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Recovering rockets from a mile, with no tracker.

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BsSmith

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Are there any reliable ways to track a relatively small (2 inch diameter, 4 feet tall) rocket to a mile? The rocket is single deploy and I don't want to get a ham radio license to get a tracker for it.

I've already done a few things to make it easier to track.

I'm putting on an extremely shiny paint job to reflect the sun.

It's parachute is black and orange for light/dark contrast.

I'm getting a good pair of binoculars.

And if I can, I'll try to put a small smoke charge on it to fire at a lower altitude.
 

Lentamental

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It really depends on the type of field you have. If you are launching in corn or high grass, you are going to need a siren to wail at you, so that you can find it, once you get within 100', or a very large streamer, to rest on top. If its on lake bed, flat dessert, or similar, then you don't have those issues, but I would still suggest a large Mylar streamer to wave around and reflect all over the place.
Hope that helps some.
 

powderburner

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I agree with Lentamental,
I have found that it sometimes pays to have a long (15-20 ft) narrow streamer, made from aluminized mylar, added to the other recovery system. If you can stand the small weight addition and the small additional volume requirement, the glitter and reflections from the streamer can help you spot your rocket in the air. After it lands the streamer will usually tend to drape itself out in a downwind direction, and it can be very visible if it lays over the tops of some bushes, or hangs down from a tree.

The trick to the thing (for me, anyway) is usually to find a way to load and deploy this stuff without the streamer getting tangled up in the parachute.

Hey, it's cheap, and the batteries don't run out-
 
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powderburner

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And if I can, I'll try to put a small smoke charge on it to fire at a lower altitude.
I don't know why, but discussion of things like auxiliary smoke charges seem to get some people agitated about perceived NAR safety violations. I know that smoke charges are not intended to be "explosive." I know that it's weird to freely approve strapping on more motors (full of BP or APCP) but to condemn a smoke unit. I think it would be really really really helpful to have a statement from the NAR declaring one way or the other if smoke pots are OK for use in model rocketry.

It's also more complex; you will now need an altimeter or timer to "find" the lower altitude during descent, you will need an onboard system (and power source) to ignite the smoke unit, and you will want to be careful (in dry areas, at least) that the smoke unit does not set local ground cover on fire after landing. Maybe you're already OK with rocketry electronics, but if you have to go purchase stuff especially for this project you just ran your costs up $50 to $100.

And do you know how MESSY those things are? (should we just go ahead now and start calling you "orange boy"?)
 
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privateer

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Good quality binocs are definitely good to have. But...I have a quality 8x42 binoc, and will occasionally still lose smaller rockets well below a mile if they are fast movers with a long coast (tracking smoke burnt out)...they just get smaller, smaller, smaller, gone. These aren't tiny rockets either; just on the smaller end of the MPR spectrum.
 

n5wd

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Are there any reliable ways to track a relatively small (2 inch diameter, 4 feet tall) rocket to a mile? The rocket is single deploy and I don't want to get a ham radio license to get a tracker for it.
While I'm sure that the hi-viz streamers and tracking smoke will help, I don't think that anyone would say that there is a 100% reliable way to track such a small rocket, optically, to a mile. This weekend, I watched a very experienced rocketeer launch a smallish rocket (IIRC 2 " diameter X about 24 inches tall) on a large F, expecting it to go up 6,000 AGL. Instead of going straight up, though, it headed south, and had he not had a tracker installed, it wouldn't have been found. We've all seen, and probably have experienced ourselves, instances where we've lost rockets the same way.

So, I'm curious - given the availability of a darned near foolproof way to find your high performance rocket, why wouldn't you want to go that route? (Disregard the fact that there are some solutions that don't require you to have a ham license - they're just a lot more expensive).
 
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BsSmith

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So, I'm curious - given the availability of a darned near foolproof way to find your high performance rocket, why wouldn't you want to go that route? (Disregard the fact that there are some solutions that don't require you to have a ham license - they're just a lot more expensive).
I looked into getting GPS for it, but $600 for the reciever and $200 for the transmitter is way too much.

For the HAM license, I don't think I can get one due to my age, and my dad doesn't want to get one. If I can get one at 15 years old, that would be great, the rocket even has a reasonably sized payload bay that was originally designed for a tracker.
 

sylvie369

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I looked into getting GPS for it, but $600 for the reciever and $200 for the transmitter is way too much.

For the HAM license, I don't think I can get one due to my age, and my dad doesn't want to get one. If I can get one at 15 years old, that would be great, the rocket even has a reasonably sized payload bay that was originally designed for a tracker.
There's no reason why you can't have a Ham license. There are plenty of 15 and younger Hams. You should look into it.

