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Default [Hackaday] Fun While It Lasted, Falcon 9 Telemetry Now Encrypted

amateur radio - Hackaday

Fun While It Lasted, Falcon 9 Telemetry Now Encrypted

Posted: 07 Apr 2021 10:01 PM PDT

A few weeks back we brought word that Reddit users [derekcz] and [Xerbot]
had managed to receive the 2232.5 MHz telemetry downlink from a Falcon 9
upper stage and pull out some interesting plain-text strings. With further
software fiddling, the vehicles video streams were decoded, resulting in
some absolutely breathtaking shots of the rocket and its payload from low
Earth orbit.

Unfortunately, it looks like those heady days are now over, as [derekcz]
reports the downlink from the latest Falcon 9 mission was nothing but
intelligible noise. Since the hardware and software havent changed on his
side, the only logical conclusion is that SpaceX wasnt too happy about
radio amateurs listening in on their rocket and decided to employ some form
of encryption.

Since this data has apparently been broadcast out in the clear for nearly a
decade before anyone on the ground noticed, its easy to see this as an
overreaction. After all, whats the harm in a few geeks with hacked together
antennas getting a peek at a stack of Starlink satellites? [derekcz] even
mused that allowing hobbyists to capture these space views might earn the
company some positive buzz, something Elon Musk never seems to get enough
Some of the images [derekcz] was able to capture from the Falcon 9

On the other hand, we know that SpaceX is actively pursuing more lucrative
national security launch contracts for both the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.
For these sensitive government payloads, the normal on-screen telemetry
data and space views are omitted from the companys official live streams.
It seems likely the Pentagon would be very interested in finding out how
civilians were able to obtain this information, and a guarantee from SpaceX
that the link would be encrypted for all future flights could have helped
smooth things over.

At the end of the post [derekcz] echos a sentiment weve been hearing from
other amateur radio operators* recently, which is that pretty soon space
may be off-limits for us civilians. As older weather satellites begin to
fail and get replaced with newer and inevitably more complex models, the
days of picking up satellite images with an RTL-SDR and a few lines of
Python are likely numbered.

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