Updates on THREE Radio Telescope projects from Marty Pepe

This note is a follow-up to the many questions I received at the Feb ASRAS meeting Friday night on how the radio telescope project (Solar Spectrometer) is going and the other projects I’m involved with at RIT.

As most ASRAS members know, I retired from the board so as to be able to concentrate on bringing the Solar Telescope project to fruition in Ionia. This RT project has been making its way through the different development phases while at RIT in a program called Multidisciplinary Senior Design (MSD). It is a process driven class, where seniors of different majors (ME, EE, CS, etc.) work on projects in a team environment. Just like real life in Industry. I’ve been both the customer for their efforts and mentor for two years.

Little did I realize at the time, I would be asked to rejoin RIT (3rd time around) as a mentor for other projects given my background, and the fact there’s been a spike in enrollment of this class (up 30%).

Below please find a link to the three projects I’m presently ‘shepherding’;

Solar Spectrometer;

A radio astronomy project to study the RF signature of Sunspots.


K- Mirror

An upgrade to the original prototype RT dish for ALMA (Chile) on Kitt Peak owned by the U of Arizona to convert it to an imaging RT spectrometer running at 200 – 300 GHz.


Hybrid Rocket Motor

Project to develop a hybrid rocket motor (for a yet to be designed rocket) to go to 30K ft for a nationwide college IREC competition to be held in New Mexico in 2019.


June 17 2017 : From Marty Pepe – Radio Astronomy news !

Introducing Hans Heyn

Hans Heyn is a new ASRAS member that has joined the Radio Telescope team, please welcome his enthusiasm, experience and radio skills in developing Radio Jove. He is a great addition to this growing branch of our ASRAS (radio) astronomy. – Martin Pepe (mjpastro@gmail.com)
Hans Heyn was born in 1938 in the Netherlands. He went to Delft University for a BSc and MSc in Chemical Engineering. He joined Esso, now ExxonMobil in 1960 still in the Netherlands. He moved to Exxon Chemicals in Brussels, Belgium in 1967 and then on to Productos Quimicos Esso in Castellon, Spain in 1971. In 1975 he moved from Spain to Canada where he became involved in hydrocarbon based plastics. He subsequently moved for Exxon Chemical to South Carolina where he became a US citizen and finally to Illinois. Most of the time he was involved in R&D. He retired in 1998.
Hans is a long time radio enthusiast and has the amateur radio call sign KB9MFQ.


You did not hear much about ASRAS’ Jove project during the last year or so, because not much happened. But that is going to change, and the 2017 – 2018 plans are ambitious. Jove is a radio astronomy project, and that label may have led to some misunderstanding of what this is all about.
Some astronomers think that optical and radio astronomy are different disciplines. But that is not so. Both study the electromagnetic waves emitted (or reflected) by astronomical objects. The only difference is the observation wavelength, just as the differences in wavelength between optical astronomical observations in the Infra-Red, Visible or Ultra Violet parts of the spectrum. Optical astronomy involves wavelengths measured in angstroms, while in radio astronomy the wavelengths range from fractional inches to tenths of feet. That is roughly a billion times longer. To build a radio telescope analogous to an optical telescope would thus require a much larger aperture. That is not really practical; even the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico (1000 feet diameter) and the new one in China (over 5 football fields in diameter) does not come close.
Because the wavelengths are so large, radio telescopes often do not produce images. Instead the radio receiver is tuned to a specific wavelength and the strength of that emission is measured over time. However large radio telescopes or several together can produce images by aiming at successive points around the object of interest.

You can’t call Meade Instruments or Edmund Scientific and buy a radio telescope. You have to build it yourself. Early radio telescopes were like Galileo’s first refractor, and are fairly easy to build. But there are many more reflector telescopes, often reusing obsolete radar hardware, or custom build, sometimes at very high cost like Arecibo. Most amateur radio telescopes are more modest however.
In radio telescopes, the antenna is the body of the telescope (gathering the signal) and the radio receiver is the eyepiece. In optical astronomy you look through the eyepiece at the image of the astronomical object or make photos. And looking at such an image today is often via a computer screen connected to a video camera, replacing the eyepiece. In radio astronomy there is often no image to look at. Instead there is an electrical signal that we can see and analyze on a computer screen and evaluate over time. And in some cases that signal can be send to a loudspeaker and can be heard.

