During the LightSail test mission, dozens of radio trackers around the world picked up the signal from our spacecraft. Many of you sent us beacon packets, some of which were very helpful in telling us what our spacecraft was doing when it was out of range of our US-based tracking stations.
For our second flight, which is still tentatively scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy in September 2016, we would like to better support and leverage the radio community. Our ultimate goal is to create a software tool that will help LightSail trackers capture and submit data to our packet repository in real time. Other missions, such as University of Michigan GRIFEX CubeSathave done it.
We also want to make LightSail tracking an inclusive activity that everyone, including people without prior radio experience, can enjoy. (Provided you live within range of LightSail’s 24-degree inclination orbit, we’ll calculate a specific latitude range for that.)
Since I’m also new to radio, we thought a good initial task would be to see how difficult it was for me to set up my own Software Defined Radio (SDR) system, at a cost relatively small, and perform some basic operations. exercises. In other words, if I can figure it out, I can write how-to guides for everyone.
So how am I?
Reasonably well, thanks to technical support from Justin Foley and John Bellardo, two radio experts from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, LightSail’s main ground station. Very early on, I found a Matt Gray’s guide to downloading images from NOAA’s weather satellites. I thought this would be a good starting exercise, and now that I’ve had some success, I’m ready to publish my first SDR activity guide. Here are some caveats:
- I cannot guarantee success. There is always the risk that you lose the cost of your equipment and the time invested.
- Feel free to post questions in the comments, but I don’t have the capacity to provide unlimited technical support.
- Read all instructions before deciding whether or not to try it for yourself. You’ll be more likely to succeed if you’re computer savvy and have Google’s patience to troubleshoot a problem.
Here is my best weather satellite image to date: