The ESA is sending these Raspberry Pi computers to the ISS. (Image Credit: RPi Foundation)
Raspberry Pi enthusiasts can send their code to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year, following 2015’s Astro Pi challenge. That Principia mission successfully installed the first units aboard the ISS. Although the hardware runs code written by over 54,000 participants from 26 countries, the kit is now outdated compared to updated versions on Earth. The upgraded hardware expects to lift- off into orbit in December as part of SpaceX’s CRS-24 mission. These units will reach the ISS during Matthias Maurer’s mission.
This year’s launch will carry Raspberry Pi 4 Model B units with 8GB RAM, the Raspberry Pi 12.3 MP High-Quality Camera, along with a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, humidity, temperature, and pressure sensors. It also includes a passive infrared sensor, color and luminosity sensor, and Google Coral machine learning accelerator.
Overall, it’s a great setup that could have one unit deployed in an ISS window to capture photos of Earth while the other is placed in the laboratory. The entire system runs on a stock Raspberry OS version, although the code underwent security improvements. Meanwhile, bits and pieces of custom software are joining the launch.
The current setup aboard the ISS underwent several modifications after its 2015 mission. For example, the Raspberry Pi 1 was replaced with a Raspberry Pi 4 for a 40X performance boost. In addition to that, a first-generation 5-megapixel camera module was replaced with a 12-megapixel High-Quality camera with detachable optics.
The replacements are essential to keep the Astro Pi mission running since the original units’ batteries are expected to expire next year. With this new upgrade, students can develop projects on a modern Raspberry Pi. At the same time, their projects will run smoothly on the station. Additionally, the AI accelerator module and upgraded hardware allow young people to perform AI, machine learning, and earth observation experiments.
The newest hardware has already been thoroughly examined on Earth to ensure that it doesn’t run into any issues. Its electromagnetic emissions have been certified, and the units underwent thermal testing since the Pi 4 ran a bit warmer than its predecessor. There were also concerns due to errors sourced from the increased circuitry density.
Two missions are currently being offered, Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab. Mission Zero, open to anyone aged 7 to 19 years old, focuses on using simple Python code to read a sensor and output a message on the LED screen. Meanwhile, the Mission Space Lab involves teams of young people running scientific experiments via the Pi hardware.
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