The first component of the International Space Station was launched in 1998, but today marks the 20th anniversary of when the first long-term residents boarded. The ISS has been absolutely indispensable for a wide range of scientific research, particularly when it comes to studying the effects of microgravity. But the ISS was also a monumental accomplishment when it comes to international relations, because it required the cooperation of the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe, and Canada. To celebrate this momentous occasion, members of the ISS program have created a scale model called ISS Mimic that is synced up to the real thing.
The International Space Station maintains a low Earth orbit, and circles the planet approximately once every 93 minutes at an average altitude of 250 miles. As it moves through space, the ISS is constantly adjusting itself so that the massive solar panel arrays are pointed towards the sun. Instead of building a simple static model, the team who designed the ISS Mimic wanted it to give people a sense that they were actually interacting with the real thing. To accomplish that, they equipped the model with motors so that the solar panels are capable of moving. That movement mirrors what the real ISS is doing up in space, so it feels like they’re looking at the actual space station.
Most of the ISS Mimic model can be 3D-printed in small parts that can then be assembled to build the functional model. A Raspberry Pi single-board computer is programmed to pull live telemetry data from a LightStreamer server provided by the ISSlive project. Using Arduino boards as intermediaries, the Raspberry Pi then sets the positions of the solar panels and the status of the LEDs to match the ISS. The best thing about the ISS Mimic is that it is open source, so you can build your own. The team behind the project hopes to see ISS Mimic models used in classrooms, museums, and libraries to foster the kind of enthusiasm that was so prevalent during the Space Race of the ‘50s and ‘60s, but which is so sadly lacking today. We can’t think of a more noble way to mark the 20th anniversary of the occupation of the ISS.