RTL-SDR Satellite SDR

Ariss – ISS SSTV December 2019

From December 28th 2019 11:00 UTC to January 1st 2020 18:20 UTC the International Space Station did a commemorative SSTV broadcast for 3 Russian Cosmonauts that died this year. Those three are Alexi Leonov, Valery Bykovsky and Sigmund Jähn. I was lucky enough to be able to pull an image from the broadcast.

My wife and I spend our Christmas vacation in Christchurch, New Zealand with my in-laws usually. This provides some great chances for a nice very open view of the skies. They live in a rural area, and don’t have a lot of interference around. It’s quite great for star gazing as well as using an SDR to pull images from passing satellites.

Nearest Neighbors

It’s quite a bit of fun while down to pull NOAA images as well as watch for the ISS to pass when it’s visible in the sky. This year however, I got quite a treat. I learned that the ISS would be sending SSTV (Slow Scan Television) images. I got quite excited as I had my trusty RTL-SDR dongle with me, and would be in a prime position to pull some images.

We pulled out the ISS Tracker app on my phone and took a look at the passes. There was going to be one a number of hours after the event started, though it was a bit low at 57° above the horizon. There are a few trees in the way, but we figured we’d try it and see how it went.

I pulled out my trusty laptop, dipole antenna and rtl-sdr dongle and set up on a chair. Then the waiting game began.

The amazing set up. So professional!

I held my breath (literally) once the pass got high enough in the sky to possibly bring in a signal. I was a bit nervous as I’ve never pulled a SSTV image before, let alone one from space! I peeked from between fingers to have a look and see if I was getting anything, and I was! I had a very strong signal coming in. Unfortunately in my excitement I forgot to get a screenshot.

The ISS sends SSTV images in spurts. They are 3 minutes on, 2 minutes off. I was able to pull 1 and 1/2 images during the pass, and I’m very pleased how they turned out. I received image 3/15 in this pass, which you can see below. This image commemorates Sigmund Jähn and Valey Bykovsky, including images of both.

ISS SSTV Commemorative image broadcast end of 2019

I am very pleased with the image I was able to get, and the quality is quite good. One of the cool things about getting these images, is you are able to submit them to the ARISS SSTV team to get a reward certificate for participating. I submitted mine right after the pass, and received my certificate in my email quite quickly. I will also be sending in for a QSL card, which I’m very excited about. I’ll update once I send it out and once I get the card back. The certificate for participating is below. I was awarded number 150191.