RockBLOCK Mk2: Communication Beyond Limits

Adil khan is an electronics hobbyist, interested in satellite communication, cyber security and cyber forensics

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Communication is a basic requirement. However, sometimes we are in an area where Wi-Fi, GSM and other forms of terrestrial communication are not available and so we are unable to communicate or send messages. And without any terrestrial connectivity we cannot install any project required for either one- or two-way connectivity. In this situation, a satellite communication device comes to the rescue, and helps us send or receive data using satellites for projects like oil pipelines, weather data collection, location tracking and emergency communication.

What RockBLOCK Mk2 is

RockBLOCK Mk2 is a satcom (short for satellite communication) device for communicating over Iridium global satellite network. It is manufactured by UK based Rock Seven that also manufactures Iridium based satellite-tracking and communication systems.

RockBLOCK Mk2 device with connector and other components
RockBLOCK Mk2 device with connector and other components

RockBLOCK Mk2 is a module for satcom that sends and receives short-burst data for location tracking and weather balloons. It can send and receive short messages from anywhere on Earth (land, sea and air) with a view of the sky, and work beyond the reach of Wi-Fi, GSM or 3G/4G. The device is compatible with Windows, Linux, Mac, Arduino and Raspberry Pi operating systems, and other platforms with serial and USB ports.

Features include:

• Integrated antenna and power conditioning
• Plug-and-play satellite communication
• Two-way communication system
• Global operation using Iridium satellite network
• Data arrives via e-mail or directly to Web service
• External antenna connector (optional)

Short-burst data is a bandwidth-limited messaging system, capable of transmitting/receiving packets of 340/270 bytes size. With a good view of the sky, it is possible to send/receive such data.

It is suitable for applications that need to regularly send or receive small amounts of data for tracking, telemetry, system control and monitoring applications. It is not suitable if very low latency is required (less than one minute), or if data to be transmitted is larger than a few thousand bytes. Also, it cannot be used to send images and large files.

At the heart of RockBLOCK Mk2 is an Iridium 9602 modem. RockBLOCK Mk2 hosts the 9602 and provides it with an antenna and its power supply requirements. It exposes the modem’s serial interface via a breakout connector using a USB/serial adaptor.

UART. Serial communication is provided by a full UART interface at 3.3V. This can be operated in three-wire mode (Rx/Tx/GND) with no detriment to functionality or performance. Signals are available on a 2.5mm (0.1-inch) header for easy connection.
USB compatible. A 2.5mm 6-pin header is provided for direct connection to FTDI TTL-232R-3V3 cable. It provides a virtual com port on a USB host.

How RockBLOCK Mk2 works

When you send short-burst data from a device, it is received by low-Earth orbit Iridium satellite. Data then goes to Iridium ground station. When Iridium ground station downlinks this data, it sends it to Rock Seven server, which transfers the data to your e-mail or web service.


 

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