So, you’ve thought about doing your own balloon flight, but don’t know how to make a radio tracker? Read on …
What you could do, and this has possibly been recommended to you as a “good thing”, is buy a GSM/GPS tracker. Please don’t. They’re a good way of spending £40 and losing your payload completely, which is exactly what will happen if your flight lands outside of good GSM coverage.
You may have even thought of splashing out on something like a SPOT tracker that uses a satellite system instead of GSM. Well, those work more often, but if your payload land upside down then you’ve now lost a £300 tracker as well as your cameras etc.
The best solution by far is to use a radio tracker. These do require some understanding of electronics and software, and if you have any aptitude at all in these areas then go read the UKHAS wiki and come join us in the chatroom (linked to in the wiki). Most people there make their own tracker shields for Arduino, some make their own complete tracker PCBs, and some make trackers based on the Raspberry Pi. If this sounds like what you want, then you can get modules such as GPS receivers and radio transmitters, all of which have been used by me or other HAB enthusiasts, from the HAB Supplies store.
However, if you’re daunted by the prospect of using a soldering iron then there’s a solution, in the form of a ready-made shield for Arduino boards:
This is a new board that’s being flight-tested very soon and should be available soon after. It operates using the unlicensed UHF radio system for use in the UK and other countries, or the APRS system for use in countries that allow it (not, sadly, the UK). APRS requires that the operator have an appropriate amateur radio license. For more details see the HABDuino web site.
Finally, whatever tracking solution you opt for, you will of course need a balloon and parachute and for those and other bits and pieces visit the Random Solutions web site.
Or, if you have something interesting to fly and want someone to do all this for you, drop me an email (see my contact page).