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The RockBLOCK Mk2 allows you to send and receive short messages from anywhere on Earth with a clear view of the sky and it works far beyond the reach of WiFi and GSM networks. Maybe you want to transmit weather information from mid-ocean? Or use it to control your robot in the middle of the desert? Perhaps you need to communicate in an emergency, when other networks might not be available? RockBLOCK can help you.
At the heart of RockBLOCK is an Iridium 9602 satellite modem. The RockBLOCK provides the 9602 with an antenna and an 0.1" header with power and data connections. The header includes an FTDI-compatible serial interface that you can connect directly to almost any microcontroller, or via FTDI Basic Breakout to a computer’s USB port. The RockBLOCK requires a 5V supply that can supply 470mA during startup, and 100mA continuously. Sleep mode can reduce this to 20uA. Alternatively you can power the RockBLOCK with a 3.7V Lipo battery that can supply up to 1500mA. See the Developer’s Guide below for more information.
Iridium is the only satellite network that allows transmission of information from any point on Earth – other networks have no coverage in the polar regions, and have intermittent or no coverage in other marine and land areas. Iridium has 66 satellites in orbit around the Earth, allowing coverage anywhere on Earth 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No other satellite network has truly global coverage. Messages sent via Iridium take just seconds to reach you, via e-mail or directly to your web-service.
Airtime for Rockblock units must be purchased from Rock Seven via the admin portal once the units are registered. You cannot use the devices with another Iridium airtime provider by default. If you would like to use it with another provider, you will need to pay an unlock fee of $60USD per modem.
Note: The RockBLOCK does require a monthly rental service to exchange information with the Iridium satellite network. You only pay for months in which you wish to use the RockBLOCK. No annual contract is required. Line rental costs £12GBP (about $15USD) per month and includes access to The CORE management system for managing your devices. The billing system is built into the CORE, and allows you to pay for only what you use. Check the CORE Information Page link in the Documents section below for more information.
If the command is AT+SBDWT=<some text> and the text exceeds 120 characters, the device returns "ERROR". If, instead the command is: AT+SBDWT - with NO = sign, the device returns the string "READY." At which point a string of up to 340 characters can be sent. The result code for successfully storing the message is "0" zero. A code of 1 indicates an error (timeout).
An emulator is available for testing your code without incurring costs by actually sending live data over the network. You can find it here: https://github.com/jmalsbury/virtual_iridium/wiki
If a board needs code or communicates somehow, you're going to need to know how to program or interface with it. The programming skill is all about communication and code.
Skill Level: Competent - The toolchain for programming is a bit more complex and will examples may not be explicitly provided for you. You will be required to have a fundamental knowledge of programming and be required to provide your own code. You may need to modify existing libraries or code to work with your specific hardware. Sensor and hardware interfaces will be SPI or I2C.
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If it requires power, you need to know how much, what all the pins do, and how to hook it up. You may need to reference datasheets, schematics, and know the ins and outs of electronics.
Skill Level: Competent - You will be required to reference a datasheet or schematic to know how to use a component. Your knowledge of a datasheet will only require basic features like power requirements, pinouts, or communications type. Also, you may need a power supply that?s greater than 12V or more than 1A worth of current.
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Based on 15 ratings:
5 of 5 found this helpful:
I am using this in a drifting buoy. Even on a pitching buoy, the modem never misses a transmission and nearly all messages are sent within a minute. Easy to use in Arduino even for a relative novice. Awesome product and I second the kudos to the Rock7 tech support team.
Update: You can see how it's being used here: http://mdbuoyproject.wixsite.com/default
One suggestion: If using this in a low-power project, consider using a MOSFET to turn the modem ON/OFF. The sleep pin does NOT prevent an initial 500 mA current draw upon initial power up.
4 of 5 found this helpful:
Very easy to get it working using the literature provided by Saprkfun and Rock7.com. I must emphasize on excellent customer care from Rock7.com.
5 of 7 found this helpful:
So Iridium modems are super expensive to run even though the regular ones only give me 9600baud. This unit is going into a Wave Glider (autonomous surface sampling vehicle) and I'm going to encode the heck out of data so that for a fraction of my normal iridium modem costs, I can send a heck of a lot of environmental data from the middle of the ocean. I've been using the DeLorme Expedition plan on a handheld, but with only a proprietary bluetooth interface, it wasn't a good match. This modem and SDK is going to make this project happen and give me the ability to monitor ocean environmentals constantly and for a fraction of the cost of other solutions.
1 of 2 found this helpful:
The RockBLOCK is an amazing little device with a great supply of datasheets / tech support / development info backing it up. Rock Seven seems to be a company that gets it...
