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Education ISS Space United Kingdom Build Hardware

Raspberry Pi In Space 56

mikejuk (1801200) writes "When British astronaut Tim Peake heads off to the International Space Station in November, 2015, he will be accompanied on his 6-month mission by two augmented Raspberry Pis, aka Astro Pis. The Astro Pi board is a Raspberry Pi HAT (short for Hardware Attached on Top), and provides a gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer, as well as sensors for temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity. It also has a real time clock, LED display, and some push buttons — it sounds like the sort of addon that we could do with down here on earth as well! It will also be equipped with both a camera module and an infra-red camera. UK school pupils are being challenged to write Raspberry Pi apps or experiments to run in space. During his mission, Tim Peake will deploy the Astro Pis, upload the winning code while in orbit, set them running, collect the data generated and then download it to be distributed to the winning teams.
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Raspberry Pi In Space

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  • Is that raspi going to need radiation hardened chips or is that satellites only?
    • Re:Quick question (Score:4, Informative)

      by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Sunday December 14, 2014 @02:55PM (#48594961)

      The ISS itself uses radiation-hardened computers, but these "AstroPI" are just using stock chips. The only thing different afaict is the custom peripheral board. I would guess the duration of the experiment, combined with it not really being a mission-critical part, makes radiation hardening not needed.

      • but these "AstroPI" are just using stock chips.

        With current technology, it is common for even stock chips to have some rad-hard features. For instance, many ICs are manufactured with depleted boron [] as a semiconductor dopant and in the borophosphosilicate glass insulating layer. This can dramatically reduce the number of soft errors, and adds little to the cost, since depleted boron is not particularly expensive, and only small quantities are needed. It is also possible to fix some problems in software, by running periodic checksums on blocks of memor

        • For instance, many ICs are manufactured with depleted boron as a semiconductor dopant and in the borophosphosilicate glass insulating layer.

          Since you're talking about isotopically purifying a material, that's going to be a damned sight more expensive than normal-isotope-mix boron. You've got the relatively large mass difference working on your side - 7.7% mass difference (borane) compared to (238+6*19)/(235+6*19) = 0.08% difference (UF6) - but you're still looking at a pretty big job. Even simple heavy wat

  • by gavron ( 1300111 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @03:09PM (#48595045)

    Pis are great.
    But when the power drops.the filesystem on the SDcard is corrupt.
    Then the Pi is dead with no hope of doing anything unless you brought a spare SDcard or something to mount/fsck/correct it with.

    If I was going into space I'd take a Droid or an iPhone. That way I can play
    Angry Birds In Space in space.


    • Pis are great.
      But when the power drops.the filesystem on the SDcard is corrupt.

      That's probably more a function of your crappy SDCard. These things are cheap, and probably not engineered to handle partial writes that would corrupt the card.

      I do wonder why though, is it so difficult to order writes so that what's committed to FLASH is always recoverable?

      • by itzly ( 3699663 )
        Manufacturers are already struggling with other requirements, such as maximum possible density, and a reasonable number of erase/write cycles. Safe write ordering interferes with the other requirements, and is not something the average consumer notices.
    • by WarJolt ( 990309 )

      This has nothing to do with a RPi. It is a common file system problem.
      RPi has 2 file systems.
      1. Fat32 for the bootloader, proprietary firmware and kernel
      2. Linux rootfs that can use many different kinds of file systems.

      ext2 wasn't very good at handling unclean shutdowns.
      ext3/4 are a little better.
      fat32 is terrible.

      Fortunately the fat32 partition doesn't need to be written very often, so you're good. Reads aren't dangerous.

      What you really want to do is make sure yo

      • by gavron ( 1300111 )

        No, I'm afraid not. (And these are name-brand Class-10 cards).

        When the corruption hits the Pi won't boot at all. No grub no kernel no initrd no monitor sync.
        A fresh card fixes things. Restoring the image to the old card fixes it too.

        We have near 100 of these in the field and while I've bench-powerfailed them to no avail,
        out in the real world they die due to fs corruption.


