Throughout this year, space agencies have been embarking on new missions to explore our solar system, and young people can get involved too through the European Astro Pi Challenge 2023/24, which we’re launching today.
Kids’ code in space with the Astro Pi Challenge
In the past few months India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission landed near the Moon’s south pole, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe flew by Venus on its way to the sun, and the SpaceX Crew-7 launched to the International Space Station (ISS), led by ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen. We’re especially excited about Andreas’ mission because he’s the astronaut who will help to run young people’s Astro Pi programs on board the ISS this year.
As you may know, the European Astro Pi Challenge gives young people the amazing opportunity to conduct scientific experiments in space by writing computer programs for the Astro Pis, special Raspberry Pi computers on board the ISS.
The Astro Pi Challenge is free and offers two missions for young people: Mission Zero is an inspiring activity for introducing kids to text-based programming with Python. Mission Space Lab gives teams of young people the chance to take on a more challenging programming task and stretch their coding and science skills.
Participation in Astro Pi is open to young people up to age 19 in ESA Member States (see the Astro Pi website for eligibility details).
Astro Pi Mission Zero opens today
In Astro Pi Mission Zero, young people write a simple Python program to take a reading using a sensor on one of the ISS Astro Pi computers and display a personalised pixel art image for the astronauts on board the ISS. They can take part by themselves or as coding teams.
The theme for Mission Zero 2023/24 is ‘fauna and flora’: young people are invited to program pixel art images or animations of animals, plants, or fungi to display on the Astro Pi computers’ LED pixel screen and remind the astronauts aboard the ISS of Earth’s natural wonders.
By following the guide we provide, kids can complete the Mission Zero coding activity in around one hour, for example during a school lesson or coding club session. No coding experience is needed to take part. Kids can write their code in any web browser on any computer connected to the internet, without special equipment or software.
All young people that meet the eligibility criteria and follow the official Mission Zero guidelines will have their program run in space for up to 30 seconds. They will receive a unique and personalised certificate to show their coding achievement. The certificate will display the exact start and end time of their program’s run, and where the ISS was above Earth in this time period.
Mission Zero 2023/24 opens today and is open until Monday 25 March 2024. It’s very easy to support young people to get involved — find out more on the Astro Pi website:
In this year’s Astro Pi Mission Space Lab, ESA astronauts are inviting teams of young people to solve a scientific task by writing a Python program.
The Mission Space Lab task is to gather data with the Astro Pi computers to calculate the speed at which the ISS is travelling. This new format of the mission will allow many more young people to run their programs in space and get a taste of space science.
Mission Space Lab will open on 6 November. We will share more information about how young people and mentors can participate very soon.
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The European Astro Pi Challenge is an ESA Education project run in collaboration with us here at the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
Celebrate another year of young people’s computer programs in space with us: today we and our collaborators at the European Space Agency can finally announce the winning and highly commended teams in this year’s Astro Pi Mission Space Lab.
Mission Space Lab: Young people’s experiments in space
In Mission Space Lab, teams of young people work together to create computer programs for scientific experiments to be carried out on the International Space Station. The programs they design and create run on the two Astro Pi computers: space-adapted Raspberry Pis with cameras and a range of sensors.
Teams’ programs were deployed on the ISS during May and ran for up to 3 hours, collecting data for their experiments. Once we’d sent the teams their data, they started analysing it in order to write their Phase 4 reports. To identify patterns and phenomena they were interested in, many teams chose to compare their data with other sources.
We were especially excited to see the results from the experiments this year, particularly given that the upgraded Astro Pi units with their High Quality Cameras were positioned in a new observation window (WORF) on the ISS. This allowed teams to capture high-resolution images with a much wider field of view.
What have Mission Space Lab teams investigated this year?
We feel very privileged to see the culmination of the team’s experiments in their final reports. So let’s share a few highlights from this year’s experiments:
Team Aretusafrom Sicily explored the effects of climate change by cross-referencing the images they captured with the Astro Pis with historical images from Google Earth. They used Near Infrared photography to capture images, and NDVI (Normalised Difference Vegetation Index) image processing in their analysis. Below you can see that they have compared data of Saudi Arabia from 1987 to 2023, showing increasing levels of vegetation grown in attempts to restore degraded land.
Team Barrande from the Czech Republic trained AI models on images they gathered to identify topographical features of Earth. Their Mission Space Lab program used the Astro Pi computer’s machine learning dongle to train one AI model in real time. Later, the team also used the collected images to train another model back on Earth. Comparing the outputs of the two models, the team could tell how well the models had identified different topographical features. The below selection shows an image the team’s experiment captured on the left, the same image after processing by the AI model trained on the Astro Pi computer in the middle, and the image processed by the AI model trained on Earth.
TeamDAHspace from Portugal measured the intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field along the orbit path of the ISS. Using the magnetometer on the Astro Pi, their experiment recorded data allowing the team to track changes of intensity. The team mapped this data to the ISS’s coordinates, showing the difference in the Earth’s magnetic field between the North Pole (points 1 and 2 on the chart below) and the South Pole (points 3 and 4).
And the winning teams are…
We and our collaborators at ESA Education have been busy reviewing all of the reports to assess the scientific merit, use of the Astro Pi hardware, experiment design, and data analysis. The ten winning teams come from schools and coding clubs in 11 countries. We are sending each team some cool space swag to recognise their achievement.
You can click on a team name to read the team’s experiment report.
All of the teams whose Mission Space Lab programs ran on the ISS will receive a certificate signed by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. The winning and highly commended teams will also be invited to a live video chat with an ESA astronaut in the autumn.
Congratulations to all 2022/23 participants
Huge congratulations to every team that participated in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab. We hope you found it fun and inspiring to take part.
A big thank you to everyone who has been involved in the European Astro Pi Challenge this year. An amazing 24,850 young people from 29 countries had their programs run in space this year. We can’t wait to do it all again starting in September.
And it’s not just us saying thanks and well done — here’s a special message from ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer:
Looking forward to the next Astro Pi Challenge
On 18 September 2023, we’ll launch the European Astro Pi Challenge for 2023/24. Mission Zero will open in September, and we’ll announce exciting news about Mission Space Lab in September too.
If you know a young person who might be interested in the Astro Pi Challenge, sign up for the newsletter on astro-pi.org and follow the Astro Pi Twitter account for all the latest announcements about how you can support them to take the unique opportunity to write code to run in space.
After seven successful years on the International Space Station, 250 vertical miles above our planet, the original two Astro Pi computers that we sent to the ISS to help young people run their code in space have been returned to Earth. From today, one of these Astro Pi computers will be displayed in the Science Museum, London. You can visit it in the new Engineers Gallery, which is dedicated to world-changing engineering innovations and the diverse and fascinating range of people behind them.
A challenge to inspire young people about space and computing
The original Astro Pis, nicknamed Izzy and Ed, have played a major part in feeding tens of thousands of young people’s understanding and passion for science, mathematics, engineering, computing, and coding. In their seven years on the International Space Station (ISS), Izzy and Ed had the job of running over 70,000 programs created by young people as part of the annual Astro Pi Challenge.
Nicki Ashworth, 21, took part in the first-ever Astro Pi challenge after hearing about the opportunity at a science fair: “I thought it sounded like an interesting project, and good practice for my programming skills. I was young and had no idea of the extent of the project and how much it would influence my future.”
Like many young people who have participated in the Astro Pi Challenge, Nicki credits the Astro Pi Challenge as an inspiration to learn more about space and programming, and to decide on a career path: “My experience with Astro Pi definitely helped to shape my future choices. I’m currently in my third year of a Mechanical Engineering degree at University of Southampton, specialising in Computational Engineering and Design. I’ve always loved programming, which is why I took part in the Astro Pi competition, but it led to a fascination with space. This encouraged me to look at engineering as a future, and led me to where I am today!”
In the beginning…
It all started in 2014, when we started collaborating with organisations including the UK Space Agency and European Space Agency (ESA) to fly two Astro Pi computers to the ISS for educational activities during the six-month Principia mission of British ESA astronaut Tim Peake.
The Astro Pi computers each consist of a Raspberry Pi computer integrated with a digital camera and an add-on board filled with environmental sensors, all enclosed in a protective aluminium flight case.
Commander Tim Peake, Britain’s first visitor to the ISS, accompanied the two first Astro Pi computers on the ISS. He used them to run experiments imagined, designed, and coded by school-age young people across the UK.
We held a competition in UK schools and coding clubs to invite young people to create experiments that could be run on the Astro Pis. Students conceived experiments and coded them in Python; we tested their Python programs and eventually picked seven to run on Izzy and Ed on the ISS.
