My First Reception of Outernet

Since satellite communication is a lot of fun to me, I’ve decided to add an Outernet receiver to my array of stuff.

The Outernet group has their old SDRx board for sale, so I decided to pick it up along with an L-band (1.5GHz) patch antenna. Total cost was $35 plus shipping.

The Outernet SDRx and L-band patch antenna.

Their SDRx board isn’t anything super special, but it’s made for Inmarsat/L-band reception. It has the normal SDR parts on it, plus an L-band filter and pre-amp. You can put this together with an SDR and an add-on preamp which is powered by the SDR’s bias-T. I bought one of these, too, but it’s extraneous since I’m using the SDRx, which has this stuff built-in.

The NooElec L-Band Preamp and filter.

The SDRx can be used just like any other SDR: plug it into USB, bring up a piece of SDR software like SDR# or HDSDR, and go for it. It also has a 2-port USB hub, if you need it.

Once it stopped raining, I went outside with the SDRx, the patch antenna, and a laptop. I used a satellite tracking app on my phone to find the satellite, Inmarsat-4 F3. Then I brought up the SDR software, tuned it, and pointed the patch antenna. And, sure enough, there it was.

Outernet’s signal on Inmarsat-4 F3 at 1539.8725 MHz.

Once I knew I could receive it, I wanted to see if I could decode it. Outernet has changed their software a lot, and they’re going to a custom-hardware model. I don’t have that hardware, but I figured their old software might be worth a try just to see if it recognized the signal. So I installed their old Outernet-in-a-Box software, which is a self-contained virtual machine, and booted it. It saw the SDR, the SDR saw the satellite, I got signal lock, and packets came in!

Outernet-in-a-Box receiving Outernet packets.

This is as far as I’ve gotten with Outernet so far. But I think it’s a great idea, and I’m going to experiment with it a bit more. And the proof-of-concept worked!