Fun While It Lasted, Falcon 9 Telemetry Now Encrypted

A few weeks ago we brought information that Reddit users [derekcz] and [Xerbot] he had managed to get a 2232.5 MHz telemetry downlink from the upper stage of the Falcon 9 and extract some interesting plain text strings. With further software shuffling, the vehicle’s video streams were decoded, resulting in some absolutely breathtaking photos of the rocket and its payload from low Earth orbit.

Unfortunately, it seems that these intoxicating days are over as well [derekcz] reports that the connection down from the last Falcon 9 mission was nothing but understandable noise. Since the hardware and software have not changed on his part, the only logical conclusion is that SpaceX was not very happy with the radio amateurs listening to their rocket, and decided to use some form of encryption.

Since these data have apparently been broadcast in the open for almost a decade before anyone noticed on the spot, it is easy to see this as an overreaction. After all, what’s the harm of a few geeks with hacked antennas peeking into a bunch of Starlink satellites? [derekcz] he even reasoned that allowing lovers to capture these cosmic sights could win the company some positive buzz, something Elon Musk never gets enough of.

Some of the images [derekcz] managed to catch from Falcon 9

On the other hand, we know that SpaceX is actively seeking more lucrative national security launch contracts for both the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy. For these sensitive government cargoes, normal screen telemetry data and space views are missed by the company’s official live streams. It seems likely that the Pentagon would be very interested in how citizens could get this information, and a guarantee from SpaceX that the connection will be encrypted for all future flights could help smooth things over.

At the end of the post [derekcz] reflects the mood we have been hearing from other amateur radio operators lately, which is that space may soon be banned for us civilians. As the older weather satellites began to fail and be replaced by newer and inevitably more complex models, the days of taking satellite images with RTL-SDR and a few lines of Python they are probably numbered.