GASPACS (Get Away Special Passive Attitude Control Satellite) CubeSat is a NASA-sponsored mini-satellite project built by students from Utah State University (USU). The team behind it think it’s the first satellite to use Raspberry Pi Zero as its flight computer.
How does it work?
By “mini-satellite” we mean tiny. CubeSats are made up of cubic modules measuring just 10cm along each side, and this particular CubeSat consists of just one of these modules.
GASPACS’ primary mission is to test the deployment of an experimental metre-long inflatable boom, and also to find out whether the boom works as intended to help the satellite stabilise itself. The CubeSat hitched a ride on the International Space Station into low-Earth orbit, and has been transmitting photographs taken with a Raspberry Pi Camera back to Earth.
A DFRobot Beetle microcontroller board is responsible for checking the Raspberry Pi Zero is still alive. The Zero sends a “heartbeat” signal every few seconds, and if this ever stops, the Beetle power-cycles it, because “try turning it off and on again” works just as well in space.
How is it made?
- Raspberry Pi Zero W
- Raspberry Pi Camera Module 2
- Custom interface board with LSM303AGR, real-time clock DS3231SN, DFRobot Beetle “watchdog”, analog-to-digital converter ADC128S102, and a custom burn wire circuit release mechanism for the boom
- EnduroSat battery, transceiver, and antenna
- EnduroSat solar panels with sun sensors and temperature sensors
- Custom “aeroboom” payload (the experimental self-stabilising boom)
The flight software, CubeWorks, is open source and can be found on GitHub. Over 80% of the software powering the satellite is written in Python.
Where is the satellite now?
GASPACS CubeSat was deployed from the International Space Station in January and made contact with a ground station in Japan within an hour. Since then, ground stations all around the world have reported picking up GASPACS’ beacons.
Its self-stabilising inflatable boom was successfully deployed about 45 minutes into the mission, and naturally GASPACS snapped a couple of selfies of it with its Raspberry Pi Camera. When GASPACS passed over the custom-built ground station on the USU campus, it transmitted the first load of photographs from its journey to the team back at home.
You can keep track of the GASPACS CubeSat mission, see the photos it’s taking, and follow its journey orbiting Earth on Twitter at @GASPACS_CubeSat.