An Ocean Of Data

It works! It works! I have weather satellite pictures!
See! See!

This is Typhoon Tambin hitting Taiwan with the larger Bolaven to the East.

Well, that’s my life over. The chances of ever leaving the house are dwindling fast..

I must also mention David Taylor’s excellent set of software (here) which turns the huge lake of raw data into pictures and animations. They create order out of chaos and are, in my opinion, an essential part of the system and you could no more do without AVHRR Manager and MSG Manager than you could do without the satellite dish. They may initially seem expensive to register but, without this software you would have nothing but a large raft of data.
(And I do mean large)
You also get a full 30 days of full function to try out all the programs out and this will give enough to decide which bits you need and which can be saved for a later date.

I used to use David’s free Satsignal program to decode and create the colour images from ATP transmissions years ago, so, thanks David and keep up the good work!

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A Great Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth..

Well, despite my conviction that I wouldn’t see the receiver before September, it arrived this morning. (Thank you GEO Shop – I should never have doubted you!) The last piece of the jigsaw is in place.
All thoughts of actually doing some work today are abandoned as I begin the task of attaching the hardware and installing the software.

I shall gloss over the couple of hours spent installing, uninstalling, swearing and reinstalling the software – it wasn’t that bad after all. I recommend following the instructions on the software disc that is provided by EUMETSat – they have the newest drivers and the auto setup that came on the disc with the box set the receiver up for Hotbird at 19 degrees rather than Eurobird at 9 degrees….
Everything is switched on. dish pointed about right. Signal coming in, if weakly but no data flowing. Doh! After much running up and down ladders and waving fists at inanimate objects I finally waited until my other half came home and had her watch the signal strength meter on the software while I gibboned about on the roof. Shouts of “Red 40%”, “Green 60%” and “Its gone altogether” rang around the garden.

She’s always telling me we should do more things together..

Eventually I have a good solid signal of 69% and I started tuning the transponders.
No go. Signal strong. Video coming down from the satellite. No data flowing. Another hour of shouting at the receiver, the PC and a passing pheasant.

Eventually after much frustration I noticed on David Taylor’s site very informative site here (without which I would never have got this whole project off the ground) I noticed that he mentions that there are no free-to-air channels on this transponder on Eurobird. Funny, I’ve got Romanian music videos playing.

The light suddenly dawns…Wrong bloody satellite!

Back on the roof. They were right, this is a lot trickier than zoning in on an Astra signal for Sky Digital. The distance between the satellites is tiny.

A few wiggles and Lo, data is flowing. The Tellcast icon is a friendly pink (as it should be) and it all seems to be working. I can’t believe it.

All I must do now is to wait for the satellites to transmit.

Mein Gott!

Had another email from EUMETSat yesterday saying the EKU and software had been despatched by courier. That’s going to take a few days, I thought.

9:00am this morning. Briiiing on the doorbell. A smiling DHL driver with a packet for me.

Next day delivery. From Germany
Now that is impressive!
EUMETCast EKU
All I need now is the receiver box from GEO.
Hopping from foot to foot with anticipation!

Where’s my box? Where’s my box?Where’s my box?Where’s my box?Where’s my box?Where’s my box?Where’s my box?Where’s my box?Where’s my box?Where’s my box?

Friday Feeling

I was expecting the whole registration with EUMETSat to be a slow bureaucratic process that was going to take weeks to sort out. Obviously I was thinking of Britain! A flood of emails from the EUMETSat helpdesk today explaining what is going on with the steps of the  registration process, asking if I want to pay, confirming payment and telling me that the EKU (the security dongle) has been ordered and will be despatched on Monday with the software!

Germany Calling, Germany Calling..

Well the time has come to bite the bullet and start the process of registration to receive the vast quantity of data being transmitted from the EUMETSat service, the organisation being based in Darmstadt, Germany.
The data is free to receive but, as this operation is costing hundreds of millions of pounds to run they are understandably reluctant to have their very valuable data wafting around to all and sundry without some kind of control. Some of the data is free for all but others require a license and you must agree to certain conditions concerning your usage of the final product. Not unreasonable I think.

The first thing to do is to get yourself to the EUMETSat EO Portal where you can start the registration process by  creating an account  https://eoportal.eumetsat.int/userMgmt/login.faces . You are not committing to anything by creating an account and you can come back and add services and licenses at a later date.

The amount of data which flows down seems to be staggering and , before you start filling in forms, please go to the GEO website and have a nose round to get a feel of what is available, what you need and what is going to clog your hard drive and bring your PC to its knees.

