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Big Red Bee GPS Tracking Rig

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Gabe Osborn

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Since I haven't seen anyone post anything similar, I thought it might be fun to post what I will be using at the fields to track my rockets. I am aware that many people may already be familiar with this equipment, but for those that arent, I believe it may be useful. Plus, everyone likes pictures right?

The system is based around Greg Clark's Big Red Bee GPS and TX transmitters. I will be operating a base station using a Yaesu FT-7900 to receive the packet data. It will then be sent out to a TinyTrak4 to decode the packets. The TinyTrak4 has an LCD attached as an aftermarket modification as suggested by the manufacturer, www.byonics.com. These two items are powered by a 9v Duracell battery. The packet data can also be sent to a laptop using Hyperterminal to display GPS coordinates. Using this method will allow you to constantly record data while you are out in the field picking up the rocket. Also used (but not shown) is a Ground Plane/JPole antenna from Arrow Antennas. It disassembles into a small package and is easy to transport. The antenna is then mounted on a PA speaker stand and will be mounted on the top of my SUV with bungees. The radio and laptop are powered by a Duracell 600 PowerPack.

Also used for tracking in the field is a Yaesu VX-6R, PICPAC from Byonics (now OOP), and a 7 element Yagi antenna from Arrow Antennas. Also used is a Garmin Etrex. The PICPAC will send the data it receives to the Etrex and it will display each packet as a waypoint, enabling you to see on a map exactly where your rocket is.

I have used both BRB TX and GPS very successfully in the past. The new rig should make it a little more fun to play with.

Here is the Flickr link

http://www.flickr.com/photos/8835109@N06/sets/72157623409842599/
 

n1lul

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That is exactly the set-up I was going to get for my BRB. I have since wimped out and am going to go with the new Yaesu VX-8GR HT (when it is available) and down load the BRB data onto the laptop after the flight.

Good job orginizing you system, very neat. Mine would look that good for about 10 min. in the field, then it would just be a mass of cables and components.

73
N1LUL
 

BayouRat

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I didn't think you needed the pic pac if you have a computer with a sound card (mic in). Isn't there APRS software that you just plug the headphone out from the transceiver to the mic in on the computer and the APRS software will log the positions. At least that's what I thought. (I don't have one yet)

I am planning on buying the beeline GPS and would like to know what else I will need. I already use there tracking transmitters. I have two of those and they work great. Let me know how it works and what else I will need. Pic Pacs, GPS, etc...
 

bigredbee

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MIXW works great, provided it works on your PC. You just feed the audio from the appropriate UHF receiver, and the laptop/soundcard acts as the "modem". I've seen some PC's/laptops/soundcards that just plain "don't work" for no real reason, so "be ware".

I'm working on a simple application that interfaces w/ MIXW and converts that data into Google Earth .KML files that can display realtime info -- should be fun when it's ready!
 

troj

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I didn't think you needed the pic pac if you have a computer with a sound card (mic in). Isn't there APRS software that you just plug the headphone out from the transceiver to the mic in on the computer and the APRS software will log the positions. At least that's what I thought. (I don't have one yet)

I am planning on buying the beeline GPS and would like to know what else I will need. I already use there tracking transmitters. I have two of those and they work great. Let me know how it works and what else I will need. Pic Pacs, GPS, etc...
You don't have to have the PicPac or TinyTrac, but a laptop isn't nearly as portable.

I have the software on my laptop, as well as owning a PicPac.

FWIW, I use a Yaesu VX-2r with mine.

-Kevin
 

n1lul

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THe VX-8 purchase is going to wait until the VX-8GR comes out which has what I am looking for wjth out all of the stuff I didn't need.

I just ordered the Byonics set-up TT4 with display and GPS, cables and such. Will be running it with my old Yaesu FT-470 that I dug up. I'll be running both the TT4 and the radio from a pair of 11.1 V LiPo cells giving me over 4 amps of juice for the day.

Going to start doing some APRS stuff also. Very cool stuff.
 

SteveF

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has anyone seen a price or price point for the vx-8gr? I hope it is a bit less than the the standard vx-8r - if it is about 250-275 then I will definitely snap one up once i have some spare change
 

bigredbee

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I'm hoping for a street price of under $300. Given that I've seen specials at HRO for the VX-8R at $350, anything less than $300 is going to be a big disappointment.

