Topics

Which SPOT (or other satellite tracker)?


Ted
 

Hello,

I'm considering joining the club and adding a SPOT tracker to the traditional APRS tracking devices I use for balloon launches.  Questions:

1.  I see a variety of SPOT devices, with the Trace ad Gen3 models looking most appropriate for balloon use.  What are you all using, and why did you choose that one?

2.  Is there any way to subscribe to the required SPOT tracking service for shorter periods of time than a full year?  I only expect to use the service occasionally. 

3.  Anyone using RockBlock (or another Iridium approach) as a SPOT alternative?

Thanks.

Ted
K5KZ



Anthony Stirk
 

Hi Ted,

1.  I see a variety of SPOT devices, with the Trace ad Gen3 models looking most appropriate for balloon use.  What are you all using, and why did you choose that one?

IMHO SPOT aren't suitable for balloon use apart from being a backup tracker to something else like APRS or RTTY. They don't work above a certain altitude so certainly aren't suitable as a flight tracker. I'm not familiar with the different models, the other thing to watch is they don't work upside down. 

2.  Is there any way to subscribe to the required SPOT tracking service for shorter periods of time than a full year?  I only expect to use the service occasionally.  

I know some people rent them out but this is in violation of SPOT's T&C's

3.  Anyone using RockBlock (or another Iridium approach) as a SPOT alternative?

Rockblock is just the modem so you'll need to interface this with something. This is a much better approach that the SPOT as you can then utilise a GPS module that is known to work at altitude such as the Ublox modules and do fancy stuff like 2 way comms. Also you can sub on a month by month basis on this one. However you do need to design a tracker around it.

Cheers,

Anthony

On Sat, Jan 10, 2015 at 12:09 AM, tedmisc@... [GPSL] <GPSL-noreply@...> wrote:
 

Hello,

I'm considering joining the club and adding a SPOT tracker to the traditional APRS tracking devices I use for balloon launches.  Questions:

1.  I see a variety of SPOT devices, with the Trace ad Gen3 models looking most appropriate for balloon use.  What are you all using, and why did you choose that one?

2.  Is there any way to subscribe to the required SPOT tracking service for shorter periods of time than a full year?  I only expect to use the service occasionally. 

3.  Anyone using RockBlock (or another Iridium approach) as a SPOT alternative?

Thanks.

Ted
K5KZ




greg@bigredbee.com
 

3.  Anyone using RockBlock (or another Iridium approach) as a SPOT alternative?
Rockblock is just the modem so you'll need to interface this with something. This is a much better approach that the SPOT as you can then utilise a GPS module that is known to work at altitude such as the Ublox modules and do fancy stuff like 2 way comms. Also you can sub on a month by month basis on this one. However you do need to design a tracker around it.

My thoughts on the Iridium...

I've created a board that integrates an Iridium 9603 with a 32-bit Cortex-M4 CPU and some other bells and whistles, works like a charm, but:

- The Iridium 9603 is much smaller (and lighter)  than the 9602 used in the Rockblock, but otherwise functionally identical. The connector used on the 9603 is very small, and very fragile. I wonder how will it would stand up to the rigors of normal handling not to mention the  post-burst chaos unless it's very well protected.  I've seen at least one or two connectors fail for no apparent reason.

- I wonder how well the antennas for these modules work unless pointed straight up?  Not a problem for regular use, but I've heard that some have developed custom gimbals to keep the antenna pointed  up.

- In my opinion, it's difficult to get more than 1 packet through every 2-3 minutes due to retries and timeouts associated with failed comm attempts.

- My carrier lets me cancel service at anytime, but it does cost about $20 to activate (Nal Research).

All in all, this Iridium technology is very cool, especially since it lets you do two way communication, and doesn't require use of the APRS infrastucture.

Feel free to contact me off-list if you'd like more information about the boards I've created.

Regards,

Greg Clark


greg@bigredbee.com
 

I should also mention -- the board has an on-board  u-blox 7 GPS as well.

