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Creating space art with model small satellites

Published onMar 31, 2020
Creating space art with model small satellites

This activity was originally developed by the ML Learning Initiative’s ongoing PLIX project. It was jointly designed by researchers from MIT and public librarians for family creative learning! Enjoy!


In this activity, you will put your rapid-prototype cubesat design to the test! Here, we will show you how to design three different payloads that can create art in zero gravity!

There are different payloads you can use. Example payloads include art materials, micro:bits, and Raspberry Pi micro-controllers wired to small cameras.

[1] Drawing/Painting in Zero-G

Space art requires no ‘technology’ to collect data. This payload is inspired by the work of a MIT Media Lab researcher, who created charcoal art on paper during a rocket launch!

To make space art, you can put any marking tool (oil pastels, paint, etc.) along with blank paper into your model satellite, toss it around in different patterns, and notice what marks are created while the payload is in the air.

Space art setup at a drop-in workshop.

If you’d like, download the instructional poster here:

Here are some examples created by team members of the Space Exploration Initiative:

View of the art payload before launch…we rolled up some white paper, added paint and random objects to do the “painting,” and placed this into a model satellite!

Some of the works we created look quite abstract! In this case, the payload consisted of marbles, cotton balls, rubber bands, and paint post-launch!

This space art was created by only vertical movement of the payload, using bits and pieces of various crayons.

Space art created by only horizontal movement of the payload.

Space art created by both vertical and horizontal movement of the payload.

If you have a few tech. tools at home (including a micro:bit, a raspberry pi, or a camera), you can also use these a payload for your model satellite! Read about those below:

[2] Digital Art with micro:bit + Scratch

Your satellite can also be used to make digital art, or physical computing interfaces! We experimented with micro:bit as the satellite payload, and used Scratch to collect and visualize the data. There are a few ways the micro:bit can send data to Scratch (get started here). We got creative with ours by having Scratch draw out a path of an astronaut using the micro:bit’s tilt (there is a gyroscope inside the micro:bit!) data:

Drawing a path in Scratch from micro:bit data

Scratch code for the project here:

This is something we’d like to keep playing with, so let us know if you use micro:bit and Scratch (and share your code too) in the comments below. Feel free to remix the existing code, or create new ones!

[3] Photography with Raspberry Pi + Cam

The third art activity is to turn your cubesat into a camera! For this component, we used Public Lab’s Infragram Pi-camera as a payload. All the information you will need is on their website: Your images do not need to be taken from the air, though: as an easy at-home alternative, use your phone as the satellite camera and take images of your home or neighborhood!

Infragram photo from a balloon launch workshop at MIT.

…And Beyond!

We’re curious to play with more payloads, whether it be different sensors (e.g. air quality), or different boards (e.g., Arduino). Please share with us if you try something else! Report out in the Full STEAM Ahead forum.


  • Create a work of art inspired by space or created with a satellite that you’ve made! Share an image of your creation to the Exploring CubeSats forum!

  • “Learn one, do one, teach one” - share what you just learned or created with a member of your family!

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