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Es’hail-2 / AMSAT Phase 4-A / QO-100

AMSAT Phase 4-A is the first geostationary amateur radio transponder which is placed on Es'hail-2 communication satellite (launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on November 15, 2018).
The uplink is on 2.4 GHz (S band) and downlink on 10.5 GHz (X band). I received the signals using a downconverter from an LNB and a small parabolic antenna (30cm) placed on a chair pointing to the satellite through an open window. As the downconverter had a free-running oscillator without any temperature stabilization, you can hear that the receiving tone is not stable. Using a disciplined oscillator will be the next step. The record of the Beacon can be found here.


This time I tried to modify my LNB. I removed the internal crystal (25 MHz) and replaced it by an SMA connector. Then I used an arbitrary waveform generator that was disciplined to GPS (10 MHz clock) and injected the signal into the LNB.

The difference in the frequency stability is significant as can be seen in the following record. RTL-SDR was used for the reception.

PicoBalloon Challenge 2019

PicoBalloon Chalenge 2019 was held in Brno on Monday, 4th March and was organised by SOSA - Slovak organisation for space activities and Brno Observatory and Planetarium in cooperation with S.A.B. Aerospace and Czechinvest.

I noticed this competiton in January 2019 but my idea was to visit the observatory to see the teams and their radiosondes. My friend Vlada (OK1FET) sent me a message three weeks before the event that we could join the competition as he tried radiosondes in the past. We discussed the details a bit more but I found that Vlada had his radiosonde nearly prepared, so I decided to build my own radiosonde as well.

The idea was to trasmitt a morse signal (CW) on short waves once per 10 minutes and to use RBN (reverse beacons) for detection and monitoring. Even though the idea was simple, it was quite challenging to get everything done on time.

My radiosonde contained two switchable oscillators that worked at 7MHz and 14MHz, one small amplifier, low pass filter and a microcontroller. All of that was powered by solar pannels. When the PCB arrived and a prototype was working, I spent most of the remaining time reducing the unwanted harmonic signals (especially those which were not inside HAM bands) to make sure that my radiosonde does not produce any interference. This part was successful as can be seen from the measurements (the second harmonic was reduced by 40dB at 28MHz and the third harmonic was below the noise).

I finished both firmware and soldering at 10AM when some of the teams were probably at the observatory. I arrived at 12 o'clock. The official start (launch) was at 1PM. We were given some instructions, balloons with helium and we could go for launch. It was actually much more difficult than I expected due to the wind speed. I managed to break my antenna during the first attempt. Fortunately, Ondra (OK1CDJ) was very kind and lent me his soldering station, so I could fix that. I checked that everything worked and launched the balloon. I must say, it was a very stressfull launch. The radiosonde nearly hit a tree, hit a roof (unfortunately not as nearly :)) and finally gained some height.

Even though the reverse beacons haven't received any signal from my radiosonde yet, I really enjoyed the event, met some very nice people, learned new things both during the development and the event itself and I have a lot of new ideas for next year.

And finally, a big thank you to the organizers of this event and I hope that we will see each other next year again.

RCWL-0516 Microwave Motion Detector

I found this module in our local electronic components store. The module was called Microwave radar motion detector which attracted my attention, so I decided to buy it (£2) and to perform some tests. I only connected pins VIN (5V), GND and OUT. When the chip detects a movement, pin OUT changes its state form logic low (0V) to logic high (3.3V). I wrote a piece of code to show the state of the sensor using an LCD display and an LED diode. (A short video presenting the motion detection can be found here: RCWL-0516 Microwave Sensor.) I noticed that the sensor is very sensitive as when I was close enough, my breathing was modulating the frequency response of the module (due to reflections). Furthermore, I meassured the spectrum. I used a short probe at a distance of about 5 - 10 cm away from the sensor. The measurements can be seen in the following figures.




The measured spectrum (near-field) can be seen in the following figures. The first measurement was made at home, the second one was taken at the university as I am a bit limited with the frequency range in this case.