The students’ experiments ranged from a simple but beautiful program to display the flag of the country over which the ISS was flying at a given time, to a reaction-time test for Tim Peake to measure his changing abilities across the six-month mission. The measurements from all the experiments were downloaded to Earth and analysed by the students.
“I still feel incredibly honoured to have competed in the very first [Astro Pi Challenge],” says Aaron Chamberlain, 18, who was 11 years old when he took part in the first-ever Astro Pi Challenge in 2015. “The experience was incredible and really cemented my enthusiasm for all things computing and coding. Finally looking at the photos the Raspberry Pi had taken of the astronauts floating 400 km above us was a feeling of awe that I will never forget.”
The next year, 2016, we expanded our partnership with ESA Education to be able to open up Astro Pi to young people across ESA Member states. The European Astro Pi Challenge has been going from strength to strength each year since, inspiring young people and adult mentors alike.
In 2021 we decided it was time to retire Izzy and Ed and replace them with upgraded Astro Pi computers with plenty of new and improved hardware, including a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B with 8 GB RAM.
Dave Honess, STEM Didactics Expert at the European Space Agency, was engineering lead at the Foundation for the first Astro Pi Challenge, and the return of the original hardware is a special event and moment of reflection for him: “It was a strange experience to open the box and hold the original Astro Pis again after all that time and distance they have travelled — literally billions of miles. Even though their mission is over, we will continue to learn from them with a tear-down analysis to find out if they have been affected by their time in space. Since Principia, I have watched the European Astro Pi Challenge grow with pride year on year, but I still feel very fortunate to have been there at the beginning.”
Thanks to the upgraded hardware, we are able to continue to grow the Astro Pi Challenge in collaboration with ESA Education. And each year it’s so exciting to see the creative and ingenious programs tens of thousands of young people from across Europe send us; 24,850 young people took part in the Challenge in the 2022/2023 cycle.
But how have Astro Pis Izzy and Ed fared in space over these seven years? Jonathan Bell, Principal Software Engineer at Raspberry Pi Limited, had a chance to find out first-hand: “I was lucky enough to have a look inside the returned Astro Pis. I was looking for the cosmetic effects of the unit being on the ISS for so long. On the inside they still look as pristine as when I assembled them! Barely a speck of dust on the internal boards, nor any signs that the external interface ports were worn from their years of use. A few dings and scrapes on the anodised exterior were all that I could see — and a missing joystick cap (as it turns out, hot-melt glue isn’t a permanent adhesive…). It was great to see that they still worked! It made me feel proud for what the team and the Astro Pi programme has achieved over the years. It’s good to have Izzy and Ed back!”
Visit the Science Museum to see an Astro Pi for yourself
The new Engineers Gallery in the Science Museum opens today and is free to visit. Astro Pi computer Izzy is among the amazing exhibits. Learn more at: sciencemuseum.org.uk/engineers
To find out more about the Astro Pi Challenge and how to get involved with your kids at home, your school, or your STEM or coding club, visit astro-pi.org.
The next round of the Challenge starts in September — sign up for news to be the first to hear when we launch it.
In the Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS), there are two Astro Pi computers called Marie Curie and Nikola Tesla. These computers run the programs young people create as part of the annual European Astro Pi Challenge.
For this year’s Astro Pi Mission Zero, young people sent us over 15,000 programs to show the ISS astronauts colourful images and animations of animals and plants on the Astro Pi displays and remind them of home.
A space mission inspired by nature
Mission Zero is a free beginners’ coding activity. It gives young people the unique opportunity to follow our step-by-step guide to write a simple program in Python that can run in space on the ISS orbiting planet Earth.
The Mission Zero activity this year was to write code to use the Astro Pi’s colour sensor to measure the lighting conditions in the Columbus module, and to then use that measurement to set a colour in an image or animation on the Astro Pi’s 8×8 LED display. We invited young people to design images of fauna and flora to give the astronauts on board the ISS a reminder of the beautiful creatures, plantlife, and landscapes found on planet Earth.
The Mission Zero activity is ideal for learners trying text-based programming for the first time. It covers some key programming concepts, including variables, sequence, and iteration.
Tens of thousands of young people had their programs run in space
This year we received 15,551 Mission Zero programs, and after carefully checking them against the entry and safety criteria, we were able to run 15,475 programs. They were sent to us by 23,605 learners working in teams or independently, and 10,207 of this year’s participants were girls.
This year the most Mission Zero programs came from young people in the UK, followed by Spain, France, Italy, and Greece. Lots of different organisations supported young people to take part, including publicly funded primary and secondary schools, as well as educator- and volunteer-led Code Clubs and CoderDojos we support.
We’re celebrating the many different people involved in this year’s mission with a mosaic of the Mission Zero logo made up of lots of the inspiring designs participants sent us. You can explore an interactive version of the image too!
All of the participants whose programs ran on the ISS will be receiving a certificate to recognise their efforts, which will include the time and coordinates of the ISS when their program ran. Programs created by young people from across Europe ran on board the ISS in the final week of May.
Sign up to the Astro Pi newsletter
If you enjoyed Astro Pi Mission Zero this year, we would be delighted to see you again in the next annual round. If you’re feeling inspired by the images young people have created, we invite you to get involved too. We provide guides and help for all adult mentors who want to support young people to take part, and the step-by-step guide for coding a Mission Zero program in 19 European languages.
The activity of designing an image has been really popular, and we have been super impressed with the creativity of young people’s designs. That’s why we’ll be running Mission Zero in the same format again starting in September.
If you’d like to hear news of the Astro Pi Challenge, please sign up to the newsletter on astro-pi.org:
This year, 23,605 young people’s Mission Zero programs ran on the ISS. We need to check all the programs before we can send them to space and that means we got to see all the images and animations that the young people created. Their creativity was absolutely incredible! Here are some inspiring examples:
Mission Space Lab: Young people’s experiments on the ISS
Mission Space Lab runs over eight months and empowers teams of young people to design real science experiments on the ISS, executed by Python programs they write themselves. Teams choose between two themes: ‘Life in space’ and ‘Life on Earth’.
Mission Space Lab teams this year decided to design experiments such as analysing cloud formations to identify where storms commonly occur, looking at ocean colour as a measure of depth, and analysing freshwater systems and the surrounding areas they supply water to.
Teams will be receiving their experiment data later this week, and will be analysing and interpreting it over the next few weeks. For example, the team analysing freshwater systems want to investigate how these systems may be affected by climate change. What their Mission Space Lab program has recorded while running on the Astro Pis is a unique data set that the team can compare against other scientific data.
The challenges of running programs in space
For the ‘Life on Earth’ category of Mission Space Lab experiments this year, the Astro Pis were positioned in a different place to previous years: in the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF). Therefore the Astro Pis could take photos with a wider view. Combined with the High Quality Camera of the upgraded Astro Pi computers we sent to the ISS in 2021, this means that the teams got amazing-quality photos of the Earth’s surface.
Once the experiments for ‘Life on Earth’ were complete, the astronauts moved the Astro Pis back to the Columbus module and replaced their SD cards, ready for capturing the data for the ‘Life in Space’ experiments.
Running programs in an environment as unique as the ISS, where all hardware and software is put to the test, brings many complexities and challenges. Everything that happens on the ISS has to be scheduled well in advance, and astronauts have a strict itinerary to follow to keep the ISS running smoothly.
As usual, this year’s experiments met with their fair share of challenges. One initial challenge the Astro Pis had this year was that the Canadarm, a robotic arm on the outside of the ISS, was in operation during some of the ‘Life on Earth’ experiments. Although it’s fascinating to see part of the ISS in-shot, it also slightly obscured some of the photos.
Another challenge was that window shutters were scheduled to close during some of the experiments, which meant we had to switch around the schedule for Mission Space Lab programs to run so that all of the experiments aiming to capture photos could do so.
What’s next for Astro Pi?
Well done to all the young people who’ve taken part in the European Astro Pi Challenge this year.
If you’ve mentored young people in Mission Zero, then we will share their unique participation certificates with you very soon.
If you are taking part in Mission Space Lab, then we wish you the best of luck with your analysis and final reports. We are excited to read about your findings.
If you’d like to hear about upcoming Astro Pi Challenges, sign up to the newsletter at astro-pi.org.
We are excited to share that 294 teams of young people participating in this year’s Astro Pi Mission Space Lab achieved Flight Status: their programs will run on the Astro Pis installed on the International Space Station (ISS) in April.
Mission Space Lab is part of the European Astro Pi Challenge, an ESA Education project run in collaboration with the Raspberry Pi Foundation. It offers young people the amazing opportunity to conduct scientific investigations in space, by writing computer programs that run on Raspberry Pi computers on board the International Space Station.
