Raspi Notifies You Of Space Station Passes


A few months years ago, [Liam] funded a Kickstarter for a small desk toy that would tell him when the International Space Station was overhead. [Liam] got a little tired of waiting, so he decided to build his own with a Raspberry Pi and an astronomical computation Python library.

The impressive part of this build is computing where an orbiting object is in the sky given the ISS’ orbital elements. For this, [Liam] is using PiEphem, a library that can compute the positions of the sun, moon, planets, asteroids, and Earth-orbiting satellites given a location and a time. Since the ISS orbital elements change every so often, his software is set up to download an update every week or so.

[Liam] developed a few versions of his space station detector, each with a different display. The simplest uses a few LEDs, either through a LedBorg, Blinkstick, or PiGlow to serve as a notification of when the ISS is overhead. Two more complicated versions use an LCD display or LED matrix to signal when the next ISS pass will occur.

Video demo below.


  1. jcwren says:

    You know what would be really cool? Having a globe that can roll in two axis, and positioning it so that a fixed ISS indicator is over the spot where it currently is.

    There’s dozens of ways to do it this, but the first that comes to mind to know the position of the globe is to put some fiducials on it, and use OpenCV to determine the position.

    You’d want some quiet rollers, since this thing would be in constant motion.

  2. chris409 says:

    I’ll bet there’s an app for that.

  3. Morgen says:

    I wonder how much extra work it would be to expand this to include other objects of astronomical interest. I’ve been having a lot of fun lately spotting Iridium flares. I’ve been harvesting data off of a website into a spreadsheet and then uploading to my Google calendar to get reminders. This would be a LOT less work!

    Either way I plan to investigate because ISS passes are handy for long-distance APRS messaging via the onboard repeater. Nothing like using the 2 meter mobile in my car to send a message 1000 miles (or more) away!

    • lwatcdr says:

      It shouldn’t be too hard but this seems to be a waist of a Pi.
      I would have used a wifi Dongle so it could update it’s self and at least make it into a desk clock as well. Use NTP to set the clock and keep track of sunrise, sunset, moon rise, phase of the moon, and so on.

  4. lol says:

    There is android(and probably for iOS) to do that, and it even warns you off 5 minutes before, a friend of mine sort of uses it..
    And its free..

  5. Trui says:

    The ISS needs to die. It’s a virtually useless money pit in the sky.

    • peter says:

      I agree that it is a giant money pit in the sky. But it brings about multinational cooperation and cultural exchange in addition to advancement of technology on many fronts. In my opinion, money much better spent than invading other countries, farm subsidies, foreign aid to countries that don’t need it (e.g. Israel), or building an orbital Death Star.

      • Blue Footed Booby says:

        Not to mention it’s a drop in the bucket compared to stuff that’s even more useless while also way less cool.

        • Trui says:

          About $100 billion is a very big drop, especially for a space project. It makes no sense to compare it to non-space projects, such as national defense, since these operate on completely different budgets. The science content of the ISS is very limited. It’s mostly politics and a little bit of engineering. For the same money, I’d rather have 20 unmanned space projects, for $5 billion each. Without having to worry about fragile human bodies, a lot more science can be done.

  6. DainBramage1991 says:
  7. JimBob says:

    Hams have been doing this for decades. Do a search on TRAKSAT.

  8. Gary says:
  9. markw says:

    Cool project. Did you know that NASA something similar on the web?


    There’s a feature where they can send you an email or text before the space station is going to pass overhead during darkness hours for your location.

  10. Drone says:

    What the heck is this?? I go to the project site and there’s little or no information on how to do this. No code, no examples, it just looks like a site with links to hardware you can purchase like the displays. Is this just a facade for a sales site?

  11. liamjkennedy says:

    I’m the developer of ISS-Above. Sorry I did not check on the comments here sooner.

    Yes – there are many Apps out there (I have probably every one available on my iOS devices)… those are great… but not what this is about for me. My home page article explains it a little clearer now than when I first put it up in early December.

    To “Drone” – It’s taken me a lot of effort to develop and I don’t intend for it to be opensource (yet). It’s certainly not a facade. Sorry that you would think that. There is a contact form on the home page – and anyone can communicate with me via that method.

    The development has progressed pretty well and it’s live on about 14 sites around the world… and a few more are coming on line. I’m likely going to launch with a Kickstarter to get fully functioning devices out there in a more efficient manner. There will be an option for a custom SD card with all the code needed for any of the display devices already setup for the users location.

    I will also be developing a version that tracks multiple satellites as I have had numerous people (including friends) contacting me asking about that capability. That will be called SAT-Above. Again… while there are Apps that do this… I still think there may be a demand for a more dedicated hardware device like this.

    Thanks all for your interest.

  12. Liam Kennedy says:

    I launched the kickstarter for iss-above on Tuesday and we have reached over 60% of the goal in less than three days. If you are interested in getting one please do become a backer. Thank you!! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1385270522/iss-above

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