Software Defined Radio

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Revision as of 17:38, 25 November 2020 by Knegge (talk | contribs)


Built upon GNU Radio and SoapySDR by using the gr-soapy module SatNOGS supports a large variety of Software-Defined Radios (SDRs). The gr-soapy module was developed in the SDR Makerspace and is maintained by Libre Space Foundation to bring the vendor-neutral SDR support by SoapySDR to the flexible gnuradio ecosystem.

The most cost-effective solution is to use an RTL-SDR with a Raspberry Pi. More advanced SDRs are also used, but they require more processing power and thus might require a more powerful computing platform than the Raspberry Pi.

Supported Devices

SoapySDR supports SDR devices through runtime-loadable modules [1]. You can find all available modules in the SoapySDR wiki (see right column). Most SDR modules are installed by default when setting up a SatNOGS station.

The following SDRs are supported by SatNOGS. SatNOGS uses the RTL-SDR as the recommended beginner signal receiver and tuner. The more advanced SDRs may require more processing power than a Raspberry Pi 3b or 4 can offer.

There are probably a lot more devices supported since the transition from gr-osmosdr to gr-soapy. Please update this list when you were able to successfully run a SatNOGS station with a new radio family or model. You can also link your station as an example to give others the ability to compare performance.

Supported Devices with closed-source drivers

Unfortunately some vendors require closed-source drivers in their SoapySDR modules and thus those modules or dependencies can't be redistributed by others. Thus they must be manually installed by the user. The following devices require closed-source drivers:

Unsupported Devices

This section might be outdated due to the transition to gr-soapy. Please update when possible.

  • HackRF One (not compatible with the SatNOGS client on Raspberry Pi)
  • USRP2 (not compatible with the SatNOGS client on Raspberry Pi)

RTL-SDR Support

The RTL-SDR is based on two chips -- the versatile RTL2832U chip and the R820T tuner. The RTL-SDR is currently the cheapest, most common, and most performing solution available in terms of general sensitivity having a frequency range of 24 – 1766 MHz. A metal enclosure with SMA connector is preferred, along with a stable TCXO (low ppm). HF coverage is optional.

Using V3 Dongle's Bias-T Power Supply

The V3 dongle has a built in software activated Bias-T voltage supply intended to be used for applications such as powering inline LNAs (Low Noise Amplifiers). There are several ways to turn on the voltage, but through initial testing (as of this writing, 17 Aug 2019) it seems that the following procedure works best.

The below relates to Raspberry Pi installs only. No testing has been performed on other systems as of yet.

Turning on the Bias-T with no LNA installed and a "shorted" style antenna (such as loops, egg-beaters, etc.) can damage the V3 dongle. Never activate the bias-t with no LNA installed between the antenna and the SDR dongle.


  1. Raspberry Pi running Raspbian Buster or newer (latest release of SatNogs image, 2019091100, is demonstrated to work)
  2. V3 SDR dongle
  3. Bias-T Software Switch for linux systems
  4. LNA capable of being powered via feedline coax (note that some LNAs need modifications to be powered by the coax, and some cannot be powered by the coax at all. Check the specifications for your LNA prior to attempting to turn on the Bias-T power supply)

Instructions for installing Bias-T Software Switch

  1. Log into your SatNogs station either directly or via SSH
  2. If your station does not have cmake installed (SatNogs Image 2019091100 does not), install cmake with sudo apt install cmake
  3. Clone the source for the Bias-T software switch with git clone
  4. cd rtl_biast
  5. mkdir build
  6. cd build
  7. cmake .. (if you get a LibUSB 1.0 required to compile rtl-sdr error here, then do sudo apt install libusb-1.0-0-dev prior to attempting cmake .. again)
  8. make

The software switch should now be installed in the "src" directory. If you cd src, you can turn on the bias-t with the command ./rtl_biast -b 1 and turn it off with ./rtl_biast -b 0. Note that the developers of this switch have warned against attempting to sudo make install so that this command can be executed from ouside the src directory. Testing has shown this warning to be accurate, so don't plan on running these commands from anywhere but the src directory, or else be sure to use the full path.

Switching the Bias-T on should yield between 4.5V and 5.0V across the center conductor and shield of the coax. The voltage should rise almost instantly. When switched off, the voltage seems to decrease gradually, over 5 to 10 seconds.

Instructions to activate the bias-t for SatNogs Observations automatically:

  1. Log into your SatNogs station either directly or via SSH
  2. sudo satnogs-setup
  3. select Advanced
  4. for Radio ->SATNOGS_RF_GAIN, enter a low gain value supported by your V3 dongle (entering rtl_test at the command line prior to starting satnogs-setup will give you all allowable values of RF gain) and select Ok
  5. for Scripts ->SATNOGS_PRE_OBSERVATION_SCRIPT, enter /home/pi/rtl_biast/build/src/rtl_biast -b 1 and select Ok
  6. for Scripts ->SATNOGS_POST_OBSERVATION_SCRIPT, enter /home/pi/rtl_biast/build/src/rtl_biast -b 0 and select Ok
  7. Select Back
  8. Select Apply (allow system to update and hit enter when prompted)
  9. Select Back

Your station is now set up to turn the Bias-T on for each scheduled observation (using the SATNOGS_PRE_OBSERVATION_SCRIPT string) and then turn it off at the conclusion of each observation (using the SATNOGS_POST_OBSERVATION_SCRIPT).

