back to article Scientists use Raspberry Pi tech to protect NASA telescope data

Scientists have revealed how data from a NASA telescope was secured thanks to creative thinking and a batch of Raspberry Pi computers. The telescope was the Super Pressure Balloon Imaging Telescope (SuperBIT), launched on April 16, 2023, from Wānaka Airport in New Zealand. The telescope was raised to approximately 33,000 …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "we insured the scientific returns of superBIT against a loss event that came true"

    And that, gentlemen, is the difference between Science planning and Management planning.

    With Management, the only plan is that it works.

    Well done boffins !

    1. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Re: "we insured the scientific returns of superBIT against a loss event that came true"

      With management the only plan is to pass the blame when it goes wrong.

  2. Ball boy Silver badge

    I'm reminded of early space exploration

    Back in the day, I remember hearing a story (true or not, I don't recall) about NASA spending a small fortune developing a ball-point that would work in zero-G, on damp paper and so on. The Russians solved the same problem by sending their lads up with pencils. KISS makes a lot of sense, especially so if you can't easily service or update your tech.

    * Update: Just checked. Not entirely true about NASA - but the principle still holds! ;)

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

      Largely apocryphal and with pencils you need to be able to sharpen them without allowing little bits of graphite and wood shavings to float around the capsule.

      One speck of graphite coming to rest on the contacts of a switch or a sliver of wood blocking the contacts of a switch could easily fatally end a mission. Unlikely but not a zero risk so best avoided.

      1. Paul Herber Silver badge

        Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

        Better to use lead then instead of graphite, and it'll be weightless !!! In spaaaace.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

          Why do we call the stuff in pencils lead? It never is....

          1. Spoobistle
            Boffin

            No Lead in your Pencil

            The stuff in pencils is graphite, once known as plumbago, or "black lead" from its resemblance to the metal or its ore.

          2. Old Hand

            Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

            It WAS Lead, once. I remember kids writing on slates (smoothed pieces of the roofing-material in a wooden frame) when I was one on the 1940s. Lead was used because it was malleable and easy to make a Point with, and could be wiped off. Pencils with graphite took over; someone wrote a book about that transition . . . Graphite came from a small outcrop in Cumbria, which suddenly became valuable.

            (And ball-points came in because they could be used in swooping aircraft. LvS

      2. rg287 Silver badge

        Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

        Largely apocryphal

        Entirely apocryphal. The Fisher AG-7 "Anti-Gravity" Space Pen was developed completely privately. NASA were in fact initially sceptical and put it through rigorous testing before acceptance (they had previously been using mechanical pencils, which solve the issue of sharpening, but they were concerned about flakes snapping off. They had also managed to spend >$100 per pencil somehow, which had caused some consternation in the press).

        Ultimately both NASA and the Soviets ordered Fisher Space Pens, with records showing they both got a 40% discount for bulk orders ($2.39 each instead of $3.98!).

        It's unclear how much NASA spent testing the pens before ordering them.

      3. jml9904

        Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

        Or use a mechanical pencil...

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

          As mentioned above that solves the problem of bits of wood but you're still going to get bits of graphite breaking off either in use or if the users sharpen the points on some convenient surface.

          1. Patched Out
            Alert

            Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

            Mechanical pencils are banned in our electronics lab as part of our FOD (Foreign Object Damage) prevention program. As others have noted, the thin graphite can break off and fall into the equipment where it can cause short circuits.

            I certainly wouldn't want conductive bits of graphite floating around in my space capsule or space station!

      4. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

        Better to use a wax crayon really.

        Waterproof, not affected by orientation, non-conductive, cheap, ...

        Hell, they wouldn't even need training as apparently it's child's play.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

          "Better to use a wax crayon really."

          True, but then you'd need larger sheets of paper to write on, as the writing would have to be larger, due to the larger diameter of the crayons.

          Smaller diameter crayons are available, but they tend to flake off more particles of crayon as you write. :-(

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

            Chinagraph pencils or "grease pencils" can be used for quick notes and have been used commonly in military and air traffic control etc.

            When I first started flying, scribble down notes were done with a chinagraph on a wipe-clean knee-board, with the added advantage that they could be used to mark flight planning on the laminated maps and wipe off later.

            There are wooden versions, but also peel spiral paper bound ones.

