Overview

Where is the International Space Station (ISS) right now? Well, wherever it is, it won't be there for long. The ISS is always on the move and doing so very quickly. It goes all the way around the world in 1 and half hours (92.68 minutes). So by the time you look up its position, it's probably already somewhere else.

This guide will show how you can use your PyPortal to get the current global location of the ISS and display it on top of a world map. The display will auto update. So by letting this program run, you can have a near real time display of the current location of the ISS.

Let's get started.

Install CircuitPython

CircuitPython is a derivative of MicroPython designed to simplify experimentation and education on low-cost microcontrollers. It makes it easier than ever to get prototyping by requiring no upfront desktop software downloads. Simply copy and edit files on the CIRCUITPY "flash" drive to iterate.

The following instructions will show you how to install CircuitPython. If you've already installed CircuitPython but are looking to update it or reinstall it, the same steps work for that as well!

Set up CircuitPython Quick Start!

Follow this quick step-by-step for super-fast Python power :)

Click the link above to download the latest version of CircuitPython for the PyPortal.

Download and save it to your desktop (or wherever is handy).

Plug your PyPortal into your computer using a known-good USB cable.

A lot of people end up using charge-only USB cables and it is very frustrating! So make sure you have a USB cable you know is good for data sync.

Double-click the Reset button on the top in the middle (magenta arrow) on your board, and you will see the NeoPixel RGB LED (green arrow) turn green. If it turns red, check the USB cable, try another USB port, etc. Note: The little red LED next to the USB connector will pulse red. That's ok!

If double-clicking doesn't work the first time, try again. Sometimes it can take a few tries to get the rhythm right!

You will see a new disk drive appear called PORTALBOOT.

Drag the adafruit-circuitpython-pyportal-<whatever>.uf2 file to PORTALBOOT.

The LED will flash. Then, the PORTALBOOT drive will disappear and a new disk drive called CIRCUITPY will appear.

If you haven't added any code to your board, the only file that will be present is boot_out.txt. This is absolutely normal! It's time for you to add your code.py and get started!

That's it, you're done! :)

PyPortal Default Files

Click below to download a zip of the files that shipped on the PyPortal.

PyPortal CircuitPython Setup

To use all the amazing features of your PyPortal with CircuitPython, you must first install a number of libraries. This page covers that process.

Adafruit CircuitPython Bundle

Download the Adafruit CircuitPython Library Bundle. You can find the latest release here:

Download the adafruit-circuitpython-bundle-4.x-mpy-*.zip bundle zip file, and unzip a folder of the same name. Inside you'll find a lib folder. You have two options:

  • You can add the lib folder to your CIRCUITPY drive. This will ensure you have all the drivers. But it will take a bunch of space on the 8 MB disk
  • Add each library as you need it, this will reduce the space usage but you'll need to put in a little more effort.

At a minimum we recommend the following libraries, in fact we more than recommend. They're basically required. So grab them and install them into CIRCUITPY/lib now!

  • adafruit_esp32spi - This is the library that gives you internet access via the ESP32 using (you guessed it!) SPI transport. You need this for anything Internet
  • adafruit_requests - This library allows us to perform HTTP requests and get responses back from servers. GET/POST/PUT/PATCH - they're all in here!
  • adafruit_pyportal - This is our friendly wrapper library that does a lot of our projects, displays graphics and text, fetches data from the internet. Nearly all of our projects depend on it!
  • adafruit_touchscreen - a library for reading touches from the resistive touchscreen. Handles all the analog noodling, rotation and calibration for you.
  • adafruit_cursorcontrol - a library for reading PyGamer and PyBadge joystick and buttons. Handles all the graphics, button press reading and joystick movement for you.
  • adafruit_io - this library helps connect the PyPortal to our free datalogging and viewing service
  • adafruit_imageload - an image display helper, required for any graphics!
  • adafruit_display_text - not surprisingly, it displays text on the screen
  • adafruit_bitmap_font - we have fancy font support, and its easy to make new fonts. This library reads and parses font files.
  • adafruit_slideshow - for making image slideshows - handy for quick display of graphics and sound
  • neopixel - for controlling the onboard neopixel
  • adafruit_adt7410 - library to read the temperature from the on-board Analog Devices ADT7410 precision temperature sensor
  • adafruit_sdcard - support for reading/writing data from the onboard SD card slot.
  • adafruit_bus_device - low level support for I2C/SPI

Internet Connect!