Then there's the new Kenwood that should be announced at Dayton.

Fingers crossed. I've got high hopes for the new Kenwood.

-- Greg K7RKT
 

WillMarchant

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The thing I really like about the Kenwood TH-D7 is that it will display the data it receives on the moving map on my eTrex Vista handheld. Granted that is two units with a cable in between. I just can't get excited about an APRS transceiver that lacks a map display. Yes, I understand it will likely calculate a bearing from its position to the BeelineGPS, but that's not the same as having it displayed on a map. I've gotten really spoiled by pairing the Kenwood with a mapping GPS...
 

troj

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I'm hoping for a street price of under $300. Given that I've seen specials at HRO for the VX-8R at $350, anything less than $300 is going to be a big disappointment.
I'm going to be in Huntsville next weekend, and have cash available to buy a VX-8 model of some sort, so I've been watching for it.

HRO shows it for $399.95, Gigaparts for $439.95, and Universal shows $439.95

I like the idea of an integrated GPS, and am not sure the lack of 6m is an issue. The question is whether or not the integrated GPS is worth the extra $80 it will cost over what I can get a VX-8r for, today.

-Kevin
 

WillMarchant

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The rumors, if true, in the Yahoo Kenwood_TH-D7 group make the new radio sound pretty sweet. Sounds like there may be more details at Dayton.
 

n5wd

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I'm going to be in Huntsville next weekend, and have cash available to buy a VX-8 model of some sort, so I've been watching for it.
Hamfest in Huntsville, or just shopping at the local ham emporium? (Oooh - just looked. Didn't realize GigaParts was in Huntsville! May have to take a swing by there while there for the NASA-SLI) I take it you're going to be at the SLI functions? (Rocket Fair? Bragg Farm on Sat/Sun?) If so, please say "hi" - we'll be the ones under the Texas flag.

I like the idea of an integrated GPS, and am not sure the lack of 6m is an issue. The question is whether or not the integrated GPS is worth the extra $80 it will cost over what I can get a VX-8r for, today.
About 6m, and the lack, thereof. Are you already operating on 6 FM? If not, then you probably won't miss 6m on the HT. For a while, I carried a Motorola HT that was channeled up on all of the local 6m repeaters, as well as 52.525. Had a random QSO on .525 once, and that was while I was travelling. Yeah, I could hit 5 or 6 repeaters most any time, but rarely was there much traffic unless the E-skip was open AND the folks just happened upon the right offset/PL combination, which wasn't all that often. It most sat there scanning through the memories, silently. Now, if I had an SSB HT and could play on 50.100-50.200, that'd be different! ;) 6m VUCC op, here, so I do love 6m!

As far as integrated GPS versus outputting to an external GPS unit - what I want is a little bit of both. Single unit that shows a map, maybe like the Garmin Astro 220, that gives me some reference but also shows me bearing and distance. I don't think that I'm going to find that, so I think I'm holding out for the new D7 replacement as well, though I gotta tell you that having the Garmin outfit (220/DC-30) has sure dampened my urgency for the GPS-HT.
 
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troj

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Hamfest in Huntsville, or just shopping at the local ham emporium? (Oooh - just looked. Didn't realize GigaParts was in Huntsville! May have to take a swing by there while there for the NASA-SLI) I take it you're going to be at the SLI functions? (Rocket Fair? Bragg Farm on Sat/Sun?) If so, please say "hi" - we'll be the ones under the Texas flag.
I'll definitely be at SLI....I'm on the folks helping run the range. Not sure, yet, if I'll be there for the Rocket Fair, but I'll definitely be on the range all day Sat & Sun.

And yep, Gigaparts is in Huntsville. Thus, I plan to make a little acquisition while I'm there....

About 6m, and the lack, thereof. Are you already operating on 6 FM? If not, then you probably won't miss 6m on the HT.
I don't own any radios that do 6m.

