My Blog – Year One Highlights!

Over a year ago, I was sat in a York hotel, pondering how I could extend my outreach activities from sporadic school visits into something more permanent. I decided on a Space Blog. And back then I hadn’t even heard of Astro Pi….

So here are the highlights of my first year blogging:

Who can forget watching Philae land on a comet LIVE! Fascinating project, and I’m still doing solely Rosetta Mission talks in schools. I was lucky enough to get some behind the scenes information for a post from an engineer who worked on the project too.

World Space week 2014 was my first as a STEM Ambassador. It was an amazing week, and this year its going to be even better. We are bringing our prototype Mars rover Bridget to Winchester Science Centre for the whole week.

IMG_3212Talking of Mars rovers, what about going to the Classic Car show in London to see Bridget’s brother Bruno, and meeting James May. Having a chat about Raspberry Pi’s and getting him to sign an Astro Pi logo!

Astro Pi – what can I say? I got involved in this purely by accident, and what a ride it has been since. I have made new friends and met kindred spirits in places I could only dream of. Really counting my lucky stars on this one. Doing the shock, vibration and EMC tests in Portsmouth on the flight Astro Pi units was very special, even if it meant long hours grovelling to the Site Director for some funding! I had a real geek-out moment visiting Pi Towers for the judging too.

How long can I make this list?

I started assembling my STEM Mars rover in 2014. The build is going slowly, but with interest rising in the ExoMars mission, I hope to get some free time to progress it further soon.

Just researching and writing my posts has given me great pleasure. Roll on the next year!

Looking forward, there is more work needed on Astro Pi with the phase 2 data logging experiment, and I’m really excited about Tim Peake’s launch to the ISS in December. ( I have some really cool Tim Peake outreach things happening at the moment – but I’m not divulging yet)

I’m giving a talk at a screening of Space Station 3D at the Odeon, Kingston in November for the Into Film Festival. Some of my Astro Pi colleagues are also covering other cinemas across the UK.

I have two trips to the National Space Centre in Leicester booked for National Space Academy career talks later this year which I am looking forward to. Its always good to engage school kids about careers in STEM and have a look around the Space Centre in the same day!

Not forgetting the fast approaching World Space Week 2015. We have some special surprises lined up and its going to be awesome – again. Airbus Defence And Space are also hosting the winner of our category in the Astro Pi phase 1 competition and their family at Winchester Science Centre as our VIP guests for the day.

Have I mentioned that I’m really excited about Tim Peake’s launch in December?

I’ll also have to find some time to do some actual engineering work too, but long may the fun continue!

OUTERNET – Quick Power Guide

Since the Raspberry Pi foundation posted about their Outernet installation, and thanks to the Raspberry pi guys sending me a spare tuner card, I have been busy setting up my own system.

I really like everything about the Outernet project, the goal, the hardware and the team behind it.

I have been frequenting the forums, and the Outernet team have been superb in troubleshooting my snags. I also want to help other users, so, in response to a power related question on the forum, I’m going to describe my hardware set-up, so hopefully others can follow.

There are plenty of DIY guides from Outenet on how to purchase and assemble the hardware. The information below is specific to me, and isn’t the best or only way to do it!

First, check the input rating on your hardware, both voltage V and current A.

I have three items requiring power:

Pi 5V @ ~700mA (mA = milliamp – one milliamp is 1/1000 of an amp, so 700mA is also 0.7A)

Geniatech HD Star Tuner. Supplied with 9V wall brick (but I didn’t get one so I don’t know its current (A) requirement.)

Netgear ADSL router. I’m using this to create my WIFI hotspot. 12V @1A as stated on the data sticker on the rear.

So, I had three separate voltages to supply, which would require additional hardware, and as I’m planing to run off batteries, this would be less efficient. Voltage conversion has an overhead of wasted energy.

The HD Star tuner generates the 18V DC required to power the LNB, so it must have some DC to DC conversion built in.

Could it be powered from 12V? I trawled the internet for an input specification, but didn’t find anything. I followed the PCB tracks from the input jack to see if I could identify the immediate components, and that was, well, challenging.

In the end I decided to just try it at 12V. No blue smoke, and it still works.

Great. Now I only need 12V and 5V.

Luckily I was powering my Netgear router from a 12V DC 2000mA (2A) PSU, so I spliced an additional DC jack into the 12V cable for the tuner.
TEST SETUPAt this point I plugged up everything to get it working, with the Pi still powered from a 5V USB phone charger.

