Fun New Kickstarter is a Space Station Detector

There’s a coffee shop in Pasadena, California that has a cool little device that lights up whenever the International Space Station is going to passover head, providing a little science lesson for patrons of the cafe. Called “ISS-Above,” the device is the brainchild of Liam Kennedy, a web designer, amateur astronomer and space enthusiast, and there’s a new Kickstarter for the project that will make the device available to anyone.

“It’s both an awareness thing, so more people get to know the Space Station is in their sky,” says Kennedy, “and it’s also to let those who are “up there” know that we know and appreciate what they are doing!”

That’s because not only does it light up when the ISS is nearby, it can also Tweet a message to the Space Station. Plus it has its own built-in web server to give you a ton of information about current and future passes.

It runs on a Raspberry Pi system with a memory card that can be loaded with your location information, so if you are a computer geek, this is totally up your alley! LEDs light up to alert you to the space station’s presence. There are different case options depending on how you’d like your own personal ISS-Above to look, including some colorful 3D-printed options.

But aren’t there already apps available that do this?

“True,” said Kennedy, “and I probably have almost all of them,” talking about the apps that will tell you when the ISS is going to be passing by. ”

“Those are great – BUT – that’s not what ISS-Above is about,” Kennedy said. “I wanted something small; a physical device that can just sit on a window sill or on a shelf beside the TV and light up every time the ISS is making a pass in my sky. Having these in my house for the past few months really has me understand the difference it makes to see just how frequently it passes nearby.”

For this Kickstarter, there are reward options that contain a complete ISS-Above and one of two types of colorful LED display devices, the PiGlow or the Ledborg. The PiGlow is unique with it’s circular/spiral layout while the Ledborg is intensely bright.

A complete ISS-Above device preloaded with your location is available for kicking in to the Kickstarter for $115. If you just want the memory card with your location and custom Twitter login for sending a Tweet to the ISS, then the price is just $42. There are several other options as well. The project has until February 27 to meet its funding goal of $5,000.

The device got its start when Kennedy decided to build his grandkids a device that would alert them when the ISS was going over their own backyards. He brought a sample of ISS-Above to the San Diego Mini Maker’s Faire and people went absolutely crazy for the device. (here’s their writeup about it) Then ISS-Above got noticed by Hackaday and Reddit

You can see many of the Tweets from people who already have the device at the @ISSAboveYOU Twitter feed.

Why a Kickstarter? Kennedy said that while the hardware for the device can be assembled by anyone, he still has many people who have asked him to provide a complete package already setup for their location. But he can only do that if there is enough volume. “Volume means I can purchase the components with lower shipping costs and more efficiently configure and assemble complete units,” he said.

His ultimate goal is to have ISS-Above devices in all space/science museums and public observatories around the world, and for that he needs to develop public display versions of ISS-Above utilizing more extensive LED/graphics capabilities. But again, he needs support to make that possible.

You can read more about the ISS-Above Kickstarter and the pledge rewards here.

How the ISS-Above works. Image courtesy Liam Kennedy.
How the ISS-Above works. Image courtesy Liam Kennedy.

3 Replies to “Fun New Kickstarter is a Space Station Detector”

  1. The project is a good way to learn programming skills, build electronic projects and combine the two to create a tool for tracking the ISS, but one can also download the Keps from as well as tracking programs that follow not only the ISS, but almost all viewable satellites, from AMSAT birds, to GOES, GPS/GLONASS, to weather satellites and TDRSS and communications satellites. You can download the orbital data(Keps), track orbits, AOS/LOS, apogee and perigee and much more.
    You can also enter your coordinates for your location, and update or add to it as a separate file if you change racking locations.

    Neat project, I actually love this one, but if you wish to simply follow along and not have the tools or skills to build such a project, you can search the software available from the AMSAT site and either pay for the version you are thinking of, or look for the shareware alternatives.
    Find them all here at:, you can also look into amateur radio and what the hobby offers here:

  2. There was already an ISS-notify project on Kickstarter in July, 2011 but I do not know if it really delivered. Liam’s approach seems very valid. I like this idea.

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