Decoding the whole DGPS band

Graph1_GPSThis screenshot shows the automatically visualized result of a 12 hours’ session receiving the DGPS band, September 4th/5th, 2016. You clearly see the propagation effect during night.

For years, Chris Smolinski of Black Cat Systems offers a fine selection of Mac software, among them many pieces for hams and shortwave listeners.

He now presented an unique software dubbed Amalgamated DGPS which decodes, analyzes and visualizes all DGPS stations on long wave at once. This is done from an I/Q wav file of e.g. Perseus SDR. DGPS stand for “Differential Global Positioning System” and is a system of long wave transmitters in the range of 283,5 to 324,5 kHz transmitting FSK data in 100 and 200 Baud to correct for GPS signals. Look here for a short introduction to this topic.

These transmitters are of regional coverage, like non-directional beacons, or NDB, in the same band. This makes them interesting for DXing and propagation studies as well.

All you have to do is to let the software analyze your I/Q files of a receiving sessions. Yes, it is automatically “chaining” your files. You then get a detailed list of decoded stations with some additional data. You also can visualize these data, as I did in the screenshot at the top. This is based on a 12 hours’ session resulting in 42 wav files of 675 MB each.

Right now, the software runs on Mac/iOS only. You may record your files as usual on a PC or a Mac and process them then on a Mac/iOS system. Chris will further develop his software which now can be downloaded for free as a beta. As I write this, the software works fine, covering .0 and .5 kHz channels as well as both baud rates.

DGPS_2Here you see the complete list of stations and the number of their receptions. You have to control them a bit to sort out some very few false demodulation like here stations from outside Europe.

 

PropLab 3.1: How Propagation really works

 

Fergana_DK8OK_3DRayTracing

The software’s unique feature is 3D raytracing, showing an anatomy of propagation (see text).

HF propagation software seems to be full of mysteries. But its all about modeling physics. There are several models around, the most prominent surely is VOACAP, followed by ASAPS. VOACAP comes in very many different tastes like e.g. PropMan 2000 or ACE. It often has been coined to be the “Gold Standard” among hams and professionals as well. VOACAP gives reliable results on a statistical base for a month, whereas ASAPS returns propagation based on the current conditions of a day. It also gives propagation for an aircraft en route during its flight and takes at least a bit care of multi-path propagation which may degrade digital modes. Both work offline as online, and they are fast.

PropLab is giving you a much smarter view on what is really happening on a specific day and time at a specific path or area. It relies on the International Reference Ionosphere (IRI 2007) and uses the ray tracing technique. In short, PropLab is automatically fetching all relevant space weather data (not just sunspots) from scientific sources of the internet to model the ionosphere with its different “layers”.

You then give in your path, antenna etc. in a well-supported way. After having started “ray tracing”, PropLab lets refract rays at exactly this ionosphere with its high granularity and some real-world effect like tilts of layers which will result in e.g. propagation off the great circle. It will also beautifully show effects like focusing and gray line propagation, including Pedersen’s long ranging ray with time resolution up to one second – rather than one hour as that of VOACAP.

This ray tracing can be done in either fast 2D or more time-consuming 3D mode, the latter reflecting both ordinary and extra-ordinary rays plus off-great circle propagation.See the screenshot on top as a 3D example simulating propagation between ALE-station FERB in Far’gona (Fergana)/Uzbekistan and my location in Germany at 16:20 UTC on August 26th, 2016 on 8.066 kHz: elevation of the signal as well as its azimuth had been changed slightly and are drawn into an terrarium-like graphic. Each of the three dimensions has another scale to show all effects as good as possible.  I don’t know any other software (after AREPS went out of the public) which only comes near to modeling propagation like real life. One great advance is that it reveals/shows opportunities of short-living propagation which the other software won’t show. Hence, PropLab is an ideal tool for the serious ham and SWL.

The following screenshots take the above path and its data, comparing the advantage of 3D raytracing over 2D raytracing only on a “footprint” map. The data is rather reduced showing the rays around just one main elevation angle of about 8,5°. If you model the antenna characteristics more realistic, the here empty regions will soon be filled with nice signals. But here I want to show nothing more than a DX example.

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See this slide show changing between signals with and without extra-ordinary rays. The latter easily reach out much wider in the western direction.

Furthermore, 3D raytracing gives with great lucidity nothing more than an anatomy of propagation. This includes e.g. a synthesized oblique ionogram (2D and 3 D), a dispersion chart showing how a signal is spread over time due to different paths and so on. It includes a worldwide terrain profile, taking into account the different quality and angle of reflections on earth (2D).

Even the fast 2D mode reveals many remote chances to receive this station if it had an isotropic (i.e.: non-directional) antenna.

Even the fast 2D mode reveals many remote chances to receive this station if it had an isotropic (i.e.: non-directional) antenna.

I am using this software from its MS-DOS 2’er version, around 20 years ago. It now has arrived at version 3.1, fit for Windows 10. I can absolutely recommend this stunning work of Cary Oler – your shack is not completed without this vital tool. Don’t be scared off by its price tag in times where you expect everything for free: you get an excellent value for your money. And after a while using it you may ask: “How ever can I have lived without it?!”