Once you have CircuitPython setup and libraries installed we can get your board connected to the Internet. Note that access to enterprise level secured WiFi networks is not currently supported, only WiFi networks that require SSID and password.

To get connected, you will need to start by creating a secrets file.

What's a secrets file?

We expect people to share tons of projects as they build CircuitPython WiFi widgets. What we want to avoid is people accidentally sharing their passwords or secret tokens and API keys. So, we designed all our examples to use a secrets.py file, that is in your CIRCUITPY drive, to hold secret/private/custom data. That way you can share your main project without worrying about accidentally sharing private stuff.

Your secrets.py file should look like this:

Download: file
# This file is where you keep secret settings, passwords, and tokens!
# If you put them in the code you risk committing that info or sharing it

secrets = {
    'ssid' : 'home ssid',
    'password' : 'my password',
    'timezone' : "America/New_York", # http://worldtimeapi.org/timezones
    'github_token' : 'fawfj23rakjnfawiefa',
    'hackaday_token' : 'h4xx0rs3kret',
    }

Inside is a python dictionary named secrets with a line for each entry. Each entry has an entry name (say 'ssid') and then a colon to separate it from the entry key 'home ssid' and finally a comma ,

At a minimum you'll need the ssid and password for your local WiFi setup. As you make projects you may need more tokens and keys, just add them one line at a time. See for example other tokens such as one for accessing github or the hackaday API. Other non-secret data like your timezone can also go here, just cause its called secrets doesn't mean you can't have general customization data in there!

For the correct time zone string, look at http://worldtimeapi.org/timezones and remember that if your city is not listed, look for a city in the same time zone, for example Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Miami are all on the same time as New York.

Of course, don't share your secrets.py - keep that out of GitHub, Discord or other project-sharing sites.

Connect to WiFi

OK now you have your secrets setup - you can connect to the Internet. Lets use the ESP32SPI and the Requests libraries - you'll need to visit the CircuitPython bundle and install:

  • adafruit_bus_device
  • adafruit_esp32spi
  • adafruit_requests
  • neopixel

Into your lib folder. Once that's done, load up the following example using Mu or your favorite editor:

import board
import busio
from digitalio import DigitalInOut
import adafruit_esp32spi.adafruit_esp32spi_socket as socket
from adafruit_esp32spi import adafruit_esp32spi
import adafruit_requests as requests

print("ESP32 SPI webclient test")

TEXT_URL = "http://wifitest.adafruit.com/testwifi/index.html"
JSON_URL = "http://api.coindesk.com/v1/bpi/currentprice/USD.json"


# If you are using a board with pre-defined ESP32 Pins:
esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_CS)
esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_BUSY)
esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_RESET)

# If you have an externally connected ESP32:
# esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.D9)
# esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.D10)
# esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.D5)

spi = busio.SPI(board.SCK, board.MOSI, board.MISO)
esp = adafruit_esp32spi.ESP_SPIcontrol(spi, esp32_cs, esp32_ready, esp32_reset)

requests.set_socket(socket, esp)

if esp.status == adafruit_esp32spi.WL_IDLE_STATUS:
    print("ESP32 found and in idle mode")
print("Firmware vers.", esp.firmware_version)
print("MAC addr:", [hex(i) for i in esp.MAC_address])

for ap in esp.scan_networks():
    print("\t%s\t\tRSSI: %d" % (str(ap['ssid'], 'utf-8'), ap['rssi']))

print("Connecting to AP...")
while not esp.is_connected:
    try:
        esp.connect_AP(b'MY_SSID_NAME', b'MY_SSID_PASSWORD')
    except RuntimeError as e:
        print("could not connect to AP, retrying: ",e)
        continue
print("Connected to", str(esp.ssid, 'utf-8'), "\tRSSI:", esp.rssi)
print("My IP address is", esp.pretty_ip(esp.ip_address))
print("IP lookup adafruit.com: %s" % esp.pretty_ip(esp.get_host_by_name("adafruit.com")))
print("Ping google.com: %d ms" % esp.ping("google.com"))