As far as integrated GPS versus outputting to an external GPS unit - what I want is a little bit of both. Single unit that shows a map, maybe like the Garmin Astro 220, that gives me some reference but also shows me bearing and distance. I don't think that I'm going to find that, so I think I'm holding out for the new D7 replacement as well, though I gotta tell you that having the Garmin outfit (220/DC-30) has sure dampened my urgency for the GPS-HT.
I already own a Big Red Bee GPS and a PicPac. The combination works great, but you need a Bat Belt to carry it all through a field while hunting for a rocket. Thus the desire for a HT that has the integrated TNC and display.

I do have a Garmin GPS, but I have to admit, the VX-8GR has some appeal if it will reduce the need for pulling out the GPS -- two hands are already occupied by the Yagi and the HT.

-Kevin
 

troj

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I now officially have a VX-8GR on order; just gotta wait for them to arrive at the the dealer, then it comes to me. I would've picked one up while in Huntsville, but nobody has them in stock. Yet....

Of course, I also need to replace my BeeLine -- a friend flew it and re-kitted it.... Stuff happens, and it'll get replaced. I feel for my friend -- he's flown the rocket several times with no issues, and this time, the recovery system failed.

Fortunately, the BeeLine gave him enough info, before it died, to tell him where to go to get the rocket. Not a complete loss -- the BeeLine was in the nosecone, so it got abused pretty well. Altimeter and motor casing are fine, though, as are the parachutes.

-Kevin
 

n1lul

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... as are the parachutes.

-Kevin
Classic statement, very nice.

My BRB GPS and tracker had their first flight this weekend. Everything worked perfectly, and of course the rocket landed only 1/4 mile away.

I cameTHIS close to pre-ordering a -8GR at HRO last week. I want to play with one for a bit before I commit.
 

troj

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My BRB GPS and tracker had their first flight this weekend. Everything worked perfectly, and of course the rocket landed only 1/4 mile away.
It's always nice when they do that -- while the tracker is nice to have, I'd rather have an easy "I can see it from here" recovery, any day!

I cameTHIS close to pre-ordering a -8GR at HRO last week. I want to play with one for a bit before I commit.
What decided it for me is that the -8GR will tell you distance and direction to the beacon that it's picking up on the B band. The -8 and -8DR may do this as well, but they both require the addition of the GPS module, which adds another component, and another $70 to the total cost.

-Kevin
 

Adrian A

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It's always nice when they do that -- while the tracker is nice to have, I'd rather have an easy "I can see it from here" recovery, any day!



What decided it for me is that the -8GR will tell you distance and direction to the beacon that it's picking up on the B band. The -8 and -8DR may do this as well, but they both require the addition of the GPS module, which adds another component, and another $70 to the total cost.

-Kevin
That unit is pretty tempting. I recently purchased a Beeline GPS and I've been getting weak decoding range from my Radio Shack scanner + laptop soundcard. I once had a HT, but years ago it got lost in a move or something. An additional $430 is a little hard to swallow, though, after just investing $300 in the transmitter and thinking that was all I needed. Hopefully the Yeasu HT will make the difference in reception. I don't really need the built-in GPS, since my iPhone has a nice GPS mapping application on it that will work once I enter in the coordinates I'm going toward. But if I'm going for a big HT purchase anyway, it would be nice to have the range and bearing without having to also hold the phone.

Several people in my club have been using the Garmin Astro, with good results. One guy had a flight that went to 34k, that landed 7 miles away (and several ridgelines over) and he never lost radio lock with it. But the transmitter is significantly larger than a Beeline GPS and I'm not sure what kind of altitude and speed restrictions the Astro GPS has. Not many dogs need a collar that works at 60 kft. Maybe that Russian dog Laika might have liked that.
 

troj

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That unit is pretty tempting. I recently purchased a Beeline GPS and I've been getting weak decoding range from my Radio Shack scanner + laptop soundcard. I once had a HT, but years ago it got lost in a move or something. An additional $430 is a little hard to swallow, though, after just investing $300 in the transmitter and thinking that was all I needed. Hopefully the Yeasu HT will make the difference in reception. I don't really need the built-in GPS, since my iPhone has a nice GPS mapping application on it that will work once I enter in the coordinates I'm going toward. But if I'm going for a big HT purchase anyway, it would be nice to have the range and bearing without having to also hold the phone.