        • We have near 100 of these in the field and while I've bench-powerfailed them to no avail, out in the real world they die due to fs corruption.

          Hang on, let's get that straight : if you pull the power when they're on the bench, then they don't fail, but if they suffer a power fail in the field they do suffer corruption and freeze/ hang/ fail to boot?

          Obviously you've tried this, but are you sure that you're pulling the power on the bench while they're in mid-write? Because if you're doing ostensibly the same

      • I've had a couple Pi's also exhibit FS corruption on power loss as well. Not everytime, but each time you pull the power plug it's a roll of the dice. I was using them running RaspBMC OS and XBMC on top of them for media servers and I've seen them corrupt several times. Each time, there was no booting afterwards, would fail on boot and require a reflash of the SD card in order to get them back up and running.
    • I'm sure there's a Burma Shave in there...

  • It'll be awesome ... it'll run for exactly 8 seconds before radiation corrupts every register beyond function and it has to be reset. Cosmic Rays for the win!

    • by marked ( 67057 )

      Yes, because that quite clearly happens with all the laptops, tablets, and mobile phones that have already been up there.

      Oh, wait.

    • by dougmc ( 70836 )

      The ISS is well below the Van Allen radiation belts and well within the Earth's magnetic field (which deflects many of the charged particles headed towards the Earth) so the level of cosmic radiation it gets is not *that* high, and the metal of the ISS blocks most of of that.

      And if a Raspberry Pi does get its registers corrupted by cosmic rays ... it's not a tragedy. Nobody dies -- it's not mission critical.

      In any event, they use pretty standard (but old -- last I heard, they still ran Windows 95) laptops

      • In any event, they use pretty standard (but old -- last I heard, they still ran Windows 95) laptops

        And what size is the process they used to make those chips, versus the chips that are used in the ARM core of the Raspberry Pi and its attached memory?

        The smaller you go the more of a problem it is. Older chips work because everything in them is larger, knocking one electron out of place on a pentium is WAY different than doing it on processors where you have very few atoms to work with.

        • Re:Cosmic Rays (Score:4, Insightful)

          by dougmc ( 70836 ) <> on Sunday December 14, 2014 @07:58PM (#48596685) Homepage

          The reason they use older laptops is not because of the density of the chips but simply because they're known commodities -- any quirks they have have already been figured out and they get the job done. Getting anything certified (for mission critical purposes) is a very time consuming process, and once it's done ... the item is no longer state of the art, that's just the nature of the beast.

          The Raspberry Pis don't have to go through the same certification process, though of course if they were expected to only work "for eight seconds" I think NASA would have told the people sending them up that to pick something older. I'm guessing that NASA knows a bit about the radiation environment up there and advises people who send up experiments appropriately.

          And as others have said ... humans are living in the same environment for months at a time -- it can't be *that* bad.

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      It also sucks that every astronaut we send up there dies in like 3 days from radiation poisoning from the apparent containment-core levels of radiation the ISS flies in...
      • Theres a difference between radiation poisoning and flipping a few bits.

        • by jandrese ( 485 )
          It's really the same mechanism. In one case the high energy rays impart enough energy to charge or drain a gate, and in another high energy rays impart enough energy to break a DNA bond. The parent was talking about being continually hit with enough high energy rays to instantly crash a normal computer, which is well above the amount you need to kill a person.
          • by itzly ( 3699663 )
            Most high energy rays don't hit the DNA molecule. It's a small target. And even when they hit it, there is rarely any noticeable effect on long term. Usually the cell just dies (if it can't be repaired). Chips are much less robust in comparison.
    • Yes, and >100 NON hardened satellites in orbit today work only thanks to magic, right? []

  • I read the linked article, nothing on power. RPi is a power-hungry little beast. Sure, A+ reduces it a bit, and you can turn off various onboard devces.

    But it still sucks down a lot of power. I wonder what ISS's power budget is.

  • But to be a perfect Slashdot story, the flight should be crowd-funded, and the astronaut should 3D print a Raspberry Pi in space.

    Plus regular contributor Bennett Haselton should be invited to cogitate on the potential copyright issues in space.

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