#esp._debug = True
print("Fetching text from", TEXT_URL)
r = requests.get(TEXT_URL)
print('-'*40)
print(r.text)
print('-'*40)
r.close()

print()
print("Fetching json from", JSON_URL)
r = requests.get(JSON_URL)
print('-'*40)
print(r.json())
print('-'*40)
r.close()

print("Done!")

And save it to your board, with the name code.py

This first connection example doesn't use a secrets file - you'll hand-enter your SSID/password to verify connectivity first!

Then go down to this line

esp.connect_AP(b'MY_SSID_NAME', b'MY_SSID_PASSWORD')

and change MY_SSID_NAME and MY_SSID_PASSWORD to your access point name and password, keeping them within the '' quotes. (This example doesn't use the secrets' file, but its also very stand-alone so if other things seem to not work you can always re-load this. You should get something like the following:

In order, the example code...

Initializes the ESP32 over SPI using the SPI port and 3 control pins:

Download: file
esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_CS)
esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_BUSY)
esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_RESET)

spi = busio.SPI(board.SCK, board.MOSI, board.MISO)
esp = adafruit_esp32spi.ESP_SPIcontrol(spi, esp32_cs, esp32_ready, esp32_reset)

Tells our requests library the type of socket we're using (socket type varies by connectivity type - we'll be using the adafruit_esp32spi_socket for this example). We'll also set the interface to an esp object. This is a little bit of a hack, but it lets us use requests like CPython does.

Download: file
requests.set_socket(socket, esp)

Verifies an ESP32 is found, checks the firmware and MAC address

Download: file
if esp.status == adafruit_esp32spi.WL_IDLE_STATUS:
    print("ESP32 found and in idle mode")
print("Firmware vers.", esp.firmware_version)
print("MAC addr:", [hex(i) for i in esp.MAC_address])

Performs a scan of all access points it can see and prints out the name and signal strength:

Download: file
for ap in esp.scan_networks():
    print("\t%s\t\tRSSI: %d" % (str(ap['ssid'], 'utf-8'), ap['rssi']))

Connects to the AP we've defined here, then prints out the local IP address, attempts to do a domain name lookup and ping google.com to check network connectivity (note sometimes the ping fails or takes a while, this isn't a big deal)

Download: file
    print("Connecting to AP...")
esp.connect_AP(b'MY_SSID_NAME', b'MY_SSID_PASSWORD')
print("Connected to", str(esp.ssid, 'utf-8'), "\tRSSI:", esp.rssi)
print("My IP address is", esp.pretty_ip(esp.ip_address))
print("IP lookup adafruit.com: %s" % esp.pretty_ip(esp.get_host_by_name("adafruit.com")))
print("Ping google.com: %d ms" % esp.ping("google.com"))
  

OK now we're getting to the really interesting part. With a SAMD51 or other large-RAM (well, over 32 KB) device, we can do a lot of neat tricks. Like for example we can implement an interface a lot like requests - which makes getting data really really easy

To read in all the text from a web URL call requests.get - you can pass in https URLs for SSL connectivity

Download: file
TEXT_URL = "http://wifitest.adafruit.com/testwifi/index.html"
print("Fetching text from", TEXT_URL)
r = requests.get(TEXT_URL)
print('-'*40)
print(r.text)
print('-'*40)
r.close()

Or, if the data is in structured JSON, you can get the json pre-parsed into a Python dictionary that can be easily queried or traversed. (Again, only for nRF52840, M4 and other high-RAM boards)

Download: file
JSON_URL = "http://api.coindesk.com/v1/bpi/currentprice/USD.json"
print("Fetching json from", JSON_URL)
r = requests.get(JSON_URL)
print('-'*40)
print(r.json())
print('-'*40)
r.close()

Requests

We've written a requests-like library for web interfacing named Adafruit_CircuitPython_Requests. This library allows you to send HTTP/1.1 requests without "crafting" them and provides helpful methods for parsing the response from the server.

