World’s first Raspberry Pi-powered CubeSat celebrates record-making orbit

Mission complete! The NASA-sponsored GASPACS (Get Away Special Passive Attitude Control Satellite) CubeSat deorbited last month, following a record-making 117 days in space.

GASPACS CubeSat The team visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center
The team visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center

We’ve previously blogged about GASPACS, so have a quick read to learn how a Utah State University team made it, and what its unique AeroBoom self-stabilising design is all about. It was excellent hearing from the team again to tell us how successful the flight had been.

Record-making mission

As well as being the first Raspberry Pi-powered CubeSat, GASPACS was also the world’s first completely undergraduate-created CubeSat. Members of Utah State University’s Get Away Special (GAS) Team are responsible for this record-making build.

The GASPACS AeroBoom fully deployed over Earth. Image taken around March 19, 2022
A photo of the AeroBoom after successful deployment, courtesy of a Raspberry Pi camera module

On top of all these other firsts, GASPACS demonstrated the viability of a first-of-its-kind inflatable AeroBoom, which successfully showed that small spacecraft could self-stabilise in orbit.

Running smoothly through solar flares

Despite facing numerous potentially mission-ending challenges, GASPACS completed all mission objectives within the first 72 hours of deployment. These challenges did allow for a good run at the craft’s secondary mission — to test whether Raspberry Pi is a cost-effective and functional substitute for much more expensive space-rated flight computers.

Here are some NASA scientists to explain what solar flares are (from one minute in)

Here’s what the GAS Team had to say about the scary bits of the mission and how Raspberry Pi kept everything going:

“While in orbit, GASPACS was hit with numerous X-class solar flares, the largest radiation bursts from the sun since 2017. These flares and other environmental factors quickly killed all other CubeSats deployed with GASPACS. GASPACS did take a beating… A concern for the team was how well the Pi would withstand such harsh radiation environments, but despite the failure of these commercial solar panels designed specifically for space, the custom safeguards designed by the team kept the $10 Pi running smoothly.”

What did the Raspberry Pi hardware do?

GASPACS was the world’s first CubeSat to use a Raspberry Pi as its flight computer. Raspberry Pi Zero W was responsible for all onboard computing, running Python scripts developed by the team. A secondary mission of the satellite was to “test the viability of affordable commercial microcontrollers such as the Raspberry Pi.” Looks like it all went well to me!

GASPACS features a custom 3-layer PCB as its electrical board
GASPACS features a custom 3-layer PCB based around Raspberry Pi Zero W

A Raspberry Pi Camera module visually confirmed the successful deployment of the AeroBoom. Eighteen hours after deployment, GASPACS transmitted the first photograph taken by the camera, confirming the AeroBoom was working properly. Many others followed, including some with Earth visible in the background.

GASPACS CubeSat team building with Raspberry Pi
The GASPACS team tinkering away with Raspberry Pi

9 comments
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Was any “hardening” done to the Rpi – tantalum instead of electrolytics, faraday shielding, etc?

Reply to Mark Amos

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No physical rad hardening was added to the Pi Zero. Thanks to its robustness and some clever code design, the Pi performed amazingly!

Reply to Carter Page

Ashley Whittaker

Look! It’s CC! (Ben and I have renamed you CC by the way. Because you’re ‘Coordinator Carter’. That is all. Have a GREAT day.)

Reply to Ashley Whittaker

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Hahaha I’ll take the new nickname with honor! Thanks for the great article Ashley! :)

Reply to Carter Page

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“GASPACS features a custom 3-layer PCB based around Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W”

“2”???
Wrong picture or wrong caption?

Reply to Sam Vimes

Ashley Whittaker

You are one million percent correct and I have just amended the text. Reentry fudges one’s brain.

Reply to Ashley Whittaker

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A Pi Zero Wireless was used : Did you scan for wireless access points on its travels? I’m curious to know if anything can be heard up there? – good line of sight.

Reply to Pi-gs in Space

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That is so amazingly cool! These undergrads did a great job (thank god for STEM at universities these days) and I suspect the good people as Raspberry Pi foundation couldn’t be more proud of thier little Zero 2W. And to think…I’ve been thinking my 3 security cams running Motioneye on Zero 2Ws are pretty cool. Got into Raspi last December and it might as well be crack! Amazing devices only limited by ones imagination! Well done!

Reply to Sabotage Labs

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Interesting, why the W model, is wireless used in space?

Reply to fanoush

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