Engineering the weather
Undergraduate electrical and computer engineering students applied concepts they learned in class this year to capture live data from a weather satellite orbiting the Earth and turn it into images using digital signal processing technology.
Students in Dr. Cory Prust’s Applications of Digital Signal Processing class gathered in the Werwath Mall on May 18 and 19 when the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite made its way over Wisconsin. The NOAA employs polar orbiting satellites for a variety of environmental monitoring tasks. Included on these satellites is an Automatic Picture Transmission (APT) system, which provides real-time image data of the Earth’s surface. Students were able to collect this data using software-defined radio (SDR) technology and a special antenna.
“Software-defined radio technology has transformed much of the modern communications and networking fields, and exposure to this technology is increasingly important for our students,” said Prust. “Incorporating SDR into my courses has been extremely rewarding. It has enabled me to do things that weren’t previously possible. In the case of this project, being able to collect real data from an orbiting satellite makes for a highly engaging learning experience for my students.”
But collecting the data was only the first step of the project. “Each student had to apply various digital processing techniques developed through the course to extract the raw data that was captured,” said senior Michael Rajzer, an electrical engineering major. “This included implementing an FM demodulator followed by an AM demodulator to process the data so it would be converted into a grayscale image.”
Rajzer (pictured at left with Prust) used the technical computing program MATLAB to implement the demodulation systems and obtain pixel data that he then organized to produce an image of the Earth’s surface.
“I had to create my own digital filters to remove unwanted portions of the data, which was very important since the desired signal was weak compared to the background noise caused by other sources, such as nearby radio stations,” he said.
But the work paid off. “Although it was very challenging to complete, the outcome was very rewarding,” Rajzer said. “It was awesome to finally see the image of the Earth after all of the processing was complete – especially since the prominence of the Great Lakes in the image made it possible to see where everything was and what the Earth looked like on that particular day.”
This opportunity is one of many at MSOE that enable students to bridge the gap between theory and real-world application.
“It was great to actually implement the ideas and techniques learned in previous courses in a real-world application,” Rajzer said. Rajzer graduated from MSOE in May, and was hired by Snap-on Inc. as a design engineer in the Power Tools group.