Model Rocket with horizontal HD video keychain camera

Picture of Model Rocket with horizontal HD video keychain camera
This is an instructable for modifying a model rocket with a payload bay to carry a keychain HD video camera horizontally (pointing out) instead of vertically (pointing down). I decided to take on this project after seeing many cool videos of rockets with on-board video cameras, but they tend to face the camera downward.  That is a great view but I wanted to see what a video would look like with a camera facing horizontally.

This instructable assumes you know the basics of building and launching model rockets. It is easy to learn and get started.  I've skipped the steps of building the rocket as those steps will follow the instructions included with the rocket aside from the rocket parts involved with this instructable.

**Important - Substitutions can be made for the model rocket being used or the keychain camera model, but doing so may alter these steps.  If you change anything, be prepared to perform slightly different modifications to get your camera to fit properly. Research never hurts either.**

Items needed:
Model Rocket - For this Instructable I used an Estes Reflector since it has a payload bay. I also did extensive research to make sure the payload bay diameter [1.33 in. (34 mm)] was wide enough  to hold the keychain camera [~32 mm wide without case].
Note: I upgraded my parachute to a larger spare 18" chute we had laying around to slow the rocket descent with the camera on board.  This increased the time it takes for the rocket to come down and could be problematic in a small launch area if wind is present.  The stock parachute should be fine with camera on board.

Keychain Camera - Most keychain cameras will fit as you will have to remove the case.  This guy's site has everything you need to know about the various models and is a must read: For my purposes I selected the #11 808 ($30) model since it has true 720p HD video. I purchased it from eBay.  Some camera models "claim" to have 720p or better HD video but they actually convert lower quality video up to HD video, so do your research on other models.  Also be mindful of the frame rate.  The #11 has a 30 fps (frames per second) frame rate which isn't bad for such a small HD camera.  Some cameras only do 15 fps which I would find unacceptable for something as fast as a rocket launch.  Look for 30 fps or better.

Video Editing Software - There are plenty of free options on the internet. I used Windows Movie Maker.

Memory Card - Micro SD. Class 4 or better to handle the volume of HD video data. I used 4gb capacity. A USB card reader will make your life easier as well.

Foam Ear plugs - A pair or more.  These are for securing the camera in the payload bay, not for your ears!

Tools for constructing the rocket (consult your manual for complete list):
-Glue (Elmers or other strong general purpose glue)
-Sandpaper, preferably a sanding block
-Xacto knife
-Spray Paint - however you wish to paint your rocket. I used flat black and metallic gold.
-Masking tape
-Pinstriping tape - optional but makes cleaner, more uniform paint stripes than masking tape.

Tools for modifying the rocket in this instructable:
-A saw. I used a hacksaw
-Glue (Elmers or other strong general purpose glue)
-Sandpaper, preferably a sanding block
-Xacto knife
-Small, sharp kitchen knife
-Dremel - to cut a nice hole for the camera lens. An Xacto knife could probably be used instead if a Dremel is not available.
-Pen or pencil
-Small phillips head screw driver, like the type for eye glasses.

Videos of my launches:

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seamster3 years ago
Nice work!

I'm actually working on something similar right now! (think: scratchbuilt + three E size motors + completely internally-housed gopro)
boot2skull (author)  seamster3 years ago
I have a GoPro and that would make for a better camera if you can manage it! Three Es should have no problem lifting that.
It's coming along nicely. I'm getting pretty excited to launch it!
Here it is, in case you're interested: GoPro Model Rocket
boot2skull (author)  seamster3 years ago
Thanks for sharing. Great Instructable and impressive final result and video. Putting the camera in the body gave the camera great stability during chute deployment.
bradley96b3 years ago
maybe a prism lens to get the downward view would be cool
lime3D3 years ago
Looks like fun. Could you add a mirror, so that you get it pointing down for liftoff?
boot2skull (author)  lime3D3 years ago
Yes, that's real possibility I didn't consider! That is very doable and adds a lot of flexibility to the rocket. The lens is tiny so a small mirror should do. This would also give the rocket better balance than strapping the entire camera to the outside of the rocket.

I may look into engineering this and post instructions later. One possibility I'm imagining is to set up the mirror such that it allows the camera to view downwards for launch, and after parachute deployment (when the camera & mirror would hang upside down and film the sky) the mirror moves out of the way to allow a horizontal view towards the horizon during descent. The mirror would be mounted to use gravity and launch forces hold it in place, and inverting it would move the mirror out of the way. The mirror just needs to be movable yet attached to the rocket.
You'd be surprised how little a camera strapped to the outside will affect the rocket's flight. I've launched some 4' long rockets on Aerotech F class motors and they easily break 1000 feet.

Still, I like how you mounted it inside the body of the rocket. If I had a little more time, I'd have attempted something similar.
boot2skull (author)  cyberviper423 years ago
Judging by the videos I've seen with the cameras mounted on the outside facing down, I agree with you even for smaller (A, B, C engine) rockets. The camera seems to have little to no impact on their flight, but centering the weight doesn't hurt when possible.

My main goal was to just capture a different angle of a rocket flight on video that I didn't see much of online.
tsant5 months ago

cool! thanks.

my only suggestion is that you maybe put a small spill hole in the parachute to stabilize the decent. less rocket wobble = better video. great instructable!

What was the engine
Was it homemade
I wonder if this would be possible using the estes hi flier rocket. It hits hights of around 1700 feet. They even have a bigger version of the same rocket. The bigger size would probably help with the camera placement.
Simply awesome!
boot2skull (author)  rageklpxjock3 years ago
Thank you!
poofrabbit3 years ago
I am so very glad you posted this! I over see a model rocketry program and always look at the rockets sold with cameras and was never 100% sure, now I know what to expect and how to make it even better, thank you so much for such a great 'able!
boot2skull (author)  poofrabbit3 years ago
Thank you! I'm not familiar with current rocket kits with cameras. In my early model rocketry days the best you could do was a film camera that shot a single photo at the peak of flight (Astrocam 110). Today, using some ingenuity and an extra $40 or less for a keychain video camera, you can achieve great results.
DrLVHarris3 years ago
You would make a great engineer and inventor. Thanks for sharing this and directing me to this website.
boot2skull (author)  DrLVHarris3 years ago
Hope you explore the site. There are tons of art and painting instructables. So much to learn.
bstott3 years ago
Good project. Great sales pitch for the cameras. They do seem to work well. Mine was just ordered. ;-)
boot2skull (author)  bstott3 years ago
It is amazing the potential these little cameras offer. They're both creepy and versatile!
stevensugg3 years ago
I think you captured some ufo's around 48 or 49 seconds of the 2nd video!
boot2skull (author)  stevensugg3 years ago
Nice! My guess is that was the recovery wadding (parachute protection) ejected from the rocket.