|Amateur digital mode based remote sensing: FT8 use as a radar signal of opportunity for ionospheric characterization
|Year of Publication
|Erickson, PJ, Liles, W, Miller, ES
The K1JT / WSJT suite of digital modes for amateur QSOs, provided to the community by Joe Taylor K1JT and Steve Franke K9AN, has revolutionized the use of weak signal HF propagation to carry short digital messages. Traffic on the FT8 mode has become a large fraction of all digital transmissions by amateurs since its introduction in 2017 near solar minimum. FT8 is a 15 second cadence, 8‐tone FSK mode using a sophisticated combination of stacked low‐density parity coding (LDPC) and cyclical redundancy check (CRC) codes. Combined with a deep search retrieval algorithm that takes advantage of the sparse information for messages within typical QSOs, the effective FT8 communications detection threshold is considerably lower than other traditional modes such as CW.
FT8 signals undergo changes on reception caused by ionospheric refraction. Observational study of this feature opens up compelling avenues for research into the time and space dependent behavior of ionospheric variations. A technique long known to the passive radio remote sensing community involves intercepting transmissions of opportunity and processing them to yield information on reflecting targets on the transmit‐to‐receive path. We present initial simulations and studies of the use of FT8 in this manner as an ionospheric range‐Doppler passive radar, and will discuss the qualities of these signals for crowdsourced upper atmospheric research, including an explanation and examples of their effective range‐Doppler ambiguity in typical QSO exchanges. Also discussed will be the particular effectiveness for radar applications of the three Costas array frequency/time synchronization sequences used by FT8 in the start, middle, and at the end of transmissions.