To take part in Mission Space Lab, young people form teams and choose between two themes for their experiments, investigating either ‘Life in space’ or ‘Life on Earth’. They send us their experiment ideas in Phase 1, and in Phase 2 they write Python programs to execute their experiments on the Astro Pis onboard the ISS. As we sent upgraded Astro Pis to space at the end of 2021, Mission Space Lab teams can now also choose to use a machine learning accelerator during their experiment time.
In total, 771 teams sent us ideas during Phase 1 in September 2022, so achieving Flight Status is a huge accomplishment for the successful teams. We are delighted that 391 teams submitted programs for their experiments. Teams who submitted had their programs checked for errors and their experiments tested, resulting in 294 teams being granted Flight Status. 134 of these teams included some aspects of machine learning in their experiments using the upgraded Astro Pis’ machine learning accelerator.
The 294 teams to whom we were able to award Flight Status this year represent 1245 young people. 34% of team members are female, and the average participant age is 15. The 294 successful teams hail from 21 countries; Italy has the most teams progressing to the next phase (48), closely followed by Spain (37), the UK (34), Greece (25), and the Czech Republic (25).
Life in space
Teams can use the Astro Pis to investigate life inside ESA’s Columbus module of the ISS, by writing a program to detect things with at least one of the Astro Pi’s sensors. This can include for example the colour and intensity of light in the module, or the temperature and humidity.
81 teams that created ‘Life in space’ experiments have achieved Flight Status this year. Examples of experiments from this year are investigating how the Earth’s magnetic field is felt on the ISS, what environmental conditions the astronauts experience compared to those on Earth directly beneath the ISS as it orbits, or whether the cabin might be suitable for other lifeforms, such as plants or bacteria.
Life on Earth
In the ‘Life on Earth’ theme, teams investigate features on the Earth’s surface using the cameras on the Astro Pis, which are positioned to view Earth from a window on the ISS.
This year the Astro Pis will be located in the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF), which is larger than the window the computers were positioned in in previous years. This means that teams running ‘Life on Earth’ experiments can capture better images. 206 teams that created experiments in the ‘Life on Earth’ theme have achieved Flight Status.
Thanks to the upgraded Astro Pi hardware, this is the second year that teams could decide whether to use visible-light or infrared (IR) photography. Teams running experiments using IR photography have chosen to examine topics such as plant health in different regions, the effects of deforestation, and desertification. Teams collecting visible light photography have chosen to design experiments analysing clouds in different regions, changes in ocean colour, the velocity of the ISS, and classification of biomes (e.g. desert, forest, grassland, wetland).
Each of this year’s 391 submissions has been through a number of tests to ensure they follow the challenge rules, meet the ISS security requirements, and can run without errors on the Astro Pis. Once the experiments have started, we can’t rely on astronaut intervention to resolve any issues, so we have to make sure that all of the programs will run without any problems.
This means that the start of the year is a very busy time for us. We run tests on Mission Space Lab teams’ programs on a number of exact replicas of the Astro Pis, including a final test to run every experiment that has passed all tests for the full three-hour experiment duration. The 294 experiments that received Flight Status will take over 5 weeks to run.
97 programs submitted by teams during Phase 2 of Mission Space Lab this year did not pass testing and so could not be awarded Flight Status. We wish we could run every experiment that is submitted, but there is only limited time available for the Astro Pis to be positioned in the ISS window. Therefore, we have to be extremely rigorous in our selection, and many of the 97 teams were not successful because of only small issues in their programs. We recognise how much work every Mission Space Lab team does, and all teams can be very proud of designing and creating an experiment.
Even if you weren’t successful this year, we hope you enjoyed participating and will take part again in next year’s challenge.
Once all of the experiments have run, we will send the teams the data collected during their experiments. Teams will then have time to analyse their data and write a short report to share their findings. Based on these reports, we will select winners of this year’s Mission Space Lab. The winning and highly commended teams will receive a special surprise.
Congratulations to all successful teams! We are really looking forward to seeing your results.
The European Astro Pi Challenge offers young people the opportunity to write computer programs that run on Raspberry Pi computers on board the International Space Station (ISS). There are two free, annual missions to participate in: Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab.
Sending your computer program to space is amazing already, and to inspire even more young people about this opportunity, we’re sharing some of the fascinating stories European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer told last round’s Mission Space Lab team winners about his experiences on the ISS.
Last round’s winning Mission Space Lab teams were invited to a very special online session with Matthias, and he shared lots of thoughtful and surprising insights from his mission on the International Space Station. Here are three of the questions from the teams and what Matthias had to say:
1. Working together
Lots of the teams wanted to know about the practicalities of life on the ISS. Team Ad Astra from the UK asked “How did you and your crewmates ensure that you got on well together?” Matthias talked about how supporting each member of the team helps everyone work well together:
2. Talking to family
It was surprising to hear that the astronauts on the ISS have lots of opportunities to communicate with people on Earth. Matthias explained how the astronauts can keep in regular contact with their family while answering the question from Team Atlantes from Spain:
3. Cutting-edge technology
Team NanoKids asked Matthias about the technologies astronauts use on the ISS, and Matthias shared some fascinating glimpses into what tools help the astronauts in their surroundings:
Thank you to all the teams for these great questions. And thank you to Matthias for offering young people a peek into what life is like in space!
You can still get involved in this round of Astro Pi Mission Zero
We hope Matthias’ stories inspire lots of young people to take part in the European Astro Pi Challenge. Registration for this round of Mission Space Lab is closed, so why not sign up for news about the next round?
But it’s not too late for young people to get involved today and become part of space history. Astro Pi Mission Zero is still open for participation a little while longer — until 17 March.
Mission Zero is a beginner’s coding activity, so it’s really easy to get involved: young people just need a grown-up to register for them, and a computer with a web browser to participate. In Mission Zero, young people up to age 19 in eligible countries have the chance to send their own simple computer program into space to display a colourful image for the astronauts to see on the ISS.
The one-hour Mission Zero activity comes with step-by-step instructions for young people to follow. No special equipment or coding skills are needed, and all eligible young people who follow the guidelines will have their program run in space. Every Mission Zero participants receives a certificate to show the exact time and the location of the ISS during their programs run, so they’ll have something to remember their stellar achievement.
Today we’re sharing an Astro Pi Mission Zero codealong video to help even more young people send their code into space.
In Mission Zero, young people write a simple program and display a colourful image on an Astro Pi computer on board the International Space Station (ISS). When the astronauts on mission on the ISS are working nearby, they can see the images young people have designed.
No coding experience is needed for Mission Zero. It’s a free and inspiring beginners’ coding activity. All young people need is an hour to write the program, a web browser on any computer with internet access, and an adult mentor who can register online to access the Mission Hub (see below).
Get inspired to code with Mission Zero
In the codealong video, Rebecca from our team shows young people how to write their Mission Zero program step by step. We hope that it will open up this amazing coding activity to even more young people. (There’s also the written guide to creating your program, available in 20 languages.)
Young people up to age 19 in ESA Member States are invited to take part, individually or as teams (see the eligibility details).
Every participant will receive a piece of space science history to keep: a personalised certificate they can download, which shows their Mission Zero program’s exact start and end time, and the position of the ISS while their program ran.
The theme to inspire images for Mission Zero this year is ‘flora and fauna’, to remind the ISS astronauts of their home. The images can show anything from flowers and trees to birds, insects, and other animals. Young people could even create a series of images to show as an animation during the 30 seconds their program will run.
Mission Zero 2022/23 is open until 17 March 2023.
For all educators and parents
If you’re an adult mentor supporting young people to take part, read the mission guidelines to find out all you need to know. You can also watch this short video showing you exactly how to register to access the Mission Hub and get the code to identify your young people’s programs.
Welcome to 2023. I hope that you had a fantastic 2022 and that you’re looking forward to an even better year ahead. To help get the year off to a great start, I thought it might be fun to share a few of the things that we’ve got planned for 2023.
Whether you’re a teacher, a mentor, or a young person, if it’s computer science, coding, or digital skills that you’re looking for, we’ve got you covered.
Your code in space
Through our collaboration with the European Space Agency, theAstro Pi, young people can write computer programs that are guaranteed to run on the Raspberry Pi computers on the International Space Station (terms and conditions apply).
Astro Pi Mission Zero is open to participants until 17 March 2023 and is a perfect introduction to programming in Python for beginners. It takes about an hour to complete and we provide step-by-step guides for teachers, mentors, and young people.
Make a cool project and share it with the world
Kids all over the world are already working on their entries to Coolest Projects Global 2023, our international online showcase that will see thousands of young people share their brilliant tech creations with the world. Registration opens on 6 February and it’s super simple to get involved. If you’re looking for inspiration, why not explore the judges’ favourite projects from 2022?
