Estes Astrocam: drill hole to see LED?

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Grant_Edwards

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I'd been casually shopping for an LPR video camera for a while, and finally decided that the Estes Astrocam is about the smallest and lightest one that's readily available. It's also a pretty good deal at $30 — and that includes a 16GB SD card and a snap-together rocket. I needed some other snippets and planges from erockets.biz, so I broke down and ordered the Astrocam (it didn't really seem to increase the shipping much), and it arrived this afternoon. I'd never built a snap-together rocket before, so that provided 5 minutes of entertainment. :)

If you don't want to be seen flying a snap-together rocket, the nosecone with the camera mount will fit any BT50 rocket.

I've been playing with the camera a bit, and it seems like a pretty decent little camera: 1920x1080 with impressive detail and sharpness for the price. It's very handy that it's a USB mass storage device, so you don't have to fiddle with the SD card to get the video files onto your computer. It produces AVI files, and the codecs used are mjpeg and pcm (not the most space-efficient, but the files are easily re-encoded).

My one complaint is that the power/status LED is hidden underneath the plastic case. If I looked directly "into" the end of usb connector and shielded it from the light, I could just barely see some blue light leaking out though the crack between the edge of the plastic case and the side of the USB connector. There's no way it was going to be visible outdoors when mounted in the nosecone.

So I grabbed my pin vise and a jewelers file, and cut a little notch in the case. I got a bit careless and drilled into the circuit board a tiny bit (white round patch in the photo below right next to the connector edge). Luckily I didn't hit a trace, or it would have been time for a trip to the lab at work where there's a microscope and soldering irons with very tiny tips.

bar.jpg


The SMD LED (red arrow) is still back underneath the plastic a bit, but the LED has a broad enough beam pattern that's it's now easily visible:

IMG_20210927_195802017.jpg


Hey Estes, here's an idea I'll give you for free: mold a hole/notch in the plastic case so you can actually see the LED!

In order to provide video during descent, the parachute is attached to a string that's tied to the tip of the nosecone. [I'm thinking about doing the same thing on my Mercury Redstone so that the capsule lands on it's base instead of on the escape tower.] So, there's a notch down the side of the nosecone for the string to lie in during ascent, but that notch is way too small for the string provided, and it's a pretty tight fit getting the nosecone into the body tube with the string between the two — another job for the jeweler's file. After tripling the size of the notch, the string lies nicely in it, and the nosecone fits into the body tube properly. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they had originally specified a much thinner string when the nosecone was being designed.
 
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UhClem

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You will also need to modify the shroud on the nose cone. I drilled a hole in the camera case just like you did but forgot the nose.

I didn't much care for the shock cord attach scheme so I used a length of Kevlar tied around the motor mount. That of course meant two cords trying to fit into a too small notch.

Sadly, the camera is of the rolling shutter variety so motion will cause distortion in the image.
 

Grant_Edwards

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You will also need to modify the shroud on the nose cone. I drilled a hole in the camera case just like you did but forgot the nose.
My nosecone came with a hole (on both sides):

baz.jpg


The hole is a bit higher than the led, but if you look down at an angle, the LED is easy to spot

IMG_20210927_213248104.jpg


I didn't much care for the shock cord attach scheme so I used a length of Kevlar tied around the motor mount. That of course meant two cords trying to fit into a too small notch.
I don't like the shock cord mount either. With the cord coming through the BT wall horizontally it creates a lot more of an obstruction than the old tri-fold method. I may switch to a tri-fold paper mount with a chunk of kevlar string. Or maybe I can get the BT and fin can apart without wrecking the BT and figure out how to attach a kevlar string to the fin can. Or maybe I should just build a different rocket and stick the nosecone on that. I've got a set of laser-cut Semroc Astron Starlight fins just waiting to be used.
Sadly, the camera is of the rolling shutter variety so motion will cause distortion in the image.
That is sub-optimal for an application like a rocket, but I guess for the price it's not surprising.
 

Grant_Edwards

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I just couldn't abide the shock cord mount, so I detached the body tube form the fin can without causing noticeable damage (though I wouldn't recommend doing that more than once or twice). I've decided to build a baffle to which I can attache some kevlar. The initial plan is a quadruple half-moon. I don't have a long BT-50 coupler, so I'm going to try to build a free-standing one from 3mm bass ply "moons" and a couple basswood rails. I figure that's got about a 25% chance of turning out.

As always, the secret will be figuring out how to keep the pieces clamped in proper relative positions while the glue cures. I was hoping 1" PVC pipe would have an ID close enough to BT-50 that it could be used as a clamping form, but it's too big. Next try is a 4" piece of BT-50 slit open along the side and lined with wax paper. The smart money is betting that when the baffle is done the fit won't be good enough and I end up ordering a handful of baffles from qualman (there's no point in paying shipping on just one).
 

Grant_Edwards

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Hey Estes, here's an idea I'll give you for free: mold a hole/notch in the plastic case so you can actually see the LED!
A few days ago I sent a (less snarky) email to Estes pointing out that a number of customers found it necessary to drill holes in the camera case to see the LED and that it would be nice to mold a hole/notch in the case.

I got a reply today saying that they had already done that and the new ones would be shipping soon.
 

cerving

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I really like the new Estes management. The old one would have said, "We'll look at it after we exhaust our supply of 100,000 cases from China".
 

Joekeyo

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I was disappointed with the BT-50 size of the nose cone until it occurred to me that it fits a 24mm minimum diameter rocket. The BT-50 is just small enough to make me less confident about using a good (nylon), so I threw the minimum diameter idea away. Altitudes of over 2000' can be obtained on 24mm motors; so a JLCR is in order. I came up with this. My biggest question is how much of the camera angle will be blocked by the transition.
 

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