Technology Taking Shape – Radio Links

Control SystemFinalising ThunderStruck’s Radio Links

Aside from the airframe and servos, one of the hardest planning jobs is designing and building the various radio links.

It is pretty simple. Radio links are essential and not just nice. They will be mission critical to the success of the project, but we will have backups to complete the flight without crashing, etc. The links must be solid and with no breakup and must operate over long distances.

It is very important to realise the differences with the ground based systems and the aircraft systems. With the ground based systems we can have high power, large antennas, antenna tracking, mains/generator power and much more. on the aircraft we have both power and space issues. We also have temperature issues and the equipment must be tested in chambers that have had the air pumped out – I don’t like to use the term “vacuum”, but it is descriptive for most people.

How many links will we need?

At the moment we will need 4 radio links – 2 for the balloon and 2 for the aircraft.

  • The balloon telemetry system
  • The balloon camera system
  • The aircraft telemetry system
  • The aircraft camera system

We want to keep the video links separate from the telemetry as delays in the telemetry information can cause major issues. If you have ever had a large file download interrupt a Skype call?  you will know exactly what I mean. Imagine flying a supersonic aircraft and having dropouts on the links to the flight system! We can’t have that so we separate the systems. We also need to separate the balloon and aircraft systems as we will need to maintain video from the balloon well after the aircraft has separated from the balloon. We will also need to command the balloon to terminate its flight after separation. The most critical link of the 4 is the aircraft telemetry system and we have chosen a 900MHz 1 watt system. It is pretty amazing and handles 56Kb per second both ways at a distance of 80Km with diversity. Diversity is super important. I have posted the specifications on and earlier post, but I will repost them below. It can link directly to our control system and also to a navigation system such as the Pixhawk that we have chosen. The simple set up can be seen in the following diagram. More on this and the other links in a later post.

Control System

Note that in the above radio link system, the yagi antennas may have auto-tracking and will probably be vertical and horizontal diversity. We are toying with the idea of circular polarisation. More on patch antennas later.

From the RFDesign Website:

RFDesign is an electronics design and manufacturing company specialising in Embedded systems, Radios, Antennas and high frequency electronics. We are located in Brisbane, Australia with our office located in Acacia Ridge, QLD. 

Features:

  • Long range >40km depending on antennas and GCS setup
  • 2 x RP-SMA RF connectors, diversity switched.
  • 1 Watt (+30dBm) transmit power.
  • Transmit low pass filter.
  • > 20dB Low noise amplifier.
  • RX SAW filter.
  • Passive front end band pass filter.
  • Open source firmware SiK (V1.x) / tools, field upgradeable, easy to configure.
  • Multipoint software capability with MP SiK (V2.x)
  • Small, light weight.
  • Compatible with 3DR / Hope-RF radio modules.
  • License free use in Australia, Canada, USA, NZ

 Interfaces:

  • RF : 2 x RP-SMA connectors
  • Serial: Logic level TTL (+3.3v nominal, +5v tolerant)
  • Power: +5v, ~800mA max peak (at maximum transmit power)
  • GPIO: 6 General purpose IO (Digital, ADC, PWM capable).

Specifications:

  • Frequency Range:  902 – 928 MHz (USA) / 915 – 928 MHz (Australia)
  • Output Power: 1W (+30dBm), controllable in 1dB steps ( +/- 1dB @=20dBm typical )
  • Air Data transfer rates: 4, 8, 16, 19, 24, 32, 48, 64, 96, 128, 192 and 250 kbit/sec ( User selectable, 64k default )
  • UART data transfer rates: 2400, 4800, 9600, 19200, 38400, 57600, 115200 baud  ( User selectable, 57600 default )
  • Output Power: 1W (+30dBm)
  • Receive Sensitivity: >121 dBm at low data rates, high data rates (TBA)
  • Size: 30 mm (wide) x 57 mm (long) x 12.8 mm (thick) – Including RF Shield, Heatsink and connector extremeties
  • Weight: 14.5g
  • Mounting: 3 x M2.5 screws, 3 x header pin solder points
  • Power Supply: +5 V nominal, (+3.5 V min, +5.5 V max), ~800 mA peak at maximum power
  • Temp. Range: -40 to +85 deg C

Software / GCS Support:

The software solution is an open source development called “SiK” originally by Mike Smith and improved upon by Andrew Tridgell and RFDesign. A boot loader and interface is available for further development and field upgrade of the modem firmware via the serial port.

Most parameters are configurable via AT commands, Eg. baud rate (air/uart), frequency band, power levels, etc., please see the 3DR wiki for commands below for now.

V2.x firmware has been updated to support multipoint networking on the RFD900.

V1.x (non multipoint) is suitable for point to point links – the sourcecode is located at:   https://github.com/RFDesign/SiK

The user manual / datasheet can be found here : RFD900 Datasheet

A software manual for SiK firmware is here : RFD900 Software manual

RFD900 configuration tool: http://rfdesign.com.au/downloads/

RFD900 binary firmware repository: http://rfdesign.com.au/firmware/

3DR/RFD900 compatible configuration tool : http://vps.oborne.me/3drradioconfig.zip

Wiki for the 3DR radios (RFD900 has same commands): http://code.google.com/p/ardupilot-mega/wiki/3DRadio

Integrated support for configuring the RFD900 radios is supported by APM Planner, with other GCS solutions in development.

The default settings are at 57600 baud, N, 8, 1, and 64k air data rate.

Software features include:

  • Frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS)
  • Transparent serial link
  • Point to Point, or Multipoint networking
  • Configuration by simple AT commands for local radio, RT commands for remote radio
  • User configurable serial data rates and air datarates
  • Error correction routines, Mavlink protocol framing (user selectable)
  • Mavlink radio status reporting (Local RSSI, Remote RSSI, Local Noise, Remote Noise)
  • Automatic antenna diversity switching on a packet basis in realtime
  • Automatic duty cycle throttling based on radio temperature to avoid overheating

website, http://rfdesign.com.au for more information.

