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Rocket Scientists Are Arduino at Heart
The Carbon Origins Apollo data logger board
The Carbon Origins Apollo data logger board

This is the story of a group of college students who moved to the Mojave Desert, bought a house, painted it white, and turned it into a makeshift lab. Then they went out to launch rockets.

Talking to Amogha Srirangarajan from Carbon Origins

But they ran into problems, when they launched their Neptune 2 rocket,

“Our rocket exploded, and we didn’t know why, we needed a data logger …”

and because they’re makers, and all the data loggers they could find were too expensive or just not right for the job, they went ahead and built their own.

The Phoenix 0.2.1 launch in the Mojave Desert

Their Apollo board is less than two square inches in size and is packed with sensors — eleven of them.

“We called it Apollo, because it has eleven sensors …”

The tiny six-layer board has an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and GPS, and can measure temperature, pressure, humidity, light (both UV and IR), and it records audio. But the board also comes with Bluetooth LE and wi-fi onboard, an SD Card for logging data locally, LiPo battery management circuitry, and it has an OLED screen and a vibrating trackball. If you count them up, the Apollo has over 200 components, all packed onto that tiny two-square-inch board.

Carbon Origins talking at MakerCon in New York

Based around the same ARM Cortex-M3 chip as the Arduino Due, the board will be part of the Arduino at Heart program, and is completely open source. The board will ship with software making use of their own Arduino library that gives access to all of the onboard sensors. However the extra GPIO pins, not used by the onboard sensors, are exposed for use and Carbon Origins will be producing a series of smart shields to make use of those extra pins.

The board is on display here at Maker Faire in New York this weekend, and will be arriving on Kickstarter in the next month or so, and we’ll be back talking to the Carbon Origins team when it does.



21 thoughts on “Rocket Scientists Are Arduino at Heart

  1. They haven’t even followed the basic safety precaution of launching from a pad with the brush cleared away.

    The brush in the desert is like kindling. It only takes a small wind to move embers from one clump of burning brush to the next, and the next thing you know you have acres and acres of desert on fire. Take a look at any site like Friends of Amateur Rocketry or the test sites at Mojave Air & Spaceport and you’ll see big areas cleared of all brush to avoid starting a fire. Or concrete flame trenches, or something.

    I’m all for Making but we also need to be Responsible makers and launching rockets with flammable things 2 feet away is not Responsible.

    If this rocket really went to 32,000 feet, was an FAA waiver in place?

    1. Hi Andrew,

      We did follow all the safety precautions set by the FAA and the local authorities. Environmental conditions for a safe launch is determined by various factors. We met all the safety criteria for the size and type of rocket engine used on our rocket.

      There was also an FAA waiver in place and the local authorities were on call during the launch.

      -Carbon Origins

  2. Anyone know what the max-g rating of their 3-axis accelerometer is? Not survivable rating, measurement rating.

    1. Hi Winston,
      The Max-G rating of the 3-axis accelerometer is +/- 16 Gs
      and low pass filter bandwidth 1kHz – < 8Hz

      The Survivable ratings for the accelerometer is 2,000G for <1ms and 10,000G for <200us
      There are also different operating modes for the accelerometer: Normal, suspend, low power, standby and deep suspend.

      Hope this answers your question and more.

    1. The current iteration of Apollo uses the CC3000.

      However we will be changing that in the next iteration. We are looking at smaller, better and more energy efficient alternatives. CC3100 and the new Atmel WiFi module are our top contenders.
      As for BLE, the current iteration has the CC2540.
      However we will be switching this to Nordic nRF51822

      It will be FCC certified.

  3. Dear CarbonOrigins; congrats, you have done an excellent job.It would would be great if you also include MICS 6814 multi-gas sensor, an IR temperature sensor and connectivity with external transceiver like TI 2.4/sub GHZ series (CC11XX/12XX etc).

    1. Dear Noman,
      we appreciate the compliment. We have put in a lot of engineering work into this.
      We are designing “daughter boards / shields / mods” that will plug into apollo and will allow you to add more sensors and modules to Apollo. We wanted to keep the sensors to the essentials.
      If we get a lot of requests, we will make a dedicated board with the additional features that plug into apollo.

  4. Dear Carbon Origins, Thanks for your kind reply. Can you please highlight when you are going to launch on kickstarter, I am anxiously waiting to buy one and for sure many others are too.

  5. Dear CarbonOrigins, it is 5 months since any update on your progress, please share if you have any plans to make this board available for us.

Comments are closed.


Alasdair Allan is a scientist, author, hacker and tinkerer, who is spending a lot of his time thinking about the Internet of Things. In the past he has mesh networked the Moscone Center, caused a U.S. Senate hearing, and contributed to the detection of what was—at the time—the most distant object yet discovered.

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