Jove is a NASA project that started some 20 years ago. It involves a very simple refractor type radio telescope, using a 23 feet long antenna and a radio tuned to 20.1 MHz, the frequency that corresponds to the wavelength NASA found most useful to study Jupiter. As in a Broad Cast radio, the Jupiter signal is demodulated and produces sound. Jupiter sounds like crashing waves or distant thunder storms. This signal is processed by a computer and send to the NASA Jove net for further study. There are several hundred Jove telescopes all over the world, collecting Jupiter signals, but from different locations, building up the Jupiter data base and contributing to the understanding of that planet.

ASRAS’ Jove project to date has one NASA 20.1 MHz radio, the parts to build a second one, and the hardware, wires and such, to build one antenna. The plan is to install the first radio in the Ionia library, where it can be connected to the internet, and to attach the first antenna to the South facing facade of the main building. This combination is targeted to be operational before August 21, in order to be able to determine the effects (if any) of the solar eclipse on the measurement of Jupiter radio emissions. Next in 2017 will be the completion of radio # 2, as spare for # 1 and completion of a reliable internet connection with the NASA Jove network. In 2018 the first antenna should be replaced, increasing the gathering power of ASRAS’ radio telescope. Also in 2018, a spectroscopy capability could be added, maybe scanning from 18 to 22 MHz, NASA is still studying that.

It is possible to reach the August goal with one ASRAS member and a summer student from RIT or the U of R. But only just, and it would not be a real ASRAS endeavor. What is really needed is a team, of say five ASRAS members, with different backgrounds (computers, amateur radio, and software) to tackle the different parts of the project: antenna, radio, physical installation and hook up, computer processing of the data and sending the data to the Jove net. That team would next decide if and how to improve the radio telescope’s gathering power, if and how to add spectroscopy eg. by electronics or entirely by software, and draw plans for a further future. This team could also assist with the imminent move of the solar telescope and spectrometer (eCallisto) to Ionia. And forming a radio astronomy team at ASRAS will insure continuation of this radio astronomy capability in ASRAS.

It should be acknowledged that there is one BIG difference between radio astronomy and optical astronomy, you can practice radio astronomy 24/7, and totally independent of the weather, as the longer EM waves go right through clouds. That’s an important feature in doing astronomy in Western New York . – Hans Heyn KB9MFQ (barbheyn@ipa.net)

Solar Radio Telescope Update – August 2016

Update – August 2016 :

Solar Radio Telescope

The goal of this project is to study the RF signature of Sunspots, as part of the eCallisto global network. We’re going to be filling a big gap in their coverage map as there are no receivers on the east coast. If you’ve been following our activities you already know we’ve demonstrated this project’s ability to autonomously track the Sun regardless of the weather, with NO human intervention,  demonstrated at the RIT Imagine festival last year (photo, right).

This coming school year our plans are getting even bigger, with our sights on full automatic operation of all the functions, including automatic calibration, RFI noise removal and data file transfer to Zurich, SZ.

‘Stay tuned’ for status reports as we become fully operational, with student designed and built modules for a fully working system.     Our expected ‘first light’ is May 2017.

  • Marty Pepe




We are in our third year of active development projects to look at the night sky in the Radio Spectrum and have been able to complete some major accomplishments. This past school year has seen both the University of Rochester (U of R), and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) deliver critical elements to the Solar Radio Spectroscope.

For our educational outreach event, we hosted a Boy Scout troop in Ionia (Pix_1), for a sleep over this last spring and were able to make our Portable Radio Telescope (PBT – itty bitty radio telescope) operational. It’s now completely portable, with battery power for ‘field’ use, with a high resolution turntable (better than 2 degrees angular resolution, Pix_2). Scouts had a great time ‘seeing’ their own body heat giving off RF energy, looking at the RF emissions from the Sun and finding Geosynchronous satellites in Earth orbit.

The Solar Radio Telescope project is coming together nicely. The purpose of this project is to study RF emissions from and ‘Angry’ Sun (visible sunspots, Pix # 3). We are elated that our Solar RT project was selected by RIT’s engineering department’s competition for their senior design activities. A team of seven students (Pix_4) designed phase II for our project to track the Sun in its daily movement. This effort includes customer requirements, animated simulations of the Sun’s movement from summer through winter, the PC, electronic controls, software, servos, and mechanical mounts. The spring semester saw this concept design executed in hardware, built in the RIT model shop, debugged in the lab, and then installed in Ionia! The pinnacle of this effort saw completely autonomous operation of Sun tracking without any human intervention (Pix_5), publically demonstrated at RIT’s Imagine Festival in May 2015 (Pix_6). Additionally, this design ‘puts itself to bed’ at night, knows when to look to the East for sunrise, and has a high wind ‘safe mode position (zenith), and park service (maintenance) position.

