It's been a while since Estes sold a rocket camera - their last efforts, the Oracle and the Astrovision, did not exactly get rave reviews, as the camera tech was fairly dated at the time of their releases. The new Astrocam, released in Target stores about a month ago, follows in this trend with now years old 808 camera technology. However, unlike its predecessors, it is getting very good reviews, because Estes finally came up with a camera that is robustly packaged and very easy to use. The biggest downside is that you can only purchase the Astrocam as part of a starter set, which ups the price considerably - we will have to wait a bit before it is marketed as a standalone. There is a nice surprise though; the set includes a coupon for a free pack of Estes B6-4 motors, which takes a little bit of the wallet sting away.
|The Estes Astrocam starter set (Click to enlarge).|
I wasted no time grabbing an Astrocam starter set when they hit the Target shelves (after a bit of searching). It took about 20 minutes to build the rocket, which is a standard Estes ARTF with a plastic fin unit, pre-painted parts, and peel n' cuss stickers. The body tube - the same pearl white one used in the Alpha VI rocket - is a bit on the flimsy side and can be easily damaged. This rocket will do for the first couple of flights, but I am already designing a BT-50 model that will be much more robust.
|The camera (Click to enlarge).|
The camera is a small black unit that connects to a USB port for charging and downloading the videos - it shows up as an external disk on my computer, so you simply drag and drop the videos onto your hard drive. It takes a couple of hours to charge the camera, which is supposed to go for 40 minutes per charge. There is a 16 GB micro USB card included, which Estes claims will hold 90 minutes worth of HD 1920x1080 resolution videos, and the time is set by pushing an updated "time.txt" file to the unit, just like in some 808 keychain cameras. The camera features only a single button - pressing and holding it for 2 seconds turns the unit on and off (a blue LED indicates the camera is on), and a simple press starts the video going (the blue LED starts blinking). Pretty simple, and simple is good at the launch pad.
|The Astrocam nose cone and the slot for the camera |
(Click to enlarge).
|The camera mounted in the nose |
(Click to enlarge).
Estes engineered a special BT-50 based nose cone to hold the camera. As you can see from the images, the camera fits in a slot in the nose, pointed down towards the rocket's tail. The fit is good and snug, but Estes also added rubber band attachment points to ensure the camera stays in place. No masking tape with this one! There is a hole at the top of the cone, to which one ties a string that in turn ties to the parachute; this keeps the camera pointed down at the ground during descent. I like this design very much, even if the white string is a bit unsightly.
I haven't been able to fly my Astrocam as of yet, but there are videos cropping up all over YouTube. The quality is good, and my only complaint is that the rocket body tube takes up some real estate at the side of the frames. The pearl white can also cause glare in the bright sunlight, which doubles my resolve to build a new carrier rocket. Altimeter measurements made by some of the guys on the rocket forums put the peak altitudes around 300 feet on a B6-4 and just over 600 feet on a C6-5. You can also use Q-Jet motors as well - the stock rocket will break 900 feet on a C12-6.
The Astrocam - a great way to easily experience video from rockets. Available for $60 in your local Target store (not available through the Target website) or $80 directly from Estes.