RFDesign is our latest Supporter

RFDesign-LogoRFDesign to Keep us In Touch

Our Latest Supporter.

RFDesign makes a fantastic modem and other items used in long distance UAVs and other projects. The modem is small and light weight and has amazing capabilities.

RFD900V12_final__42922.1405412794.220.220I have spoken with the head of the company, Seppo Saario. He is a real great guy who quickly got behind Project ThunderStruck. We have discussed their modems before, but this is the first time that we can actually use their equipment in a project, although we intend to use the modems in a lot of balloon projects. This will especially be the case in the coming weeks as we test for ThunderStruck. Given a good yagi antenna on the ground and a well oriented patch antenna on the aircraft, communications up to 80km is possible.

We intend to use these modems for the two way data from Thunderstruck. The units operate at 900MHz and produce  about 1 watt. Two units are paired on the ground by setup via a PC. They can communicate at speeds of up to 56Kb nominally or even higher. Way faster than our needs. Rather than the usual APRS system that we currently use that give updates every 20 seconds or the Spot3 system that updates every 10 minutes, this system is capable of 1 second updates of speed and other data. Our flight controls will also be very responsive if coupled correctly. They will work well with the PIXHAWK flight controllers and I have some good news about support from them shortly.  Just a simple cable is needed to connect the PixHawk Autopilot to the RFD900

pixhawk_store  Cable_R9A_PIX__72503.1405428336.1280.1280_medium

More on PixHawk later. Now about this amazing modem. From their website:

RFDesign is an electronics design and manufacturing company specialising in Embedded systems, Radios, Antennas and high frequency electronics. We are located in Brisbane, Australia with our office located in Acacia Ridge, QLD. 

Features:

  • Long range >40km depending on antennas and GCS setup
  • 2 x RP-SMA RF connectors, diversity switched.
  • 1 Watt (+30dBm) transmit power.
  • Transmit low pass filter.
  • > 20dB Low noise amplifier.
  • RX SAW filter.
  • Passive front end band pass filter.
  • Open source firmware SiK (V1.x) / tools, field upgradeable, easy to configure.
  • Multipoint software capability with MP SiK (V2.x)
  • Small, light weight.
  • Compatible with 3DR / Hope-RF radio modules.
  • License free use in Australia, Canada, USA, NZ

 Interfaces:

  • RF : 2 x RP-SMA connectors
  • Serial: Logic level TTL (+3.3v nominal, +5v tolerant)
  • Power: +5v, ~800mA max peak (at maximum transmit power)
  • GPIO: 6 General purpose IO (Digital, ADC, PWM capable).

Specifications:

  • Frequency Range:  902 – 928 MHz (USA) / 915 – 928 MHz (Australia)
  • Output Power: 1W (+30dBm), controllable in 1dB steps ( +/- 1dB @=20dBm typical )
  • Air Data transfer rates: 4, 8, 16, 19, 24, 32, 48, 64, 96, 128, 192 and 250 kbit/sec ( User selectable, 64k default )
  • UART data transfer rates: 2400, 4800, 9600, 19200, 38400, 57600, 115200 baud  ( User selectable, 57600 default )
  • Output Power: 1W (+30dBm)
  • Receive Sensitivity: >121 dBm at low data rates, high data rates (TBA)
  • Size: 30 mm (wide) x 57 mm (long) x 12.8 mm (thick) – Including RF Shield, Heatsink and connector extremeties
  • Weight: 14.5g
  • Mounting: 3 x M2.5 screws, 3 x header pin solder points
  • Power Supply: +5 V nominal, (+3.5 V min, +5.5 V max), ~800 mA peak at maximum power
  • Temp. Range: -40 to +85 deg C

Software / GCS Support:

The software solution is an open source development called “SiK” originally by Mike Smith and improved upon by Andrew Tridgell and RFDesign. A boot loader and interface is available for further development and field upgrade of the modem firmware via the serial port.

Most parameters are configurable via AT commands, Eg. baud rate (air/uart), frequency band, power levels, etc., please see the 3DR wiki for commands below for now.

V2.x firmware has been updated to support multipoint networking on the RFD900.

V1.x (non multipoint) is suitable for point to point links – the sourcecode is located at:   https://github.com/RFDesign/SiK

The user manual / datasheet can be found here : RFD900 Datasheet

A software manual for SiK firmware is here : RFD900 Software manual

RFD900 configuration tool: http://rfdesign.com.au/downloads/

RFD900 binary firmware repository: http://rfdesign.com.au/firmware/

3DR/RFD900 compatible configuration tool : http://vps.oborne.me/3drradioconfig.zip

Wiki for the 3DR radios (RFD900 has same commands): http://code.google.com/p/ardupilot-mega/wiki/3DRadio

Integrated support for configuring the RFD900 radios is supported by APM Planner, with other GCS solutions in development.

The default settings are at 57600 baud, N, 8, 1, and 64k air data rate.

Software features include:

  • Frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS)
  • Transparent serial link
  • Point to Point, or Multipoint networking
  • Configuration by simple AT commands for local radio, RT commands for remote radio
  • User configurable serial data rates and air datarates
  • Error correction routines, Mavlink protocol framing (user selectable)
  • Mavlink radio status reporting (Local RSSI, Remote RSSI, Local Noise, Remote Noise)
  • Automatic antenna diversity switching on a packet basis in realtime
  • Automatic duty cycle throttling based on radio temperature to avoid overheating

website, http://rfdesign.com.au for more information.