A Wearable Space Station Notifier

If you don’t live in northern Europe, Alaska, or the extreme southern part of South America, there’s a 400-ton, $150 Billion space station flying over your head several times a day. It’s the International Space Station, and it’s the most complex and expensive construction project of all time. Look up at the right time, and you can see a point of light rising in the sky, brighter than any star, darting across to the opposite horizon.

ISS-Above is a simple tool that will tell you when you’ll be able to see the ISS passing overhead next, and the creator of the project, [Liam Kennedy] has a new crowdfunding project to turn this space station notifier into a wearable. It’s called the Pulsar, and with the help of an RFduino and a real time clock, it will alert you to an upcoming station pass with a bit of wearable electronics.

ISS
Viewing the ISS at the most recent Hackaday Pasadena Meetup.

The ISS-Above is a great device to keep tabs on the six astronauts currently orbiting our globe, but if you want to see the space station rise over the horizon… well, lugging a Raspi and an HDMI monitor outside isn’t the best solution. The Pulsar is a tiny wearable board with a ring of LEDs programmed with 50 future passes of the space station. When the station is overhead, the LEDs light up, and a bright object appears over the western horizon.

[Liam] brought his Pulsar to the most recent Hackaday Pasadena meetup, and as his wearable LEDs lit up, the ISS appeared right on cue. The evening was only tainted by a crazy lady who decided to argue the existence of the International Space Station.

Video below.

35 thoughts on “A Wearable Space Station Notifier

    1. From [Liam Kennedy]’s first Kickstarter campaign:
      “Isn’t there an App for that already?

      True… and I probably have almost all of them. If you have an iPhone / iPad / Android phone there are ALREADY numerous Apps that will tell you when the ISS is going to be passing by. Those are great – BUT – that’s not what ISS-Above is about. I don’t know about you but I don’t need yet one more App on my phone to beep and make a fuss about something else.

      I wanted something small; a physical device that can just sit on a window sill or on a shelf beside the TV and light up every time the ISS is making a pass in my sky. Having these in my house (and even one in my local Cafe near Caltech) for the past few months really has me understand the difference it makes to see just how frequently it passes nearby.”

      1. Sure, way better to carry yet-more-crap™ then add a simple app to the device you almost always have on your person. The ISS is on a ninety one and a bit minute orbit – how much “help” do you need to “understand” it’s orbital frequency?

        1. The world would be a better place if people were both less offensive and less defensive.

          So what if someone wants to do something they enjoy that you think is dumb? No need to be a dick about it.

          So what if someone thinks the thing you enjoy is dumb or pointless? No need to insist it’s right for everyone.

          You’re both right.

          Creating a special hardware solution to a trivial timing problem is, to most people, both stupidly redundant and fun.

          The apologist excuse of “Well who wants ANOTHER app? Oh boy, I can’t take it. Just another beep bloop buzz and fuss. What a burden! That’s just the wrong solution” is, to me, embarrassingly defensive. This is the kickstarter equivalent to the infomercials when they show a person who comically struggles to do this simple every day thing and then gives up in exasperation, right before cheesy 80s graphics unveils THE PRODUCT THAT MAKES THIS NIGHTMARE END! The product only has a marginal improvement, so they have to oversell it like a bunch of lunatics.

          In this case, it’s not even a marginally better solution. It’s a worse solution. It’s dumb to try to convince me it’s better.

          But, if someone thinks or values otherwise, what’s it to you? Let ’em be unless they’re trying to convince you need to feel the same way.

          There’s some fun symbolism for the ISS in some people’s lives, and it’s neat to have a little physical gizmo that tells them it’s on it’s way.

          I don’t know why the answer to “Isn’t there an app for this?” isn’t something more honest like “Yeah, lots. I just think it’s neater to have a tiny machine beep and tell me about it instead of my phone.” That’s not something anyone can disagree with.

          1. Thanks for the thorough response. I simply posted (i.e., copy-pasted) the response to this very valid question from the project creator himself.

            The device is pointless as there are apps that can do the same thing. He still went ahead and created it, initially to give as a present to his grandkids. Then decided to make it available due to pleas from friends. And lastly, tested the waters on KS following suggestions from his astronomy peers.

            If somebody can’t take the time to eloquently put his(her) thoughts in a manner that is not offensive so as to elicit discussion, then I consider him(her) a troll. I’m a lurker on HaD, and there’s always one or two comments that follow this trend. I thought this might be an exception and I was wrong ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          2. Say Matt. Wasn’t my response (that Francisco posted) basically verbatim what you state here you were looking for? I don’t claim that Apps are worthless – I acknowledge their utility and usefulness. Than I explain something about why I believe my product is a useful alternative. Not something for everyone – but then also not something that can simply be shrugged of by someone who doesn’t look beyond their initial gut reaction of “isn’t their an app for this?”. Please do feel free to respond to what I actually say… especially my additional followup with further perspective on what you might be missing. Thanks

          3. Liam – Ehn, you’re right, it’s close. It seems a bit… exaggerated and hammy to make the claim that a physical device is simpler and more convenient than an app. The argument seems to be based on being weary of clutter, when I think almost everyone would agree that physical clutter is an order of magnitude worse in that value. It’s a rather self-defeating point when, the much stronger point is to ignore clutter and just say “But look how cool this is!” I suppose it wasn’t all that pushy of a sell and, even if the clutter argument is weak, if it’s your real opinion I suppose you should be able to say it. I’m more responding to the general attitude that if you don’t like something you’re a troll, and, if you don’t like something and you’re being a dick then you actually are a troll, and both of those make people loathe the conversation.