# adafruit_requests usage with an esp32spi_socket
import board
import busio
from digitalio import DigitalInOut
import adafruit_esp32spi.adafruit_esp32spi_socket as socket
from adafruit_esp32spi import adafruit_esp32spi
import adafruit_requests as requests

# If you are using a board with pre-defined ESP32 Pins:
esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_CS)
esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_BUSY)
esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_RESET)

# If you have an externally connected ESP32:
# esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.D9)
# esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.D10)
# esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.D5)

spi = busio.SPI(board.SCK, board.MOSI, board.MISO)
esp = adafruit_esp32spi.ESP_SPIcontrol(spi, esp32_cs, esp32_ready, esp32_reset)

print("Connecting to AP...")
while not esp.is_connected:
    try:
        esp.connect_AP(b'MY_SSID_NAME', b'MY_SSID_PASSWORD')
    except RuntimeError as e:
        print("could not connect to AP, retrying: ",e)
        continue
print("Connected to", str(esp.ssid, 'utf-8'), "\tRSSI:", esp.rssi)

# Initialize a requests object with a socket and esp32spi interface
requests.set_socket(socket, esp)

TEXT_URL = "http://wifitest.adafruit.com/testwifi/index.html"
JSON_GET_URL = "http://httpbin.org/get"
JSON_POST_URL = "http://httpbin.org/post"

print("Fetching text from %s"%TEXT_URL)
response = requests.get(TEXT_URL)
print('-'*40)

print("Text Response: ", response.text)
print('-'*40)
response.close()

print("Fetching JSON data from %s"%JSON_GET_URL)
response = requests.get(JSON_GET_URL)
print('-'*40)

print("JSON Response: ", response.json())
print('-'*40)
response.close()

data = '31F'
print("POSTing data to {0}: {1}".format(JSON_POST_URL, data))
response = requests.post(JSON_POST_URL, data=data)
print('-'*40)

json_resp = response.json()
# Parse out the 'data' key from json_resp dict.
print("Data received from server:", json_resp['data'])
print('-'*40)
response.close()

json_data = {"Date" : "July 25, 2019"}
print("POSTing data to {0}: {1}".format(JSON_POST_URL, json_data))
response = requests.post(JSON_POST_URL, json=json_data)
print('-'*40)

json_resp = response.json()
# Parse out the 'json' key from json_resp dict.
print("JSON Data received from server:", json_resp['json'])
print('-'*40)
response.close()

The code first sets up the ESP32SPI interface. Then, it initializes a request object using an ESP32 socket and the esp object.

Download: file
import board
import busio
from digitalio import DigitalInOut
import adafruit_esp32spi.adafruit_esp32spi_socket as socket
from adafruit_esp32spi import adafruit_esp32spi
import adafruit_requests as requests

# If you are using a board with pre-defined ESP32 Pins:
esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_CS)
esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_BUSY)
esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_RESET)

# If you have an externally connected ESP32:
# esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.D9)
# esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.D10)
# esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.D5)

spi = busio.SPI(board.SCK, board.MOSI, board.MISO)
esp = adafruit_esp32spi.ESP_SPIcontrol(spi, esp32_cs, esp32_ready, esp32_reset)

print("Connecting to AP...")
while not esp.is_connected:
    try:
        esp.connect_AP(b'MY_SSID_NAME', b'MY_SSID_PASSWORD')
    except RuntimeError as e:
        print("could not connect to AP, retrying: ",e)
        continue
print("Connected to", str(esp.ssid, 'utf-8'), "\tRSSI:", esp.rssi)

# Initialize a requests object with a socket and esp32spi interface
requests.set_socket(socket, esp)

HTTP GET with Requests

The code makes a HTTP GET request to Adafruit's WiFi testing website - http://wifitest.adafruit.com/testwifi/index.html.