Before filling in the licence agreement, go here and read the guide to filling in the registration documents. Without it you will be completely lost.

Up the pole..

Well, after much swearing, falling off the roof, swearing, dropping satellite dishes on my foot and swearing, the dish is finally up. Hoorrah!
The Dish In PlaceNow, it may appear to be pointing at the roof but, as mentioned in a previous post the signal should be reaching it from about 26 degrees higher than it looks and should even clear the Walking Plum (visible to the right). The angle of dangle set to 30 degrees on the dish mounting and the cable plumbed in and ready to be attached to… Wait! I haven’t got a receiver!

*Orders receiver from the GEO Shop*

Return with your shield, or on it…

The dish, brackets and cable I had ordered have arrived.

Now, when I ordered the dish, 80cm didn’t seem very big (what is a centimetre anyway?) after all, the old analogue Sky “bin-lids” weren’t that big were they?
Turns out they were 60cm and my grasp of modern, newfangled measurements was less solid than I had previously apprehended..

The last time I’d seen a disc of metal this large, there was a Gaulish chieftain standing on top of it. Its huuuuge!

Spent the rest of my free time today drilling random holes all over (and through) the back wall with the BFD (the rather large SDS drill..) and bolting the extremely sturdy T&K brackets to the wall.
Here I must mention the place I bought the brackets and cable from.
http://www.satcure.net/
The site looks a little basic but, the prices are very cheap and the service is fast and efficient. They are charging only £7.95 plus VAT for 12″ T&K brackets – they are sturdy welded angle-iron – no weedy pressed metal – and also include the U bolts which most places charge extra for. Adding the pack of bolts, washers and 10mm plugs for £1.75 was also a good idea as you don’t always want or need a box of 50 as some places supply! A nice touch when they arrived was the inclusion of a free syringe of silicon grease to lubricate the hex bolts. The delivery charge looked a little steep for brackets and a roll of (very reasonable) cable but, when they arrived (next day) they weighed a ton. *Plug over*

Bottom Bracket

Bottom Bracket

You may notice in the picture above that the top two bolts are in the mortar – don’t follow my example! If at all possible I recommend drilling into the brick – the hold is considerably firmer. and longer lasting. By the way – the rubber matting wrapped round the end of the bracket is to prevent any bumbling, overweight weather enthusiasts from biffing themselves on the sharp edges..

Keep watching the skies…

When I first considered embarking on this project I decided that a sensible first step would be to make a site survey of the house and garden to check where I might install the satellite dish. Taking the Sky digital dish as a rough starter for where the satellite would be in the sky I consulted an online dish pointer (http://www.dishpointer.com/) and, armed with my trusty compass, spent a happy half-day wandering about the garden and bungalow roof trying to find the best spot. Frank across the road must have thought I’d gone insane as I repeatedly stood on the roof peak, slowly rotating with my arm out..
Everywhere I decided to site the dish there was a tree in the way.
Everywhere! I swear the damn plum-tree was moving about while my back was turned.

HerefordshireWalkingPlum

The rare Herefordshire Walking Plum

I finally despaired and was on the point of giving up altogether.
Going back in for a grump and a cup of tea I made a couple of discoveries.

1. I had been looking at the wrong satellite…. Atlantic bird instead of Eurobird.
2. I had forgotten (despite having installed two previous dishes..) that most Sat dishes are OFFSET – they don’t receive the signal from where they are apparently pointing.
The  dish may look like it is almost flat to the horizon but, the satellite is actually at an elevation of about 30 degrees. I had been looking too low! Hoorah!

Offset Dish

So, armed with my clinometer set to 30 degrees I hastened back outside and realised that from some points I could see OVER the Walking Plum and his pals. Better still, because the pitch of our roof is so low I could probably install the dish behind the house and still see the satellite. It would be out of the way; the eyesore would be round the back and I wouldn’t be banging my bonce on it every time I stepped out of the front door (we have very low eaves). So the theory goes – we shall see…

Digging around..

Spent many days scouring the internet (and the garden) for sources of cheap materials. Found a dish for about a third of the price of the place I was first directed. Bought some very sturdy T&K brackets for £9.00 as opposed to the £30.00 some places were charging (and they were not weak and shoddy either). Savings are occurring and I thought a step at this stage would be to join GEO, the Group for Earth Observation who, not only have bags of information available and a quarterly journal, but also sell some of the more exotic bits and pieces that I will need.

http://www.geo-web.org.uk/

Subscription paid for and now I need something to attach a satellite dish to.
Digging around the less well-tended parts of the garden brings up a decent length of sturdy scaffolding pole.

Another saving, hoorah!

It Begins

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!