            1. Orv Silver badge

              Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

              I've often used those in auto repair to mark parts. Grease pencil for dark colored bits, Sharpie marker for light colored bits. ;)

          2. Toni the terrible Bronze badge

            Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

            Wax is not as electrically conductive as graphite or lead

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: I'm reminded of early space exploration

          >Better to use a wax crayon really.

          But then you couldn't have Marine Corp pilot astronauts

  3. Chris Evans

    5TB of solid-state storage

    "Raspberry Pi 3B and 5TB of solid-state storage..... simply copying data to an SD card"

    Photo's at:https://www.space.com/superbit-balloon-telescope-dark-matter-data-salvaged

    show a 1TB microSD card and 2 USB pens!

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: 5TB of solid-state storage

      That’s an interesting picture with a single 1 TB micro SD card

      I was wondering how they got to 5TB, given the largest SDXC card is 2TB, but it seems none of the reputable vendors has actually released one for sale yet.

      The USB pen drives, the largest ultra fit I’ve seen are 256GB. However, given the use of ultra fit, I question why they needed to use a pair of cables to attach the drives to the Raspberry.

      Personally I was expecting a USB connected NVME SSD, potentially paired in a RAID 1 configuration.

      Naturally, we are assuming the picture is of what was sent into space..

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: 5TB of solid-state storage

        “wondering how they got to 5TB”

        Taxpayers dollars.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: 5TB of solid-state storage

          Well not found a photo of the other side of the assembly, from what is in the photo it might be a custom HAT board with four SD slots…

      2. Grunchy Silver badge

        Re: 5TB of solid-state storage

        I’ve got a 512GB Ultra Fit, plus those USB pens are actually Micro-SD adapters. In fact I had some of those exact ones, the Micro-SD card slots into the USB-A plug.

        Cheap and cheerful adapters, except every single one I had eventually died. Not very sturdy.

    2. Ianab

      Re: 5TB of solid-state storage

      Reading the research paper they wrote, there are 5 x 1TB SD cards. One plugged into the Pi, and 4 more via USB adaptors, and those are hidden under the Pi. So a total of 5TB, all in microSD cards. It seems that speed of saving the data wasn't critical. The Pi units would fire up periodically and check the main storage for any file updates, and just copy down any new or changed files, then go back to sleep.

      I assume the 2 other USB dongles are the GPS receiver and Sat modem. Those along with the 9V battery lets the unit phone home once it lands so the boffins know where to look for it.

      Pretty ingenious really, and it actually worked in the real world test.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    SDCard ejector

    Never under estimate the bandwidth of a snow storm of micro-SD cards

  5. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Curious cougar

    "a curious cougar apparently nosed around one of them without causing damage"

    Not a 22 year old guy, so not interested. [Where's the Paris icon when we really need it?]

  6. Joe Gurman

    Just need to note

    ....that the volume figures for the balloon referred to its size at causing altitude. It was, of course, much smaller at launch.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just need to note

      It was cold and it had been under a lot of stress

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just need to note

      Just like my waistline, much smaller just before lunch. Does anyone need a spare "a", I've got one going cheap...

  7. newspuppy

    As old as first spy sats....

    All the information is open sourced, so China will be able to implement....

    but seriously.... The first spy sats shot cannisters of film back to earth.... Plucked out of the sky by planes..

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CORONA_(satellite)

    Lovely time tested idea...

    https://youtu.be/yaVh5Jdh_2c?t=240

    1. Catkin Silver badge

      Re: As old as first spy sats....

      The same technique was also predated by Genetrix:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Genetrix

      As a fun bonus fact: thanks to failed balloon capsules landing on the Soviet union, the Soviets were able to complete the first missions to (by probe) photograph the far side of the Moon. They lacked the technical sophistication to develop their own film with the required specs but Genetrix film was perfect for the mission - flexible at low temperatures and radiation resistant. The actual film that flew was taken directly from a US spy balloon, rather than being reverse engineered.

      1. ravenviz Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: As old as first spy sats....

        I like how you qualified that the Russians didn’t try to get to the Moon with a balloon!

  8. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Coat

    Bandwidth

    In an era of high-bandwidth communication, the idea of simply copying data to an SD card and dropping it from a balloon [attaching it to a pigeon] has a certain retro charm

    https://www.theregister.com/2009/09/10/pigeon_v_broadband/

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Starlink?

    And they expected it to work offshore? Seems spectacularly ignorant, to me.

  10. ravenviz Silver badge

    “dragged along the ground for 3km”

    That’s like the unmitigated disaster that’s me knocking everything over in the bathroom in the morning!!

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