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Explanation: Outernet

Outernet is a free "receive only" satellite based information delivery system, Its original goal was to deliver news and information to areas without good mobile phone coverage or internet access in under developed parts of the world.

Today, Outernet fills the original mission it set out to address and also offers valuable information to the amateur radio community which includes weather, AMSAT news, APRS messages. Even basic games like "Connect 4" are available.

Here are some sample categories in the Outernet Library. All of this information can readily be found on the internet, so you WILL NOT find anything unique to just Outernet, but the collection as a whole is unique.

The major benefit with Outernet is you can get data for free with no internet access which may be helpful in an emergency or as a convenience of sorts. There is evcen a way to create a Wi-Fi hotspot and share it locally with your friends and family.

Each day 20 MB of data is delivered over Outernet, which may not seem like a lot but since it is mostly text based information, 20 MB is a good amount of content to see alongside smaller video or applications,

Currently Outernet provides global coverage from three satellites using L-Band spectrum in the 1539MHz to 1545MHz range. The US focused satellite is on 1539.87 MHz and is one of many services on the Inmarsat-4F3 satellite which is focused on commercial services mostly

How do you gain access to Outernet?

For a very basic receiver to access Outernet content, here is an inventory list and approximate component price list:

  • L-Band Antenna (DIY or OTS for ~$30)
  • Low Noise Amplifier (LNA) (DIY or OTS for ~$30)
  • Software Defined Radio (SDR) (OTS for about ~$20 and up)
  • Raspberry Pi 3 or Raspberry Pi 2 and a Wi-Fi dongle (OTS for ~$40)
  • rxOS software (Free)
  • Power source (5V USB AC adapter or power bank) ( DIY or OTS for $+)
  • 16GB and up SD Card for rxOS (OTS $10)
  • USB thumbdrive for storage of content (optional)

Total cost estimate (not including additional storage) - Under $150 if you had to purchase EVERYTHING BRAND NEW!

DIY = Do It Yourself
OTS = Off The Shelf

A detailed 24 page instruction manual on getting set up can be found at at https://outernet.is for the current home made version using the above inventory list. Below is the "K2GOG Super Quick Outernet Set up guide".

Step 1- After you have all the inventory

Step 2 - Assemble the hardware

  • Insert the SD card with the rxOS loaded on to it

  • Connect the antenna to the LNA

  • Connect the LNA to the SDR

  • Connect the SDR to the Raspberry Pi 3

  • Connect an ethernet wire to the Raspberry Pi 3 to your home network for initial setup

  • Connect a power source to the Raspberry Pi 3

Step 3 - Find your local IP address of the Raspberry Pi 3

  • Access your router to figure out which IP address got assigned to your Raspberry Pi 3

  • Open up a browser window directed to the IP address assigned to the Raspberry Pi. The device name should come up as rxOS as a DHCP name and follow the prompts for initial set up

Step 4 - Aiming the antenna

  • In the United States, the Inmarsat 4F3 satellite is what we need to aim towards which is located at about 98 degrees West.

  • You can get further direction on how to aim the antenna by looking at the Outernet Instruction manual that is pre loaded in the Outernet library after you complete initial set up.

You will be able to fine tune for maximum signal after you log in after initial set up. An example screen capture is below.

Step 5 - Download content

  • After you align for the best signal, go do something for 30 minutes and you should come back to see what was downloaded.

  • After your library is first set up, it will then be updated with newer material. So do not worry if you only see content from October 2016.

Here is an example of the recent news feed as of the time of this article on July 23rd 2017.

Summary

This is not an article designed to be the authority on Outernet, but a good starting point.

If you are looking for other users for the SDR dongle you may have purchased and want to see what else you can do with it aside from try to listen to the 80m hip replacement net, perhaps this may catch your interest.

Some technical notes:

Its possible to receive the Outernet satellite inside a house, through many walls, just as long as you aim the antenna correctly. Your success may vary, but here is a rudimentary shot of the basic Outernet setup before any sort of permanent installation with better antenna

You can set your Raspberry Pi 3 to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for those around you with a mobile device to connect to your Outernet device and access the content it has downloaded.

For amateur radio operators, adding an Outernet library to a mesh network can provide some very interesting use cases to explore as example.

Outernet
  1. Is anyone else interested in discussing this topic over the air?2 votes
    1. Yes. On the 146.805 repeater
      100.00%
    2. Yes. On DMR TG 3136
        0.00%
    3. Yes. On some other frequency or mode.
        0.00%
    4. No. I hate evolution and lalalalalalalalalala. I am not listening.
        0.00%

Comments

  • It will take me a little time to digest this interesting info...thanks.

    DMR may be the next 'Galaxy' I attempt to visit (portable HF rig project just completed).

    Do the "Outernet" and DMR intersect anywhere in the universe?

  • Outernet is a good crossover topic that appeals to the ham and maker community and is not really ham only by any stretch.

    DMR is more focused on ham only and has no major cross over, but there could be a very interesting way to use both technologies together.

    Let's see if anyone can figure out what I am thinking about by posting some comments if they dare. Haha!
  • edited July 31

    uuhhh... trying to make me jealous? ...and I thought this was too far out there for you? When I mentioned it, seemed you weren't interested... =(

  • edited July 31
    I knew about it before Syed even had satellite partnerships in place. There have been many pivots since its initial concept. Today, using L band makes this much easier for anyone to experiment with. Including you buster!

    Currently playing with helix antennas so I can go back to using my patch antenna for other projects.
  • Little bit of an update here: I built a helix antenna not long ago which has higher gain than the patch antenna I showed in my above post and final product looks like this.

    Even indoors, I get much higher RSSI per below. More than 10 Db difference!:

    This antenna is connected to the SDR and LNA feeding into a raspberry pi3 up in my attic.

    Currently, I can access the contents received by this outernet setup two ways:

    1- Using the built in hotspot that is created by outernet that uses the onboard Wi-Fi on the Raspberry Pi 3.

    To access it, I connect to the SSID "outernet" and then go to "myouternet.is" on my mobile phone browser to read news, weather, etc. It looks like this on my Samsung phone.

    2-Accessing it as a service on my mesh network or any remote node who connects to my mesh that would also like access to it. I can (or you can if you have a mesh node connected via RF or tunnel) click on the link I created as a service on my mesh network per below:

  • edited October 11

    I want to eventually replace the Raspberry Pi 3 with a more current single board computer since the Outernet Project has abandoned development on it due to legal reasons. I would upgrade to something like this instead called Dreamcatcher

    The upgrade will allow me to visualize in real time weather map data instead of having to use an offline program to do it called zyGRIB

    It would look like this:

    Then, I plan to use the Rpi3 to run a dedicated 137 MHZ NOAA APT receiver and QFH antenna where I can take those images downloaded and place them in a file folder on my mesh network for all users to access. These WX images are higher resolution and more local compared to global weather patterns I would get from Outernet.

    Can you spot Hurricane Nate?

  • https://www.rtl-sdr.com/testing-the-outernet-dreamcatcher-linux-based-arm-pc-with-built-in-rtl-sdr/

    that is more about dream catcher. It would not let me edit to add the link.

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