GPS SVN49 broadcasting non-standard codes again

As a GNSS engineer at my day job in GMV, it’s not uncommon to find myself looking at spectrums of the GNSS signal bands, either on a spectrum analyzer or on an IQ recording done by an SDR. A few days ago, I spotted something in the L1 band (1575.42MHz) that quickly caught my eye: a pair of strong carriers at +/- 511.5kHz away from the L1 centre frequency. This was visible on some of the recordings that we had done in the last few days, and also live on a spectrum analyzer.

When monitoring the signal on the spectrum analyzer, it disappeared a few hours later, making me suspect that it was transmitted by a satellite rather than a local interferer. Back at home, I did some recordings with STRF to try to identify the satellite using its Doppler.

The Doppler signature of the signal was a perfect match for GPS SVN49, also as USA-203 and GPS IIRM-7. This satellite, launched in 2009, was the first to demonstrate the L5 signal. During in-orbit testing, an anomaly with its navigation signals caused by the L5 filter was discovered. The satellite was never put into operational use, and has been used for varied tests ever since.

After searching information about this satellite, I learned that some researchers from Torino, Italy, had already observed back in 2017 the same kind of signals that I was seeing.

This post is a detailed study of the L1 signal that is currently being broadcast by GPS SVN49. The data used here has been published in Zenodo as “RF recordings of GPS SVN49 broadcasting non-standard codes“.

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An STRF crash course

Recently, the STRF satellite tracking toolkit for radio observations by Cees Bassa has been gaining some popularity. This toolkit allows one to process RF recordings to extract frequency measurements and perform TLE matching and optimization via Doppler curves. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of documentation for this toolkit. There are some people that want to use STRF but don’t have a clear idea of where to start.

While I have tested very briefly STRF in the past, I had never used it for doing any serious task, so I’m also a newcomer. I have decided to test this tool and learn to use it properly, writing some sort of walk-through as I learn the main functionality. Perhaps this crash course will be useful to other people that want to get started with STRF.

As I have said, I’m no expert on STRF, so there might be some mistakes or omissions in this tutorial that hopefully the experts of STRF will point out. The crash course is organized as a series of exercises that explain basic concepts and the workflow of the tools. The exercises revolve around an IQ recording that I made of the QB50 release from ISS in May 2017. That recording is interesting because it is a wide band recording of the full 70cm Amateur satellite band on an ISS pass on May 29. During a few days before this, a large number of small satellites had been released from the ISS. Therefore, this recording is representative of the TLE lottery situation that occurs after large launches, where the different satellites haven’t drifted much yet and one is trying to match each satellite to a TLE.

The IQ recording can be downloaded here (16GB). I suggest that you download it and follow the exercises on your machine. After you finish all the exercises, you can invent your own. Certainly, there is a lot that can be tried with that recording.

A number of supporting files are created during the exercises. For reference, I have created a gist with these files.

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