Best GPS tracking system?

Discussion in 'Rocketry Electronics and Software' started by rocketgeek101, Sep 8, 2019.

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  1. Sep 8, 2019 #1

    rocketgeek101

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    Hello all,

    I am looking for advice on choosing a tracking solution for my rockets. Up until now, I have relied on noise makers or bluetooth Tile trackers to assist in locating my rockets.

    I am in the planning stages for my next HPR build, which will be pushing the envelope a bit more than my current fleet, and I plan to outfit it with proper tracking among other things.

    For the time being I'd prefer to stick to systems which are license free. Not because I don't plan on getting my license in the future, but rather just to keep things a bit simpler for the time being since I am new to this and also quite busy with school and other things. That being said, I would welcome recommendations for any tracker since this is something I will no doubt pursue further in the future.

    There is quite a bit of information online, and having limited experience with this particular area has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed... that being said, these are the systems I have found so far that seem like they could fit the bill:

    1) MissileWorks RTx/GPS
    2) Featherweight GPS tracker
    3) Big Red Bee 900

    I'd be curious to hear about people experiences with any and all of these systems. I have quite a bit of experience flying dual deploy using MissileWorks altimeters and am planning to use the RRC3 in this next project. From what I gather the MissileWorks RTx has built in integration with the RRC3 which makes it an attractive choice. It is also the cheapest of the 3 systems which considering the USD to CAD conversion being what it is makes it all the more attractive. I am a bit unclear as to the differences between the standard and navigator systems though. From what I gather, the navigator does everything the standard does, but also reports the bearing and distance to the rocket instead of just the coordinates. Is there more to it than this ? And would it be worth the extra $40 to opt for the navigator over the standard?

    On paper the Featherweight looks the most interesting and feature rich of the bunch. As an iPhone user, I also like that it would work with my phone unlike the other two. While not a requirement, the ability to receive spoken telemetry would be very cool and it seems like the Featherweight tracker will soon support this. From what I can tell, the other two I've listed don't support this. It also has the longest range of the three. At the moment though this seems like it is still somewhat of a beta product so I am a bit unsure if it is wise to opt for this tracker at this time.

    In terms of features the BRB 900 looks to offer the least, but from what I can gather these systems have been around longer than the other two, and most things I have seen in regards to these trackers seem to be positive (though it is also the most expensive system in my list).

    For me the most important requirement by far is system reliability and GPS accuracy (i.e. the tracker should allow me to find the rocket pending catastrophic failure during the flight). The spot where I fly is full of dense bush which can easily swallow even a large rocket if one does not have a pretty good idea of it's landing location to begin with. As long as I can get the coordinates of the landing spot from the tracker to punch into Google Maps or my GPS unit I'll be happy, and as they say, the rest is gravy ;)

    So please let me know the good and bad. I'd also be curious to see pics of these systems installed in your rockets! Hopefully this thread can become a reference for folks like me looking to get into tracking, and are not entirely sure where to begin.

    Thanks!
     
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  2. Sep 8, 2019 #2

    Sabrina

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    I'll just leave this here...

    Lots of folks skip the Eggfinder system because they are afraid of the kit and the tiny parts. That is a legitimate concern. There is also a perception that the Eggfinder is less dependable or not as good as the "manufactured solutions". My 2 cents... the Eggfinder should not be overlooked.

    Here are some pictures of the rocket I flew with my mom at LDRS. Launched on a CTI K820 to 11,500' at LDRS 38 and recovered with an Eggfinder.

    IMGP9734.JPG

    IMGP9910.JPG

    vlcsnap-2019-09-03-22h30m06s450.png
     
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  3. Sep 8, 2019 #3

    Eric

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    Eggfinder Mini. They work great. Simple and inexpensive. Pair it with a Black Aero receiver case and you can have a complete GPS tracker for less then $250. And that only requires you to carry one item to get you to rocket.

    I have used the featherweight and T3. Both work great and the featherweight has some cooler features. But you still have to carry a receiver and another device to find your rocket.

    If you go with eggfinder and need help with assembly, let me know.
     
