ISS Above installation via Mac OSX

I recently backed the ISS Above wearable project on Kickstarter, which got me thinking about (and tinkering with) my first ISS Above. What is it? Just a super-cool little widget that you can build on top of a Raspberry Pi which will notify you when the International Space Station is about to pass over your location.

ISS-Above on a Raspberry Pi, showing the ISS will soon pass almost directly over my house.

Unfortunately, when I tried to update my ISS Above, I wasn’t able to successfully write to the old SD card in my RasPi. Not the first SD card that I’ve roached, and I have most of the data from the old card. So I thought I would take this problem opportunity to write up the steps I use to [re-]build an ISS Above gizmo using my Mac.

Items needed:

  • Raspberry Pi computer, complete with 8 GB SD card, power, and case. As far as I know, any model of RasPi will work.
  • Wired network connection, at least during setup. (I’ll show how to migrate it to wifi below.)
  • One of the supported display options. I’m using the PiGlow in this case.
  • An SD card writer/reader. I like the itty bitty one that AdaFruit sells.
  • The ISS-Above code. I have the HD version, which allows the Pi to show live video from the ISS.
  • Pi Filler app, from Ivan’s RasPi site. While you’re there, grab Pi Copier and Pi Finder.

Steps (edited–one of the Bootstrapper packages seems to be interfering with ISS-Above):

  1. DON’T plug in the SD card/writer yet. You’ll be prompted for that in a moment.
  2. Get the ISS Above image (unzipped) onto the Mac. I had trouble unzipping on OSX, so instead of fixing whatever the problem was, I took the easy way out and unzipped on a PC.
  3. Launch the Pi Filler app to write the ISS Above image to an 8 GB SD card. It will prompt you for your ISS Above image file, (e.g. ~/Downloads/issaboveV2015-10-02-14-MASTER.img), and tell you when to insert the SD card/writer. This will take a while, possibly up to half an hour depending on all of your hardware. It took about 10 minutes on my system. I’m pretty sure the Pi Filler unmounts the SD card when finished.
  4. Insert the freshly-written SD card into your Pi, hook up your network cable, and power it up!
  5. Wait about 30 seconds for the Pi to finish booting.
  6. (Optional — If you don’t know how to set up DHCP addresses on your network, skip this step.) Fire up Ivan’s Pi Finder app. This has a handy “Copy MAC address” button. Configure your new wired DHCP address (and restart the DHCP server if necessary), then reboot your Pi to pick up the new address.
  7. It’ll take about a minute for the Pi to reboot and start the web server. Point your web browser
  8. Use Adafruit’s Pi Bootstrapper to install some useful software. Just run the following command on an OSX Terminal window:
    curl -SLs | bash
  9. Bootstrapper took about 10 minutes on my system. Once that was done, I logged in via ssh (using Pi Finder again) to edit /boot/occidentalis.txt and set up my hostname and wifi credentials. (I could also have done this in advance, but I didn’t have the wifi password handy at the time.)
  10. Shut down the Pi: sudo shutdown -h -P now
  11. Plug in the wifi dongle. Be sure to leave the wired network connected for the time being.
  12. (Another optional step.) Power up the Pi, wait 30 seconds, and use Pi Finder to log in again. (I should have done this on the earlier ssh connection, but I wasn’t thinking about it at the time.) Get the MAC address for the wifi interface. I used:
    and set up another DHCP address for the Pi-wifi MAC address from the wlan interface. Shut down the Pi again: sudo shutdown -h -P now
  13. Set up the new ISS-Above appliance where you’d like it to live. Ideally, this will be some place where the Pi itself is visible (so people will notice the blinking PiGlow), with an HDMI display within reach for a graphical display.
  14. Power it up and wait for the ISS to pass overhead!

I’ve got this up and running for now, but there are some things I’d like to fix. For one thing, the instructions above could be more streamlined. (I just wrote everything down as I did it.) Also, I haven’t got the live feed from the ISS set up. But those tweaks can be done later. Right now, I’m going to keep an eye on the next pass of the ISS, practically right over my house!

About Jim Vanderveen

I'm a bit of a Renaissance man, with far too many hobbies for my free time! But more important than any hobby is my family. My proudest accomplishment has been raising some great kids! And somehow convincing my wife to put up with me since 1988. ;)
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