Posted by Pete Hague on 17 May 2012
After the initial chaos of its launch, I have finally had an opportunity today to order a Raspberry Pi. This inexpensive, educational computer is intended to revitalise the teaching of ICT by providing a platform on which children (and perhaps insufficiently grown up adults :) ) could learn about how computers actually work, instead of the superficial knowledge of certain office applications that is all to often the focus of ICT teaching.
I have several applications in mind for this little device; I want to have a crack at OS programming, and perhaps some home robotics that would be a little beyond the capabilities of Lego Mindstorms (which I'm sure my wife would not let me buy anyway; there are limits to her indulgence). One particular application that interests me is its potential use for a student satellite project.
I was involved in such a project during my undergraduate years. Some students and staff at the University of Leicester wanted to launch a cubesat* called PLUME that would've measured cosmic dust in low Earth orbit. Here is a news story about it (I'm the guy on the right in the photo). The project did not work out unfortunately. It was underfunded, delayed, and is now effectively abandoned.
There were many reasons, but one of them was the complexity of the systems required. The payload was complex out of necessity - unlike many cubesat projects this one had the capacity to do some real, worthwhile science. However, most of the team did not work on the payload, most worked on other subsystems such as communications, and the on-board computer.
I was in charge of the computer (known as OBDH for "on board data handling") for 3 years, and found progress difficult. Our board was based on the Texas Instruments MSP430, which is a low-power microcontroller that has to be programmed with a special USB tool, and has no display. Debugging had to be done through a logic analyser, which was arduous and limited the number of team members who could participate because there was only one.
As soon as I heard about the Raspberry Pi project, I realised that this could massively simplify things. Even though it consumes more power (to the point where it may require a large, 3 unit cubesat to run it with any kind of payload at all), it is immensely more capable and much easier to use. By the time I had been able to teach anyone else how to program the MSP430 competently (or they had learned themselves) they were approaching the end of their degree and lost interest in the project. Using a Raspberry Pi, programming a cubesat could essentially be the same as programming a desktop computer, with the added advantage that, if it starts to be used in school ICT lessons, many students will already understand the platform before they arrive.
Sadly, there is not likely to be any support for another cubesat at Leicester in the immediate future. I am hoping to perhaps participate in a more modest balloon or rocket program at some point. If successful, this might help make the case for launching some student hardware into space at a later date.
Posted by Tim on 17 May 2012
I think the Raspberry Pi is extremely well suited for balloon missions.
Posted by Matt Cro on 17 May 2012
I believe a team in Scotland want to put a Pi in space (space_pi is their Twitter tag) and its in its early stages but they are thinking if using a cubesat, but power would be a restriction unless they used a 3U as you mentioned.
I was thinking of getting a pi myself, a lot of fun could be had with it.
Posted by concretedog on 14 Jun 2012
Hello there, I have my raspberry pi and the other week I fabbed a mockup cubesat frame from some scrap aluminium..(just for geeky kicks)...actually the rpi with an sd card inserted is a little too large to fit in 10x10x10 so the card socket would need altering. But imho rpi could be a great platform for this type of development.
Posted by hien vo on 09 Oct 2012
my student group is planning to use rasberry in a NASA balloon project http://laspace.lsu.edu/hasp/
The payload will float at 100,000 feet for about 20 hours.
We want to have RTOS for the system ie precusor to cubesat application and also boot loader. any feedback is appreciated