To do this, we'll pass the URL into requests.get(). We're also going to save the response from the server into a variable named response.

While we requested data from the server, we'd what the server responded with. Since we already saved the server's response, we can read it back. Luckily for us, requests automatically decodes the server's response into human-readable text, you can read it back by calling response.text.

Lastly, we'll perform a bit of cleanup by calling response.close(). This closes, deletes, and collect's the response's data. 

Download: file
print("Fetching text from %s"%TEXT_URL)
response = requests.get(TEXT_URL)
print('-'*40)

print("Text Response: ", response.text)
print('-'*40)
response.close()

While some servers respond with text, some respond with json-formatted data consisting of attribute–value pairs.

CircuitPython_Requests can convert a JSON-formatted response from a server into a CPython dict. object.

We can also fetch and parse json data. We'll send a HTTP get to a url we know returns a json-formatted response (instead of text data). 

Then, the code calls response.json() to convert the response to a CPython dict

Download: file
print("Fetching JSON data from %s"%JSON_GET_URL)
response = requests.get(JSON_GET_URL)
print('-'*40)

print("JSON Response: ", response.json())
print('-'*40)
response.close()

HTTP POST with Requests

Requests can also POST data to a server by calling the requests.post method, passing it a data value.

Download: file
data = '31F'
print("POSTing data to {0}: {1}".format(JSON_POST_URL, data))
response = requests.post(JSON_POST_URL, data=data)
print('-'*40)

json_resp = response.json()
# Parse out the 'data' key from json_resp dict.
print("Data received from server:", json_resp['data'])
print('-'*40)
response.close()

You can also post json-formatted data to a server by passing json_data into the requests.post method.

Download: file
    json_data = {"Date" : "July 25, 2019"}
print("POSTing data to {0}: {1}".format(JSON_POST_URL, json_data))
response = requests.post(JSON_POST_URL, json=json_data)
print('-'*40)

json_resp = response.json()
# Parse out the 'json' key from json_resp dict.
print("JSON Data received from server:", json_resp['json'])
print('-'*40)
response.close()
  

Advanced Requests Usage

Want to send custom HTTP headers, parse the response as raw bytes, or handle a response's http status code in your CircuitPython code?

We've written an example to show advanced usage of the requests module below.

import board
import busio
from digitalio import DigitalInOut
import adafruit_esp32spi.adafruit_esp32spi_socket as socket
from adafruit_esp32spi import adafruit_esp32spi
import adafruit_requests as requests

# If you are using a board with pre-defined ESP32 Pins:
esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_CS)
esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_BUSY)
esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_RESET)

# If you have an externally connected ESP32:
# esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.D9)
# esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.D10)
# esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.D5)

spi = busio.SPI(board.SCK, board.MOSI, board.MISO)
esp = adafruit_esp32spi.ESP_SPIcontrol(spi, esp32_cs, esp32_ready, esp32_reset)

print("Connecting to AP...")
while not esp.is_connected:
    try:
        esp.connect_AP(b'MY_SSID_NAME', b'MY_SSID_PASSWORD')
    except RuntimeError as e:
        print("could not connect to AP, retrying: ",e)
        continue
print("Connected to", str(esp.ssid, 'utf-8'), "\tRSSI:", esp.rssi)

# Initialize a requests object with a socket and esp32spi interface
requests.set_socket(socket, esp)

JSON_GET_URL = "http://httpbin.org/get"

# Define a custom header as a dict.
headers = {"user-agent" : "blinka/1.0.0"}

print("Fetching JSON data from %s..."%JSON_GET_URL)
response = requests.get(JSON_GET_URL, headers=headers)
print('-'*60)

json_data = response.json()
headers = json_data['headers']
print("Response's Custom User-Agent Header: {0}".format(headers['User-Agent']))
print('-'*60)

# Read Response's HTTP status code
print("Response HTTP Status Code: ", response.status_code)
print('-'*60)

# Read Response, as raw bytes instead of pretty text
print("Raw Response: ", response.content)

# Close, delete and collect the response data
response.close()

WiFi Manager

That simpletest example works but its a little finicky - you need to constantly check WiFi status and have many loops to manage connections and disconnections. For more advanced uses, we recommend using the WiFiManager object. It will wrap the connection/status/requests loop for you - reconnecting if WiFi drops, resetting the ESP32 if it gets into a bad state, etc.