Greg

On Sat, Jan 10, 2015 at 4:56 PM, Greg Clark <greg@...> wrote:
3.  Anyone using RockBlock (or another Iridium approach) as a SPOT alternative?
Rockblock is just the modem so you'll need to interface this with something. This is a much better approach that the SPOT as you can then utilise a GPS module that is known to work at altitude such as the Ublox modules and do fancy stuff like 2 way comms. Also you can sub on a month by month basis on this one. However you do need to design a tracker around it.

My thoughts on the Iridium...

I've created a board that integrates an Iridium 9603 with a 32-bit Cortex-M4 CPU and some other bells and whistles, works like a charm, but:

- The Iridium 9603 is much smaller (and lighter)  than the 9602 used in the Rockblock, but otherwise functionally identical. The connector used on the 9603 is very small, and very fragile. I wonder how will it would stand up to the rigors of normal handling not to mention the  post-burst chaos unless it's very well protected.  I've seen at least one or two connectors fail for no apparent reason.

- I wonder how well the antennas for these modules work unless pointed straight up?  Not a problem for regular use, but I've heard that some have developed custom gimbals to keep the antenna pointed  up.

- In my opinion, it's difficult to get more than 1 packet through every 2-3 minutes due to retries and timeouts associated with failed comm attempts.

- My carrier lets me cancel service at anytime, but it does cost about $20 to activate (Nal Research).

All in all, this Iridium technology is very cool, especially since it lets you do two way communication, and doesn't require use of the APRS infrastucture.

Feel free to contact me off-list if you'd like more information about the boards I've created.

Regards,

Greg Clark


Bill Brown
 

Hi Ted,

  I've developed an Iridium board with built-in processor, u-Blox 7 GPS and is based on the SBD-9602 Iridium modem. I haven't tried the smaller 9603 module yet since it appeared to be more difficult to mount to a daughter board than the 9602 and more difficult to attach an antenna directly to a board. I've flown my Iridium prototype on 30 missions and it works great. No altitude limits as long as you configure the u-Blox for Air mode and works once it hits the ground and you can customize your telemetry output. I use a helical antenna (more expensive than a patch) but it does allow the payload to transmit successfully to the Iridium satellite network even when upside down or in odd positions while on the ground.

  The processor on my board is programmable in Arduino format so can be easily configurable. I had a problem finding a replacement antenna as good as the Sarantel ones that were discontinued and that has held up my production release, but I have finally found a helical antenna that works as well and just got them in. I also just received my new PC boards and am putting together the first production board so will be offering these soon online after I test them out. It's a real shame that Sarantel has gone belly up....it really caused a lot of grief and delay trying to find equivalent antennas out there.

  I have written a program that takes the emails you receive from Iridium, parses that info and then plots it onto APRS.FI just like it came from an APRS transmitter.

There is a monthly subscription that is more reasonable than a Spot and allows you 12,000 bytes of free data per month which is more than enough for several ARHAB flights. I also use NAL Research for the subscription plan as they are the most reasonable that I could find.

 I will let you know when I finish up this new board and when it will be available.

I recently flight tested a Spot TRACE unit. It didn't work at all during the ascent portion of the flight and didn't start working until below 38k feet. However it reported every 5 mins during the final descent and also reported the final landing location. It's small and lightweight and reasonably priced. However it will not report altitude or any telemetry and won't work above 38,000 feet or so. The older Spot units also work but are limited in altitude and do not report altitude either. If you hack a Spot Messenger and pay the expensive message units, you can send reports in any format but I have not tried that one out since the Iridium was more reasonable in cost to operate. I can get about 2 to 3 minute updates on the Iridium board but for best cost effectiveness I usually set it up for 5 minute intervals. Oh, one more advantage to the Iridium system is that you can email a command TO the balloon payload and have it activate things or change the data updates.

- Bill WB8ELK




-----Original Message-----
From: tedmisc@... [GPSL]
To: GPSL
Sent: Fri, Jan 9, 2015 6:09 pm
Subject: [GPSL] Which SPOT (or other satellite tracker)?

 
Hello,

I'm considering joining the club and adding a SPOT tracker to the traditional APRS tracking devices I use for balloon launches.  Questions:

1.  I see a variety of SPOT devices, with the Trace ad Gen3 models looking most appropriate for balloon use.  What are you all using, and why did you choose that one?

2.  Is there any way to subscribe to the required SPOT tracking service for shorter periods of time than a full year?  I only expect to use the service occasionally. 