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  4. Sep 8, 2019 #4

    rocketgeek101

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    Hymmm... I'll add the Eggfinder to my list of trackers to consider. I have some experience with soldering connectors here and there, but have never been too happy with the finished results and have never built anything like that before.
     
  5. Sep 8, 2019 #5

    Wschmiedlin

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    Plus 1 for the Eggtimer. And the customer service is top notch.
     
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  6. Sep 8, 2019 #6

    manixFan

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    I'll throw in for the Featherweight system. It's incredibly easy to use, has a far greater range (300,000'!), offers features not found on any other system (like lost rocket relay) and has a native iPhone app. It's also very small - I can fit one into a 29mm nosecone, and uses inexpensive 1s Lipo's. The audible callout during launch and descent is nice as it allows you to keep your eyes on the sky. But I have also used the on-screen indicators to visually track a rocket, as it gives you not only a heading but a bubble-level like elevation indicator. Soon it will also offer 10 sample per second recordings of GPS flight info for plotting in Google Earth or similar software.

    But to me one of the greatest features is that every tracker is also a ground station. So you simply buy two (or more) identical units and then configure them however you want. If you are at a launch with friends who also own a Featherweight system it is very easy to connect to a new iPhone if you want to share trackers. And a single ground station can track multiple units at the same time.

    There are a variety of great systems available to us, so it's really a matter of preference in many cases. As I've said in other posts, I'm just amazed that for such a small hobby we have such wonderful vendors who devote so much time and energy into great products that have really expanded the horizons of what we can do. The fact that I can fly a 38mm rocket to 15,000' and then walk right up to it is something I would not have dreamed of 20 years ago when I got into this hobby.


    Tony
     
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  7. Sep 8, 2019 #7

    Buckeye

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    The 3 products you mention are all well-supported by the manufacturers. All good guys. They will gladly answer your product questions.

    I will give a shout out for the BRB900. This was my first tracker, and it is still my go to. It comes complete with a transmitter and a dedicated receiver that simply displays latitude and longitude. No finicky Bluetooth, Android, or iOS pairing is needed. Punch the lat/lon coordinates into your favorite GPS device.

    The BRB900 also comes ready out of the box. Cases, batteries, wiring are all included. The onboard memory is also robust for recording the data.

    If you like to play around with terminal emulators and GPS utility software, then the receiver can be connected to a computer directly via USB and stream real time the raw NMEA sentences for further analysis.
     
  8. Sep 9, 2019 #8

    SS/EA 6BBL 71 Cuda

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    Ummmmm...Not to jack this thread or anything but, o_O...SOME people’s are waiting for your LDRS report. Sorry about that, back to your post (and, a good one it is).
     
  9. Sep 9, 2019 #9

    Demonian

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    There is a trick to soldering well. Get a good soldering station. Leave the $4.99 12 watt iron in the junk drawer where they belong. My suggestion would be the Hakko FX888D as a good place to start. There are less expensive alternatives that work well enough, but none have a tip that is worth using out of the box. I would be happy to help you find one that fits your budget, if you would like.
     
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  10. Sep 9, 2019 #10

    Voyager1

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    The trackers I have and use include the Eggfinder Tx and Mini, Altus Metrum's TeleMega, and Featherweights Tracker. All are all great trackers, but differ significantly in cost. If you're OK with soldering SM components, then the Eggfinder Mini plus the LCD receiver are hard to beat for cost.
     
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  11. Sep 9, 2019 #11

    OverTheTop

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    Jump onto eBay and purchase some surface mount soldering practice boards. Search for "surface mount soldering practice".

    The key to surface mount soldering I find is your tweezer technique.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
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  12. Sep 9, 2019 #12

    rharshberger

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    +1 more for the Eggfinder, last weekend it led me to the nose cone of my Nuclear Sledgehammer 600' inside a field of mature corn...
     
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  13. Sep 9, 2019 #13

    Thorfire

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    I picked up a hot air soldering station for $38 off eBay. That, and a syringe full of solder paste makes all the difference assembling eggtimers. I've built over a dozen eggtimer SMD kits with it. (Magnification helps too)
     
  14. Sep 9, 2019 #14

    OverTheTop

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    Hot air and paste is a method of SMT assembly. Its usual application is during professional assembly where the paste is stenciled on and the parts placed with pack-and-place machines. My chosen method is as per the Eggtimer instructions, using an iron. I have done a metric ship-load of soldering over the years and I almost never use paste. That includes 0.45mm (0.018") fine-pitch components YMMV. If it works for you, go for it.

