The International Space Station (ISS) is undeniably one of mankind’s greatest achievements. That’s true not just because of the technology and work that went into building the ISS, but also because of the international cooperation it required. It was a joint effort between five different space agencies: NASA in the US, Roscomos in Russa, JAXA in Japan, ESA in Europe, and CSA in Canada. The ISS is used by all of those agencies for scientific research and a great deal of research data is shared between them and even made public. The ISS’s current position is, for example, publicly accessible. Okuboheavyindustries used an Adafruit QT Py to pull that information in order to build this adorable little ISS tracker.
The Adafruit QT Py is a small and powerful development board based on the Microchip SAM D21 microcontroller, and it costs just $6. That ATSAMD21E18 microcontroller has a 32-bit Cortex M0+ processor running 48MHz, with 256KB of flash memory and 32KB of RAM. It is very compact — roughly the size of a quarter — but still manages to pack in 11 GPIO pins and even a NeoPixel RGB LED. It’s perfect for small projects that require a lot of processing power, like Okuboheavyindustries’s “Mini Mobile Mission Control.” This device is very small, measuring roughly 3 x 3 x 0.5 inches. But it still needs to find its own location and compare that to the ISS’s current location, and then show that information along with a world map.
As the name suggests, the QT Py is intended to work with Adafruit’s CircuitPython language, but it is also compatible with the Arduino IDE. The latter is what Okuboheavyindustries used to program this project. The QT Py doesn’t have any onboard WiFi connectivity, but the ISS’s orbit is very consistent. That means that the device can simply keep track of where the ISS is supposed to be at any given time. The device’s own location is determined by a BN-280 GPS module. The GPS signal also provides the current time, so a dedicated real time clock (RTC) isn’t necessary. Power comes from a 1000mAh lithium-ion battery through an Oak Dev Tech battery backpack board. The ISS’s current location and its orbit path are shown on a simple world map on a small 0.96” SSD1327 OLED screen. When the ISS is over the device’s GPS location, the QT Py’s onboard NeoPixel LED lights up to let Okuboheavyindustries know. It cost less than $25 to build the Mini Mobile Mission Control device, which is mind-boggling when you consider that it is tracking the orbit of a satellite in space.