3.  Anyone using RockBlock (or another Iridium approach) as a SPOT alternative?

Thanks.

Ted
K5KZ


Michael
 


I've been working with a friend of mine on a non-ARHAB project using the 9603 module. Bill's experience helped us with much appreciated pointers to get us going. For ARHAB I'd steer away from the 9603 unless you have extremely good talent with SMT as the connector is one of the finest pitch connectors I've ever worked with and I've been doing SMT since 1985... One of our proto boards recently fell over and the 9603's connector broke off ( not my mating connector ) so they are not likely going to hold up like the more mechanically robust 9602 used in Bill's design. I'm also using a helical antenna and am very pleased with the performance. I've watched Bill's flights and his design just keeps on running! I'm hoping to get one of his designs to replace the SPOT I've been using for my APRS backup as Bill's design will do much more and is not altitude limited. 

--Michael
K5NOT 


On Jan 10, 2015, at 8:02 PM, "wb8elk@... [GPSL]" <GPSL-noreply@...> wrote:

 

Hi Ted,


  I've developed an Iridium board with built-in processor, u-Blox 7 GPS and is based on the SBD-9602 Iridium modem. I haven't tried the smaller 9603 module yet since it appeared to be more difficult to mount to a daughter board than the 9602 and more difficult to attach an antenna directly to a board. I've flown my Iridium prototype on 30 missions and it works great. No altitude limits as long as you configure the u-Blox for Air mode and works once it hits the ground and you can customize your telemetry output. I use a helical antenna (more expensive than a patch) but it does allow the payload to transmit successfully to the Iridium satellite network even when upside down or in odd positions while on the ground.

  The processor on my board is programmable in Arduino format so can be easily configurable. I had a problem finding a replacement antenna as good as the Sarantel ones that were discontinued and that has held up my production release, but I have finally found a helical antenna that works as well and just got them in. I also just received my new PC boards and am putting together the first production board so will be offering these soon online after I test them out. It's a real shame that Sarantel has gone belly up....it really caused a lot of grief and delay trying to find equivalent antennas out there.

  I have written a program that takes the emails you receive from Iridium, parses that info and then plots it onto APRS.FI just like it came from an APRS transmitter.

There is a monthly subscription that is more reasonable than a Spot and allows you 12,000 bytes of free data per month which is more than enough for several ARHAB flights. I also use NAL Research for the subscription plan as they are the most reasonable that I could find.

 I will let you know when I finish up this new board and when it will be available.

I recently flight tested a Spot TRACE unit. It didn't work at all during the ascent portion of the flight and didn't start working until below 38k feet. However it reported every 5 mins during the final descent and also reported the final landing location. It's small and lightweight and reasonably priced. However it will not report altitude or any telemetry and won't work above 38,000 feet or so. The older Spot units also work but are limited in altitude and do not report altitude either. If you hack a Spot Messenger and pay the expensive message units, you can send reports in any format but I have not tried that one out since the Iridium was more reasonable in cost to operate. I can get about 2 to 3 minute updates on the Iridium board but for best cost effectiveness I usually set it up for 5 minute intervals. Oh, one more advantage to the Iridium system is that you can email a command TO the balloon payload and have it activate things or change the data updates.

- Bill WB8ELK




-----Original Message-----
From: tedmisc@... [GPSL] <GPSL-noreply@...>
To: GPSL <GPSL@...>
Sent: Fri, Jan 9, 2015 6:09 pm
Subject: [GPSL] Which SPOT (or other satellite tracker)?

 
Hello,

I'm considering joining the club and adding a SPOT tracker to the traditional APRS tracking devices I use for balloon launches.  Questions:

1.  I see a variety of SPOT devices, with the Trace ad Gen3 models looking most appropriate for balloon use.  What are you all using, and why did you choose that one?

2.  Is there any way to subscribe to the required SPOT tracking service for shorter periods of time than a full year?  I only expect to use the service occasionally. 

3.  Anyone using RockBlock (or another Iridium approach) as a SPOT alternative?

Thanks.