To convert 12V DC to 5V DC for the Pi I used a DC to DC buck converter. These clever little circuits are cheaply found on ebay, and can take a range of input voltages, and provide an output that is set via a small potentiometer.

Sacrificing a spare USB cable, I soldered the red wire from the micro USB connector to the +V output terminal, and the black to the 0V.  I then spliced another pair of wires into my 12V PSU, and “trimmed” the output to just over 5V.

I made some assumptions that are still to be verified:- the Pi will be drawing 700mA, the Netgear wont draw anything like 1000mA (1A) and the tuner will draw approximately 500mA*, so the total current draw should be under the 2000mA rated PSU output.

*Previous test set-ups had the tuner powered from a bench DC power supply. It was well below 500mA.

Below is a schematic:


The 12V DC cables were simply cut, spliced with solder, and covered in heat shrink.

Everything was boxed up in a peli case. The connection to the LNB passes through the case on a F type bulkhead adaptor, the power goes through a gland, and the wifi antenna is connected to an ebay extender cable. This makes the whole unit rain proof. My intention is to attached the peli case to the pole.

I should also mention that there is an in-line DC plug and socket between the mains adaptor and the splice in the cable. This allows me to plug into any 12V DC source available. I have powered this from SLA batteries and a cigarette lighter socket in a car.setup

With the aid of a cheap satellite finder, I can be on the air in less than 5 minutes, providing I have line of sight to 13E.  One warning, a car cigarette lighter socket can be higher than 12V, and that voltage would be passed directly to the router and the tuner.

This image shows my completed terminal.  The cable going off the bottom is for the 12V DC input.

Right now I am scaling some solar panels and batteries to run it off grid completely.

If you have any questions, look me up on the Outernet forum, user John Space, leave a comment here, or tweet me @johnchinner

Astro Pi – Update

I am totally honoured to have spent the last two days at Raspberry Pi in Cambridge, judging the secondary entries for Astro Pi, “Your Code In Space”.

The jujudging1dges were all in agreement that the quality of work was extremely high. The ideas were magnificent, the coding was superb, and the effort was clear to see.

There was plenty of healthy, heated debate between the judges.

The winning entries are a genuine mix of themes, from Earth observation to nifty games.

Genuine science experiments are going to be done with Astro Pi, and I find that totally amazing. WELL DONE!

So what now?

It’s not over. If you didn’t manage to submit anything for the “Code in Space” phase, you can still participate in the “Flight Data” phase.

While on orbit, a dedicated Astro Pi will be logging data from its sensors to a file, which will be downlinked to Earth to share with YOU!

You can run the exact data logging code on you own Astro Pi at the same time and compare the data, or you can just use the data from orbit, and apply it to maths, physics, geography, art, the options are truly endless.

You will be able to see data on the rotation of the Space Station, the Earth’s magnetic field, and the environmental conditions where UK Astronaut Tim Peak will be living and working.

Does the pressure change when they use the airlock to do a space walk?

This is an exciting and unique opportunity to analyse real data, collected in space.

So get your thinking caps on, we want to hear about your ideas! Tweet @Astro_pi 

Astro Pi Flight Qualification Testing

Before the European Space Agency and NASA allow Astro Pi on board the International Space Station, certain tests have to be carried out to ensure the safety of the station, and its crew.

These tests are being done by SSTL, the Raspberry Pi foundation, and Airbus Defence and Space.

Here at Airbus DS in Portsmouth we have a dedicated facility to test the equipment that we manufacture for our satellites.

This test facility is being used to undertake testing of Astro Pi for shock, vibration, and EMC.

Shock and Vibration

For these tests, we strapped an non-powered Astro Pi, in its aluminium case and a representative foam container to a vibration table. When Astro Pi flies on the Soyuz rocket later this year with UK ESA Astronaut Tim Peake, it will be stowed inside the pressurized module, in foam packaging and a nomex bag.

Using the vibration table we simulated the transport, launch, orbital flight and docking of the Astro Pi, when flown on a Soyuz rocket, in accordance with a specification from the rocket manufacturer. These tests are not flight safety critical, as the Astro Pi is a passive passenger, but it ensures that when they arrive at the ISS they are in working state for Tim Peake to run the submitted experiments.


