The Tracksoar is a small, lightweight and ready-to-fly APRS tracker that’s simplifying high-altitude ballooning.
Have you ever wanted to capture your own stunning photos of Earth or collect atmospheric conditions from the edge of space? In an effort to reduce the amount and weight of electronic components required for high-altitude balloon launches, Mike Bales of the Santa Barbara Hackerspace has developed an open source, extremely lightweight APRS tracker.
Measuring just 2” x 0.75” x 0.5” in size, the Tracksoar is said to be the smallest, fully-integrated and ready-to-fly APRS tracker available today. And, it can work with just about any airborne platform capable of carrying a payload of 60 grams or more.
“We at the Santa Barbara Hackerspace have been involved in around a dozen weather balloon launches. We have had a lot of fun with these launches and learned a lot, but found some issues. Most of the commercially available APRS trackers are closed source, large, and heavy, all of which add to the complexity of launching a balloon. So we decided to do something about it,” Bales writes.
The Tracksoar boasts an ATmega328P running the Arduino bootloader, a 300mw transmitter, a GPS receiver and antenna, along with pressure, humidity and temperature sensors. The board transmits its location and sensor data once a minute over amateur radio bands (144.390MHz), although its transmission rate can be defined in its software. In terms of power, the tracker is extremely flexible — it can run on anything between 1.5V and 4.5V, ranging from a AAA battery to several double AAs.
Being so compact and lightweight, the Tracksoar requires less helium than its much larger weather ballooning counterparts and can even be employed with a model rocket, RC planes, helicopters and drone. What’s more, it’s simple enough to attach a separate camera so that you can take pics as often as you like from up above.
Not only is it ready for use right out of the box, Bales and its creators designed the tracker to be entirely customizable, hence its SPI/I2C headers for adding new functionalities. On top of that, FTDI and ICSP programming interfaces are available for modifying and updating the Tracksoar firmware.
The Tracksoar can provide near real-time location, altitude and atmospheric data straight from your airborne craft to the Internet. With sites like APRS.fi, you can also receive your data on any computer or smartphone, without a radio. Since it’s open source, the Tracksoar can be tailored for any specific project, and with its daughterboard, Makers can add almost any extra device to expand its sensors, input or output capabilities.
“The Tracksoar is built around the excellent and mature Trackuino project. We have modified their code and schematics and board a bit to make the Tracksoar as compact, lightweight, power efficient, and integrated as possible. The Tracksoar comes ready to nearly ready to fly, just add your Amateur Radio call sign and you’re ready to go,” Bales explains.
So, just how high can this baby go? To date, the team’s most successful test reached 108,000 feet in a matter of two and a half hours. Interested? Soar over to its Kickstarter campaign, where the Tracksoar is seeking $22,000. Delivery is slated for February 2016.