Category Archives: Software Defined Radio

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!


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AirSpy HF+ vs. HF+ Discovery: Ivan’s blind daytime propagation comparison

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ivan NO2CW, who shares the following:

I did this video where I compared the two Airspy editions [HF+ and the new HF+ Discovery] only calling them Receiver 1 and Receiver 2:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Using the same W6LVP loop. 3 PM local time daytime propagation. Testing on Medium Wave and Short Wave, no VHF. AM broadcast signals only.

Ivan also included an image comparing the size of the HF+ discovery with other popular SDRs:

From top to bottom: the Microtelecom Perseus, SDRplay RSP, AirSpy HF+, Airspy HF+ Discovery, and the RTL-SDR.com SDR dongle. 

When I demo the AirSpy HF+ to radio clubs, folks are amazed that such a tiny SDR can provide benchmark performance. It’s hard to believe the HF+ Discovery might even provide more performance from an even smaller package!

Thanks, Ivan for sharing these comparisons!

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Fenu-Radio reviews an AirSpy HF+ Discovery prototype

Fernando Duarte of Fenu-Radio has just posted his review of the AirSpy HF+ Discovery SDR prototype.  I trust Fenu’s reviews because they’re always thorough and based on actual listening sessions.

In short, he’s quite impressed with the prototype. In many instances the Discovery outperformed his benchmark Winradio G33DDC Excalibur Pro. Quite an accomplishment for a $169 SDR!

Click here to read Funu-Radio’s full review.

I will evaluate a first production run AirSpy HF+ Discovery. Since it’s incredibly lightweight and compact, I believe I’ll try to even build a small portable SDR station around it. Stay tuned.

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Hackaday looks back at the venerable RTL-SDR

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul Evans (W4/VP9KF), who shares the following article from Hackaday:

Before swearing my fealty to the Jolly Wrencher, I wrote for several other sites, creating more or less the same sort of content I do now. In fact, the topical overlap was enough that occasionally those articles would get picked up here on Hackaday. One of those articles, which graced the pages of this site a little more than seven years ago, was Getting Started with RTL-SDR. The original linked article has long since disappeared, and the site it was hosted on is now apparently dedicated to Nintendo games, but you can probably get the gist of what it was about from the title alone.

When I wrote that article in 2012, the RTL-SDR project and its community were still in their infancy. It took some real digging to find out which TV tuners based on the Realtek RTL2832U were supported, what adapters you needed to connect more capable antennas, and how to compile all the software necessary to get them listening outside of their advertised frequency range. It wasn’t exactly the most user-friendly experience, and when it was all said and done, you were left largely to your own devices. If you didn’t know how to create your own receivers in GNU Radio, there wasn’t a whole lot you could do other than eavesdrop on hams or tune into local FM broadcasts.

Nearly a decade later, things have changed dramatically. The RTL-SDR hardware and software has itself improved enormously, but perhaps more importantly, the success of the project has kicked off something of a revolution in the software defined radio (SDR) world. Prior to 2012, SDRs were certainly not unobtainable, but they were considerably more expensive. Back then, the most comparable device on the market would have been the FUNcube dongle, a nearly $200 USD receiver that was actually designed for receiving data from CubeSats. Anything cheaper than that was likely to be a kit, and often operated within a narrower range of frequencies.

Today, we would argue that an RTL-SDR receiver is a must-have tool.[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article at the excellent Hackaday blog.

Of course, for all things RTL-SDR and beyond, I highly recommend bookmarking RTL-SDR.com.

The RTL-SDR.com blog also manufactures my favorite flavor of the RTL-SDR dongle along with a nice bundle of antennas. Click here to check it out on Amazon.com (this affiliate link supports the SWLing Post).

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The SDRplay RSP1 just turned five years old

Yesterday, @SDRplay noted on Twitter:

It’s 5 years ago today we sold the very first blue and white RSP to someone in Sweden – many thanks to all our customers over the 5 years

Perhaps it’s just because I’m getting older, but it’s hard to believe it’s been five years!

The little RSP1 really disrupted the SDR world. Up to 2014, there were few sub $150 SDRs that included HF reception natively. There were even fewer sub $150 SDRs that I would consider “enthusiast grade”–those that were sensitive, selective, and not prone to overload.

When I initially tested the RSP1 it pretty much blew my mind. I was so impressed by the performance for the price point.

Looking back at my original review, I see that I had a long list of “pros” and only three “cons.” In fact, two of the three “cons” I listed are no longer valid (multi-channel recordings are now an option and SDRplay has their own OEM application, SDRuno).

SDRplay has demonstrated iterative agility with each new product offering and built an impressive community in five years. They have also maintained their position as a price leader even though their products are all designed and manufactured in the UK.

Congratulations, SDRplay! Happy Birthday to the RSP1! Click here to check out SDRplay.

Click here to read my original SRDplay RSP1 review.

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SDR Academy presentation videos

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Alexander (DL4NO), who writes:

Parallel to the Hamradio fair in Friedrichshafen, Germany, there are talks and whole conferences. Over the last years, the “Software-Definded Radio Academy” (SDRA) was one of them.