    As others have commented, a good temperature-controlled iron helps greatly. Hakko is a good place to start from what I have seen. I run JBC personally, but that is out of the reach of all bar the most discriminating and/or committed (and/or OCD ;)) soldering operator.
     
  15. Sep 9, 2019 #15

    warnerr

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    eggs are great- especially on a budget, but it comes with some risk. featherweight is simple to use right out of the box, but at a higher cost. Ive recovered rockets from over 18k four miles out in rugged terrain with one on board- and at same time a TRS from eggtimer. BOTH got me to my rocket. I also had a Big Red Bee 2meter (lisc required) on my ‘tracker contest flight’ and it, unlike the others, was able to continue transmitting arps packets that i was actively receiving after landing. Very steep price increase to this product as a modern arps receiver is near $500 alone.
     
  16. Sep 9, 2019 #16

    Cameron Anderson

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    For ease of use, Missileworks is great. I have around 10 flights with zero issues, including one with 17,000' of ground separation, and the system kept locked.

    For range, unles you get a HAM license, you can't beat Featherweight.
     
  17. Sep 9, 2019 #17

    rocketace

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    +1 for the featherweight tracker. 5 flights over 4 days at LDRS and walked/drove straight to each one. Highest to 12k @ 1.3 mach. The voice call out give you a HUGE peace of mind when you know it is falling under drogue. I used a wireless headphone in one ear to listen to tracker.
     
  18. Sep 9, 2019 #18

    Nytrunner

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    Don't count out the T3 by missileworks either. Smaller form factor, RX/Bt to talk to your phone, 250mw transmitter
     
  19. Sep 9, 2019 #19

    Jmhepworth

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    I use the Big Red Bee 70cm GPS tracker. Sure, it requires a ham license, but if you are bright enough to build rockets that need a tracker, you’re bright enough to pass the exam. It requires a bit of study, but it’s really not that hard. The radio isn’t really cheap either. I used it 3 times at LDRS and walked right to the rocket each time. You just line up the arrow on the radio with the beacon and walk that direction for the distance it tells you and pick up your rocket. Easy peasy.
     
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  20. Sep 10, 2019 #20

    rocketgeek101

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    Thanks for the feedback so far (and please keep it coming :))! I've been currently looking bit more into the featherweight system, and for those that have used it, how did you mount it in your rocket? For the project I'm planning I'd like to mount the transmitter in the NC somehow, but on my existing fleet I think it would be nice to design some sort of housing for the transmitter that could be attached to the shock cord to facilitate quick change-outs between rockets.
     
  21. Sep 10, 2019 #21

    Voyager1

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  22. Sep 10, 2019 #22

    sl98

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    You might also consider whether the Eggtimer TRS is a good fit for your project. The TRS is a GPS tracker and dual deployment flight computer all on one board. Like the eggfinder, you must build it (or hire someone to build it for you).
     
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  23. Sep 10, 2019 #23

    Motocrossman24

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    A friend of mine 3d printed a sled for my featherweight gps...it fits into a 38mm tube in my nosecone. There are also 3-4 companies who make sleds designed for the tracker that you can find online, just search featherweight gps tracker sled or something similar. It’s really an amazing unit, I haven’t flown mine, but a few months ago, my friend launched his in a 4” rocket with a cti m1101 to 13,500’, the tracker maintained signal the entire flight, and spoke out speed/altitude/distance and direction until it landed. At apogee the gps said 13,500 and something like 7000 feet laterally, and no issues with signal.
     
  24. Sep 10, 2019 #24

    Motocrossman24

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    Macperformance sells nosecone bays for wild man style vk nosecones and some other plastic cones...they’re dirt cheap and are very well put together. I have their kit for a 54mm vk nosecone which houses a 38mm tube inside for the tracker, and the iBolt attaches to a screw in pvc coupler that makes removal of the nosecone sled a breeze.
     
