Category Archives: How To

Guest Post: Decoding Inmarsat L-Band AERO and STD-C messages using the SDRplay RSP SDR

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike Ladd (KD2KOG), who shares the following guest post. Note that the following tutorial is also available as a PDF (click here to download).


Basics to decoding Inmarsat L-Band signals using the RSP SDR

by Mike Ladd

Note: CHECK WITH YOUR LOCAL LAWS BEFORE DECODIING ANY SIGNALS FROM THE INMARSAT SYSTEM

Hardware used

SDR: RSP1a SDR from SDRplay? https://www.sdrplay.com/rsp1a/

Antenna: Modified GPS patch antenna for L-Band from SDR-Kits, model A154.? https://www.sdr-kits.net/L-Band-Receive%20Antenna

Software used

SDRuno v1.32
https://www.sdrplay.com/downloads/

VBcable (Donationware) vPack43
https://www.vb-audio.com/Cable/

VAC (Paid for use) v4.60
https://vac.muzychenko.net/en/

JAERO (Free) v1.0.4.9
https://github.com/jontio/JAERO/releases

Tekmanoid STD-C Decoder (Paid for use) v1.5.1
Requires Java JRE, check your local laws before using this decoder.
http://www.tekmanoid.com/egc.shtml

https://www.java.com/en/download/

Introduction

(some text taken and edited from the RTL-SDR Blog website)

This document is not a definitive guide to Satcom, L-Band transmission or the Inmarsat system. This is a collection of information that I have found scatter throughout the internet and re-compiled into a document, this document. My aim is to help you get started and hopefully guide you in the right direction. Expect typographical mistakes, inaccuracies, or omissions

Inmarsat is a communications service provider with several geostationary satellites in orbit. Inmarsat provides services such as satellite phone communications, broadband internet, and short text and data messaging services. Geostationary means that the Inmarsat satellites are in a fixed position in the sky and do not move.

The Inmarsat 3-F(x) satellites have transponders transmitting data in L-Band (1.5 GHz) that can be decoded. 

The modes we will cover in this document are Aeronautical (Classic Aero or ACARS) and Inmarsat-C (STD-C) using an RSP1a, RSP2/2pro or RSPduo connected to the SDR-Kits modified L-Band patch antenna. The Inmarsat system is not limited to only these types of networks. We are limited to the decoders available.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inmarsat

Some regions that use the I-3 satellite services moved and migrated to the Inmarsat I-4 Satellites.  See the following document.  https://www.inmarsat.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/INM_C_I3_I4_migration_guide_V3.0.pdf

Two of the most popular decoding applications are JAERO used for ACARS and Tekmanoid STD-C Decoder used for decoding STD-C NCS transmissions on the Inmarsat 3-F(x) satellites

https://www.sigidwiki.com/wiki/Inmarsat_Aero

https://www.sigidwiki.com/wiki/Inmarsat-C_TDM

Software installation

Virtual Audio Cable: A virtual audio cable allows you to pipe audio from application (SDRuno) into another application (a decoder like JAERO) digitally. I will assume SDRuno is already installed with your device attached and functioning properly. 

You can now download a virtual audio cable package.  If you already have a virtual audio cable package installed, you can skip to the next section. If you don’t have a virtual audio cable application installed, you only need to choose one and only install one of the two, either one works fine

Close any running apps, install the virtual audio cable and reboot your computer. When your computer boots back to your desktop, your computer will now have a virtual audio cable pair installed on the system. 

You can verify by going to your Control Panel and double clicking the Sound icon. VB-Cable and Virtual Audio Cable will only install a single virtual audio cable pair, one is for the input (Recording) and one is for the output (Playback). A single pair is all that is needed (as shown below).

JAERO

(some text taken and edited from the JAERO website)

JAERO is a program that decodes ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) messages sent by satellites (in this case Inmarsat) to Airplanes (SatCom ACARS). This is commonly used when airplanes are well beyond VHF range. 

JAERO also allows for decoding and demodulation of voice calls, due to local laws and privacy, I will not show or discuss how to do this. You can find more information about that JAERO feature online.

JAERO can be downloaded from the link provided on the first page of this document. After downloading the installer, simply double click the setup file and install it on your primary drive.

Tekmanoid STD-C Decoder

(some text taken and edited from the USA-Satcoms website)

Inmarsat STD-C is a data or message-based system used mostly by maritime operators. An Inmarsat C terminal transmits and receives on L-Band to various geosynchronous satellites that service each major ocean region. 

The Tekmanoid STD-C decoder will decode STD-C Inmarsat EGC (enhanced group call) and LES (land earth station) messages. Some of these messages contain private information. Reception of these messages may not be legal in your country; therefore, your local laws should be checked.