You find the presentations on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6D0CPBQoIVpMflpSZFqbkmr2Xt_10D_Z

At least most of them are in English.

Thank you for the tip, Alexander! These videos are amazing! Wow–now I just need to find the time to watch them all.

I’ve embedded the videos and links below, for your convenience:

Markus Heller, DL8RDS: SDR-Academy @ HAM-Radio 2019 – A Summary

 

Dr. Carles Fernandez: An Open Source Global Navigation Satellite Systems Software-Defined Receiver

Mario Lorenz, DL5MLO: The AMSAT-DL/QARS Ground Stations for Qatar-Oscar 100

Mack McCormick, W4AX: FlexRadio: SDR Technology that Will Change How you Operate HF

Christoph Mayer, DL1CH: KiwiSDR as a new GNURadio Source

Manolis Surligas, SV9SFC: SDR Makerspace, Exploid SDR technology for space communications

Michael Hartje, DK5HH: Digital signal processing for the detection of noise disturbances

Prof Dr Joe Taylor, K1JT: Welcome Address and Questions & Answers

DL1FY, DC9OE, DG8MG, DL8GM: Charly25 SDR Transceiver

Alex Csete, OZ9AEC: SDR-Makerspace: Evaluation of SDR boards and toolchains

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Mike’s expanding collection of SDRplay tutorial videos

Besides making great receivers, one of the things I love about SDRplay is their focus on providing user documentation and tutorials. We’ve mentioned before that SDRplay’s Mike Ladd (KD2KOG) actively creates tutorial videos exploring a number of SDRplay topics. To date, he’s produced over 20 videos–!

If you own an SDRplay product, I’d strongly recommend checking out Mike’s video list even if you feel you’re already a pro user. The videos are easy to follow and are chock-full of SDRuno tips and tricks.

I’ve pasted the latest links to the Mike’s videos below but I would encourage you to check the SDRplay YouTube channel (link below) and this page for the latest episodes as they are regularly updated.

From the SDRplay Ham Guides page:

As SDRplay RSPs get used for more and more receiver applications, we felt we didn’t want to lose sight of the large number of people who love short wave listening and HF ham radio, so we have created “Ham Guides” as a place where we focus on providing tuition and help for all aspects of receiving radio signals at 30MHz and below. This includes set up and use of SDRuno, and tips and techniques on key related topics such as decoding, propagation and antennas.

The SDRplay Ham Guides YouTube channel can be found here, at  www.youtube.com/c/SDRplayHamGuides 

SDRplay Ham Guides complements the main SDRplay YouTube channel and all the documentation available via https://www.sdrplay.com/downloads/and the searchable resources in our Applications and Support Catalogue: https://www.sdrplay.com/apps-catalogue/

If you have ideas for what you’d like to see more of, then add your comments to the videos or email me at mike.ladd@sdrplay.com

  1. This is the first video of many to follow. Showing basic operation of SDRuno using a RSP1a SDR.https://youtu.be/ngv60EWiJ3U
  2. Minimum requirements for running SDRuno.https://youtu.be/Rn3tuiIOvmM
  3. Virtual audio cable basics in SDRuno.https://youtu.be/ZF86cK5vukY
  4. Shaping the sound of shortwave broadcast stations using SDRuno.https://youtu.be/smvfCGx6zO8
  5. Using SDRuno’s built in software notch filters.https://youtu.be/5K92dG2sedw
  6. SDRuno basics, MultiPSKhttps://youtu.be/tnqfJhsvGFA
  7. SDRuno basics, Import the free EiBi HF databasehttps://youtu.be/ZJlfxaudaNI
  8. SDRuno basics, The EX CONTROL panel part 1.https://youtu.be/1XdBqXcyuzw
  9. SDRuno basics, The EX CONTROL panel part 2.https://youtu.be/H0RJVy4u5Ro
  10. SDRuno basics, My HF frequency lists part 1.https://youtu.be/KiNjsvKHVeU
  11. SDRuno basics, My HF frequency lists part 2.https://youtu.be/Rx3B-6h_CIw
  12. SDRuno basic, Decoding WEFAX using Black Cat HF Weather Fax decoder.https://youtu.be/juTdBpTDVp0
  13. SDRuno basics, Removing wide band noise.https://youtu.be/_GtozskwFAY
  14. SDRuno basics, CSV user list browser.https://youtu.be/1vu5fAjdRHw
  15. SDRuno basics, RSPduo, dual tuner mode, listening and decoding signalshttps://youtu.be/1vu5fAjdRHw
  16. SDRuno basic, VRX-Virtual receivershttps://youtu.be/ndUPm6Nccb8
  17. Why I chose a loop.https://youtu.be/XesvzZG-Mi8
  18. SDRuno basics, decoding CTCSS/DCS toneshttps://youtu.be/PM3WOMF7_eM
  19. SDRplay user support options and resourceshttps://youtu.be/nXnrBaoKKjs
  20. RSRduo with dual W6LVP loops Part 1https://youtu.be/w5SrDtUxhQU
  21. RSRduo with dual W6LVP loops Part 2https://youtu.be/ikUymHFkCcY
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