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.

23 thoughts on “Raspi Notifies You Of Space Station Passes

  1. 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.

    1. In the spirit of “hacking” how about a TomTom / Garvin / GPS unit? GPS detects your location, superimpose satellite footprint shadow on your map.
      Ability to hold multiple sats in memory, sky maps, bearing, range, ETA, number of sats visible at any given time, sat frequencies…
      There’s so much potential data I’m surprised the GPS companies don’t already sell an optional patch for their handhelds.

  2. 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!

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. “It makes no sense to compare it to non-space projects, such as national defense, since these operate on completely different budgets.”
            How so? Is it made of a different kind of dollar? Does it come from something other than the federal government? The “different budgets” are arbitrary divisions of the total money that the government spends. It it a rubber banding determined by PACs, lobbyists, special interest groups, etc. I hope you don’t count any of our military excursions in the past three decades as an exercise in national defense– it is a matter of owning the biggest hammer in the world and seeing every problem as a nail.

            Also, the $100B as far as I can tell is over several decades. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Space_Station#Programme_cost
            The yearly budget is ~$3B/year. So yes, a drop in the proverbial bucket.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

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