            Honestly I wouldn’t want to use a phone app for the ISS not because of clutter but because I don’t really care to have my finger on the pulse of the ISS, it doesn’t occupy enough of my brainspace. But I do think a gizmo is a cute little accessory I wouldn’t mind seeing one on the wall, especially in a geeky social setting. A few times I year I make geeky things that are specifically cluttery, in the sense of “That empty wallspace is boring, we should put something geeky on display there.”

            Your other explanation further down in the comments here about it not being for you to know, it being for you to let others know rings a lot truer. I think it’d be cool to have one at basically any hackerspace for example.

          4. Matt. (Replying to your reply below). You say “It seems a bit… exaggerated and hammy to make the claim that a physical device is simpler and more convenient than an app”. WHERE do I ever claim that the ISS-Above is simpler and more convenient? You seem to be seeing words that I never put there. I certainly would not claim that my device is simpler… or more convenient than an App. Simpler than clicking “Install” on an App? Haha. Nooooo.

            What I am asserting is that the ISS-Above is DIFFERENT…. and in those differences is what lies the true advantage… for THIS application.

            The ISS-Above is not for everyone. I know that many people are just like you and would say “I don’t really care to have my finger on the pulse of the ISS, it doesn’t occupy enough of my brainspace” and there is nothing wrong with that.

            I would say that you (and others) are also missing out on something… and you just don’t know it (and I don’t say that in any derogatory way towards you or anyone else).

            The ISS-Above doesn’t just flash. It also connects up to a TV and shows you live views of the earth from the cameras on the space station. It gets you connected to the truly remarkable fact that there are 6 human beings above our heads – the ONLY human beings in space right now. I say THAT is something worthy of attention.

            But then… I would say it’s worthy of attention. That’s the point… that’s why I built all this cool shit.

          1. It actually rises above the horizon anywhere from 5-8 times every day for 90% of the worlds population. But of course… your statement “it will usually be bellow the horizon” is absolutely true.

      2. This is Hackaday, not Appaday. Keep up the good work.
        Why not have opinions or input on the way he has made it, rather than why he made it, which generally helps no one. Personally, I would have one of these on my desk. I don’t always carry my phone, infact I only have it charged about 50% of the time.

    2. Reasons why not to make a smartphone app (partly in general, partly appropriate to this project):
      – You don’t want an app doing this on your smartphone ?
      – You’d have to own a smartphone, which can cost a lot of money, this doesn’t cost anywhere near as much
      – You would have to know how to make a smartphone app
      – You may want a dedicated device for this that anyone can use, rather than an app that only that person whom owns the smartphone (and doesn’t want to share their smartphone) can use
      – In addendum to the above, the person whom develops the smartphone app may only develop it for IOS or Android, which means that it’s potentially limited to one type of smartphone which not everyone has
      – The battery life on your smartphone may be worse than that of the space station notifier
      – You might not have an internet connection, your smartphone app may rely on one – this notifier does not appear to.

      1. There is very little logic in most of your points.
        The only point that makes a bit of sense is that some people might know what a smartphone really is, and thus try to avoid them.

    3. Thanks for Francisco for re-posting a response I gave to the same question I answered previously.

      Yes – I get that response A LOT. And… that’s not a problem at all. I COMPLETELY understand that point of view. There is something however that is being missed – by everyone who posts such a question (understandable too).

      This is what you are missing.

      In addition to my earlier response I will add that what this project is ALL ABOUT… is the added aspect of PUBLIC VISIBILITY. You see this is not just about YOU getting present to what the ISS is doing. The ISS-Above is about having a physical device that is visible to anyone nearby. Having one in your house/office/coffee shop means that you and anyone else in the vicinity get to experience what it’s like when you suddenly get present to the fact the ISS is in your skies.

      I see this happen every single day when I visit the Ginger Cafe near Caltech that had the very first ISS-Above on it’s wall since November 2013. When the little LED lights up – it causes people to look and to ask questions about what is actually going on with the ISS. People start having conversations about what NASA is doing – how we have 15 nations working together in space.. and what that means for the world. I have seen young kids become inspired when they realize there are 6 human beings in that thing… I’ve even had children say hay THEY want to become an astronaut too.

      I say that an App on your phone doesn’t quite have the same impact.

      But then… I would say that.

      Liam Kennedy
      Inventor of the ISS-Above

    1. Yep. LOL. I do actually have 5 ISS-Aboves at 61 degrees lattitude and above. (several in Alaska – and others in Sweden / Finland). Although the ISS orbits between 56 degrees north / south – so that means for anyone in higher latitudes it will never ever make a pass directly overhead. Therefore these higher latitud sights will only ever have the ISS rise maybe 20 degrees or lower in their skies.

    1. It would not actually do that (but good try though). It’s configured to a particular location on the earth. So… if one was on the space station (imagining this)… maybe an astronaut would configure it for their home. That way it would actually end up being a “home below” indicator. I actually chatted about this with Scott Kelly (future one year mission commander) about a month ago. He smiled.

    1. most ISS passes happen within a few hours of dawn/dusk, if you’re really lucky (like I have been from time to time!), you can see a daytime pass, maybe with bonus Dragon!!!

  1. seems to me like a good idea, especially if you have a ham radio or an SDR programmed to the ISS frequency. It would let you know to turn on the radio to the ISS to listen during the few minute window that you might actually be able to receive them. It would also be cool for a science classroom.
    Personally I don’t like noisy alarms, so something that lights up is a great idea. I think things like this could be used to drum up interest in children, especially young children and they are not likely to be carrying around a cell phone with or without an ISS app.
    Another thing if you are out in the middle of nowhere like I was a couple of years ago at an astronomy event, people don’t generally like it when you whip out a cell phone to monitor an app creating light pollution to the other observers. A small red LED device would be a useful tool.

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