Unfortunately, the Iridium module gives GPS coordinates that are ridiculously inaccurate. It's margin of error is about the size of an average US county. Not exactly the level of precision I was looking for.
CORE management system is great. Easy to use and quick to set up.
UPDATE: Hi Chris, thanks for the reply. It is clear after purchase that a GPS module needs to be added to provide precise positioning. Maybe in the video @ 3:49 there could be a little note saying "The coordinates provided are a rough approximation of your true location and not intended for precise positioning" Thanks again.
Hello and thanks for your review! It's important to know that the RockBlock is NOT a GPS and is not intended to give accurate GPS positions. The coordinates provided are a rough approximation of your true location and not intended for precise positioning. If you need accurate location data, you should look into using a GPS and transmitting latitude and longitude along with any other data you're sending. If you have any questions about this, shoot an email to email@example.com and we can put you in touch with someone that can provide a more thorough answer.
I am using these for Oceanographic research (for a university) . I used a little arduino board and a gps unit, put them in a little IP67 case and put them on free-drifting experiments out in the ocean. these things work just like you would hope. They send me their location at what ever interval i program in- hundreds of miles from shore. I have used them at both 5V and in 3.7V "lipo mode". There is a digital "on/off" pin that can put this into a sleep mode that draws microamps. RockBlock has really good customer service as well- super freindly, prompt responses. my original has taken a beating- still fires up and lets me know where it is. I am looking forward to the next version which will be much smaller. (based on the 9603) The online documentation is good, and there are some good sources for code and "github" and the like, and when you are done you can say you built a device that sends messages via satellite!
This thing was about the most easy to setup and use. Everything is well documented, and the online setup was awesome. You just type in a number and the unit is in your account; it was just that easy to get it working too. While there isn't a big payload of data, it is perfect for ensuring that you can always get data in or out when absolutely needed.
Would love to have an external antenna option in the same package!
For anyone interested in using this as a tracking system for balloons, it works. I used it to track a payload during the 2017 eclipse with great success. I think the turbulence of decent limited the number of successfully sent messages, but once things smoothed out at lower altitudes, tracking resumed. An external antenna option would be great.
Also, the IoT development for this is easy. I'm not a web developer, but it was straight forward to build a website that displays the tracking information on the google maps API.
If you forgive me some self promotion, the results of the balloon video can be seen here: Link to youtube video
Thank you for sharing that video! You captured some amazing footage. <3 SparkFun
Easy to set up and use sat comms device. Can be debugged from command line terminal before connected to device. Pricey but it works as advertised and is well documented. My first trip took me to three continents. My device was able to send text messages forwarded to emails wherever I could see the sky. Approx location included in message. Not for fast or bulk data.
The AT command set is easy to use. It took just a little while to understand the paradigm, but once I had the command sequence down I was off to the races.
I was very surprised that I could transmit and receive without putting the unit outside. It actually worked inside my office!
I wish it was cheaper to send and receive messages, but given I can communicate anywhere in the world it is still a bargain.
The RockBlock is pretty easy to use. Sending and receiving short burst data satellite messages is simple - it only takes two AT commands.
We are using the satellite modems with our own custom web service. The modems are configured to transmit data to our web service through a webhook url. The setup is simple and easy on Rock7 core.
At a minimum, you need to connect the TTL serial pins to your microcontroller. The IO pins let you turn the modem on and off, receive service indications, and check for incoming messages. The native 3.3V logic is 5V tolerant which means you don't need level translators for most microcontrollers.
0 of 1 found this helpful:
I have tried to connect from my raspberry pi using "screen /dev/ttyUSB0 19200" and I have tried with minicom. I have tried to connect from windows using putty. I have tried both of these using UART GPIO pins and with FTDI USB cable. Every time I get a blank terminal screen. I cannot send any commands to the device. It is billed as plug-and-play. I have to disagree. I have spent many hours trying to get this to work.Very frustrated. I should add, the folks at Rock7 have been responsive to my questions. I'll post if this gets resolved. ** Update** Turns out my board was faulty. I am guessing not a common occurrence based on other comments I have seen. Rock7 is sending me a new board without the modem so I can swap boards. Measuring voltage across the capacitor indicated the problem
** Final Update **
replacement modem arrived promptly. I was immediately able to communicate with the device. Plug -and-play is correct!
Works as expected easy as a GSM module, good transmittion rate even with bad conditions, but quite expensive to use for constant monitoring system, around 1 cent for each 50 bytes.
I bought RockBLOCK Mk2 to control an ArduPilot-based drone boat that uses SPLRadioRoom companion computer for SBD telemetry.
Wiring it and sending/receiving messages was pretty straightforward.
Mounting RockBLOCK Mk2 is not that straightforward. There is only one usable mounting hole. It's not clear how it is supposed to be mounted.