Engineering students design Raspberry Pi Pico CubeSat platform

While banging on about NASA and the astronauts (yes, plural, there were four) we saw at Space Center Houston a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of this space-themed project closer to Pi Towers. Engineering students at Harlow College in Essex, UK have designed a CubeSat platform to take their homemade hardware to space.

AuroraSat: Canadian CubeSat Project
Thought I’d lure you in with a spacey image up top — scroll for photos of the students’ hardware.
This is AuroraSat: Canadian CubeSat Project looking glorious

The Raspberry Pi Pico-based build will be taking photos of Earth and beaming them back to the students’ classroom in Essex. For our international readers, Essex is one of Cambridgeshire’s neighbouring counties, and less than an hour’s drive from Pi Towers.

How are they making the CubeSat?

The student engineers created three boards, all designed around Raspberry Pi Pico:

  • Ground station: carries the same Adafruit breakout board, as well as decoder software to parse images taken on the CubeSat platform for viewers back on Earth
harlow college essex pico cubesat engineering student project
Part of the build, shared by Adam Taylor on Twitter

The team wrote all the software running on the three boards in MicroPython and CircuitPython. They did the board designs in EasyEDA, an online PCB design tool and circuit simulator.

They’re hoping to test their hardware first on a quadcopter, then see if it can stand up to the dizzying heights reached by a high altitude weather balloon, before setting their sights on space.

Extracurricular

This project already sounds impressive, but more impressive still is that the student design team has achieved it all inside two hours per week alongside their core studies. Harlow College teachers and STEM ambassadors have been running weekly enrichment sessions alongside local experts to help students experience real applications of the technology they’re learning about.

harlow college essex pico cubesat engineering student project
One of the boards the students designed, ready to be populated

We were extra pleased to hear that the training kits used during these weekly sessions were built for the college using materials provided by our friends Pimoroni and Monk Makes — both excellent UK-based purveyors of the finest tech goods.

4 comments

Sid Malo avatar

It’s amazing to see how Raspberry Pi is being used in various fields, including space engineering! The Raspberry Pi Pico Cubesat platform designed by engineering students is a great example of how this tiny computer can be used for innovative projects. It’s inspiring to see young minds using technology to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Keep up the great work!

Anders avatar

Very interesting. I’d love to hear more. Especially what attitude control is used so the camera points toward earth, or where they want it to point – magnetorquers maybe?

Andrew Taylor avatar

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
The whole reason d’etra for the PI was to allow innovation in any field for the next generation of engineers.
There must be facilities in the UK where they could test the hardware on the ground for high altitude low pressure/ low temperature without needing a weather balloon especially as they are in East Anglia, the heart of UK satellite building companies.
They should be able to piggy back their project into the chamber with a commercial satellite when it undergoes testing surely?
Anybody out there who could link up and joint the dots?

British Tech Guru avatar

Python seems a strange choice for anything other than a conceptual development board. Having said that, the use of a 433mhz 500 yard line of sight transmitter/groundstation and the lack of any apparent orbital attitude control would indicate that this is a conceptual model rather than anything intended for actual use. Having said that, it’s an excellent exercise for students to be involved with as it’s a psuedo real-world activity.

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