree LDPC decoder. Therefore, most of the heavy lifting seemed to be already done.

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.

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.

Psyche telemetry

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.