I'm still using the original camera. it has survived quite a few flights. Even if I use a parachute for a gentle descent, the camera still has to withstand around a 200 g launch acceleration. It's a good thing the camera is inexpensive, I never would have tried this with a $100 camera.
As far as more construction details you should try the build instruction link. That will let you download what should be sufficient information to build one of these.
I've already got a 3-axis accelerometer, a 2 axis rate gyro, and a barometric pressure sensor I'm testing. All these sensors are very small and light. The weight does climb some when you start adding the microcontroller, an acutator, and a power source capable of driving the actuator. The actuator is the power problem, the rest of the electronics requires very little power.
Right now I'm working on putting a recovery system in the rocket that uses an acutator to deploy a parachute based on a set time from the launch. This is simple and doesn't require even a microcontroller. It does add more weight that I had hoped, about 20 grams. To keep the weight down I really should be implementing everything with surface mount devices but it's a lot easier to assemble through-hole prototypes (at least for me).
Once I get a reliable recovery system I'll consider adding more complex electronics.
I just ordered one of those cameras. You are right! They are almost throw-away devices. $21, free shipping, one day only price. $31 at Amazon. I had no idea they were so cheap. Thanks for pointing this out!
There's actually so many different types of cameras available now that enable people to record experiences in much the same vein. I just saw a news clip on my local news this week in fact, where a video camera recorded a small plane crashing--the entire experience. Of course, it was inadvertent and only exciting because luckily, no one on board was hurt.
With digital cameras dropping to near throwaway prices [example] and a rocket system with almost no per-flight costs, this looks like a great opportunity both for hobbyists and for scouting and other youth groups.
What an awesome project! Our family loves model rocketry - we have countless Estes rockets we have built over the years and my son won 2nd place in the regional science fair in seventh grade with his study of aerodynamics using three different rocket configurations. I even used "How to Launch a Model Rocket" as a topic for my college speech class and we had the class outside so we could launch the rocket. This stuff is GREAT for getting kids excited about science! It's alot of fun to add bells and whistles and I admire the innovation used by Doug - we have done "still shots" in the past with a 110 camera that came as part of a kit, but nothing like Doug's accomplishment. I can't wait to show our boys and get started on this!
Doug, now that you have mastered the camera, you need to add more sensors. How about an accelerometer and a magnetometer? Then you need to record the readings. If you really want to get crazy, you could also add real time telemetry. How big do these rockets get?
Eleven years ago one of those rare, brilliant moments emerged from the crack staff of Design News: Let’s put the tinkerers among our audience community to work in designing and building some truly wacky devices. And Gadget Freak was born.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.