Saturday, July 30, 2011

ServoChron™ UART Diagnostics Mode Revealed!!!

U.S. Water Rockets has released the MSP430 Application UART Driver package for the MSP430 LaunchPad based  ServoChron™ Dual Servo Parachute Recovery Controller UART Diagnostics Mode!
ServoChron(tm) 2 Dual Servo Rocket Parachute Recovery System

This mode is the first in a series of special "easter eggs" included in the  ServoChron™ 2 firmware that you can use to take advantage of new technology never before seen in a Water Rocket Servo Controller or Timer. Not even pricey prefabricated timers seen advertised all over the internet have such advanced features as the FREE ServoChron™ 2!
To take advantage of this new feature, you will need to download a terminal emulation program (if you do not already have one as part of your Windows installation) as well as the MSP430 Application UART Serial Port Drivers for the MSP430 LaunchPad. See the documentation at the link below for more information!

The ServoChron™ 2 can communicate directly with a personal computer using the MSP430 Application UART which is built into the MSP430 LaunchPad. This feature provides USB to RS-232 conversion hardware connected to the MSP430G2231 microcontroller which communicates over a backchannel link over the USB debugger interface. With this mode, you can get a readout of all the current settings as well as diagnostic error codes which may help in troubleshooting.
Follow this link to the WRA2 Water Rocket Forum Topic where you can download the MSP430 Application UART Drivers and get the instructions!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

FREE Dual Servo Recovery Controller Firmware Now Available!

U.S. Water Rockets proudly presents the first firmware update for the exceptionally popular  ServoChron™ Servo Timer Parachute Recovery Controller. The new firmware update effectively doubles the functionality of the Original $4.30 ServoChron™, and it can all be yours for the incredibly low-low price of FREE!

ServoChron™ 2 Features:· Dual servo control
· Built on ultra-affordable MSP430 LaunchPad Platform ($4.30)
· Operates on 3.7V-10V DC. You may use various power sources from a single lightweight Lithium Polymer rechargeable cell up to a standard 9V battery.
· User defined servo positions for each servo
· User programmable delay for each servo from 0.000 to 30.000 seconds in 1 millisecond increments
· USB Firmware update (with included cable! No special programming hardware to buy!)
· Edge sensitive trigger input with automatic polarity detect
· Trigger input capable of sensing contact open or close events shorter than 10 nanoseconds
· Innovative 2-button operator interface with easy to remember setup
· 3 Status LEDs
· UART (Serial) diagnostics mode
· Dimensions: 2.0 x 2.6 inches (50.80 x 66.04 mm)
· Weight : 0.635 oz (18 grams)
· Includes testing and arming operational modes
· Fully RoHS compliant. Contains legal levels of lead and hazardous materials
· Revised and improved instructions!

Purchasing information:
The ServoChron™ 2 firmware costs NOTHING including FREE Download. 

You will need to purchase your own MSP430 LaunchPad board, servos, and battery. See the assembly
section of the user manual for full parts list and prices. The total Bill of Materials for a complete dual deploy system,
assembled, and ready to fly will be approximately $15US.

To see the ServoChron™ 2 in action, check out the youtube video:

For complete instructions for building and operating your own ServoChron™ 2, click the following link: ServoChron 2 Tutorial and Downloads Page

If you have questions or suggestions for new features, drop us a line at the ServoChron™ 2 Topic at the WRA2 Water Rocket Forum.

In closing, we would like to thank everyone in the community for their feedback and suggestions. We believe that this new update will address the comments we have received.

Thanks for the feedback!  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Affordable Water Rocket Servo Parachute Recovery System

U.S. Water Rockets is pleased to offer to the Water Rocket Community this groundbreaking design for  a servo operated parachute deploy Water Rocket recovery system!

One of the most challenging aspects of water rocketry is the design and operation of a reliable recovery system. Once you have mastered a working design that works every time, a whole new world of experiments opens up for you. You can fly altimeters and cameras without fear of breakage, or you can launch other experimental payloads or sensors nobody has even considered.  You may even choose to use the system to compete more effectively in egg-lofting or flight duration challenges, or perhaps even use it to qualify for a WRA2 World Record!

If you are new to Water Rocketry, please see our Water Rocket Construction Tutorials.

No matter your requirements, a reliable system that is affordable and easy to build has proved to be a hurdle that many people are frustrated by. We at U.S. Water Rockets felt that it was time to tackle this daunting problem with innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. We came up with a solution that we believe everyone can use!

Due to the enormous support and encouragement we have received from our friends and outstanding members of the community, we have released our idea as a FREE firmware package and schematic diagram which anybody can use to create a recovery system like the one shown below. 
U.S. Water Rockets officially announces the release of their free parachute servo timer deploy system software. The free ServoChron(tm) software download for the $4.30 Texas Instruments MSP430 LaunchPad board turns it into a servo controller anyone can use.
Often referred to by the generic term 'flight controller', the free ServoChron(tm) software creates a launch triggered delay servo timer for staging or recovery mechanisms. The operator controls enable very simple programming of this servo timer. 2 buttons and 3 LEDs are used to configure and program all functions. The built-in USB firmware updater allows for future free software enhancements to be downloaded with no special hardware.