As for your question, one of the best ways to increase your odds of finding your rocket is to have a lot of eyeballs looking for it. I'd have lost countless rockets by now if I flew at launches with only a couple of people present.
 

n5wd

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For the HAM license, I don't think I can get one due to my age, and my dad doesn't want to get one. If I can get one at 15 years old, that would be great...
OK, first things first. If your Dad won't allow you to get your ham radio license, well.. that's it, until you're 18. Gotta go with the parental units. But, if your Dad's just unsure of whether you (a) can get a license at your age and/or (b) isn't sure what you'd be getting involved with if you got your license, I may be able to help with that.

I teach high school here in Fort Worth (Texas).. multimedia and engineering. In addition to having been a ham since I was in high school (more than 40 yers ago - yeah, we even had television and indoor toilets, then! :neener: ), I sponsor the school's ham radio club, and teach a unit on ham radio to my engineering students and the license class to non-engineering students who are interested in ham radio, as well. So, I do have a little bit of experience with explaining ham radio to parents who are seriously hearing about it for the first time.

See the pix below? That's my last class of kids, as young as 14 if I remember right, that got their license. There's no age limit to it, and the only cost is for the testing fee (usually about $14 if you study and pass the test the first time). If your dad has questions about what it's all about, or how much money you might have to invest, shoot me an email (my school address is in my signature line) and maybe your Dad and I can get together on the phone or via email.

BsSmith said:
I looked into getting GPS for it, but $600 for the reciever and $200 for the transmitter is way too much.
Using a GPS IS possible, using the Bee/GPS unit and a handie-talkie that decodes GPS data packets. But, there's an easier way that's been used since the first days of radio: direction finding (also known as DFing).

Basically, you point a directional antenna in the direction of a transmitter, and that's the way you go walking. It's not as easy or quick as using a GPS unit that tells you where the rocket landed, but it's a lot less expensive. With a little bit of scrounging and some effort on your part, you could build a directional antenna for less than $10 in parts, find a used ham walkie talkie for about $100, and build your own transmitter, or purchase one for less than $100. That's a lot less than what a GPS system would run you.

But, your age does bring up another question for me: you said you wanted to build a 2-inch rocket that would go up to a mile. That's probably going to require the use of a rocket motor in the H or I impluse class, both of which are not available to you until you're 18, unless you have an already high-power certified flyer that's willing to sponsor you for the NAR Junior High Power Certification. Is that the case?

There are some alternatives, as well... especially if you're going to be flying with a club (and I'd really recommend finding a club to fly with!!!) where folks already have the receivers you need to track rockets - then all you'd need is a transmitter of your own and borrow the club's receiver. All kinds of possibilities.

That help any?

NHS_2008_Technicians_web.jpg
 
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BsSmith

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I teach high school here in Fort Worth (Texas).. multimedia and engineering. In addition to having been a ham since I was in high school (more than 40 yers ago - yeah, we even had television and indoor toilets, then! :neener: ), I sponsor the school's ham radio club, and teach a unit on ham radio to my engineering students and the license class to non-engineering students who are interested in ham radio, as well. So, I do have a little bit of experience with explaining ham radio to parents who are seriously hearing about it for the first time.
If I can get one that would be great. My dad doesn't mind me getting one, he just doesn't want to get one himself. I'll look up the process and start studying for the test.

But, your age does bring up another question for me: you said you wanted to build a 2-inch rocket that would go up to a mile. That's probably going to require the use of a rocket motor in the H or I impluse class, both of which are not available to you until you're 18, unless you have an already high-power certified flyer that's willing to sponsor you for the NAR Junior High Power Certification. Is that the case?
Yes, I am Jr. L1 and my dad is L1, so I have a sponsor for it.

There are some alternatives, as well... especially if you're going to be flying with a club (and I'd really recommend finding a club to fly with!!!) where folks already have the receivers you need to track rockets - then all you'd need is a transmitter of your own and borrow the club's receiver. All kinds of possibilities.
I belong to a club, but I don't think they have a reciever.

That help any?
Yes, very much. Thank you.
 

hardinlw

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I built several 29mm rockets flown on G engines to around a mile high. I could see them all the way up, but don't blink. Good sunglasses will help. The problem always came with finding them on the ground. While I might get the line of sight correct, my depth perception was usually off. On bare ground, I could find the rocket. With any kind of crop cover or even tall grass, there is no way you would ever see it unless you were right on top of it. Beepers are fine if you can get within 100' or so. At LDRS-28, I flew a 2" rocket to 10k and saw it land. I was way off in my perception of how far out in the field (the potato field for those who were there) it landed, but with the DF gear (Comm Spec), I walked right to it.
 

sylvie369

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I belong to a club, but I don't think they have a reciever.
I'll bet that someone in your club is a Ham, though, and has a suitable receiver. If you get your license and a $60 Big Red Bee transmitter, anyone who has a handheld receiver that can get the 70cm band should be able to help out. You'd also need a directional Yagi antenna on that receiver - the Ham you talk with may already have one.