If this (above) accomplishment wasn’t enough, work done by the U of R team, allowed us to implement the real horizon in ‘Radio Eyes’ (our RF star data base). And their software control of the Callisto receivers allowed us to complete a RF site survey of the Ionia ‘scope location (Pix_7). Our proof of concept prototype was able to characterize the potential interfering emitters at the Ionia site (Pix_8), and provide actual usable RF Sun emission data. This work has established a new (potentially proprietary) mathematical technique for active noise cancellation of base (fixed location) interfering emitters. To our knowledge, no one in the Radio Telescope and/or eCallisto development community has seen this before.

Our plans for this coming year include expanding the small dome building (adjacent to our installation) enabling a corner of the building to act as an operator/debug station, a high speed internet and AC power connection, batch data transfer to Zurich, and system software integration.


Martin J Pepe

Update 5/28/15 : Radio Jove


Radio Jove                     – Martin J Pepe (MjpAstro@aol.com)

Most people think they have to have a 50 foot dish in the backyard to do any Radio Astronomy. It just ain’t so!! Besides getting on your wife’s short list for casting a large dark shadow over her petunias, with the way things are these days, you might even get a visit or two from ‘Uncle ‘Sam’.

Everyone has seen colorful visual pictures from Hubble of deep space Galaxies. But many don’t realize that deep sky objects have strong RF emissions, as well. Even some objects in our own Solar System give off radio waves in various frequency bands. The Sun and Jupiter are two of those objects in particular.

You may have seen or heard of articles about the ongoing Solar RT project which is a Solar RF Spectrograph to study sunspots, presently being built for the ASRAS astronomy club (site in Ionia, NY). It covers 50 – 890 MHz. This is a senior design project at RIT and it is progressing nicely. Look for a demo at RIT Imagine this May (2015).

Another stout RF emitter is the planet Jupiter (see NASA Radio Jove, below). The radio noise storms of interest can be heard from about 15 MHz up to a practical limit of about 38 MHz, the consensus seems to be that 18 MHz up to about 28 MHz is a good place to listen. Many ‘hams’ have inadvertently heard this, and assumed it was just background noise & hiss (links, below).

The very conditions that cause the ionosphere to get charged and yield good Aurora & ‘DX bounce’ at times, are one’s that ‘shield’ us from hearing these signals. When the aurora is good, the Jupiter signals are usually rather weak, since they can’t penetrate the same strong ionospheric ‘shell’ that surrounds the Earth. Conversely, when the aurora is bad the Radio Jove signals can be good, they can actually complement regular Northern Light observation & Ham Radio operation.

The RF generator of these signals is an interaction of some of Jupiter’s Moons (typically IO), and the planet’s strong magnetic fields. These signals can be directional, and don’t always point at the Earth.

A simple direct conversion receiver and external antenna for the above band(s) can be used to monitor these signals  We’ve been gifted a NASA Radio Jove receiver kit from the Buffalo Astronomy group, and are in search of a high school or college student willing to assemble it under the mentorship of an experienced ham radio operator. Know of someone interested, drop me an email note or give me a call.


For further reading check out some of the following links;

·         Radio Jupiter Central – http://www.radiosky.com/rjcentral.html

·         NASA Radio Jove – http://radiojove.gsfc.nasa.gov/library/newsletters/toc.htm

·         SARA Radio Jupiter – http://www.radio-astronomy.org/pdf/qex/radio-jove-proof.pdf

·         Interested?   Martin Pepe (585) 298-0246 (c) or email @ mjpastro@gmail.com.

RIT Project Dish

Hi all,
If you’re out at the site & or looking at the security cameras lately you’ve probable noticed that the RT project dish is ‘missing’. Well its been relocated to the MSD lab at RIT for now.  We’re in the midst of our hardware build as part 2 of the senior design project (P15571 – ‘Sun Tracker’).  http://edge.rit.edu/edge/P15571/public/Home
We’re into our second year of projects to look at the night sky in something other than traditional visible light. 2014 has seen three colleges now involved with ASRAS Radio Astronomy Projects! We’ve been able to so far involve 15 students from Roberts Wesleyan, University of Rochester, and Rochester Institute of Technology.

The specifics of this task are to build a computer controlled, motorized, RA & Dec mount for the 7′ dish driven by our ‘Radio Eyes’ software. Design effort has been rather busy & intense.

