The International Space Station (ISS) is one of humankind’s greatest engineering achievements. The first component of the ISS was launched in 1998, and the ISS was built as a joint effort between the space programs of five different countries over the course of many years. Those countries include the United States and Russia during a time when the mood was still tense following the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union. The ISS has been continuously occupied since the first long-term residents arrived in 2000, and it circles the Earth once roughly every 92 minutes. With just a little bit of hardware, you can build a lamp that shows you the exact position of the ISS over the Earth’s surface at any given time.
This ISS Tracking Lamp was designed by Antoine Seveau, who has provided an Instructables tutorial explaining how you can reproduce it. When it’s turned off, the lamp looks like a minimalist white globe on a pedestal. But when you turn it on, a bright blue dot on the globe’s surface shows you exactly where the ISS is. The blue dot comes from a laser pointer that is mounted inside of the globe, and that laser pointer is directed at the ISS’s current location using coordinates provided by Open Notify—a service that gathers the data from NORAD and NASA.
Seveau purchased the globe from AliExpress, but you can also 3D print it yourself as two hemispheres if you think your printer is up to the task. Inside of the globe, the laser pointer is mounted on a 3D-printed mechanism. Longitude position movement is performed by a stepper motor, and latitude position movement is handled by a servo motor. A Wemos D1 Mini ESP8266 board controls those, and uses the Open Notify API to find the ISS’s coordinates and then converts them into motor positions. 10 WS2812b individually-addressable RGB LEDs around the base of the mechanism illuminate the globe from within. If you’re a fan of the space program, or just want to know where the ISS is at any given moment, this is a fantastic project to follow.