ramblings of an electronic engineer.

SatNOGS Build: Introduction

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With the sound of the z axis retracting on my work’s 3d printer after finishing the last of one on many parts I’ve been printing, I think it’s about time I announce the project I’ve been working on in my spare time over the past month (this project is also unsurprisingly partly the cause of a lack of content here which I hope is going to get better as I get back into the swing of things).

Last year Hackaday ran a competition called the Hackaday Prize which encouraged participants to work on open source hardware (and software) projects competing to win a trip to space. Anyway a project called SatNOGS won the grand prize with their Open Source Networked Ground Station for talking to satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It’s one of these ground stations (essentially antenna rotators) I plan to build from their open source designs.

So to give a bit more of an introduction to the SatNOGS Project it was created by members of a hackerspace (now the Libre Space Foundation) located in Athens, Greece. The team aimed to create a system of interconnected satellite antenna receivers that can be used to schedule observations of satellites as the fly overhead. With enough ground stations distributed over the world the system should be able to provide (almost) 24/7 coverage to fulfil schedules observations. Hence the overall system concept is as below.

The system can be further broken down into 4 components:

  • SatNOGS Network – a observation, scheduling and discovery server
  • SatNOGS DB – transponder information website
  • SatNOGS Client – imbedded system that communicates with the network to receive an observation, record the data and send the data back to the network
  • SatNOGS Ground station – the hardware and electronics that is used to complete the observation (what I’m building)

The SatNOGS team has created a solution for each of these components however the state! Is also designed to be able to implement existing hardware like commercial antenna rotators.

Getting down to the nuts and bolts of it all below are some pictures of the ground station and antenna they have designed and that I plan to build. Almost all of the parts that are required for the build (rotator only at the moment) I have either purchased or 3d printed using my work’s ultimaker 2 so I’m pretty much ready to start assembly save for a few electronic components which I’m waiting to arrive. I still however need to decide which antenna I’m going to build and what I’m going to do in regards to the tripod (I’m thinking I might be able to design an interconnect between the rotator and my Manfrotto tripod).

There are a few reasons I’ve decided to build this project in particular, the first most obviously been SPACE!. I feel that this project takes a large step to making space accessible for people who aren’t part of a large company like Space X or NASA :). It also has the advantage of making any data observed with the system to be freely available and open. Secondly I’m a huge fan of open source projects with this one been no exception. Creating open source projects allows one to learn a lot about the inner working of things and with experience contribute back to the project. And finally on a more selfish note working on this project means that I don’t have to write any code of software which while I’m capable of doing (at least in C or assembly languages) I don’t really want to have to devote the time to doing so. Having the code taken care of also means I can spend for time trying to improve the hardware side of things and contributing back to the project.

For more information about the SatNOGS project please visit their website or git repo.


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