Tracksoar, an Arduino-Compatible APRS Tracker Board

Whether you’re talking about a high-altitude balloon, a model rocket, or even your drone, what goes up, must also come down. But sometimes, especially with when it comes to high-altitude balloons, down can be problematic.

Which is where Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) comes in, and if you don’t want to roll your own, perhaps the new Tracksoar V2 board.

The Tracksoar V2 board. (📷: Tracksoar)

The new Tracksoar board is built around the Microchip ATmega32u4, the same processor as the Arduino, and it can be programmed directly from the Arduino development environment. Tracking is provided by the onboard u-blox MAX-M8Q GNSS module, with super capacitor backup.

The board should be capable of reporting location, altitude, temperature, pressure, and humidity once a minute for up to 12 hours using 2×AA batteries, and when attached to the included Radiometrix HX1 Transmitter, the line-of-sight transmit range is reported to be in excess of 400 miles. In addition to the onboard sensors, the Tracksoar breaks out GPIO which should enable you to add your own sensors.

The Tracksoar is open source and the schematic, layout, and associated firmware files can all be downloaded, while a guide to programming the board in the Arduino environment is also available.

Solar Eclipse Path of Totality — Turner, Oregon (High Altitude Balloon at ~18,000 ft). (📷: Chad Casady)

Be aware that not all countries allow APRS transmissions. For instance, using this board in the UK is illegal, as the law prohibit radio amateurs from transmitting from an airborne vehicle. So if you’re based in the UK, rather than the US or elsewhere, you might want to look at Dave Akerman’s Pi-in-the-Sky project instead, which makes use of radio trackers operating in an ISM bands where airborne usage is permitted.

If you want to pick one up the Tracksoar costs $205, with an International version which does not have the normally included Radiometrix HX1 Transmitter, weighing in at slightly cheaper $175. Alternatively, if you’re feeling adventurous an unpopulated PCB is available in a fetching OSH Park purple colour for only $15. The board is currently in pre-order with units expected to ship towards the end of July.

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Scientist, Author, Hacker, Maker, and Journalist.

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Alasdair Allan

Alasdair Allan

Scientist, Author, Hacker, Maker, and Journalist.