While we all love the Coolest Projects online showcase, I’m also looking forward to attending more in-person Coolest Projects events in 2023. The word on the street is that members of the Raspberry Pi team have been spotted scouting venues in Ireland… Watch this space.
I am sure I wasn’t alone in disappearing down a ChatGPT rabbit hole at the end of last year after OpenAI made their latest AI chatbot available for free. The internet exploded with both incredible examples of what the chatbot can do and furious debates about the limitations and ethics of AI systems.
With the rapid advances being made in AI technology, it’s increasingly important that young people are able to understand how AI is affecting their lives now and the role that it can play in their future. This year we’ll be building on our research into the future of AI and data science education and launching Experience AI in partnership with leading AI company DeepMind. The first wave of resources and learning experiences will be available in March.
The big Code Club and CoderDojo meetup
With pandemic restrictions now almost completely unwound, we’ve seen a huge resurgence in Code Clubs and CoderDojos meeting all over the world. To build on this momentum, we are delighted to be welcoming Code Club and CoderDojo mentors and educators to a big Clubs Conference in Churchill College in Cambridge on 24 and 25 March.
This will be the first time we’re holding a community get-together since 2019 and a great opportunity to share learning and make new connections.
Building partnerships in India, Kenya, and South Africa
As part of our global mission to ensure that every young person is able to learn how to create with digital technologies, we have been focused on building partnerships in India, Kenya, and South Africa, and that work will be expanding in 2023.
In India we will significantly scale up our work with established partners Mo School and Pratham Education Foundation, training 2000 more teachers in government schools in Odisha, and running 2200 Code Clubs across four states. We will also be launching new partnerships with community-based organisations in Kenya and South Africa, helping them set up networks of Code Clubs and co-designing learning experiences that help them bring computing education to their communities of young people.
Exploring computing education for 5- to 11-year-olds
Over the past few years, our research seminar series has covered computing education topics from diversity and inclusion, to AI and data science. This year, we’re focusing on current questions and research in primary computing education for 5- to 11-year-olds.
As ever, we’re providing a platform for some of the world’s leading researchers to share their insights, and convening a community of educators, researchers, and policy makers to engage in the discussion. The first seminar takes place today (Tuesday 10 January) and it’s not too late to sign up.
And much, much more…
That’s just a few of the super cool things that we’ve got planned for 2023. I haven’t even mentioned the new online projects we’re developing with our friends at Unity, the fun we’ve got planned with our very own online text editor, or what’s next for our curriculum and professional development offer for computing teachers.
This year, 768 teams made up of 3086 young people from 23 countries sent us their ideas for experiments to run on board the International Space Station (ISS) for Astro Pi Mission Space Lab.
Mission Space Lab is part of the European Astro Pi Challenge, an ESA Education programme run in collaboration with us at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Mission Space Lab teams can choose between ‘Life on Earth’ and ‘Life in space’ for their experiment idea. As in previous years, ‘Life on Earth’ was the most popular experiment theme: three quarters of the teams chose to submit an idea with this theme, for experiments using one of the Astro Pi’s High Quality Cameras. Half of these experiments involved using the near-infrared sensitive camera to investigate topics such as deforestation. Across both themes, over 40% of teams expressed an interest in using machine learning in their experiment.
Mission Space Lab teams are now getting ready to write and test their code
A panel of 25 judges from the Raspberry Pi Foundation and ESA Education assessed the submitted ideas. We are restricted in how many teams we can accommodate, as time to run experiments on board the ISS is limited, especially for ‘Life on Earth’ experiments which need time in a nadir window. The standard of the submitted ideas was higher than ever, making this the toughest judging yet. We are delighted to announce that 486 teams will move on to Phase 2 of Mission Space Lab: writing the code for their experiments.
If your experiment idea was unsuccessful this time, we understand that this will be disappointing news for your team. We encourage them to submit a new experiment idea in next year’s Mission Space Lab. We will let you know when Mission Space Lab 23/24 will be launching.
All the teams whose experiment ideas we’ve selected will receive a special Astro Pi hardware kit, customised to their idea, to help them write and test the Python programs to execute their experiments. Once the teams of young people have received their kits, they can familiarise themselves with the Astro Pi hardware and then create and test (and re-test!) their programs.
Young people’s Mission Space Lab code will run in space next year
The deadline for Mission Space Lab teams to submit the code for their experiments to us is Thursday 24 February 2023. Once their program code has been through our rigorous checks and tests, it will be ready to run on the Astro Pis on board the ISS during April/May 2023.
Congratulations to the successful teams, and thank you to everyone who sent us their ideas for Mission Space Lab this year. And a special thank you to all the teachers, educators, club volunteers, and other wonderful people who are acting as mentors for Mission Space Lab teams. You are helping your young people do something remarkable that they will remember for the rest of their lives, and the Astro Pi Challenge would not happen without you.
Welcome back, Ed and Izzy!
Every year since 2015, thanks to our annual Astro Pi Challenge, teams of young people have written computer programs to run scientific experiments on two Astro Pi computers on the ISS.
This is the second year that experiments will run on the Mark II Astro Pi computers, named after Nikola Tesla and Marie Curie, but lots of people have been wondering what would happen to their predecessors. After running over 50,000 young people’s computer programs, the Mark I Astro Pi computers, Ed and Izzy, have safely returned to Earth for a well-earned rest.
Young people can take part in Astro Pi Mission Zero
Astro Pi Mission Zero is a one-hour beginners’ programming activity. In Mission Zero, young people, in teams or as individuals, write a program to display an image or series of images of their own design on one of the Astro Pi computers, to remind the astronauts on the ISS of home.
In their Mission Zero programs, young people get to use a reading from the Astro Pi’s colour and luminosity sensor to set the colour of their image background. Young people up to age 19 from eligible countries can take part in Mission Zero 2022/23 until 17 March. Visit the Astro Pi website for more details.
Inspire young people about coding and space science with Astro Pi Mission Zero. Mission Zero offers young people the chance to write code that will run in space! It opens for participants today.
What is Mission Zero?
In Mission Zero, young people write a simple computer program to run on an Astro Pi computer on board the International Space Station (ISS).
Following step-by-step instructions, they write code to take a reading from an Astro Pi sensor and display a colourful image for the ISS astronauts to see as they go about their daily tasks. This is a great, one-hour activity for beginners to programming.
Participation is free and open for young people up to age 19 in ESA Member States (eligibility details). Everything can be done in a web browser, on any computer with internet access. No special hardware or prior coding skills are needed.
Participants will receive a piece of space science history to keep: a personalised certificate they can download, which shows their Mission Zero program’s exact start and end time, and the position of the ISS when their program ran.
If you’ve been involved in Mission Zero before, you will notice lots of things have changed. This year’s Mission Zero participants will be the first to use our brand-new online code editor, a tool that makes it super easy to write their program using the Python language.
Finally, this year we’re challenging coders to create a colourful image to show on the Astro Pi’s LED display, and to use the data from the colour sensor to determine the image’s background colour.
The theme to inspire images for Mission Zero 2022/23 is ‘flora and fauna’. The images participants design can represent any aspect of this theme, such as flowers, trees, animals, or insects. Young people could even choose to program a series of images to show a short animation during the 30 seconds their program will run.
Here are some examples of images created by last year’s Mission Zero participants. What will you create?
The European Astro Pi Challenge is an ESA Education project run in collaboration with us here at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Young people can also take part in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab, where they will work to design a real scientific experiment to run on the Astro Pi computers.
The European Astro Pi Challenge is back for another year. This is young people’s chance to write computer programs that run on board the International Space Station.
Young people can take part in two Astro Pi challenges: Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab. Participation is free and open for young people up to age 19 in ESA Member States (see more details about eligibility on the Astro Pi website). Young people can participate in one or both of the challenges.
Their programs will run on the two new upgraded Astro Pi computers, which launched into space in December 2021. The Astro Pis were named after the two inspirational European scientists Nikola Tesla and Marie Skłodowska-Curie by Mission Zero participants. For the 2021/22 European Astro Pi Challenge, these new computers ran over 17,000 programs written by young people from 26 countries.
Here is ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer getting the new Astro Pis ready for young people’s experiments.
You can register for Mission Space Lab from today
In Mission Space Lab, teams of young people work together with a mentor who supports them, as they design a scientific experiment to be run on the Astro Pis in space.
Teams write programs that use an Astro Pi’s sensors and camera to collect data from the International Space Station, which the teams then analyse. This video has more information about the Astro Pi computers and how teams can choose an experiment idea:
Registration for Mission Space Lab is now open, and participation takes place over eight months. Mentors need to register their team and submit the team’s experiment idea by 28 October 2022. For more details on how to register, visit the Mission Space Lab webpages.
