The first Pi-powered satellite has successfully completed its mission. Launched by a group of undergrads at Utah State University (USU) earlier this year, the GASPACS CubeSat tested a unique “AeroBoom” stabilization system and endured 117 days in space before exiting orbit.
Don’t underestimate undergrads, I guess. The small GASPACS CubeSat (which is just 10 centimeters wide) was dumped into space to test an inflatable “AeroBoom” stabilization system. It managed to deploy the AeroBoom just 45 minutes after drifting into space, proving that small machines can self-stabilize at low orbit.
THE FULL LQ9 IMAGE!!!
Yes, that is the edge of the earth, not missing packets 😍 pic.twitter.com/jevYKmnwah
— USU GASPACS CubeSat Team (@GASPACS_CubeSat) March 17, 2022
Photos from the GASPACS CubeSat are impressive, to say the least. They were shot using a second-gen Pi Camera Module and provide a clear view of the AeroBoom over our planet. Additionally, these photos show that low-cost computer parts may be viable for research in outer space.
And that’s one of the most interesting parts of this story—the GASPACS CubeSat runs on a Raspberry Pi Zero computer and has zero shielding. This computer managed to endure radiation at low orbit, and the Pi Foundation touts it as an example of how “our tiny computers could do the job of expensive kit.”
These cats from USU are celebrating a record-making space trip.
They built the world’s first Raspberry Pi-powered CubeSat and it’s just completed a successful 117 day mission showing NASA that our tiny computers could do the job of expensive kit. https://t.co/jy8b1O7RKI pic.twitter.com/E9cH9uWKhy
— Raspberry Pi (@Raspberry_Pi) June 22, 2022
Now, the Earth’s electromagnetic field provides some “shielding” for electronics at low orbit. And the Get Away Special (GAS) Team took a few precautions in case things went awry—the Pi computer used a Delkin Devices microSD card that’s “tolerant” to radiation, and a DFRobot Beetle microcontroller monitored the Raspberry Pi in case it needed to be power-cycled.
But its clear that low-cost components may be a viable option for space research, especially for short missions. It’s unclear how NASA will use this knowledge, but in theory, it could use electronics like the Raspberry Pi to test ambitious ideas at a small (and cheap) scale.
This isn’t the first time that NASA has witnessed the power of Pi, though. A handful of Astro Pi units have floated around ISS since 2015, and back in 2020, NASA published open-source flight software that emphasized Pi computers.