  25. Sep 10, 2019 #25

    billdz

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    All of the above-mentioned products are reliable and will get you to your rocket (at least in the absence of operator error, such as failing to turn it on or charge the battery). I have a Telemetrum, TeleGPS, and a Missileworks T3.

    If you fly at a field where there is cell phone service, there are much cheaper (under $30) GPS tracking alternatives available, such as cellular pet and senior trackers, or just put an old phone in the av-bay, see
    https://www.rocketryforum.com/threads/cheap-cellular-trackers-update-and-where-are-the-3gs.151170/
     
  26. Sep 10, 2019 #26

    David de Bruyn

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    Don't forget the AIM XTRA system :) It's not so well known but offers a very extensive set of features with unprecedented GPS accuracy and sensor outputs. We recently did a launch where the system maintained GPS lock throughout the boost phase (7 second burn). The range is very good too and you don't need Yagis unless you are planning on extremely high altitudes.

    The system uses an advanced Kalman filter to combine multiple sensor inputs such as Gyro and Accelerometers to get a very accurate estimate of motor burnout, apogee etc. A side effect of this is the ability to do motor characterization and the software has a dedicated tool for this.

    The system has been used by a number of Universities and other groups to do record-breaking multistage launches.

    Full disclosure: I'm the owner of Entacore and the creator of the AIM XTRA system.
     
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  27. Sep 11, 2019 #27

    Steveo

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    I'll second the Lab Rat sleds. I have two of them for my Eggfinder minis. His sleds either work in the nosecone or attached to the shock cord. I do both and they work great.
     
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  28. Sep 12, 2019 #28

    Cameron Anderson

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    I just got a lightly used AIM XTRA 2.0 myself. I can't get the operating system to load on my computer (I'm still playing with it) but the features are amazing. I got is specifically for a +30K MD 98mm project I'm working.
     
  29. Sep 13, 2019 #29

    ksaves2

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    The best GPS tracker is the one that one is well practiced on and ones goals are set in the beginning. Ask the following questions.

    1. You wanna just find your rocket?
    2. How much data do you want to record if any?
    3. Price?
    4. Is an unlicensed system desired as opposed to one requiring a Technician Ham Radio license

    Ham radio APRS trackers have a bit of a performance edge due to the bands that are used. That said, a sport flier not going up above 10 to 20k with small
    rockets doesn't need that capability and just about any 900Mhz system will do the job. The more power output from the tracker the better the chances of recovering positions from the extremes of range.

    I've flown Beeline ham stuff and that's the easiest for one to track on a live map. Kenwood D72a, Garmin 60Cs or 60CsX one cable and one can live track on a map in real time on the 70cm band. Not the cheapest but the easiest to get a live map. The Sainsonic AP510 with a high learning curve and need for an antenna on the 2 meter band should give excellent performance to altitude extremes on a shoestring budget.

    As far as recording data live over a telemetry link it's been spotty with the low powered (100mW) units. Don't expect to get every single position at range.
    There are a variety of reasons for that but do expect to get plenty of positions to find the rocket. I've had no trouble locating Eggfinders in small rockets that go to 6k. People find rockets that go to 20k and higher with these things. Sport fliers again, just about any system you use will work.

    The featherweight system with the LoRa technology looks very good though I haven't used one. Folks have pushed them to extremes and have had great reports. Live mapping last I heard was not there yet. With the 900Mhz systems I have to take the standard NMEA output which is essentially what these thing use and pump it through the GPS inputs of live mapping programs to visualize the rocket position in flight. A real PITA. They get that up with the Featherweight system and I'd say that would be the way to go for someone who plans to stay in the hobby for a time and it has room for one to grow into.
    The T3 (which I have) is great for one who doesn't want to build an Egg product but get a small soldering iron, head magnifier good tweezers and build in a clear, square casserole pan and it's not so hard. Actually fun wintertime sport. Kurt
     
  30. Sep 13, 2019 #30

    John Kemker

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    So, if you're looking for APRS tracking, there are apps that work on your phone that will provide APRS tracking. APRSdroid comes to mind. Resolution is pretty good. I can pretty much tell where I am in my house, based upon the position.

    Hmmm...that gives me a thought...old Android phone (that I already own) and a cheap, low-limit data plan. Place in rocket...
     

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