I will come back on this software sometimes later in more detail. In the meantime, both PropLab2.0 and PropLab3.0 manuals gives an enlightening and free reading.

Audio Log and Google Maps

This is just a first test: I wanted to embed audio logs of some Utility Stations on a Google Map. This is possible only with MP4 files (video) as a link to You Tube. Several kinds of videos are tried: some with HF spectrum and sonogram giving additional information about the signal quality, some with a more static background to optimize file size.

There had been some difficulties to place the spots precisely. It worked fine for e.g. Deutsche Luftwaffe DHM91 (German Air Force) where you see the antennas at satellite view. But it failed a bit for e.g. US Air Force Diego Garcia, where the mark splashed right into the Indian Ocean …

Have fun in clicking to these 15 SSB stations! They should encourage you also to tune into these bands! They had all been received in Northern Germany with ELAD’s FDM-S2 and a quadloop of 20 m circumference.

Critics, suggestions and alternatives to this approach wanted.

Wake up – ICAO Selcals

If you ever had an ear on the aero bands, you are already familiar with ICAO Selcalls. With this 2 x 2 tone signal lasting for about 2,2 seconds, a Ground Station alerts a specific airplane to open up for communications. The short video on top of this page shows a typical initial contact, where Ground an Air are testing the Selcal.

This paper (click this hyperlink) describes on three pages with nine illustrations, one video and one audio the procedure and gives some background information. These may improve correct decoding of the somewhat delicate signals, as it will show how to look up the Selcal and follow the flight. BTW: It is planned to extend the pool of 16 tones to 32 tones by September 1st, 2016.

P.S. Remember to save the PDF and open it with a recent version of Acrobat Reader. Otherwise the multimedia (video, audio) will not work!

Monitoring, State-of-the-Art: In a Nutshell

As I was asked for a look onto my monitoring workbench, I decided to write it down. It’s not to show “the real stone”, but an invitation for discussing efficient workflows which State-of-the-Art technology has to offer.

This PDF of 13 pages contains 25 hopefully instructive illustrations to comprehend my approach to monitoring; or, in this case: Utility DXing. Part of this PDF is also a 2:50 video, showing how to stroll between aero channels and to decode ALE. This video is also placed on top of this page.

The paper explains in detail the advantages of leafing through recorded HF files using the technology of the “living sonogram”. It also discusses some efficient strategies of voice and data reception, eventually touching even documentation.

To make use of the video content, download it on your hard disk, save it and open it by the most recent version of your PDF reader. It works on a PC as well as on a Mac. You can download it here.

Utility DX: Some (actually: 1.000+) Logs, June, 2016

Part of the EXCEL list

Part of the EXCEL list

“HF for the pros is stone-dead, isn’t it?” This rather verdict than question is often heard even by hams. If you are telling them how busy the bands really are (as they cannot read about that in their magazines), they are doubting: “But you need professional equipment plus decoding software, worth my Mercedes Benz?”, they are upset by the answer: “Absolutely bullshit. A software-defined radio at 500 US-$ plus some free software will produce thousands of logs!”

Still don’t believe that? Well, here is the first thousand, caught just in the first half of June, 2016. Received with an FDM-S2 receiver at a quadloop of 20 m of circumference. I mostly concentrated on fixed (rather than: mobile) stations and of modes which can be decoded with free software – if they are not even outright SSB or CW.

You can download this log: Logs_EXCEL from where it may easily be opened not only by EXCEL, but also e.g. free LibreOffice.
If I find time, even more logs from the same HF recordings will be added.

I am greatly indebted to the busy and resourceful friends of UDXF for their work, thanks.

20 MHz HF: “HackRF One” on Shortwave

world Kopie

The world is full of software-defined radio (SDR), but HackRF One has a rather unique position – thanks to its vast maximum bandwidth of 20 MHz. With an up-converter, this combination covers more than 70 percent of the whole HF range from 3 to 30 MHz. Even better: with proper software you can record and play this enormous band!

However, this stunning bandwidth is achieved by a moderate resolution of 8 bit, resulting in a dynamic range of just nearly 50 dB. Or the half of SDRs like Elad’s FDM-S2.

Anyway. I wanted to know in practice what you can actually do with such a set at a budget price plus mostly free software. The results surprised even me: Properly used, this combination convinced as a quite decent performer on HF! The world map above shows some of the stations received with the set (see insert bottom left) to test its performance.

I laid down my experiences and recommendations for best reception in a paper of 17 multi-media pages full of examples – including 55 screenshots, 21 audio clips and one video. The PDF shows how to optimize reception of broadcast, utility and amateur radio stations. It covers many examples on how to analyze recordings, to decode data transmission with free software plus live decoding of 14 channels in parallel. It also gives some examples of combining HF reception with the internet, e.g. regarding the reception of signals from airplanes (ARINC, HFDL) and vessels (GMDSS).

My experiences really left me enthusiastic about this set.

You may share this enthusiasm and download the PDF of 43 MB here. Save it on your hard disk or USB stick, and open it with a most recent Adobe Reader. Otherwise, the multimedia content will not work.

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