Mission Zero is the beginners’ challenge where young people write a simple program and get a taste of space science.
All eligible programs that follow the official guidelines will run in space for up to 30 seconds. The young people who participate receive a certificate they can download which shows their program’s exact start and end time, and the position of the ISS when their program ran — a piece of space science history to keep!
Mission Zero opens on 22 September 2022. Watch this space for more details on launch day.
Stay up to date
The European Astro Pi Challenge is an ESA Education project run in collaboration with us here at the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
Sobhy Fouda started his Astro Pi journey in 2019 by helping a group of young people participate in Astro Pi Mission Zero, the beginners’ activity of the annual European Astro Pi Challenge. In Mission Zero, participants write a simple computer program that runs on board the International Space Station (ISS).
Seeing the wonder on the faces of the young people on the day when their programs were sent to space motivated Sobhy to take the next step: the year after, he became the mentor of a team of young people who wanted to take part in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab 2020/21. Sobhy supported them for 8 months as they designed and wrote a program to conduct their own scientific experiment on the ISS. The team placed among the 10 winners of Mission Space Lab that year.
Among this winning team was Ismail, who joined Sobhy as a mentor for the next round of Astro Pi Mission Space Lab in 2021/22. We spoke to Sobhy and Ismail about their experiences as mentors, about how being involved in Astro Pi changed their life, and about how when you dream big, you can inspire others to do the same.
Finding inspiration in mentoring young people
“I have always loved space and I had big dreams of becoming a pilot,” said Sobhy. After graduating with a mechatronics engineering degree from the German University in Cairo, he moved to the UK to study aircraft maintenance and aerospace engineering. During this time, Sobhy heard about the Astro Pi Challenge and decided to support some young people in his community to take part in Mission Zero. “It was my first experience with the Astro Pi programme, so it was a great first step for me to teach the team some basic Python skills.”
Sadly, Sobhy was unable to continue down his chosen career path in the UK due to health issues. He said, “It was a very difficult time for me. It was hard to walk away from a dream I had held for so long. I decided to apply for a scholarship within aerospace in Germany, focusing more on writing code, as well as on R&D [research and development].” Sobhy credited his participation as a mentor in Mission Zero as crucial to his success with this next step: “I thoroughly believe that my mentorship of a Mission Zero team helped me to demonstrate my social commitment, which was a significant requirement for the scholarship.”
When Sobhy was awarded the scholarship, he and his wife moved to Berlin, but it was hard for him to find inspiration. This changed when he decided to be an Astro Pi mentor again. “My wife put the word out about it [Astro Pi Mission Space Lab] in my community, and we had a number of young people come forward.”
Supporting young people to understand the Astro Pi computers
With help from Sobhy, his Mission Space Lab team started thinking through experiment ideas a couple of months in advance of the challenge start. “Once I had got the kids familiarised with the sensors on the Astro Pi computer and the conditions on the ISS, it was the logical next step to start introducing more Python to learn how to control these sensors and discuss what we could analyse.”
Sobhy’s team successfully submitted an idea for a Mission Space Lab experiment: investigating how the Earth’s magnetic field correlates with its climate, and how this affects near-Earth objects’ behaviour in low-Earth orbit. Next, the team of young people received an Astro Pi hardware kit with which to test the program they wrote in realistic conditions. Sobhy said that “once we received our Astro Pi kit with the sensors, I then used these sensors to make the experiments more relatable to the kids, getting them to measure the humidity in their rooms for example, and I tried to gamify the sessions as much as possible to keep it fun and ignite their imagination.”
One young person on Sobhy’s Mission Space Lab team was Ismail, who was 17 at the time. Ismail explained, “I had some programming experience, as I had worked in Sobhy’s previous teams for Mission Zero, but taking part in Mission Space Lab really helped me to develop these skills in a practical way.”
Ismail was particularly surprised by how much he loved working with the Astro Pi hardware . “I always thought I would follow a career path in programming, however, working with the Raspberry Pi computer and its sensors made me realise that I liked working with the hardware even more than doing programming,” said Ismail. “I ended up changing my choice of degree to mechatronics, so my Mission Space Lab experience really helped me to find the career path I was meant to be on.”
Making a real impact through mentoring
Taking part in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab wasn’t the only thing that shaped Ismail’s path: he credits Sobhy’s mentorship for helping him achieve his goals. “Sobhy was such a good mentor. His passion for the project radiated from him and infected us all! He explained what we needed to tackle, asked questions, and then gave us small activities to put our programming experience into practice in a practical way. It made the programming so much more interesting.”
Sobhy said that when the team was announced among the winners of Mission Space Lab in the 20/21 Astro Pi Challenge, “seeing the team’s reaction was so rewarding. All our hard work paid off, and I was so happy and proud of the team and what they had achieved.” Ismail added, “I still have to pinch myself that we actually won. I’m constantly asking myself if it actually happened, as it was so unbelievable. It was incredible.”
Sobhy has stayed in contact with the young people he mentored in the Astro Pi Challenge and their bond remains strong. Ismail said, “He has really become a friend. He was always so helpful and knowledgeable. I just loved working with him, so when he asked if I wanted to become an assistant Astro Pi mentor, I took the opportunity despite having other commitments.”
Mentoring and the skills it teaches
Moving on to become a mentor alongside Sobhy in the 2021/22 Astro Pi Challenge was an eye-opening experience for Ismail. “I had to learn a new set of skills,” said Ismail. “In particular, I realised I needed to improve my presentation skills. To start with I was really uncomfortable speaking in front of a group, but now I’m not, and this confidence transferred over to my university studies. That’s been a really great benefit I’ve taken from the experience.”
“[My] Mission Space Lab experience really helped me to find the career path I was meant to be on.”
Ismail, Mission Space Lab participant and mentor
For us it was wonderful to hear about these lasting friendships and connections that have formed among the people participating in Mission Space Lab. Both Sobhy and Ismail felt that while mentoring a Mission Space Lab team can be challenging at times, the rewards are worth it. Watching their team develop and seeing the young people connect made the experience extremely rewarding.
Ismail concluded by saying: “Astro Pi has been one of the best experiences I have had in my life. I have so much to be thankful for, and I owe this to Astro Pi, but even more to my mentor Sobhy. He has encouraged me to have this incredible experience, helped me find my path in life, and guided me every step of the way. I will remember him and be thankful to him for the rest of my life. It’s been life-changing.”
Get involved in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab
In only a few days, you’ll be able to register as a team mentor for Astro Pi Mission Space Lab 2022/23.
The European Astro Pi Challenge, an ESA education programme in collaboration with us at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, starts again from 12 September. Sign up to the newsletter at astro-pi.org to be the first to hear news about the programme.
In Mission Space Lab, teams of young people aged up to 19 work together to create scientific experiments to be carried out on the International Space Station. Their mission is to design and create a program to run on the two Astro Pi computers — space-adapted Raspberry Pis with cameras and a range of sensors.
This year, 799 teams of young people designed experiments and entered Mission Space Lab and 502 of these teams were invited to Phase 2, which is 25% more than last year! The teams each received an Astro Pi kit to write and test their programs on and 299 teams submitted programs that passed rigorous testing at Astro Pi Mission Control and achieved ‘flight status’.
After their program collected data during the experiment’s three-hour runtime on the ISS, each team analysed the results and wrote a short report to describe their experiment.
We were especially excited to see what experiments young people would investigate this year, as their programs would be the first to run on the brand-new Astro Pi units, which were named after Nikola Tesla and Marie Curie by participants in this year’s Mission Zero.
Let’s take a look at the teams’ investigations for Mission Space Lab 2021/22!
Clouds, volcanos, and seaweed rafts
In this year’s Challenge, the environment and climate change was a strong theme among the 205 team experiment reports. Several teams investigated topics such as changing water levels, wildfires, and the effect of different clouds and aeroplane contrails on global warming.
Team Seekers from Itis Delpozzo Cuneo in Italy and Team Adastra from St Paul’s Girls’ School in the UK made observations about reduction of water levels in the Aral Sea, located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
“We have gained skills with data research and machine learning, in relation to scientific experiments, which will hopefully give us a basis to move into more complex projects with machine learning.”
Team St Marks from Saint Marks Church of England School in the UK calculated NDVI (normalised difference vegetation index) for images they had captured to look for macroplastics in the ocean. This is a technique for identifying vegetation from images. The team used it to search for the rafts of sargassum seaweed that form around plastics floating on the water. They were lucky enough to successfully photograph and identify several seaweed rafts during their three hour experiment time.