To create the ServoChron(tm), you only need the MSP430 Launchpad, a Servo Motor, a LiPo battery, and a switch to detect launch. We have a tutorial on how to make an ultra lightweight launch detect switch.

To see the ServoChron(tm) in operation, please view the following video:

To download the MSP430 Firmware file for your own ServoChron(tm) servo deploy system, and the complete instructions for construction, operating and programming instructions are provided in the following link:
Water Rocket Servo Timer Deploy Assembly, Programming, and Operation Manual


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Aerial Photograph Camera Installation

A lot of people have inquired about the best way to mount a camera in their water rocket. The subject comes up over and over in discussions on the Water Rocket Forum and it seems that there are as many good answers to this question as there are people out there flying cameras on their water rockets.

We've put together a short discussion with an explanation of how we install our cameras on our WRA2 World Altitude Record holding water rockets. Our installation method comes from almost 10 years of experimentation and testing. If you are concerned about the forces that a camera will be subjected to in a water rocket launch, you can be assured that if you follow our methods you will not have any issues.
To begin with, you will need a small and lightweight camera. There are many tiny cameras to choose from and they are reasonably reliable and inexpensive enough that your wife won't make you sleep in the garage if you have to buy a replacement. These cameras produce adequate quality video at a decent frame-rate. It's amazing to see how the video compares to the ones we filmed 5 years ago!

One issue with many of these little cameras is the fact that the time-stamp feature that superimposes the date and time on the bottom of the video is switched on and cannot be disabled. We have a tutorial series on YouTube that explains a cool way to turn them off using the Texas Instruments MSP430 Launchpad Evaluation Kit and some simple soldering skills (don't worry, we walk you through it step-by-step in our video series).

Now, that you have the camera you will want to install it in your rocket. Our method is amazingly simple. We have constructed a section of our rocket which is designed to contain all of the electronics and batteries for the rocket flight. This section which we refer to as the Electronics Bay houses the flight controller and altimeter as well as the deploy electronics and the camera.
As you can probably tell from the image, the Electronics bay is made from a Fluorescent Tube Cover (a plastic tube sold as a protective shield for fluorescent light bulbs) which is wrapped in carbon fiber for strength. You could easily use fiberglass or some other reinforcing material on your own rocket or simply use a hollow bottle segment to house your camera. We use the materials we chose because our rocket can hit the ground at incredible speeds if the parachute does not deploy and we try and protect the electronics as much as we can. Even if our camera and altimeter are destroyed, our technicians can still extract the data from the memory chips and rebuild the video and altimeter graphs if the chips themselves survive the impact.
The way we mount the camera is really simple... we glue it to the inside of the tube. The trick is that we position the camera so that the buttons to control the camera and the USB port are accessible from the opening at the bottom of the tube. We can charge the camera with a laptop while downloading video, etc. and when we are ready to launch, we disconnect from the computer, arm the electrochemical deploy system, start the camera, and attach it to the rocket - then launch.
The only thing left to explain is how the camera can see through the body of the carbon fiber tube. Well, it doesn't record in x-rays so we do the next best thing - we position the camera so the pinhole lens opening lines up with the existing air vent hole that the barometric altimeter we use requires. If you position it carefully, you will be able to look right through a tiny hole like this. It is a lot simpler than trying to make a clear "window" in the side of the rocket (we know, because our older rocket cameras had huge lenses that needed a wide opening to see out of).

There you have it, we hope that you find this little discussion useful and inspiring.

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Project 3000 Update: Nozzle Perfection

Hello Water Rocket Enthusiasts!

In the above photograph, you can see we have finally perfected the new nozzle construction techniques we first imagined over a year ago. Instead of gluing graphite tubes together to form concentric nozzle shapes and then sanding them smooth, we were able to fashion a single piece nozzle unit from a single block of graphite.
We had been stymied for some time how we would be able to create the internal groove needed by our launcher holding mechanism, but we were able to get some assistance from a local trade school and in the process were invited to make use of the equipment and students to assist in any way they could.

We have one nozzle prepared so far, and another one one the way as a backup/spare. As you can see the nozzle fits perfectly into our FTC and forms the core of our newest rocket which we will be launching this summer. Work has really picked up now that spring is here, and we hope to begin wrapping shortly when the weather warms up a bit more.

We're also looking at making a  new front bulkhead for the FTC which would be more dome shaped, which would eliminate a weak point at the top of the rocket. We will be posting further updates on the rocket as we build, so check back soon for more info!

Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Aerial Photograph Panorama Tutorial

Many of you have asked us to describe how we created the amazing panoramic images from our aerial videos which we introduced to the Water Rocket community many years ago, and has since become a staple of water rocket websites worldwide. This update has been created to inform you that we have created a complete step-by-step tutorial discussing how anyone can make similar panoramas with free software that anyone can use!
We will begin with a little background information to preface this tutorial. Think of this as a little history lesson. We think a lot of you are like minded and would enjoy reading a bit of history.
A very large influence on our team and a major reason we got interested in water rockets is due to the fact that we are all huge NASA and ESA fans here at U.S. Water Rockets. We follow every one of their missions with a passion. We also love to imagine what it might be like to work on those missions. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we model our organization in ways which emulate the unsung heroes who design these missions, and have inspired us throughout our lives.
If you are interested in creating your own similar panoramas, please click this link to check out the complete tutorial on our website!