I am just about to embark on the (by the looks of it) rather complicated task of setting up a station for the reception of weather satellite data via geostationary satellite – so I thought I might put down the process in print so that others can learn from my many mistakes to come…
Well, here goes…

My interest in weather satellites started many years ago – before the days of the World Wide Web when I used to receive Shortwave Fax transmissions from various meteorological stations around the world. Mostly these were weather charts but sometimes you would get a black and white geostationary satellite image.

About ten years ago I discovered that it was possible, with the right equipment, to receive weather satellite images live and direct from polar orbiting satellites as they passed overhead several times a day. I saved up, bought a receiver and basic antenna and away I went. A tracking program would tell you when the satellite was approaching and you would tune the receiver to the correct frequency and wait for the “woopling” signal to appear as the satellite cleared the local horizon.

The computer would record the signal and some fancy (and, delightfully, free) software would convert the woopling sounds in to pictures. Absolutely magical it seemed too. As the satellites passed on their N-S/S-N polar orbit, the imager would scan the earth below a line at a time and transmit the lines constantly as it orbited the earth, each line building up the image line-by-line as they flew overhead. The length of the passes you received dependent on surrounding obstacles, nearby houses, trees etc. An example of one of the images I captured back then is below.

NOAA 15 False Colour Image 4-5-02

NOAA15 04-05-02

I spent a few happy years grabbing these live images as and when – checking approaching fronts, watching the ice freeze and melt above the Arctic Circle and seeing how far north, south, east and west I could reach.  Over the years, the various satellites started to fail one by one and eventually I moved to a new location where APT (low resolution Automated Picture Transmission) reception was very limited by terrain and so my equipment gathered dust…

I knew that as well as APT the satellites also transmitted high-resolution data with about four times the resolution of my humble offerings. I dreamed of this but it was well outside my limited budget, requiring as it did motorised tracking antennae, fancier software and fancier receivers costing thousands of pounds… Ah well…

Spool forward 5 or six years.
I received an email a few weeks ago from a Yahoo earth imaging group I though was extinct. There was a link. I followed.
High resolution data available, not just from polar orbiters, but also from the geostationary weather satellites and, not just local, but worldwide images collected and transmitted almost live through one geostationary satellite. Only needs a basic (cheap!) receiver and a basic (cheap!) sat dish to receive! Tell me more.

They did

Tens of GBs of data per day from many satellites around the world. Sounds too good to be true. The only downside seems to be that, although the data is free, you do have to pay to acquire a licence, an electronic key (USB dongle) and software from EUMETSat – the organisation which runs the distribution of the satellite data in Germany.

I must have it! But it costs money. Bah!
I know – I can cut corners and do it on the cheap!

And away we go!

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