Idle data in BepiColombo X-band signal

Yesterday I posted about decoding the data in an X-band recording of BepiColombo. I only made a very shallow analysis of the data, which consisted of CCSDS TM Space Data Link frames. However, I showed that most of the data was transmitted on virtual channel 7. A few hours later, Oleg_meteo in Twitter noted that this data in virtual channel 7 was just a 511 bit PN sequence. After some analysis I’ve confirmed what Oleg_meteo said and shown another interesting and unexpected property of this data.

All the Space Data Link frames in virtual channel 7 have a first header pointer field of 2046, which means “idle data only”. When the payload in these frames is concatenated (there are 8792 payload bits per frame) we obtain an infinite sequence that fits the following description.

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Decoding BepiColombo

BepiColombo is a joint mission between ESA and JAXA to send two scientific spacecraft to Mercury. The two spacecraft, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, built by ESA, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, built by JAXA, travel together, joined by the Mercury Transfer Module, which provides propulsion and support during cruise, and will separate upon arrival to Mercury. The mission was launched on October 2018 and will arrive to an orbit around Mercury on December 2025. The long cruise consists of one Earth flyby, two Venus flybys, and six Mercury flybys.

The Earth flyby will happen in a few days, on 2020-04-10, so currently BepiColombo is quickly approaching Earth at a speed of 4km/s. Yesterday, on 2020-04-04, the spacecraft was 2 million km away from Earth, which is close enough so that Amateur DSN stations can receive the data modulation sidebands. Paul Marsh M0EYT, Jean-Luc Milette and others have been posting their reception reports on Twitter.

Paul sent me a short recording he made on 2020-04-04 at 15:16 UTC at a frequency of 8420.535MHz, so that I could see if it was possible to decode the signal. I’ve successfully decoded the frames, with very few errors. This post is a summary of my decoding.

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Earth rotation corrections for range and range-rate in GNSS

In GNSS, when considering the propagation of signals from the satellites to a receiver, it is easier to work in an ECI reference frame, since (ignoring the gravitational potential of Earth), light travels in straight lines in ECI coordinates. However, it is often common to do all the calculations in an ECEF frame, as the final goal is to obtain the receiver’s position in ECEF coordinates, and the ephemerides also use ECEF coordinates to describe the satellite positions. Therefore, a non-relativistic correction needs to be applied to account for the fact that light no longer travels in straight lines when one considers ECEF coordinates. Often, the correction is done as some kind of approximation. These types of corrections are known in the GNSS literature as the Sagnac effect.

The goal of this post is to discuss where the corrections arise from, the typical approximations that can be made, and how these corrections affects the calculation of range and range-rate. I didn’t find a good source in the literature where this is described in detail and in a self-contained way, so I decided to write it myself.

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More data from LES-5

Yesterday I looked at decoding some data transmitted by LES-5. Today I have analysed a longer recording made by Scott Tilley VE7TIL to perform an eclipse timing on 2020-03-25. The study has been done in this Jupyter notebook, which looks at the sequences of symbols extracted before and after the eclipse (they are kept as two separate sequences because the transmit frequency changed slightly after the eclipse, so decoding required two separate passes).

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Decoding LES-9

After decoding a recording of the LES-5 236.7MHz telemetry beacon made by Scott Tilley VE7TIL, I have decoded an older recording made by Scott of the S-band beacon of LES-9. This satellite was launched in 1976 and it has a 100 baud BPSK beacon at 2250MHz. Scott twitted about it in April 2019, and in January 2020 he reported that the modulation had stopped and the beacon was now a CW carrier.

I have used this recording made by Scott in 2020-01-13. The GNU Radio demodulator, which is very similar to the one for LES-5, is here and the Jupyter notebook with the results is here. Below, I make a brief summary of the results.

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Decoding LES-5

LES-5 is a satellite launched in 1967. It was built by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and its main payload was an experimental transponder for the military 230MHz band. It was placed in a subsynchrounous orbit with an altitude of around 33400km (GEO altitude is 35786km). Its operations ceased in 1971.

A couple days ago, Scott Tilley VE7TIL discovered that LES-5 was still transmitting, and was able to receive its beacon at 236.749MHz. Scott reports that LES-5 is the oldest GEO-belt object that he knows to be still transmitting.

The beacon is modulated, rather than being a CW carrier, so Scott sent me a short recording for analysis. This post is a summary of my study.

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Decoding images from AMICal Sat

AMICal Sat is a 2U cubesat developed by the Space Centre of the Grenoble University, France, and the Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics in the Lomonosov Moscow State University. Its scientific mission consists in taking images of auroras from low Earth orbit. The satellite bus was built by SatRevolution. Currently, the satellite is in Grenoble waiting to be launched on a future date (which is uncertain due to the COVID-19 situation).

A few weeks ago I was working with Julien Nicolas F4HVX to try to decode some of the images transmitted by AMICal Sat. Julien is an Amateur radio operator and he is helping the satellite team at Grenoble with the communications of the satellite.

This post is an account of our progress so far.

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Fifth alpha for gr-satellites 3

Today I have released gr-satellites v3-alpha4, the fifth alpha in the series that will lead to the refactor of gr-satellites in which I’ve been working since September. This alpha release has been focused on improving the performance of the BPSK and FSK demodulators. Here I summarise the improvements and new features that this alpha brings, and look at the roadmap leading to the release of gr-satellites 3.0.0.

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Decoding ESA Solar Orbiter

Solar Orbiter is an ESA Sun observation satellite that was launched on February 10 from Cape Canaveral, USA. It will perform detailed measurements of the heliosphere from close distances reaching down to around 60 solar radii.

As usual, Amateur observers have been interested in tracking this mission since launch, but apparently ESA refused to publish state vectors to aid them locate the spacecraft. However, 18 hours after launch, Solar Orbiter was found by Amateurs, first visually, and then by radio. Since then, it has been actively tracked by several Amateur DSN stations, which are publishing reception reports on Twitter and other media.

On February 13, the spacecraft deployed its high gain antenna. Since it is not so far from Earth yet, even stations with relatively small dishes are able to receive the data modulation on the X band downlink signal. Spectrum plots showing the sidelobes of this signal have been published in Twitter by Paul Marsh M0EYT, Ferruccio IW1DTU, and others.

I have used an IQ recording made by Paul on 2020-02-13 16:43:25 UTC at 8427.070MHz to decode the data transmitted by Solar Orbiter. In this post, I show the details.

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