Here's a more advanced example that shows the WiFi manager and also how to POST data with some extra headers:

import time
import board
import busio
from digitalio import DigitalInOut
import neopixel
from adafruit_esp32spi import adafruit_esp32spi
from adafruit_esp32spi import adafruit_esp32spi_wifimanager

print("ESP32 SPI webclient test")

# Get wifi details and more from a secrets.py file
try:
    from secrets import secrets
except ImportError:
    print("WiFi secrets are kept in secrets.py, please add them there!")
    raise

# If you are using a board with pre-defined ESP32 Pins:
esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_CS)
esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_BUSY)
esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.ESP_RESET)

# If you have an externally connected ESP32:
# esp32_cs = DigitalInOut(board.D9)
# esp32_ready = DigitalInOut(board.D10)
# esp32_reset = DigitalInOut(board.D5)

spi = busio.SPI(board.SCK, board.MOSI, board.MISO)
esp = adafruit_esp32spi.ESP_SPIcontrol(spi, esp32_cs, esp32_ready, esp32_reset)
"""Use below for Most Boards"""
status_light = neopixel.NeoPixel(board.NEOPIXEL, 1, brightness=0.2) # Uncomment for Most Boards
"""Uncomment below for ItsyBitsy M4"""
# status_light = dotstar.DotStar(board.APA102_SCK, board.APA102_MOSI, 1, brightness=0.2)
# Uncomment below for an externally defined RGB LED
# import adafruit_rgbled
# from adafruit_esp32spi import PWMOut
# RED_LED = PWMOut.PWMOut(esp, 26)
# GREEN_LED = PWMOut.PWMOut(esp, 27)
# BLUE_LED = PWMOut.PWMOut(esp, 25)
# status_light = adafruit_rgbled.RGBLED(RED_LED, BLUE_LED, GREEN_LED)
wifi = adafruit_esp32spi_wifimanager.ESPSPI_WiFiManager(esp, secrets, status_light)

counter = 0

while True:
    try:
        print("Posting data...", end='')
        data = counter
        feed = 'test'
        payload = {'value':data}
        response = wifi.post(
            "https://io.adafruit.com/api/v2/"+secrets['aio_username']+"/feeds/"+feed+"/data",
            json=payload,
            headers={"X-AIO-KEY":secrets['aio_key']})
        print(response.json())
        response.close()
        counter = counter + 1
        print("OK")
    except (ValueError, RuntimeError) as e:
        print("Failed to get data, retrying\n", e)
        wifi.reset()
        continue
    response = None
    time.sleep(15)

You'll note here we use a secrets.py file to manage our SSID info. The wifimanager is given the ESP32 object, secrets and a neopixel for status indication.

Note, you'll need to add a some additional information to your secrets file so that the code can query the Adafruit IO API:

  • aio_username
  • aio_key

You can go to your adafruit.io View AIO Key link to get those two values and add them to the secrets file, which will now look something like this:

Download: file
# This file is where you keep secret settings, passwords, and tokens!
# If you put them in the code you risk committing that info or sharing it

secrets = {
    'ssid' : '_your_ssid_',
    'password' : '_your_wifi_password_',
    'timezone' : "America/Los_Angeles", # http://worldtimeapi.org/timezones
    'aio_username' : '_your_aio_username_',
    'aio_key' : '_your_aio_key_',
    }

Next, set up an Adafruit IO feed named test

We can then have a simple loop for posting data to Adafruit IO without having to deal with connecting or initializing the hardware!

Take a look at your test feed on Adafruit.io and you'll see the value increase each time the CircuitPython board posts data to it!

ISS Location

Getting the current location of the ISS is actually super easy. There's a very simple Open Notify API Server which provides a couple of data sources:

The one we'll use is...you guessed it...the one called ISS Location Now. That links to a simple JSON result which gives the current ISS location in terms of latitude and longitude.