Several people in my club have been using the Garmin Astro, with good results. One guy had a flight that went to 34k, that landed 7 miles away (and several ridgelines over) and he never lost radio lock with it. But the transmitter is significantly larger than a Beeline GPS and I'm not sure what kind of altitude and speed restrictions the Astro GPS has. Not many dogs need a collar that works at 60 kft. Maybe that Russian dog Laika might have liked that.
Yeah, it is indeed a bit of an investment. But I like the convenience of not requiring a bat belt to carry all the components. That said, you can make a board to mount a Tiny Trak or PicPac on the boom of your Yagi -- a friend did that with mine.

For your issues with the laptop receiver, you might try a different brand of receiver than the Radio Shack, and see if that helps. We're currently using a Yaesu VX-2r and it's working quite well.

The VX-8r should be here sometime next week. Just need to wait for my replacement BeeLine (a friend spacked it earlier this month). Once I have it and have had a chance to play with it, I'll post some feedback.

BTW, the VX-8R is now $399 from Gigaparts and several other retailers.

-Kevin
 

Adrian A

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Is there a reason to wait for a Kenwood unit? I know we can only speculate as to what it will have, but should we expect better receive performance, lower price, or some other features that aren't available with the Yaesu unit?
 

WillMarchant

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Is there a reason to wait for a Kenwood unit? I know we can only speculate as to what it will have, but should we expect better receive performance, lower price, or some other features that aren't available with the Yaesu unit?
My suggestion is to wait until after Dayton. Rumor has it that the next Kenwood might have a map display...
 

n5wd

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I recently purchased a Beeline GPS and I've been getting weak decoding range from my Radio Shack scanner + laptop soundcard.
Most scanners are pretty insensitive, in order to deal with the wide-band nature of their receiving range. You might add a pre-amp.

But, even better (especially if you're using the rubber ducky on the scanner) would be to add an external antenna. That should increase your range a lot more buck-for-buck than anything else.

See http://www.wa5vjb.com/references.html for the Cheap Yagi designs, antennas that are easily built at home with minimal tools.
 

n5wd

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Is there a reason to wait for a Kenwood unit? I know we can only speculate as to what it will have, but should we expect better receive performance, lower price, or some other features that aren't available with the Yaesu unit?
Performance wise, the Kenwood and Yaseau are likely to be quite similar. The differences will be in the display, if the rumors are true that the Kenwood will have some mapping display, which the Yaseau doesn't.

The Yaseau doesn't interface with an external GPS or laptop, though, and the Kenwood, if it keeps the functionality it had in the previous version, will, which might be important to some folks (like me).
 

Adrian A

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Most scanners are pretty insensitive, in order to deal with the wide-band nature of their receiving range. You might add a pre-amp.

But, even better (especially if you're using the rubber ducky on the scanner) would be to add an external antenna. That should increase your range a lot more buck-for-buck than anything else.

See http://www.wa5vjb.com/references.html for the Cheap Yagi designs, antennas that are easily built at home with minimal tools.
I'm using an arrow yagi antenna.
 

troj

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I'm using an arrow yagi antenna.
3, 5, or 7 element? I have the 7 element and it has worked very well for me.

3 years ago, first time I used it, I found an SLI nosecone with it, down in Huntsville. That was just a Big Red Bee tracker, though, not a GPS. We've used it with the GPS several times and it has worked really well.

-Kevin
 

n5wd

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I'm using an arrow yagi antenna.
Well, if you're getting a weak decoding range and using the Arrow, I suppose it's time to look at your system from the tip to the laptop.

Which Arrow antenna are you using, and what frequency are you operating on? The reason I ask, is that I know I'm not getting the best performance from my system: I've got the Bee operating at 446.050 up in the FM simplex band and the Arrow I've got is cut for 435 MHz (originally for the hamsats, it's a 70cm - 145 MHz cross band yagi). And, one other thing to check. If you're using an antenna with a diplexer in it, has it ever had more than 5 watts transmitted? The diplexer will have problems if it has had much power at all run through it (he says, from experience).

Have you tried someone's good quality HT to see whether it's the scanner? Should be able to swap it out quickly.
 

Adrian A

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Wayne, thanks for your help.

I'm using the 5-element Arrow antenna, with BNC cable connecting it to the scanner. The scanner output is connected to the laptop mic in with a 3' cable with 3.5mm plugs on each end.

