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.

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Hacking the International Space Station with a toothbrush


[Douglas Adams] will tell you not to forget your towel when it comes to space travel. But NASA may start mandating that astronauts always carry a toothbrush. That’s because when a recent repair on a critical International Space Station component went wrong it was a toothbrush hack that saved the day.

The culprit here is a bolt that wouldn’t re-seat after replacing a power transfer module that routes electricity from solar cells to the station’s electrical systems. About how many times have you had trouble with bolt threads? Now put yourself in a space suit in orbit for eight hours trying to get the thing to work. Yikes!

Just like in the movies there was a team of engineers at the ground center which gathered all the supplies available in the ISS. They figured out that metal shavings in the threaded hole needed to be cleaned out and the area lubed for the bolt. One of the two types of tooth brushes on hand would work for the lube, but needed to be stiffened. There was also a brush for cleaning the threads which was made out of a jumper cable. The images seen above are the step-by-step instructions the team uploaded to the astronauts who reproduced their hacked hardware to complete the repairs.

[Thanks G Mob]

NASA inspired circadian rhythm lights


After reading about an initiative between NASA and Boeing to develop lights for the International Space Station [Rasathus] decided to give it a go at building his own. The project uses RGB pixels to build a circadian rhythm light installation. Without the normal rise and fall of the sun the sleep wake schedule for the astronauts can be pretty rough. This uses color and intensity of light in a well-defined schedule to help alleviate that. [Rasathus] is trying to bring his project in well under the $11.1 million mark which was established for the ISS.

The light modules he’s using are from a strand of LEDs from Adafruit. Each is driven by a WS2801 controller, a common driver used for easy and complicated projects like this huge ball of light which our own [Jesse Congdon] tackled. The board above is the start of an adapter board for interfacing with the Raspberry Pi GPIO header. [Rasathus] wanted to make certain he didn’t fry the control electronics so he built some protection into this adapter. The control software is covered in the second portion of  the write up. We’ve embedded the video from that post after the break.

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Write code, fix the space station, win $10,000


If you want something great to add to your astronaut application, this is your chance. If you can figure out a way to optimize the position of the solar panels for the International Space Station, you’ll win $10,000 from this TopCoder competition.

Positioning the solar arrays on the ISS is an incredibly complex task; if parts of the arrays are in the shadow of other parts, they’ll bend due to the temperature difference and eventually break. NASA would like more power to run science experiments and other cool stuff, so they’re turning to hackers so they can optimize the amount of power generated on the ISS.

Your goal, as a contestant in this completion, is to define the angular position and velocity for each of the joints that connect the solar panels to the station for every point in a 92-minute orbit. Limitations on any solution  include making sure the masts for each panel aren’t in a shadow more than they need to be, making sure the cycle can be repeated each orbit, and making sure the most power is generated on board.

The completion is open, so if you haven’t done enough matrix algebra this weekend feel free to sign up. In any event, you’ll get a cool CAD model of the ISS.


Observe a satellite’s Morse Code message today!


If you live in the Eastern portion of the United States and the skies are clear you can see a student built satellite flashing LEDs in Morse Code today. But don’t worry. If you it’s cloudy or if you live elsewhere there are several other opportunities to see it in the coming days.

This is the Niwaka Fitsat-1. It was developed by students at the [Fukuoka Institute of Technology] and deployed from the International Space Station on October 4th. Included in the payload is an array of LEDs seen in the image above. On a set schedule these are used to flash a Morse Code message for two minutes at a time. That is what’s shown in the image on the upper right.

You can look up information on seeing Fitsat-1 in your own area using this webpage. All of the observation windows in our area require a pair of binoculars or better. We’re not sure if there is any case in which this can be seen by the naked eye.

[Thanks SWHarden and KomradBob]

Saving the ISS by hacking a toothbrush


We absolutely love these stories of hacker ingenuity saving peoples lives. In this case, it was aboard the ISS, and the item being hacked was a toothbrush.

The story is as follows. Some equipment failed, as space junk tends to do, and the astronauts found themselves needing to do some repairs. Upon inspection, they couldn’t remove some modules due to an accumulation of “space dust” around some bolts.  This was especially troubling as the unit in question was something that was supposed to route power from some of the solar arrays to the ISS. Even more troubling is that another unit failed while they were assessing the situation.

Realizing they had to act fast so as not to lose too much power to function, they cobbled together some tools to allow them to clean out the access ports and remove the units for repair. A task that sounds like an easy solution here on earth proved to be life threatening in space. Eventually though, their makeshift tools came to the rescue and they were able to repair and restore power.

Satellite tracking by shining a laser into space

[Shingo Hisakawa] sent in a tip for a for a neat little box called the Levistone that tracks the Internation Space Station with a laser. His video log goes though all the steps for this great little project.

[Shingo] originally planned to pull orbital data down from NORAD and send that to an ArduinoBT board with ethernet, GPS and compass modules. In the original plan, the Arduino would do the orbit calculations and point the laser using a few servos. There wasn’t much success with making an Arduino do all the work, so the an Android phone stood in for the GPS, compass and connection to the web. The duty of calculating the location of the ISS using GPS and orbital elements was moved onto the Amazon EC2 cloud. The final product looks great, even if it’s impossible to record the beam for the video.

With the ability to calculate the azimuth and elevation of the ISS from any point in the world, [Shingo] came up with SightSpaceStation, a neat mashup of his data and Google Maps. There are also iOS and Android apps for a nice piece of work in augmented reality. It’s a great project that would really compliment the ISS desk lamp we covered a few days ago.