We are just entering the machine shop to build part of the hardware mounts & decided to relocate the entire unit to the RIT model shop to enable fit/form of the hardware pieces.  This was much better than making a trip out to Ionia every time we need a critical dimension or piece part.

The spectrograph receiver is working great under automated computer control, we are able to generate an FFT of interested frequencies (45 – 890 Mhz) every 15 min! We’ve also sampled the RF environment in Ionia to begin identifying potentially interfering emitters. I will report on that next month.



UPDATE – 12/21/2014

We’ve taken our outreach efforts ‘on the road’ by demonstrating the Portable Radio Telescope (PBT – itty bitty radio telescope ) hardware at the National NEAF 2014 Astronomy Conference outside of New York City, to very interested attendees and global vendors!

We were invited to attend the Solar Star Party in the courtyard of Rockland Community College (site of NEAF), along with optical Solar Telescopes. Using our nearly completed Portable Radio Telescope, we demonstrated radio emissions coming from the Sun, and warm body RF emissions from living things (trees, people, etc.). This was an instant hit, especially when we were able to track RF emissions from geosynchronous satellites in the stationary ‘Clark’ orbit, including showing a ‘strip chart’ record of the results on a laptop PC. Successful demonstration of our high resolution ‘turntable’ antenna for the IBT enabled repeatable 1-2 degree pointing resolution, and digital data to the netbook PC. (Picture #1). Magazine editors, including two from Europe asked if we’d consider contributions to their publications, (including an offer from a book publisher!). We gave away every piece of paper, business cards, and web address info pointers to the crowds. It seems that no one in optical astronomy has considered actually doing astronomy in the RF spectrum, thinking it was outside the realm of amateurs (our plans are to change that). Amateur radio operators (‘Hams’) saw our efforts as a logical extension of their field. Hint – our 2015 plans are to build a ‘bridge’ to the local Radio ‘Ham’ group (Rochester Amateur Radio Association – RaRa). One of our U of R students has even successfully characterized a set of Low Noise Amplifiers (LNAs), using a simple set of CFL light bulbs as an RF source (topic for a future RaRa talk). Ultimately, once we write an operating manual & create experimental worksheets, this PBT will become a Boy Scouts activity in Ionia (probably the summer of 2015), when they can camp-out there on weekends, (even if it’s cloudy).

The Solar Radio Telescope project is coming together nicely. The purpose of this project is to study RF emissions from and ‘Angry’ Sun (visible sunspots, Pix # 2) This last school year, (Fall 2013, Summer & Spring of 2014 semesters), we have had U of R students working on getting both the primary & secondary receivers working under the control of a desktop PC (Win XP). The latest updated Callisto software (v118) has been loaded & has begun operating without any major problems. We have successfully loaded and run the initial ‘Radio Eyes’ Planetarium program displaying the night sky in the RF environment (like the visible Starry Night sky, but in the RF spectrum). Students have been able to measure the local horizon (elevation) in Ionia every 10 degrees of the compass, and generated an actual horizon file to display when celestial objects will come into view from our physical location (Picture #3). And have begun to design an operator’s ‘virtual’ front panel in LabView to control all critical functions, and programs. Two U of R summer students have just finished selecting PC hardware to be installed in a weather-proof enclosure with the 7 ft. receiving antenna, and run under Windows 7. We’ve even sampled the RF environment in Ionia to begin identifying potential interference sources. Our winter plans are to begin formulating a strategy to deal with this possibility.

We are elated that our Solar RT project has been one of the projects selected by RIT’s engineering department’s competition for their senior design activities. A team of seven students are designing phase II for our project to track the Sun in its daily movement. Suntracker Project Logo (Picture #4). This effort includes customer requirements, animated simulations of the Sun’s movement from summer through winter, and the servos, electronic controls, and mechanical mounts. In the spring semester (2015) they will actually build this hardware, take it out of the lab, and install it in Ionia!

Farash foresight & support of these special programs have created a unique environment that has not just benefitted ASRAS, but given students the chance to take concepts out of the textbook, and build actual working hardware, making for a solid, and lasting, engineering education. The scope of this effort will not only enable us to contribute to the eCallisto network, but give the Rochester Academy of Science global visibility & participate in an activity to study our ‘angry’ Sun’s sunspots, CMEs, and Earth directed potential hazards (Pix #5). As a long time ASRAS member, I feel that I’m blessed to be a part of this activity.


Martin J Pepe