Category Archives: DIY space

Low cost DIY ground station for weather satellite image reception

The HobbySpace Space Radio section has lots of information and web resources about home reception of satellite signals, especially for obtaining images from low earth orbit weather satellites. The price for such DIY systems was modest and now has gotten even cheaper.

Previously, one needed a wide-band radio tuner, which might cost a couple of hundred dollars, a simple antenna, a PC with a sound card, and some free software for turning the satellite data into images. Now with the arrival of Software Defined Radio programs, one can obtain a cheap “dongle”, i.e. a small device with a built-in tuner that plugs into a PC’s USB port for interfacing satellites signals to the PC.

Jason Davis of the Planetary Society gives a nice tutorial on building a system with about $50 in components (not counting a PC) that can be used for receiving weather sat images as well as data from a future LightSail mission: How to Download Weather Satellite Images from Space – The Planetary Society.

For additional info, Davis points to Receiving Weather Satellite Images for £8 – Matt Gray.

See also the RTL-SDR, a  very cheap software defined radio that uses a DVB-T TV tuner dongle”.

20150918_earth-noaa19_f537[1]A sample image from Jason Davis showing much of N. America
as received by his home ground station from the NOAA 19 satellite. 

JP Aerospace tests Ascender airship

 JP Aerospace, “America’s OTHER Space Program“, has been out flying their high altitude airships again, including an Ascender prototype:

Ascender 26 Flies!

Sunday June 14th our 26 foot Ascender airship took to the sky in Northern Nevada. This vehicle is smaller than some of our other vehicles, but it is extremely important. It is a test bed for an entire new internal structure and new internal helium cell interface.  It was intended to be a short hop to 1000 feet above the ground. However everything was going so well we let her run and flew to 2585 feet above the ground (6,708 feet above sea level. We had the combination inner cell fill volumes and balance off by about six ounces and we floated tail up about twenty degrees most of the way. It slowed the climb rate a bit but didn’t detract from an excellent flight.


The Ascender is a pretty complex system with four helium inner cells, servo control vents, an out envelope pressurization system, a carbon truss internal structure, full unlink command and tracking system and independent backup gas release systems.  The real value of this test flight was learning to deploy this complex of a system in the field. We still have goose bumps on how great the flight went. This is the vehicle that paves the way for the next generation of Ascenders to come.

*Away 117 Reaches 95,874 feet (29222 meters) –

Away 117 was our 180th flight. The flight carried magnetohydrodynamic experiments for the ATO project, a PongSat from Singapore and a slot machine for Soboba Casino.

The flight was a great success.  We have a challenging recovery operation. It took four hours of off road driving and a twelve hour hike/climb up and down a mountain but we got it back.






The LightSail goes silent once more

After coming back to life and appearing to deploy its solar panels, the Planetary Society‘s LightSail  has gone quiet again, probably due to drained batteries. They are expected to recharge eventually and allow the spacecraft to resume communicating: LightSail Falls Silent; Battery Glitch Suspected – The Planetary Society –

If LightSail is suffering from a chronic undervoltage condition, help could arrive naturally, Spencer said. “The spacecraft orbit is in a geometry where eclipse occurs roughly 2100 seconds each orbit.  This is near the maximum eclipse duration that LightSail-A will experience during the mission. Over the next couple of weeks, the orbit will precess to a full-sun condition, where the entire orbit is sunlit.”

When contact with LightSail is reestablished, the sail deployment sequence will likely be triggered as soon as battery levels are heathy enough to proceed.

For the latest updates:

Update on the Planetary Society’s LightSail

The saga of the Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft (see earlier post) continues. The control team decided to deploy only the solar panels today (Wednesday) and, if that went well, unfurl the solar sail on Friday: LightSail Deployment Update: Panels Wednesday, Sails Friday – The Planetary Society.

Data indicates that the deployment of the solar panels occurred, though it has not been confirmed visually with a photo from a spacecraft camera: LightSail Solar Panel Deployment: No Pics, but Data Look Good – The Planetary Society.

They will decide on Thursday whether to proceed with the sail deployment.

The spacecraft is out of range until Thursday, with the next ground station pass expected to begin at 4:45 a.m. EDT. A team meeting is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. to discuss the latest telemetry data. With evidence mounting in favor of a successful panel deployment, and an itch to press forward on the solar sails as soon as possible, further test imaging may be scrapped. Providing battery levels return to normal, and any outstanding issues are resolved, a Friday deployment could still be in the works.

Follow the latest updates at