After seeing some videos of Alan Wolke, W2AEW building some software defined receiver kits and an episode of Hak5 where they track aircraft by decoding ADS-B signals my interest in RF applications, amateur radio and especially software defined receivers was spiked. Together with Michael Ossman’s great class on SDR with HackRF I finally decided to get myself one of those cheap RTL2832U based DVB-T dongles and have a go at it.
After listening to some FM radio stations using SDR# I decided to decode ADS-B signals and see if I could track some aircraft with the small and far from optimal antenna that comes with the DVB-T dongle. I was quite surprised that I could actually track a couple of aircraft when mounting the antenna outside of my dorm room window. The software used to display the aircraft location and trajectories on a map as seen in the screenshot above is called adsbSCOPE (BTW the author of that software has some very neat PIC assembly tutorials, alas only in German).
I picked up the suggestion made by Darren of Hak5 to build a Raspberry Pi headless unit which connects to the DVB-T dongle and streams the raw received ADS-B messages over the network to the adsbSCOPE software running on my PC. This allows me to set the antenna outside of my window where I can actually receive ADS-B signals and still view them on my computer. For doing this, the Raspberry Pi is running dump1090. Finally after 2 years I’ve found a use for my Raspberry Pi!
I plan on building a better antenna specifically for ADS-B reception as described here.