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International Space Station Tracker/Pointer

By Grady Hillhouse |

There’s a growing movement of people who believe that our space agencies are underfunded and that humanity isn’t paying enough attention to our present accomplishments and future plans in space exploration. Well, I know one way to direct attention to something: Point at it. This is the first prototype of the International Space Station orbit tracking pointer. If that name isn’t explanatory enough, its one job is simply to point directly at the ISS wherever it is in space, a small but constant reminder of what humanity is capable of.

A stepper motor controls the azimuth and a servo controls the elevation. The Station orbits the earth every 90 minutes so the speed of motion is roughly equivalent to a minute hand on a clock: slow enough that it’s not really interesting to watch, but fast enough that it’s in a new place every time you glance over.

As I've noted, this is just a first prototype, a proof of concept, and it's not extremely functional or user-friendly. Things I’d I would include in version 2.0:

  • A real time clock with a battery backup. Right now I have to hardcode the time, which means any time power is disconnected, the time needs to be recoded. This is probably the biggest limitation of the system.
  • Switch the servo out with another stepper motor. Having to flip 180 degrees is cumbersome and makes the motion not as smooth. You'd have to have some kind of feedback for this though.
  • Internet connectivity to automatically download the latest orbital data. Right now, the two line element set for the ISS is hardcoded. Just for the sake of accuracy, it would be nice to be able to have the latest parameters as they come out. This would also allow you to track satellites other than the ISS.
  • LCD screen to show relevant information - azimuth and elevation, epoch, straight line distance, etc.

A few of these features have been implemented in a version of the device created by Patrick Ferrell.

For more info, visit my website or YouTube channel.

See How to Build This Project on:
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