I'd check around in the club and see if anyone can help you out.
 

n5wd

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If I can get one that would be great. My dad doesn't mind me getting one, he just doesn't want to get one himself. I'll look up the process and start studying for the test.
Well, go to www.hamelmer.com and look for the Technician Study Guide in the downloads section. It's a .PDF file, it's free, and will help you with the information you need to pass the test. Check for local exam locations at www.arrl.org - you should be able to find any number of exam possibilities in your area. (BTW - an "Elmer" in ham speak is someone that mentors another person).

I belong to a club, but I don't think they have a reciever.
I know you've heard this before, but don't assume - ask! Like Sylvie mentioned, there may be a ham in the rocket club who has everything you need. If not, I'll bet someone can point you in the right direction.

Let us know what happens, ok? And, by the way, good luck with the project! Some of my kids'll be building a little bit larger rocket to take a payload with a science experiment up to one mile - probably a 3-6" rocket flying a "K" motor.

By the way - have you looked in to getting a TARC team started at your school?
 

BsSmith

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Well, go to www.hamelmer.com and look for the Technician Study Guide in the downloads section. It's a .PDF file, it's free, and will help you with the information you need to pass the test. Check for local exam locations at www.arrl.org - you should be able to find any number of exam possibilities in your area. (BTW - an "Elmer" in ham speak is someone that mentors another person).
Great study guide, I'll start working on that.

I know you've heard this before, but don't assume - ask! Like Sylvie mentioned, there may be a ham in the rocket club who has everything you need. If not, I'll bet someone can point you in the right direction.
Yes, probably. I'll look around for one.

Let us know what happens, ok? And, by the way, good luck with the project! Some of my kids'll be building a little bit larger rocket to take a payload with a science experiment up to one mile - probably a 3-6" rocket flying a "K" motor.
Sounds like fun!

Is it an SLI rocket?

By the way - have you looked in to getting a TARC team started at your school
Yes I have, last year I tried to start one but I couldn't find where to go before the deadline. Maybe this year.
 

n5wd

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Is it an SLI rocket?
Yes, after two years of pretty good success in TARC, we made it into the SLI this year for the first time!

... I tried to start one but I couldn't find where to go before the deadline. Maybe this year.
"Where to go"? If you mean the TARC contest site / rules / etc.? That's www.rocketcontest.org . Or, if you mean as to where to find a sponsor at the school, then now is the time to start talking with physics teachers, other science and/or math teachers, any career and technology teachers in the school, check with the principal, etc. The average teacher might defer (besides probably having a couple of extracurricular activities that they sponsor) because they think they don't know enough about rocketry, but that's what the NAR club mentor is for. And, start talking with the rocket club to find someone that wants to work with the kids on a weekly (important!!!) basis.

Just remind them that finalist teams go to Manassas, Virginia (just outside of Washington DC) for the finals in April (when the weather is usually just right for the capital!), if they need a push as far as "what's in it for me?" headbang:
 

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From a price point the comm spec tracker transmitter alone, is what a 125$ maybe a hundred. And it would be hard not to find a receiver at a decent launch. I started out with a transmitter only, and then got the receiver for xmas. Santa likes me.
 

troj

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A tracker (BigRedBee is what I'd suggest) is a great way to go, and will benefit you in the long run. You can have license, transmitter and receiver setup for under $200 if you shop eBay for the radio and make your own Yagi).

That said, if you don't want to get the Ham license, don't have time, don't have the cash, whatever....look at the Pratt Micro Beacon. It's not very loud, but you'd be amazed at just how well you can pick it up at at a distance.

-Kevin
 

RimfireJim

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I built several 29mm rockets flown on G engines to around a mile high. I could see them all the way up, but don't blink. Good sunglasses will help. The problem always came with finding them on the ground. While I might get the line of sight correct, my depth perception was usually off. On bare ground, I could find the rocket. With any kind of crop cover or even tall grass, there is no way you would ever see it unless you were right on top of it. Beepers are fine if you can get within 100' or so. At LDRS-28, I flew a 2" rocket to 10k and saw it land. I was way off in my perception of how far out in the field (the potato field for those who were there) it landed, but with the DF gear (Comm Spec), I walked right to it.
There was a good article in the Apogee newsletter about this subject. I don't know which issue, but I think it was sometime within the last year. It explored some of the common errors people make when trying to locate the landing spot, and some ways to remedy them. Worth a read.
 

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I have to agree that with that small of rocket at a mile altitude, some type of transmitter and Direction Finding receiver is probably your best bet, but since you asked about methods without a tracker......