You should now schedule several observations to fine tune the SATNOGS_RF_GAIN value to get the best S/N performance for your station. Some have reported needing zero RF gain, others have reported low RF gain required (between 5 and 10 db), and others have said they see little benefit even with very high gain. Each station will be different.

E4000 Tuner Gain Settings

The RTLSDR Driver exposes six (!) IF gain settings (IF1 through IF6) for the E4000 tuner, along with a TUNER gain setting, which is actually a combined LNA and Mixer gain control. Details on the gain stages are available in page 28 of the E4000 data-sheet here:

When you follow the 'Setting the Gain' guide, all gain sliders (IF1 through IF6, and TUNER) should be presented in SoapySDR, allowing the user to adjust them to optimise for best performance. Once the correct values have been determined, you will need to define these specifically in satnogs-setup as follows:

  • SATNOGS_GAIN_MODE="Settings Field"
  • SATNOGS_OTHER_SETTINGS="IF1=6,IF2=3,IF2=2,IF3=0,IF4=0,IF5=2,IF6=3,TUNER=30"

(Replacing the values in the line above with the ones you determined)

R820T Gain Settings

Unfortunately librtlsdr only exposes a single gain control for the R820T/T2 tuners, even though multiple gain adjustments are available. Use the standard SATNOGS_RF_GAIN option, with a gain between 0 and 42 (dB), as optimised for your station via the 'Setting the Gain' guide.

Airspy support

Vendor: Airspy

required SoapySDR module: SoapyAirspy

Note than none of the settings below should be entered with the " " around the value. This is only for better readability in the Wiki !

Gain settings

There are two possible gain modes:

  • SATNOGS_GAIN_MODE="Overall": (default) Use a single gain value. Set the overall gain with SATNOGS_RF_GAIN,e.g. SATNOGS_RF_GAIN=43.
  • SATNOGS_GAIN_MODE="Settings Field": Use granular gain values. Set the different gain stages separately:
    • without pre-amp: SATNOGS_OTHER_SETTINGS="LNA=12,MIX=8,VGA=11"
    • with pre-amp: SATNOGS_OTHER_SETTINGS="LNA=9,MIX=6,VGA=11" (used in 49 - OZ7SAT)

For reference see also the Airspy driver library linearity gain settings in libairspy/src/airspy.c#L117-L122.

Sample rates

  • Airspy R2: SATNOGS_RX_SAMPLE_RATE=2.5e6 or 10e6
  • Airspy Mini: SATNOGS_RX_SAMPLE_RATE=3e6 or 6e6
  • Airspy HF+: SATNOGS_RX_SAMPLE_RATE=768e3

source: [2]

If you want to activate the integrated bias tee, set SATNOGS_DEV_ARGS="biastee=true". Bit packing ("Enable packing 4 12-bit samples into 3 16-bit words for 25% less USB trafic.") could be enabled with SATNOGS_DEV_ARGS="bitpacking=true" (untested). Device arguments can be concatenated with comma as delimiter.

SDRPlay support

Vendor: SDRPlay

required SoapySDR module: SoapySDRPlay

The following settings worked well for an SDRplay RSPduo when using cross-yagis and good SSB low-noise amplifiers:

  • SATNOGS_SOAPY_RX_DEVICE="driver=sdrplay"
  • SATNOGS_ANTENNA="Tuner 1 50 ohm"

Note that 14-bits ADC resolution is only available when using sample rates below 6.048 MSPS, above which the resolution is reduced gradually to 12, 10, and 8 bits.

USRP support

Vendor: Ettus Research

required SoapySDR module: SoapyUHD

Recent USRPs that use the Analog Devices AD9361 RFIC can use almost arbitrary sample rates and analog bandwidth settings. It can be an advantage to set the sample rate as high as the host computer can handle and the analog bandwidth to as narrow as meaningful. The following settings worked well for a USRP B210 when using cross-yagis and good SSB low-noise amplifiers:

  • SATNOGS_SOAPY_RX_DEVICE="driver=uhd"
    • on the B200 your Antenna options are TX/RX and RX2, be sure you select the right option for your configuration!

LimeSDR support

Vendor: Lime microsystems

required SoapySDR module: SoapyLMS7 wrapper

  • SATNOGS_SOAPY_RX_DEVICE="driver=lime"
  • SATNOGS_RX_SAMP_RATE="2.048e6"
  • SATNOGS_GAIN_MODE="Settings Field"

(untested, copied from station 1378)

Example stations:

PlutoSDR support

Vendor: Analog Devices

required SoapySDR module: SoapyPlutoSDR

  • SATNOGS_SOAPY_RX_DEVICE="driver=plutosdr"

Not stable.


Using the SoapySDRServer running on the same machine or over the network.

Required SoapySDRServer module: SoapyRemote. Optional SoapySDRUtil to probe for SDR and settings. Make sure to match the antenna and gain setting from the actual device connected to the remote. Also possible to select remote drivers and other parameters; driver=remote,remote:driver=rtlsdr

  • SATNOGS_SOAPY_RX_DEVICE="driver=remote"