Team Nanokids from the UK used the Coral machine learning accelerator to analyse images of clouds in real time. Collecting this data could be used to warn aircraft of the risk of turbulence, predict weather, and detect pollution. The team reported that they “learned a lot about the various different cloud types, their characteristics and their different effects, as well as how to create a simple ML model with Teachable Machine, which will help us in future projects.”
We also saw lots of experiment reports about volcanoes. Team Six Sense from Escola Secundária Inês de Castro in Portugal ran an experiment inspired by the La Palma volcano, which erupted in September 2021. The team’s experiment captured images of a volcano in Fogo Island, Cape Verde.
Team LandISS from Liceo Scientifico “A. Landi” in Italy captured an extraordinary image of emissions from the Popocatépetl volcano in Mexico, which reactivated in 1994 and has been producing powerful explosions at irregular intervals ever since.
Team DuoDo from Liceul Teoretic Tudor Vianu in Romania investigated if there had been changes to vegetation health on the Earth since the pandemic, by comparing NDVI calculations from their data. The judges were especially impressed with how they reported their analysis and results.
Team Atlantes from Niubit in Spain wanted to build a bridge between the real and virtual world by visualising their NDVI calculations as a three dimensional Minecraft video game. Check out how they did this and some of their results in their video.
Team Rocha21, from IES José Frugoni Pérez in the Canary Islands, also explored different ways to communicate and share their data. They used sonoUno (software originally developed to sonify astronomical data) and online Braille translators to design tactile diagrams in order to explore their Life on Earth photographs and NDVI data, working in collaboration with six visually-impaired students.
Up in space
Some of this year’s Mission Space Lab teams chose to conduct their experiments about life on the ISS. We saw experiments to investigate the possibility for growing fungi as space crops (Team NGC224 from CoderDojo Perugia in Italy) and the effect of temperature and pressure on the human body on Earth and in space (Team CDV-CDI2 from CoderDojo Votanikos in Greece, in collaboration with CoderDojo Iraq).
Team Hyperion from JVS Hyperion in Belgium investigated the effect of the sun on the Earth’s magnetic field, comparing data collected during daytime and nighttime as the ISS orbited Earth.
Not only did we get to see this year’s experiments, but we also had a chance to hear them! Sound and music was very popular among the Mission Space Lab teams.
Team Cuza3 from Colegiul National ”Alexandru Ioan Cuza” in Romania, made “The Ballad of Pressure” by attributing notes to pressure data from the ISS. Team Alessi Pi from Liceo Scientifico “G.Alessi” in Italy made a melody by mapping data to a music scale with other sensor readings mapped to additional instruments.
Team Gubbins, from Hyvinkään Lukio in Finland, measured magnetic flux density to determine the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field, using the Astro Pi magnetometer, which they sonified and used to make a music video.
And the winning teams are…
The judges from ESA and the Raspberry Pi Foundation took on the huge task of reviewing all the reports to consider scientific merit, experiment design and methodology, data analysis, report quality, and innovative use of the Astro Pi hardware.
The ten winning teams come from coding clubs and schools from France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Romania, and the United Kingdom and will each receive cool space swag.
Click each team name to read their experiment report.
Every Astro Pi team that reached Phase 3 of Mission Space Lab will receive a certificate signed by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti to show family and friends that they have had a scientific experiment run on the ISS!
The winning and highly commended teams will be invited to an online Q&A with an ESA astronaut in the autumn. Look out for more information about this soon!
Congratulations Mission Space Lab teams 2021/22
Everyone from the Raspberry Pi Foundation and ESA Education teams congratulates this year’s Mission Space Lab participants — we hope you found it as fun and inspiring as we did!
Thank you to everyone who has been involved in Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab as part of this year’s Challenge. It has been incredible to have 28,126 young people from 26 countries run their programs in space! We can’t wait to do it all again.
When will the 2022/23 European Astro Pi Challenge lift off?
Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab relaunch in September 2022!
If you know a young person who would be interested in the Challenge, sign up for the newsletter on astro-pi.org and follow the Astro Pi Twitter account for all the latest announcements.
We and our collaborators at ESA Education are excited to announce that 17,168 programs written by young people from 26 countries have been successfully deployed on board the International Space Station (ISS) for the European Astro Pi Challenge 2021/22. And we can finally reveal the names of the two new and upgraded Astro Pi computers that Astro Pi participants have chosen.
Astro Pi is more popular than ever with young people
A record number of 28,126 young people took part across both missions in the Astro Pi Challenge 2021/22. In addition to the 299 Mission Space Lab teams who achieved flight status with the code they wrote for their scientific experiments this year, young people wrote 16,869 Mission Zero programs that were run on the new Astro Pi computers. This is an amazing 84% increase compared to Mission Zero last year.
Mission Zero is perfect for beginner coders: participants follow our step-by-step instructions and write a simple program for the Astro Pis. The program takes a humidity reading on board the ISS and displays it for the astronauts. Participants can also include code to display their own unique message on the Astro Pi LED displays. Mission Zero teams are very inventive, and the young people made great use of the Astro Pis’ LED display to create pixel art:
Every Mission Zero participant receives a unique certificate showing exactly where the ISS was on its orbital path when their program was run:
The new Astro Pi computers’ names
This year, the deployment of all the Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab programs was overseen by ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer. But before he could do that, he first had an extra special task: unpacking and assembling the brand-new Astro Pi units in microgravity.
The two original Astro Pis, named Ed and Izzy, travelled to the ISS back in 2015 as part of Tim Peake’s Principia mission. Since the, these two special Raspberry Pi computers have run programs written by more than 54,000 young people. They have done an amazing job and will return to Earth later in 20 22.
All young people taking part in Mission Zero this year had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: they got to suggest and vote for the names of the two new Astro Pi computers. We received nearly 7,000 name suggestions.
ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer has recorded a special message for all Astro Pi participants, revealing that the new Astro Pi computers will be named in honour of two inspirational European scientists drum roll… Nikola Tesla and Marie Curie!
The Astro Pi unit equipped with a Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera that is sensitive to near-infrared light is now called Nikola, and the Astro Pi unit with a visible-light sensitive High Quality Camera is now called Marie.
Marie Curie was born in Poland in 1867 and the first person ever to win two Nobel Prizes, in Physics and Chemistry, for her contribution to pioneering work on radioactivity and the treatment of cancer. Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia in 1856, and his innovations in electrical engineering included alternating current — vital for transmitting electricity over long distances — and the induction motor.
Marie Curie and Nikola Tesla’s work continues to impact all of our lives today, and we are delighted that this year’s Astro Pi participants have democratically chosen their names for the new Astro Pi computers.
Sign up for news about the next Astro Pi Challenge
The European Astro Pi Challenge will be back again in September 2022. Subscribe to the Astro Pi newsletter on the Astro Pi website to be the first to hear when the 2022/23 missions have lift off!
We and our partners at ESA Education are excited to announce that 299 teams have achieved flight status in Mission Space Lab of the 2021/22 European Astro Pi Challenge. This means that these young people’s programs are the first ever to run on the two upgraded Astro Pi units on board the International Space Station (ISS).
Mission Space Lab gives teams of young people up to age 19 the opportunity to design and conduct their own scientific experiments that run on board the ISS. It’s an eight-month long activity that follows the European school year. The exciting hardware upgrades inspired a record number of young people to send us their Mission Space Lab experiment ideas.
Teams who want to take on Mission Space Lab choose between two themes for their experiments, investigating either ‘Life in space’ or ‘Life on Earth’. From this year onwards, thanks to the new Astro Pi hardware, teams can also choose to use new sensors and a Coral machine learning accelerator during their experiment time.
Investigating life in space
Using the Astro Pi units’ sensors, teams can investigate life inside the Columbus module of the ISS. This year, 71 ‘Life in space’ experiments are running on the Astro Pi units. The 71 teams are investigating a wide range of topics: for example, how the Earth’s magnetic field is experienced on the ISS in space, how the environmental conditions that the astronauts experience compare with those on Earth beneath the ISS on its orbit, or whether the conditions in the ISS might be suitable for other lifeforms, such as plants or bacteria.
For ‘Life in space’ experiments, teams can collect data about factors such as the colour and intensity of cabin light (using the new colour and luminosity sensor included in the upgraded hardware), astronaut movement in the cabin (using the new PIR sensor), and temperature and humidity (using the Sense HAT add-on board’s standard sensors).
Investigating life on Earth
Using the camera on an Astro Pi unit when it’s positioned to view Earth from a window of the ISS, teams can investigate features on the Earth’s surface. This year, for the first time, teams had the option to use visible-light instead of infrared (IR) photography, thanks to the new Astro Pi cameras.
