GASPCAS is the first satellite to use Raspberry Pi hardware. (Image Credit: Raspberry Pi)
On May 23rd, the Get Away Special Passive Attitude Control Satellite (GASPCAS) Cubesat re-entered the Earth's atmosphere after staying in space for 117 days. GASPCAS, the first satellite running on Raspberry Pi Zero, began its mission in January 2022, when it was released from the International Space Station. Its main objective involved performing tests on AeroBoom, an experimental inflatable experimentation system that proved small spacecraft have self-stabilization capabilities while in orbit.
Sponsored by NASA, the CubeSat is the first one developed by undergraduates. Utah State University's Get Away Special Team designed the mini-satellite, a cubic module measuring ten centimeters across and features off-the-shelf components.
The Raspberry Pi's camera captured this image of the AeroBoom. (Image Credit: Raspberry Pi)
Raspberry Pi said the mission succeeded within its first 18 orbital hours, with the photos captured from the onboard Raspberry Pi Camera confirming the achievement. The remaining missions also ran smoothly, such as the secondary mission that determined if the Raspberry Pi computer boards could serve as a more affordable replacement for the expensively developed space flight computers.
The Raspberry Pi Zero W computer board ran the onboard computing processes, which ran the team's Python scripts. Over 80% of the software that powers the CubeSat was written in Python. Once every few seconds, a DFRobot Beetle microcontroller checked a heartbeat signal to determine if the Raspberry Pi Zero still worked. If it didn't detect a signal, the microcontroller would just power it on and off, which "works just as well in space," according to the researchers.
The mini satellite features a three-layer PCB based around Raspberry Pi Zero W. (Image Credit: Raspberry Pi)
However, not everything went according to plan. GSPACS encountered multiple X-class solar flares, the largest radiation outbursts in five years. Although other CubeSats and the GASPACS were hit by these solar flares, the Pi still operated as expected and continued transmitting photos back to Earth until it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere.
The team said: "Despite the failure of commercial solar panels designed for space, the custom safeguards designed by the team kept the $10 Pi running smoothly."
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