The Enhanced Group Call (EGC) service is a message broadcast service with global coverage (except the poles) within the Inmarsat-C communications system. Two of the services provided are:

FleetNET and SafetyNET

FleetNET is used to send commercial messages to individuals or groups of subscribers (for example, individual companies communicating with their own Mobile Earth Stations (MES). SafetyNET is used for broadcasting Maritime Safety Information (MSI) such as Navigational warnings, meteorological warnings, meteorological forecasts and other safety related information (including Distress Alert Relays) from official sources.

The LES station acts as an interface (or gateway) between the Inmarsat space segment and the national/international telecommunications networks. 

The Tekmanoid STD-C decoder requires Java JRE in order to run. The link for the Java runtime environment is on page 2 of this document. For information contact the developer direct admin@tekmanoid.com

There are alternatives to using the Tekmanoid STD-C decoder, but in my opinion the other decoders available do not perform as well on low end systems or even work without needing “helper” applications to be installed. Tekmanoid STD-C decoder is very easy to use and works great on my low-end system using minimal system resources.

Putting all the pieces together

ACARS and STD-C messages will transmit via the Inmarsat satellite deployed within your coverage area/region, you will need to choose the Inmarsat satellite that is closest to your coverage area. 

Note that only different frequencies are used between ACARS transmissions and STD-C transmissions. You will only need to receive from one of the available 3-F(x) Inmarsat satellites. 

L-Band ACARS transmissions are in the 1.545 GHz range but STD-C messages are on fixed frequencies (shown on page 8)

Since STD-C transmissions are broadcasted on fixed frequencies, we want to monitor the TDM NCSC channel, again these are fixed for the following Ocean Regions. Choose the region closest to your location (page 9).

Again, some regions that use the I-3 satellite services moved and migrated to the Inmarsat I-4 Satellites.  See the following document.  https://www.inmarsat.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/INM_C_I3_I4_migration_guide_V3.0.pdf

STD-C transmissions are broadcasted on fixed frequencies, NCSC channel. The NCSC frequency per region is noted below.

Inmarsat satellite: Inmarsat-4 F3 (AOR-W)
Direction: 98° West
Frequency: 1.537.70 GHz

Inmarsat satellite: Inmarsat-3 F5 (AOR-E)
Direction: 54° West
Frequency: 1.541.45 GHz

Inmarsat satellite: Inmarsat-4 F1 (IOR)
Direction: 25° East
Frequency: 1.537.10 GHz

Inmarsat satellite: Inmarsat-4 F1 (POR)
Direction: 143.5° East
Frequency: 1.541.45 GHz

I will assume you have located the Inmarsat satellite that covers your region. I suggest using a compass on your mobile phone to pinpoint the general direction. The direction is in ° (degrees). I am referencing true north, not magnetitic north (traditional analog compass). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_declination

You can also download an app for your smartphone called Satellite AR (Android and IOS). After you locate the correct direction of the Inmarsat satellite, you will want to place the L-Band patch on a flat metal surface. I have read that the receive pattern of this patch antenna is z (about 85-90°, straight up). Point the top of the antenna facing the Inmarsat satellite. Using the roof of my car worked just fine, just remember to point the front of the antenna at the satellite.

https://www.u-blox.com/sites/default/files/products/documents/GPS-Antenna_AppNote_%28GPS-X-08014%29.pdf

Launch SDRuno and click the PLAY button, remember that if the RSP(x) is in ZERO IF mode, give frequency separation between the VFO (top frequency) and LO (bottom frequency). In LOW IF mode this is not needed. I suggest running a sample rate of 2 MHz, larger bandwidths are not needed. 

The SDR-Kits patch antenna requires that the RSP(x) Bias-T be enabled. The Bias-T option is enabled within the MAIN panel of SDRuno. See the SDRuno manual located here. https://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRplay_SDRuno_User_Manual.pdf view page 17.

With the Bias-T enabled. Set the RSP(x) RF GAIN to max. The RF GAIN slider is located on the MAIN panel. See the SDRuno manual located here. https://www.sdrplay.com/docs/SDRplay_SDRuno_User_Manual.pdf view page 17.

For more information about the RF GAIN settings of the RSP(x)
https://www.sdrplay.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Gain_and_AGC_in_SDRuno.pdf

Select the Virtual audio cable as the output in SDRuno, this is selected via the RX Control panel. SETT. button and clicking on the OUT tab.

Have SDRuno’s Volume slider (RX Control) at about 35-40%

Upper sideband is recommended but I found the best mode to use for L-Band ACARS or L-Band STD-C decoding is DIGITAL with a filter width of 3k. 