228 teams’ ‘Life on Earth’ experiments are running this year. Some teams are using the Astro Pis’ sensors to determine the precise location of the ISS when images are captured, to identify whether the ISS is flying over land or sea, or which country it is passing over. Other teams are using IR photography to examine plant health and the effects of deforestation in different regions. Some teams are using visible-light photography to analyse clouds, calculate the velocity of the ISS, and classify biomes (e.g. desert, forest, grassland, wetland) it is passing over. The new hardware available from this year onward has helped to encourage 144 of the teams to use machine learning techniques in their experiments.
Testing, testing, testing
We received 88% more idea submissions for Mission Space Lab this year compared to last year: during Phase 1, 799 teams sent us their experiment ideas. We invited 502 of the teams to proceed to Phase 2 based on the quality of their ideas. 386 teams wrote their code and submitted computer programs for their experiments during Phase 2 this year. Achieving flight status, and thus progressing to Phase 3 of Mission Space Lab, is really a huge accomplishment for the 299 successful teams.
For us, Phase 2 involved putting every team’s program through a number of tests to make sure that it follows experiment rules, doesn’t compromise the safety and security of the ISS, and will run without errors on the Astro Pi units. Testing means that April is a very busy time for us in the Astro Pi team every year. We run these tests on a number of exact replicas of the new Astro Pis, including a final test to run every experiment that has passed every test for the full 3 hours allotted to each team. The 299 experiments with flight status will run on board the ISS for over 5 weeks in total during Phase 3, and once they have started running, we can’t rely on astronaut intervention to resolve issues. So we have to make sure that all of the programs will run without any problems.
Thanks to the team at ESA, we are delighted that 67 more Mission Space Lab experiments are running on the ISS this year compared to last year. In fact, teams’ experiments using the Astro Pi units are underway right now!
The 299 teams awarded flight status this year represent 23 countries and 1205 young people, with 32% female participants and an average age of 15. Spain has the most teams with experiments progressing to Phase 3 (38), closely followed by the UK (34), Italy (27), Romania (23), and Greece (22).
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to run every Mission Space Lab experiment submitted, as there is only limited time for the Astro Pis to be positioned in the ISS window. We wish we could run every experiment that is submitted, but unfortunately time on the ISS, especially on the nadir window, is limited. Eliminating programs was very difficult because of the high quality of this year’s submissions. Many unsuccessful teams’ programs were eliminated based on very small issues. 87 teams submitted programs this year which did not pass testing and so could not be awarded flight status.
The teams whose experiments are not progressing to Phase 3 should still be very proud to have designed experiments that passed Phase 1, and to have made a Phase 2 submission. We recognise how much work all Mission Space Lab teams have done, and we hope to see you again in next year’s Astro Pi Challenge.
Once the programs for all the experiments have run, we will send the teams the data collected by their experiments for Phase 4. In this final phase of Mission Space Lab, teams analyse their data and write a short report to describe their findings. Based on these reports, the ESA Education and Raspberry Pi Foundation teams will determine the winner of this year’s Mission Space Lab. The winning and highly commended teams will receive special prizes.
Congratulations to all Mission Space Lab teams who’ve achieved flight status! We are really looking forward to reading your reports.
We’ve put together a new how-to guide for 3D printing and assembling your own Astro Pi unit replica, based on the upgraded units we sent to the International Space Station in December.
The Astro Pi case connects young people to the Astro Pi Challenge
It wasn’t long after the first Raspberry Pi computer was launched that people started creating the first cases for it. Over the years, they’ve designed really useful ones, along with some very stylish ones. Without a doubt, the most useful and stylish one has to be the Astro Pi flight case.
This case houses the Astro Pi units, the hardware young people use when they take part in the European Astro Pi Challenge. Designed by the amazing Jon Wells for the very first Astro Pi Challenge, which was part of Tim Peake’s Principia mission to the ISS in 2015, the case has become an iconic part of the Astro Pi journey for young people.
As Jon says: “The design of the original flight case, although functional, formed an emotional connection with the young people who took part in the programme and is an engaging and integral part of the experience of the Astro Pi.”
People love to 3D print Astro Pi cases
Although printing an Astro Pi case is absolutely not essential for participating in the European Astro Pi Challenge, many of the teams of young people who participate in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab, and create experiments to run on the Astro Pi units aboard the ISS, do print Astro Pi cases to house the hardware that we send them for testing their experiments.
When we published the first how-to guide for 3D printing an Astro Pi case and making a working replica of the unit, it was immediately popular. We saw an exciting range of cases being produced. Some people (such as me) tried to make theirs look as similar as possible to the original aluminium Astro Pi flight unit, even using metallic spray paint to complete the effect. Others chose to go for a multicolour model, or even used glow-in-the-dark filament.
The guide also includes step-by-step instructions to completing the internal wiring so you can construct a working Astro Pi unit. We’re provided a custom version of the self-test software that is used on the official Astro Pis, so you can check that everything is operational.
If you’re new to 3D printing, you might like to try one of our BlocksCAD projects and practice printing a simpler design before you move on the the Astro Pi case.
Changes and improvements to the guide
We’ve made some changes to the original CAD designs to make printing the Mark II case parts and assembling a working Astro Pi replica unit as easy as possible. Unlike the STL files for the Mark I case, we’ve kept the upper and lower body components as single parts, rather than splitting each into two thinner halves. 3D printers have continued to improve since we wrote the first how-to guide. Most now have heated beds, which prevent warping, and we’ve successfully printed the Mark II parts on a range of affordable machines.
The guide contains lots of hints and tips for getting the best results. As usual with 3D printing, be prepared to make some tweaks for the particular printer that you use.
In addition to the upper and lower case parts, there are also some extra components to print this time: the colour sensor window, the joystick cap, the Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera housing, and the legs that protect the lenses and allow the Astro Pi units on the ISS to be safely placed up against the nadir window.
We’ve included files for four variants of the upper case part (see above). In order to keep costs down, the kits that we send to Astro Pi Mission Space Lab teams have a different PIR sensor to the ones of the proper Astro Pi units. So we’ve produced files for upper case parts that allow that sensor to be fitted. If you’re not taking part in the European Astro Pi Challenge, this also offers a cheaper alternative to creating an Astro Pi replica which still includes the motion detection capability:
We’ve also provided versions for the upper case part that have smaller holes for the push buttons. So, if you don’t fancy splashing out on the supremely pressable authentic buttons, you can use other colourful alternatives, which typically have a smaller diameter.
We are really excited that our two upgraded Astro Pi units have arrived on the International Space Station. Each unit contains the latest model of the Raspberry Pi computer, plus a Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera and a host of sensors on a custom Sense HAT, all housed inside a special flight case designed to keep everything cool and protected. Here is the story of how the Astro Pi units were built:
The upgraded Astro Pi units have been designed and built in collaboration with ESA Education, the European Space Agency’s education programme. The Astro Pis’ purpose is for young people to use them in the European Astro Pi Challenge. The film highlights the units’ exciting new features, such as a machine learning accelerator and new camera, which can capture high-quality images of Earth from space using both visible light and near-infrared light.
There’s an extended team behind the new hardware and software, not just us working at the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the European Space Agency.
“Thanks to our friends at ESA, and all the people who have shared their unique expertise and knowledge with us, […] we’ve managed to take two ordinary Raspberry Pi computers from the production line in Wales and see them end up on the International Space Station. It’s been a real privilege to get to work with such an amazing group of space professionals.”
– Richard Hayler, Senior Programme Manager and lead engineer of the Astro Pi units
The new Astro Pis are all ready to run young peoples’ computer programs as part of the European Astro Pi Challenge. The young people who successfully proposed experiments for the 2021/22 round of Astro Pi Mission Space Lab have just submitted their programs to us for testing. These programs will run the teams’ experiments on the new Astro Pis in May.
Your young people’s code in space
There is still time until 18 March to take part in the 2021/22 round of Astro Pi Mission Zero. Mission Zero is a beginners’ coding activity for all young people up to age 19 in ESA member and associate states. Mission Zero is free, can be completed online in an hour, and lets young people send their unique message to the astronauts on board the ISS.
To take part, participants follow our step-by-step guide to write a simple Python program. Their program will display their message to the astronautsvia the Astro Pi’s LED display (complete with ‘sunglasses’). Parents or educators support the participants by signing up for a mentor code to submit the young people’s programs.
All Mission Zero participants receive a certificate showing the exact time and location of the ISS when their program was run — their moment of space history to keep. And this year only, Mission Zero is extra special: participants can also help name the two new Astro Pi units!
This morning, our two new Astro Pi units launched into space. Actual, real-life space. The new Astro Pi units each consist of a Raspberry Pi computer with a Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera and a host of sensors, all housed inside a special space-ready case that makes the hardware suitable for the International Space Station (ISS).