The only problem is that latitude and longitude coordinates (lat, lon) describe the location in terms of a spherical coordinate system, since the Earth is round. We want to convert that to a 2D (x, y) location on a flat surface, like the PyPortal display. This is the realm of map projections. There are quite a few, a lot of which are not rectangular. We'll just stick with the classic Mercator projection.

Computing Screen Coordinates

So how do we convert the (lat, lon) coordinates provided by the web service into (x, y) coordinates we can display on our PyPortal? It's basically the same math that is used in the map transform.

You can find it for the Mercator projection on the page linked above. It's kind of buried in there with a bunch of others, but the main one to focus on is the one in terms of map width (W):

Instead of map width, this will be our display width. The other symbols are:

  • W = display width (320 for PyPortal)
  • λ = longitude in radians
  • φ = latitude in radians
  • π = Pi (a constant)

We know our display width W. And π is a known constant (3.1415etc). The λo is just an offset for the horizontal origin. So then we can take any (lat, lon) = (φ, λ) pair and compute the corresponding (x, y) location for the PyPortal display.

This stackoverflow post also has some good information.

Setting Up The Map

The math above works almost all the way to the North and South poles. But the ISS has an orbital inclination of 51.6°, so we don't need to worry about latitudes above that. This works out nicely as it let's us crop our map a little at the top and bottom, which makes it fit better on the PyPortal display.

So, let's get a map. The one used on the same Wikipedia page linked above will work fine.

And now we want to crop this map to fit the PyPortal screen, which is 320 x 240 pixels. You can do this in image manipulation software like Photoshop or Gimp. The red dashed rectangle below represents our crop which has an aspect ratio of 320:240 and uses the entire width of the map.

After cropping, we end up with this:

Then we just scale it so it's 320 x 240 pixels and save it as a BMP files so we can load it with the CircuitPython displayio library.

Here's the final file:

ISS Map Tracker

Now that we know where to get the current (lat, lon) for the ISS and how to convert that to (x, y) we can write a little program to display this in near real time. The general idea for the program is pretty simple:

  • Load a background map (map.bmp)
  • Every ~10 seconds:
    • Get the current (lat, lon) location
    • Compute screen (x, y) from (lat, lon)
    • Draw a marker at (x,y)
    • Add location trail

That's it.

Here's the complete code that does this:

import time
import math
import board
import displayio
from terminalio import FONT
from adafruit_pyportal import PyPortal
from adafruit_display_shapes.circle import Circle
from adafruit_display_text.label import Label

#--| USER CONFIG |--------------------------
MARK_SIZE = 10           # marker radius
MARK_COLOR = 0xFF3030    # marker color
MARK_THICKNESS = 5       # marker thickness
TRAIL_LENGTH = 200       # trail length
TRAIL_COLOR = 0xFFFF00   # trail color
DATE_COLOR = 0x111111    # date color
TIME_COLOR = 0x111111    # time color
LAT_MAX = 80             # latitude (deg) of map top/bottom edge
UPDATE_RATE = 10         # update rate in seconds
#-------------------------------------------

DATA_SOURCE = "http://api.open-notify.org/iss-now.json"
DATA_LOCATION = ["iss_position"]

WIDTH = board.DISPLAY.width
HEIGHT = board.DISPLAY.height

# determine the current working directory needed so we know where to find files
cwd = ("/"+__file__).rsplit('/', 1)[0]
pyportal = PyPortal(url=DATA_SOURCE,
                    json_path=DATA_LOCATION,
                    status_neopixel=board.NEOPIXEL,
                    default_bg=cwd+"/map.bmp")

# Connect to the internet and get local time
pyportal.get_local_time()

# Date and time label
date_label = Label(FONT, text="0000-00-00", color=DATE_COLOR, x=165, y=223)
time_label = Label(FONT, text="00:00:00", color=TIME_COLOR, x=240, y=223)
pyportal.splash.append(date_label)
pyportal.splash.append(time_label)