Be sure to set a proper step size (right click the RX Control frequency readout). The step size is not important for STD-C transmissions because these signals are only on one frequency for the satellite in your region but L-Band ACARS signals will be on many frequencies. Setting the proper step size will avoid issues when you point and click on signals you want to decode using the JAERO decoder.

You will want to center the signal with a little breathing room within the AUX SP filter passband. The filter slopes are very sharp. Keep the signal centered and away from the extreme edges (red markers). 

Select your virtual audio cable within the decoder’s audio input preferences.

The Tekmanoid STD-C decoder sound properties are located under Settings in the toolbar menu.

JAERO’s sound settings is located under the Tools menu and Settings.

For STD-C decoding use the frequency from page 8 of this document, remember we only want to monitor the TDM NCSC channel in the Tekmanoid STD-C decoder.

For JAERO decoding, I suggest you start in the 1.545 GHz portion and observe the constellation in the JAERO decoder. 

The signal to noise ratio (SNR) needed for successful decoding in these decoders will need to be greater than 7dB. When working with a weak satellite signasls, try decimating the signal using SDRuno’s decimation feature. (MAIN panel, DEC).

Click here to view on YouTube.

Additional resources

Videos:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Click here to view on YouTube.

SDRuno:

L-band frequency bank
https://mega.nz/#!jRFRiSaA!CcmRRRpjToxPzyGV9bf7MkDkKnqCYZCwwjC5curWj6g

PDFs:

https://www.inmarsat.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Aero_Service_External_Com_Kit_I3_to_I4_Transition_21AUG2018.pdf

http://seaworm.narod.ru/12/Inmarsat_Maritime_Handbook.pdf

Websites:

https://usa-satcom.com/

https://uhf-satcom.com/

I hope this document helps you get started decoding Inmarsat L-Band transmissions from the I3-F(x) satellites. I am sure I missed some key features, remember this is only a primer/basics to decoding these types of transmissions.

Warmest of 73,
Mike-KD2KOG


Many thanks for sharing your tutorial here on the SWLing Post, Mike! This looks like a fascinating activity that really requires little investment if one already owns an RSP or similar SDR. I’m certainly going to give L-Band a go!  Thank you again!


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Spread the radio love

Back when Superboy encouraged kids to build radios with razor blades

Talk about hitting all of my nostalgia points! Hat tip to SWLing Post reader, Mitch, for sharing this ad from a 1960s comic book:


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Spread the radio love

The Cat’s Whisker – 50 Years of Wireless Design

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Emilio Ruiz, who notes:

Searching archive.org found this [compilation] book: 50 Years of Wireless Design (click to view on Archive.org)

Click here to download a PDF copy.

I hope it will be interesting for you and the readers of the blog.

[The attached] cartoon is very funny… How eliminate “the hand
capacity”:

Excellent find, Elilio! Thank you for sharing!

Spread the radio love

Building a 20 meter self-tuning magnetic loop antenna

Magnetic Mag Loop Antenna Eric Sorensen

I’m often asked about what’s involved with building a home brew magnetic loop antenna.

If you’re considering building a passive loop antenna–one designed to both transmit and receive without any sort of receiver amplification–it’s a simple project. With basic DIY skills, a little math, a good variable capacitor, some copper tubing or coax, and a few inexpensive parts, it’s easy to make a passive antenna designed to operate on a given portion of the HF spectrum. It can be an easy two hour build as long as you have all of the parts. There are a number of tutorials for doing this on the web and several books on the topic (one of my favorites is Joe Carr’s Loop Antenna Handbook).

The compromise with a passive loop design is that they tend to have a very narrow bandwidth. In other words, you might have to re-tune the antenna via the variable capacitor even if you only move the frequency 5-10 kHz or so.

Via Hackaday, I recently discovered this innovative self-tuning passive loop antenna design by Eric Sorensen. Eric implements a stepper motor to make tuning adjustments. Not necessarily a beginner’s project, but the principles are straight-forward. He even includes a link to his printed components.

Click here to view Eric’s 20 meter loop antenna project.

Spread the radio love

Video demonstrating SDRplay remote operation

The SDRplay RSPduo

(Source: Jon Hudson at SDRPlay)

This video guide demonstrates the new RSP TCP server software which is now included in the latest Raspberry Pi SD Card image. The video shows how easy it is to set up an RSP at a remote location for access over the internet.

Click here to view on YouTube.

The video uses a Raspberry Pi at the remote location, and a Windows PC running HDSDR back at home base.

We are only demonstrating the Raspberry Pi version of the server here. Also, we are demonstrating extended mode (enabling the full RSP ADC resolution which only works with software which supports an EXTIO interface). Other (non EXTIO compatible) RTL-SDR software will also run via the server on an RSP device – but in “normal mode” meaning that the data resolution will be restricted to 8 bits.

Spread the radio love