I have used my scanner and antenna for RDF tracking with the Beeline transmitter, with good results. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a subterranean Beeline transmitter from 1/2 mile away (after a nosecone pressure/drag separation tore the chute off). A friend had a 3-element YAGI and a Yaesu HT and seemed to have similar performance, but we didn't really do an apples-to-apples comparison.

I have tested the Beeline GPS with a clear line of sight up to a range of 8 miles. Two miles is the farthest I have gotten packets to decode, using mixW, with about 1/10 of the packets decoding. At 8 miles I can clearly hear the quieting, but the tones aren't clear, and the waterfall spectrum plot looks like junk. I will need to be able to reliably get GPS packets from >60kft.

On the laptop I have run through the tuning tips suggested in the agwpe website, and I have tried agwpe and mixW. Strangely, the mixW has been the best at decoding packets, though the spectrum waterfall plot for agwpe looks a lot clearer than it does in mixW. The agwpe spectrum plots that only decode about 50% of the time (with the transmitter and receiver right next to each other) also look much stronger than the examples in the website that are supposed to decode. So the lack of agwpe performance is a mystery.

I haven't gotten a chance to try this with a better tracker, but I may get a chance on Saturday, depending on the weather.

I haven't ever transmitted through the YAGI, since I haven't had an HT since mine disappeared sometime last decade. I haven't missed the HT much, but part of me says it would be a good tool to have, as long as I'm still a HAM.
 

troj

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I have tested the Beeline GPS with a clear line of sight up to a range of 8 miles. Two miles is the farthest I have gotten packets to decode, using mixW, with about 1/10 of the packets decoding. At 8 miles I can clearly hear the quieting, but the tones aren't clear, and the waterfall spectrum plot looks like junk. I will need to be able to reliably get GPS packets from >60kft.
Interesting.

We've reliably decoded packets from close to 4 miles LOS with a BeeLine GPS, Arrow 7 element, Yaesu VX-2r and a PicPac.

The biggest challenge with the PicPac has been that the VX-2r will easily overload its input. You have to adjust the volume just right to get reliable packet decoding to happen, or, a friend bought an attenuator to brings the signal in line, which makes decoding much easier, as the volume setting is no longer so critical.

-Kevin
 

Adrian A

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Interesting.

We've reliably decoded packets from close to 4 miles LOS with a BeeLine GPS, Arrow 7 element, Yaesu VX-2r and a PicPac.

The biggest challenge with the PicPac has been that the VX-2r will easily overload its input. You have to adjust the volume just right to get reliable packet decoding to happen, or, a friend bought an attenuator to brings the signal in line, which makes decoding much easier, as the volume setting is no longer so critical.

-Kevin
Greg Clark has been helpful too, and he said that he has decoded directly on a Kenwood HT from 60 kft just with the rubber ducky antenna. There is probably a hex on my sound card or something. Maybe I need to sacrifice a chicken.:confused2:
 

troj

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Greg Clark has been helpful too, and he said that he has decoded directly on a Kenwood HT from 60 kft just with the rubber ducky antenna. There is probably a hex on my sound card or something. Maybe I need to sacrifice a chicken.:confused2:
Greg is fantastic.

-Kevin
 

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Noooo!!! Don't waste the chicken! Barbeque it, instead! Gosh, man... have you no humanity?????? ;)

Two things pop into mind (it's been a long day administering the TAKS tests to the kdidies, today, so their brains and mine are both about mush!):

1. does your laptop have a LINE IN to go along with the MIC IN? The levels coming out of the scanner are bound to be too hot for the MIC IN, even at the lowest setting of the speaker output.

2. Might be getting some additional distortion due to impedance mismatch. Assuming the speaker output is 8 ohms, the LINE IN should be about 600 ohm, and the MIC IN is likely to be about 10K ohms. An audio step up transformer (8 to 600 ohms) might work if you can find that LINE IN jack. Radio Shack has some that should work.

Back in the early days of PSK31 when a lot of folks decided they wanted to try that "new" mode, they just plugged the speaker into the mic jack on the sound card with predictable results. Most have found the need for an impedance match, and I think that's going to be one of the answers for you, as well.
 

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