# ISS trail
trail_bitmap = displayio.Bitmap(3, 3, 1)
trail_palette = displayio.Palette(1)
trail_palette[0] = TRAIL_COLOR
trail = displayio.Group(max_size=TRAIL_LENGTH)
pyportal.splash.append(trail)

# ISS location marker
marker = displayio.Group(max_size=MARK_THICKNESS)
for r in range(MARK_SIZE - MARK_THICKNESS, MARK_SIZE):
    marker.append(Circle(0, 0, r, outline=MARK_COLOR))
pyportal.splash.append(marker)

def get_location(width=WIDTH, height=HEIGHT):
    """Fetch current lat/lon, convert to (x, y) tuple scaled to width/height."""

    # Get location
    try:
        location = pyportal.fetch()
    except RuntimeError:
        return None, None

    # Compute (x, y) coordinates
    lat = float(location["latitude"])   # degrees, -90 to 90
    lon = float(location["longitude"])  # degrees, -180 to 180

    # Scale latitude for cropped map
    lat *= 90 / LAT_MAX

    # Mercator projection math
    # https://stackoverflow.com/a/14457180
    # https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercator_projection#Alternative_expressions
    x = lon + 180
    x = width * x / 360

    y = math.radians(lat)
    y = math.tan(math.pi / 4 + y / 2)
    y = math.log(y)
    y = (width * y) / (2 * math.pi)
    y = height / 2 - y

    return int(x), int(y)

def update_display(current_time, update_iss=False):
    """Update the display with current info."""

    # ISS location
    if update_iss:
        x, y = get_location()
        if x and y:
            marker.x = x
            marker.y = y
            if len(trail) >= TRAIL_LENGTH:
                trail.pop(0)
            trail.append(displayio.TileGrid(trail_bitmap,
                                            pixel_shader=trail_palette,
                                            x = x - 1,
                                            y = y - 1) )


    # Date and time
    date_label.text = "{:04}-{:02}-{:02}".format(current_time.tm_year,
                                                 current_time.tm_mon,
                                                 current_time.tm_mday)
    time_label.text = "{:02}:{:02}:{:02}".format(current_time.tm_hour,
                                                 current_time.tm_min,
                                                 current_time.tm_sec)

    board.DISPLAY.refresh_soon()

# Initial refresh
update_display(time.localtime(), True)
last_update = time.monotonic()

# Run forever
while True:
    now = time.monotonic()
    new_position = False
    if now - last_update > UPDATE_RATE:
        new_position = True
        last_update = now
    update_display(time.localtime(), new_position)
    time.sleep(0.5)

Customizing

At the top of the code there is a section with some user changeable settings. It looks like this:

Download: file
#--| USER CONFIG |--------------------------
MARK_SIZE = 10           # marker radius
MARK_COLOR = 0xFF3030    # marker color
MARK_THICKNESS = 5       # marker thickness
TRAIL_LENGTH = 200       # trail length
TRAIL_COLOR = 0xFFFF00   # trail color
DATE_COLOR = 0x111111    # date color
TIME_COLOR = 0x111111    # time color
LAT_MAX = 80             # latitude (deg) of map top/bottom edge
UPDATE_RATE = 10         # update rate in seconds
#-------------------------------------------

You can change the general appearance of the circular marker using MARK_SIZE, MARK_COLOR, MARK_THICKNESS. The trail can be adjusted with TRAIL_LENGTH and TRAIL_COLOR.The data and clock color can be changed with DATE_COLOR and CLOCK_COLOR.

If you use a different map, you can adjust the vertical scaling by specifying the latitude (in degrees) of the upper and lower edges of the map with LAT_MAX. The map used for this guide was cropped at about 80deg of latitude.

You can also change the rate at which the web service is queried and the display is updated using UPDATE_RATE. However, setting this to anything lower (faster) than the default 10 isn't recommended. There's no need to query the service any faster since the amount of pixels the marker will move in 10 seconds is pretty small.

This guide was first published on May 27, 2019. It was last updated on May 27, 2019.