50th anniversary of Glenn’s orbit aboard Friendship 7

50 years ago today, American astronaut John Glenn completed three orbits of the earth aboard Friendship 7. Glenn would later become Senator, and would return to space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-95 crew, becoming the oldest person to fly into space. These three orbits started fifty years of an American presence in space. Salutations to Senator Glenn, and to NASA.

Examining the output of a simple remote-keyless-entry transmitter…

Yesterday I was looking (sadly unsuccessfully) for some BPW32 photodiodes that I know I have somewhere, when I ran across some of 434 Mhz transmitter modules from Sparkfun (now a retired part) that I had never used. These little $4 transmitters are commonly used for remote-keyless access or similar applications. They have just four pins: power, ground, a data pin, and an antenna, so they are easy to interface. I thought that they might be useful as backup low power beacon transmitter aboard a high altitude balloon payload, but I had never unpacked them, never tried them out. It dawned on me that I might also be able to use them with my code which I had previously written to send Hellschrieber telemetry. But to start out, I just made a simple program that sent the string “BEACON” at 1 second intervals and fed it to the data pin.

But how to receive it? I fired up my FT-817 and tuned it roughly to 433.920 Mhz (the nominal frequency) and even without an antenna, I could clearly hear the buzzy signal with a 1 second period. In fact, I could still hear it over 50Khz away from the nominal frequency. The signal was very, very wide. That got me curious so I dug out my Funcube Dongle Pro, hooked up a simple wire whip antenna, and tuned it in.

Here’s a picture of 96Khz surrounding 433.920:

Bleh. Really wide, really ugly, and really unpleasant sounding in the earphone. The horizontal lines coincide with the transmissions, the long harmonic laden regions in between are the “dead times”.

I suppose that if you were only using these intermittently in a key fob kind of situation, I could justify using something like this, but for the kind of application I was envisioning, they just seem gratuitously poor. Still, it was fun getting my Funcube Dongle out of the box and playing with it again.

Addendum: they also don’t work as a Hellschrieber transmitter. I hooked up my “Hellduino” code, but the resulting spray of noise didn’t provide any useful decodes. I think that the transmitter has an upper limit on how long pulses can be, and is also sending AM modulated signals, rather that keyed CW.