The journey to space for two special Raspberry Pi computers
Today’s launch is the culmination of a huge piece of work we’ve done for the European Space Agency to get the new Astro Pi units ready to become part of the European Astro Pi Challenge.
After lift-off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the new Astro Pi units are currently travelling on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon 2 spacecraft, the module atop the rocket. You can watch the launch again here.
Also travelling with our Astro Pi units are food and some Christmas presents for the astronauts on board the ISS, materials for a study of the delivery of cancer drugs; a bioprinter for experiments investigating wound healing; and materials for a study of how detergents work in microgravity.
The Dragon 2 spacecraft will berth with the ISS tomorrow, with NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Tom Marshburn monitoring its arrival. ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer and another colleague will be there to unpack its cargo. You can watch the process of unpacking tomorrow, Wed 22 December, at 8.30am GMT / 9.30am CET. In the new year, Matthias will be switching our Astro Pi units on and getting them ready to run the code written by young people participating in the European Astro Pi Challenge. The new Astro Pi units will replace Astro Pi units Ed and Izzy, which have been on the ISS for 6 years — ever since the very first Astro Pi Challenge with British ESA astronaut Tim Peake in 2015.
None of us on the team working on the Astro Pi Challenge here at the Foundation are aerospace engineers. While building the new Astro Pi units, we’ve learned so much.
To get the Astro Pis ready to be loaded onto the rocket has been a project of more than three years. That’s because, in addition to manufacturing the Astro Pi units, we also had to ensure they pass the necessary safety and certification process. The official name for this is the Safety Gate process. It’s been set up by ESA and NASA to ensure that any items sent to the ISS are safe to operate on board the station.
For the three separate safety panels the Astro Pi units needed to get through, we put the units through different tests and completed various safety reports. The tests included:
A vibration test: To make sure the Astro Pi units survive the rigours of the launch, we tested them using the sophisticated rigs at Airbus in Portsmouth. These rigs are capable of simulating the vibrations produced by various different launch vehicles. We needed to test all possible options, because the Astro Pi units didn’t have a confirmed vehicle to travel to the ISS yet.
A thermal test: To make sure no harm can possibly come to the crew from the Astro Pi units, we needed to check that the touch temperature of the Astro Pi units’ surface is never above 45°C.
A test for sharp edges: Each Astro Pi unit also needed to be manually inspected by someone wearing a latex glove who carefully feels the case for sharp edges.
Stringent, military-grade electromagnetic emissions and susceptibility tests: These are required to guarantee that the Astro Pi units won’t interfere with any ISS systems, and that the units themselves are not affected by other equipment on board.
We built two additional Astro Pi units and sent them to NASA so that they could test that plugging the units into the ISS power grid wouldn’t cause a power overload.
For almost all of these tests, we created custom software to do things like stress the Astro Pi units’ processors, saturate the network links, and generally make the units work as hard as possible.
To accompany these safety and test reports, we also had to create the Flight Safety Data Package (FSDP), which contains exact technical information about every component of the Astro Pi hardware, and about all the necessary safety controls to qualify the use of certain materials and safely manage operation of the units. The current FSDP paperwork stands at over 700 pages, which thankfully we haven’t had to actually print out!
Young people’s code will run on the new Astro Pi units next year — is yours on board?
All of this work culminated today in the Astro Pis being launched up into space from Cape Canaveral. And we’re doing all this so that more young people can take part in the European Astro Pi Challenge and send messages to the ISS astronauts using code as part of Mission Zero, or write code for new, ambitious experiments to run on the ISS as part of Mission Space Lab.
Young people can take part in Astro Pi Mission Zero right now! Mission Zero is a beginners’ coding activity for all young people under the age of 19 in ESA member and associate states. It gives them the chance to write code to show their own message to the astronauts on board the ISS using the Astro Pi units. And this time, Mission Zero participants can also vote to name the new Astro Pi units!
To participate, young people follow our step-by-step instructions to write their Mission Zero code. As an adult supporting a young person on Mission Zero, all you need to do is sign up as a mentor to get them a registration code for their Mission Zero entry. Once your young person’s code has run in space, we’ll send you a special certificate for them showing where the ISS, and the Astro Pi computers, were when their code ran.
We’re feeling nostalgic because six years ago, two special Raspberry Pi computers named Ed and Izzy were travelling to the International Space Station (ISS) from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. These two Astro Pi units joined British ESA astronaut Tim Peake as part of his six-month Principia space mission. Tim and Astro Pis Ed and Izzy helped hundreds of young people run their own computer programs in space as part of the first Astro Pi Challenge.
We are also feeling excited, because Tim and our Head of Youth Partnerships, Olympia Brown, are talking to British TV and radio shows today about all things space and Astro Pi, including the exciting new developments and how families can get involved! You might catch Tim on your favourite channel.
Tim Peake has been our Astro Pi champion from the start
Tim says: “I had the privilege to take the first Astro Pi computers to the International Space Station in 2015. Since then, more than 50,000 children have run experiments and sent messages into orbit. The Astro Pi Challenge is a great activity for children and their parents to discover more about coding and to use digital tools to be creative.”
During his space mission, Tim Peake deployed Astro Pi units Ed and Izzy in a number of different locations on board the ISS. He was responsible for loading the Astro Pi participants’ programs onto Ed and Izzy, collecting the data they generated, and making sure it was downlinked back to Earth for the participants.
Fast forward six years, and we’re retiring Astro Pis Ed and Izzy and sending two upgraded Astro Pi units to space – in just over a week’s time, to be precise. This year, Italian ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will be taking the helm for the Challenge on board the ISS, while Tim continues to champion the Astro Pi Challenge down here on Earth.
Thank you Tim, for inspiring so many families to get involved with STEM and coding.
Your family’s very own space mission with Astro Pi
To get involved in the Astro Pi Challenge, you and your young people don’t even have to wait until the new Raspberry Pi computers arrive on the ISS. You can do Astro Pi Mission Zero — the beginners’ coding activity of the European Astro Pi Challenge — today!
In Mission Zero, young people, by themselves or in a team of up to four, follow our step-by-step instructions to write the code for a simple program, which we will send up to ISS to run on the new Astro Pi units. With their program, young people take a humidity reading on board the ISS and show it to the astronauts stationed there, together with a personal message or colourful design. This beginner-friendly coding activity takes about an hour and can be done on any computer in a web browser. It’s completely free too.
As a parent (or educator), you support young people on Mission Zero by:
Registering as a Mission Zero mentor on astro-pi.org so we can send you a unique code for submitting your child’s program once it’s written
Helping them follow the step-by-step instructions so you can learn about coding together
Motivating them to keep going if their program doesn’t work right away, and helping to spot mistakes
Celebrating with them when they’ve finished writing the code for their Mission Zero program
After a young person’s Mission Zero code has run and their message has been shown in the ISS, we’ll send you a special certificate for them so you can commemorate their space mission.
And this year, Astro Pi Mission Zero is extra special: we are asking all participants to help us name the upgraded Raspberry Pi computers that will go to live on board the ISS. We’ve created a list of renowned European scientists whose names participants can vote for, in case you need inspiration.
Parents have lots of enthusiasm for learning about science and technology
It’s not just young people that benefit from getting involved with the Astro Pi Challenge – it’s something the whole family will enjoy doing together. And as findings from our recent UK survey showed, parents are rediscovering their passion for science, technology, and coding through helping their kids with homework. The survey found that parents of children in primary and secondary school are far more likely than any other group of adults to enjoy learning about science, with 3 in 5 parents (62%) revealing their enthusiasm for the subject. Nearly as many parents (58%) wished they had greater knowledge of STEM from school, and 62% said they are interested in learning how to code.
“It’s wonderful to find out that parents of schoolchildren are discovering a passion for science and technology, especially after a year of home-schooling where they have been able to see first-hand what their children are learning.” says Olympia Brown, our Head of Youth Partnerships. “The Astro Pi Challenge is a fun, free, and creative way to learn about coding and carry out science experiments on board the International Space Station that both children and parents can get involved in.”
Young people love Astro Pi Mission Zero
If Tim Peake and we have not convinced you how fun and inspiring the Astro Pi Challenge will be for your family, then here are some young people to tell you about their experiences. We asked learners at Linton-on-Ouse Primary School how they found taking part in this year’s Mission Zero.
This is what some of the young learners shared with us:
“I learned a bit about how to code. Everyone was very helpful. This was very fun, and I wish we can do this again. It was tricky when we tried to make the colours change.”
– A learner in Year 4
“I worked as a team by helping check all the time. Next time I want to do it on my own, because I am feeling confident.”
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