I think your initial list is pretty good. The binoculars are probably the most important. I have a pair that is a 8x to 15x zoom. They work very well because you start at 8x and zoom as needed. It kind of works like the finder scope on a telescope. The low power lets you find the rocket and then zoom in to track it.

I've had a flight to 6,810 with a 2.25 OD 53" tall rocket. It did have dd so I put the fuse of a smoke into the ejection powder and it left a smoke trail the whole way down. The smoke quit 100ft from the ground. I'm not sure how you would light one if you were using motor ejection. You would need to get the ejection charge to light the fuse.

The other thing I did was use a 8" x 80" streamer as a drogue. This worked well until the streamer let loose about 1/3 the way down. In your case, you might be able to use a streamer instead of a chute. Just make sure the streamer is of very good quality and won't come loose on the way down.

The best method, lots of eyes on it, with or without binoculars. A recovery reward might help get the maximum number of eyes on it too.
 

sylvie369

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At a launch here yesterday I'll bet at least 6-8 rockets were recovered grace of the old "lots of eyeballs" method. There is no substitute for having a lot of people watching for your rocket.

And then on the other hand, we had a guy fly a successful L3 cert flight to several thousand feet...and then stick a beautiful landing no more than 30 feet from the pad he'd launched from. Nice to be that lucky once in a while, especially when you're flying a really heavy rocket.

Edit: Okay, apparently everyone else says it was more like 100 feet. Still, he landed mighty close to the pad.
 
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AX1

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Flashin WeeBee cannot be heard for a mile however, you would hear it (during the night see it) when rocket is descending.

Check out this video.

On my desk I am testing a Mega beeper with 105 dB :cool: which is so loud that it's unbearable to test in the room.
 
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Marsman

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What about a bag of chalk powder or something similar released at apogee?
 

JimJarvis50

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I haven't seen it mentioned, but one technique that I find very handy is to use the Garmin Vista gps unit with the sight-n-go feature. Assuming you have a visual line, you point the unit at the target and put in a gps line that stays fixed. Then (and this is the key step), you walk toward the target to get the error in the line. For example, you might walk 200 feet towards the target and determine that you're 5 feet to the right of the gps line. Then, at 2000 feet out, the "real" line is 50 feet to the right of the gps line. With a little practice, you can walk right up to rockets that are a mile or more out, even if you have to walk around something to get there.

Jim
 

Threemorewishes

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20 inch tall rocket to 7000 feet AGl and I walked right to it with my Walston Tracking unit. After the motor burns out you do not see a 20 inch tall rocket for very long. Best rocketry money spent so far.

 

The EGE

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I recovered a 17" tall 29mm minimum diameter Machbuster, tan colored, from 4000 feet, by myself, at NERRF 5. It had no tracking system, and it was absolutely invisible past 0.3 seconds into the flight.

I put about 1oz of tracking powder in it. This produced a cloud of smoke visible 4000 feet below on the ground. I had really strengthened the thing with wood glue, so I was confident it could withstand a high landing speed. I used a 2" by 40" streamer (stolen from an Estes Comanche-3) that gave a descent speed around 25-30 fps with little to no drift.

It arced over a bit on the flight; I found it right along the line I sighted it on about a quarter-mile from the pad, undamaged.

My advice? Epoxy the heck out of it and use a smaller chute / streamer than you should. As long as it's not a cert flight, 20-25 fps is safe for a small rocket and won't damage anything. Launch on a calm day or directly into the wind so you can get a good line. Use lots of tracking powder. Paint it red, or black. Launch on short grass with lots of people watching. Use a motor with lots of tracking smoke.

/my rambling
 

troj

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My advice? Epoxy the heck out of it and use a smaller chute / streamer than you should. As long as it's not a cert flight, 20-25 fps is safe for a small rocket and won't damage anything.
I disagree with this.

If the parachute is smaller than you'd be willing to use on a cert flight, then it's too small for the rocket for any flight.

-Kevin
 

The EGE

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I disagree with this.

If the parachute is smaller than you'd be willing to use on a cert flight, then it's too small for the rocket for any flight.

-Kevin
It depends. For a cert flight, I want everything to be absolutely undamaged guaranteed. Damaged is just as unsucessful as landing in a tree, so I'm going to choose a larger chute that keeps it at or under 15 fps even if that means it's going to drift a long way. For any other flight, I want my rocket back, and I'm willing to risk a slightly harder landing to get it to come down in the field.

I don't mean to promote unsafe flights, and I suppose I should have clarified a bit.
 

Green Arrow

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Can you fly with a club that rents out the trackers?

Our club rents out both the transmitter and reciever for people to use....
 

BsSmith

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I've been looking up smoke flares to put in this, and it seems like all the one's I've been finding are too large to put in a rocket this size. Is there a place that sells smaller smoke flares or can they be taken apart and put into a smaller package?

If not, a large amount of bright colored tracking powder seems like a better option.
 
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