I have found two nice videos explaining how such sensors work.

Reference Dipole Antenna for ISM Band (868 MHz)

This short article deals with a dipole antenna for ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) band. This band can be used for sensor networks which have been receiving great interest nowadays (IoT - Internet of Things). There are many applications where the sensors must have small dimensions and therefore the antennas inside such devices are highly miniaturized. The less the space available and the more components are placed nearby the antenna, the more the radiation of the antenna is affected.

This problem is probably not so critical for our home projects but it is still nice to know how your board with a temperature sensor and a small antenna performs and eventually to increase the range of the sensor by optimizing the distribution of the components etc. Therefore I made a reference dipole with an integrated balun that I can use for my tests allowing me to compare several designs.

I found an article Evaluation of Polarization Diversity Antenna for Wireless Communication Applications where my antenna came from. I changed the resonant frequency of the dipole and modified the ground plane. The results with the dimensions are as follows:


Radiation pattern

Radiation pattern - cross polarization

Dimensions - top view

Dimensions - bottom view

Radiation pattern - H plane

 S11 parameter (-Return Loss)

 Practical realisation, PCB is made of FR-4 - 1.6 mm

FT8 Monitoring Station with SDR and Raspberry Pi 3B

FT8 is a digital mode, invented by Joe Taylor K1JT, that has become very popular these days. A lot of people talked about it in both possitive and negative ways, so I decided to make my own opinion. When I was playing with WSJT-X software, I found that there is a possibility to upload the decoded stations to a server where all the contacts are shown in a map. I found this exciting, so I connected my Raspberry Pi to the transceiver (TRX) and watched the propagation for several days. Unfortunately, the power consuption of the TRX is quite high, so I had the idea to try that with my software defined radio (SDR) HackRF. I used GQRX software in combination with WSJT-X and Pulse Audio Volume Control (pavucontrol) for mixing the audio signals (virtual audio cable). I noticed that there was a problem with reception not being reliable. Firstly I thought that it was caused by a weak power supply, so I replaced my DC addapter with a laboratory power supply. After some tests I noticed that the main chip on Raspberry Pi was getting very hot. Therefore, I ordered an active heat sink that keeps Raspberry Pi cold and it made a great difference. Now I can run the monitoring station 24/7 without any problems. Furthermore, I tried to compare the reception of my TS-590SG with HackRF SDR. TS-590SG has a power divider already built in, so I could use it for splitting the signals comming from my indoor antenna. To be fair, by connecting the SDR to the TRX, the noise level of the TRX increased a bit. On the other hand, I could not hear this effect when the antenna was connected as the noise floor was much higher. The results are shown below the text. It can be seen that they do not differ that much. My HF transceiver received 756 transmitters, 1691 reports and 57 countries in 24 hours in comparison to the SDR where 657 transmitters, 1370 reports and 54 countries were decoded. It seems that SDR in combination with Raspberry Pi works well. As I want to keep HackRF for other tests, I decided to buy a cheeper RTL-SDR for this automatic monitoring station. (Please see the results below.)


SDR + Raspberry Pi 3B with a heat sink

GQRX + WSJT-X running on Rasberry Pi 3B

Map, reception at 14.074 MHz, TS-590SG

Map, reception at 14.074 MHz, HackRF

My new RTL-SDR (version no. 3) has been delivered. GQRX software does not allow to receive signals below 24 MHz in combination with RTL-SDR until a direct sampling mode is activated. I found a message of Thomas KC3JVH (link) that this can be done by writing direct_samp=3 into the device string in the config window (see the screenshot below), so no up-converter is required for HF reception with this particular dongle. I compared RTL-SDR in the same way as HackRF with the reference transceiver TS-590SG. TS-590SG received 771 transmitters, 1742 reports and 56 countries in 24 hours in comparison to RTL-SDR where 728 transmitters, 1611 reports and 56 countries were decoded. I am very happy with that.