Ted
K5KZ


greg@bigredbee.com
 

I couldn't agree more regarding that connector -- I"m baffled as to why their engineers chose that one. Yes, it's small, but overkill IMHO given the # of connections and signal speeds associated with the interface. 

Greg K7RKT

On Sat, Jan 10, 2015 at 7:32 PM, Michael mw@... [GPSL] <GPSL-noreply@...> wrote:
 


I've been working with a friend of mine on a non-ARHAB project using the 9603 module. Bill's experience helped us with much appreciated pointers to get us going. For ARHAB I'd steer away from the 9603 unless you have extremely good talent with SMT as the connector is one of the finest pitch connectors I've ever worked with and I've been doing SMT since 1985... One of our proto boards recently fell over and the 9603's connector broke off ( not my mating connector ) so they are not likely going to hold up like the more mechanically robust 9602 used in Bill's design. I'm also using a helical antenna and am very pleased with the performance. I've watched Bill's flights and his design just keeps on running! I'm hoping to get one of his designs to replace the SPOT I've been using for my APRS backup as Bill's design will do much more and is not altitude limited. 

--Michael
K5NOT 


On Jan 10, 2015, at 8:02 PM, "wb8elk@... [GPSL]" <GPSL-noreply@...> wrote:

 

Hi Ted,


  I've developed an Iridium board with built-in processor, u-Blox 7 GPS and is based on the SBD-9602 Iridium modem. I haven't tried the smaller 9603 module yet since it appeared to be more difficult to mount to a daughter board than the 9602 and more difficult to attach an antenna directly to a board. I've flown my Iridium prototype on 30 missions and it works great. No altitude limits as long as you configure the u-Blox for Air mode and works once it hits the ground and you can customize your telemetry output. I use a helical antenna (more expensive than a patch) but it does allow the payload to transmit successfully to the Iridium satellite network even when upside down or in odd positions while on the ground.

  The processor on my board is programmable in Arduino format so can be easily configurable. I had a problem finding a replacement antenna as good as the Sarantel ones that were discontinued and that has held up my production release, but I have finally found a helical antenna that works as well and just got them in. I also just received my new PC boards and am putting together the first production board so will be offering these soon online after I test them out. It's a real shame that Sarantel has gone belly up....it really caused a lot of grief and delay trying to find equivalent antennas out there.

  I have written a program that takes the emails you receive from Iridium, parses that info and then plots it onto APRS.FI just like it came from an APRS transmitter.

There is a monthly subscription that is more reasonable than a Spot and allows you 12,000 bytes of free data per month which is more than enough for several ARHAB flights. I also use NAL Research for the subscription plan as they are the most reasonable that I could find.

 I will let you know when I finish up this new board and when it will be available.

I recently flight tested a Spot TRACE unit. It didn't work at all during the ascent portion of the flight and didn't start working until below 38k feet. However it reported every 5 mins during the final descent and also reported the final landing location. It's small and lightweight and reasonably priced. However it will not report altitude or any telemetry and won't work above 38,000 feet or so. The older Spot units also work but are limited in altitude and do not report altitude either. If you hack a Spot Messenger and pay the expensive message units, you can send reports in any format but I have not tried that one out since the Iridium was more reasonable in cost to operate. I can get about 2 to 3 minute updates on the Iridium board but for best cost effectiveness I usually set it up for 5 minute intervals. Oh, one more advantage to the Iridium system is that you can email a command TO the balloon payload and have it activate things or change the data updates.

- Bill WB8ELK




-----Original Message-----
From: tedmisc@... [GPSL] <GPSL-noreply@...>
To: GPSL <GPSL@...>
Sent: Fri, Jan 9, 2015 6:09 pm
Subject: [GPSL] Which SPOT (or other satellite tracker)?

 
Hello,

I'm considering joining the club and adding a SPOT tracker to the traditional APRS tracking devices I use for balloon launches.  Questions:

1.  I see a variety of SPOT devices, with the Trace ad Gen3 models looking most appropriate for balloon use.  What are you all using, and why did you choose that one?

2.  Is there any way to subscribe to the required SPOT tracking service for shorter periods of time than a full year?  I only expect to use the service occasionally. 

3.  Anyone using RockBlock (or another Iridium approach) as a SPOT alternative?

Thanks.

Ted
K5KZ