Dave Honess, from Raspberry Pi watching Astro Pi Flight Qual 1 mounted on a vibration table.

For the insertion phase (launch) and orbital flight, multiple shock tests were carried out at 40G, for 3ms, on each axis, as well as more sustained tests simulating the random vibration during ascent into orbit.

The random vibration test, at peak level was 2500, 8G shocks spread over 5 minutes.

After each test the Astro Pi was unpacked and tested, using some specially written code. Functionality of all the sensors, the camera and GPIO buttons were checked for correct operation. Astro Pi performed flawlessly.

EMC Testing

Astro Pi EMC testing falls into two categories, Radiated Emissions and Radiated Susceptibility.

Radiated EmissioDSC_2070n testing checks that when the Astro Pi is operating, it will not interfere with the Space Station’s systems. We don’t want Tim to start an experiment, and cause a radio blackout, or influence the Stations orbit, for instance. We are also checking that communication frequencies used in an emergency are not blocked by a normally functioning Astro Pi. The test band and specific frequencies are specified to us in a European Space Agency document. Luckily the team at The Raspberry Pi Foundation have designed a special aluminium case, which has the effect of blocking most radio waves produced by the Astro Pi.

This horn antenna is picking up emissions above 1GHz from the Astro Pi, and passing them to a spectrum analyzer outside the chamber. It is OK for Astro Pi to be radiating, but the levels must be below a threshold set by ESA.

Radiated Susceptibility

Here we expose the Astro Pi to modulated radio waves, across a spectrum of frequencies, while looking for any deviation from normal operation. This could be a reset, spurious readings from a sensor, or a unrecoverable software error. This test will give us confidence that the Astro Pi will not pass any problems into the ISS power system (the only connection from Astro Pi to ISS is for 5V power). It also give us confidence that the submitted experiments will be performed properly, and you will all get useful results.

Other tests to be performed before flight are, off-gassing (a check of chemicals released by Astro Pi when exposed to vacuum), flammability assessment,  and operation when powered from a crew laptop.

Follow Astro Pi on twitter @Astro_pi for more updates, and I hope this has been some help!


Myself, and one of the Airbus DS Apprentices, who is training to be an EMC test Engineer!

My Mars Rover needs a name!

I’m building a “Mars Rover” to use at events and schools.

Its going to be powered by a Raspberry Pi and be able to carry out missions and tasks.

Can you help me give it a name? Tweet me! @JohnChinner

There is still loads of work to do, but the chassis is finished, and the body is getting a layer of thermal blanket wrapped around it as I write this!

I think its looking cool, and it can only get cooler!


And this is me with our “actual” prototype Mars rover, Bruno!


Cheesy grin time!

CANCELLED! Portsmouth Apprentice Open Day – 14th March

Sorry, we have had to cancel the Apprenticeship Open Day on 14th March.

If you were coming and have questions or need information, contact me through the form at the bottom of my About page.



Interested in a craft or engineering Apprenticeship?

Find out more about Airbus Defence and Space apprenticeships at our open days on 7th March in Stevenage and 14th March in Portsmouth.

Email by 27th February to register your interest!

Hope to see you there!


Its not just NASA testing reentry vehicles!

Remember NASA’s Orion flight a few weeks ago?

Well, I’m very exited that ESA will shortly be testing the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), on a suborbital flight to test technologies and critical systems for Europe’s future automated reentry systems.

In a world first, Europe will launch and land an unmanned spaceplane that has no wings but instead features an aerodynamic shape that produces the lift to fly through the atmosphere. Flaps and thrusters will autonomously steer it back to a splashdown at a precise point in the Pacific Ocean.


After separation from Vega at about 340 km altitude 18 minutes into flight, it will coast up to a maximum height of about 420 km. Next, it will begin reentry, recording data from a large number of conventional and advanced sensors.

The entry speed of 27 000 km/h (7.5 km/s) creates the same conditions as those for a vehicle returning from low orbit. It will navigate through the atmosphere within its reentry corridor before descending, slowed by a multistage parachute, for a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean some 100 minutes after liftoff.

The spacecraft will fly fully autonomously, and will be closely monitored from its Mission Control Center located at the Advanced Logistics Technology Engineering Center in Turin, Italy. Signals from the spacecraft will be tracked by two ground stations in Africa and by an antenna on the recovery ship, Nos Aries.

On 11 February, follow the mission live starting 12:30 GMT here.

Mission profile: