Tag Archives: International Space Station

Welcome home! An original Astro Pi computer back from space is now on display at the Science Museum

Post Syndicated from Claire Given original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/astro-pi-computer-back-from-space-is-now-on-display-at-the-science-museum/

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.

Astro Pi Izzy at the Science Museum in London.

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!”

Matthias catching Astro Pis in microgravity.

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.

A young person holds up her Astro Pi Mission Zero certificate.

And today…

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!”

Astro Pi MK II hardware.

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.

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Young people designed 15,000 images for astronauts in Astro Pi Mission Zero 2022/23

Post Syndicated from Fergus Kirkpatrick original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/15000-young-people-astro-pi-mission-zero-2022-23/

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.

A young person takes part in Astro Pi Mission Zero.

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.

Logo of Mission Zero, part of the European Astro Pi Challenge.

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 mark 2 Astro Pi units spin in microgravity on the International Space Station.
The Astro Pi computers on board the ISS

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.

A selection of pixel images of animals and plants, which young people coded for Astro Pi Mission Zero.

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.

A young person with her coding project at a laptop.

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!

A mosaic of thousands of designs creating a large version of the Mission Zero logo.
A mosaic of Mission Zero designs

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.

Logo of the European Astro Pi Challenge.

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

We are always interested to hear your feedback about Mission Zero, as a mentor or participant. If you would like to share your thoughts with us, please email [email protected]

PS Look out for some cool news about the Astro Pi computers, which we’ll announce soon on this blog!

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24850 young people’s programs ran in space for Astro Pi 2022/23

Post Syndicated from Fergus Kirkpatrick original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/young-peoples-computer-programs-space-iss-astro-pi-22-23/

Over 15,000 teams of young people from across Europe had their computer programs run on board the International Space Station (ISS) this month as part of this year’s European Astro Pi Challenge.

Logo of the European Astro Pi Challenge.

Astro Pi is run in collaboration by us and ESA Education, and offers two ways to get involved: Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab.

Mission Zero: Images of Earth’s fauna and flora in space 

Mission Zero is the Astro Pi beginners’ activity. To take part, young people spend an hour writing a short Python program for the Astro Pi computers on the International Space Station (ISS). This year we invited them to create an 8×8 pixel image or animation on the theme of fauna and flora, which their program showed on an Astro Pi LED matrix display for 30 seconds.

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:

Pixel images from Mission Zero participants.

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’.

This year, the Mission Space Lab programs of 1245 young people in 294 teams from 21 countries passed our rigorous judging and testing process. These programs were awarded flight status and sent to the Astro Pis on board the ISS, where they captured data for the teams to analyse back down 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.

The Earth’s surface from the perspective of the International Space Station.
A selection of images taken by the Astro Pis of the Earth’s surface, including mountains, deserts, Aotearoa New Zealand south island, and lakes

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.

The Astro Pi computers inside the International Space Station.
The two Astro Pis positioned in an observation window on the ISS

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.

The earth’s surface from the perspective of the International Space Station, with a large robotic arm in view.
The Canadarm in view on the ISS, photographed by an Astro Pi computer

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.

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Mission Space Lab 2022-23 – 294 teams achieved Flight Status

Post Syndicated from Fergus Kirkpatrick original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/294-teams-experiments-iss-astro-pi-mission-space-lab-2022-23/

In brief

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.

In depth

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

Two Astro Pis on board the International Space Station.
Mark II Astro Pis on the ISS

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

An Astro Pi in a window on board the International Space Station.
Astro Pi VIS in the window on the ISS

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).

Testing, testing

Four photographs of the Earth and cloud formations, taken from the International Space Station by an Astro Pi.
Images taken by Astro Pi VIS on the ISS in Mission Space Lab 2021/22

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.

What next?

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.

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768 teams of young people have entered Astro Pi Mission Space Lab 2022/23

Post Syndicated from Sam Duffy original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/768-teams-entered-astro-pi-mission-space-lab-2022-23/

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.

An Astro Pi unit at a window on board the International Space Station.
A Mark II Astro Pi in the NODE window on the ISS. Credit: ESA/NASA

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.

Astro Pi computers on the ISS.
The Mark I and Mark II Astro Pi computers on board the ISS earlier this year. Credit: ESA/NASA

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.

Mark I Astro Pi computers Ed and Izzy back on Earth on a desk, after 5 years on board the International Space Station.
Mark I Astro Pi computers Ed and Izzy back on Earth after five years on board the International Space Station. Credit: ESA

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.

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Meet team behind the mini Raspberry Pi–powered ISS

Post Syndicated from Ashley Whittaker original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/meet-team-behind-the-mini-raspberry-pi-powered-iss/

Quite possibly the coolest thing we saw Raspberry Pi powering this year was ISS Mimic, a mini version of the International Space Station (ISS). We wanted to learn more about the brains that dreamt up ISS Mimic, which uses data from the ISS to mirror exactly what the real thing is doing in orbit.

The ISS Mimic team’s a diverse, fun-looking bunch of people and they all made their way to NASA via different paths. Maybe you could see yourself there in the future too?

Dallas Kidd

Dallas in a green t shirt stood next to Estefannie in a black t shirt on a blue background. Estefannie is wearing safety googles
Dallas (in the green t shirt) having a lark with teammate Estefannie. Safety first!

Dallas Kidd currently works at the startup Skylark Wireless, helping to advance the technology to provide affordable high speed internet to rural areas.

Previously, she worked on traffic controllers and sensors, in finance on a live trading platform, on RAID controllers for enterprise storage, and at a startup tackling the problem of alarm fatigue in hospitals.

Before getting her Master’s in computer science with a thesis on automatically classifying stars, she taught English as a second language, Algebra I, geometry, special education, reading, and more.

Her hobbies are scuba diving, learning about astronomy, creative writing, art, and gaming.

Tristan Moody

Tristan Moody holding his kid Team ISS NASA
That’s Tristan on the right. NASA does not currently hire small children.

Tristan Moody currently works as a spacecraft survivability engineer at Boeing, helping to keep the ISS and other satellites safe from the threat posed by meteoroids and orbital debris.

He has a PhD in mechanical engineering and currently spends much of his free time as playground equipment for his two young kids.


Estefannie dressed up as Rey from Star Wars for the 2021 princesses with powertools calendar
Estefannie as Rey from Star Wars for the 2021 Princesses with Powertools calendar

Estefannie is a software engineer, designer, punk rocker and likes to overly engineer things and document her findings on her YouTube and Instagram channels as Estefannie Explains It All.

Estefannie spends her time inventing things before thinking, soldering for fun, writing, filming and producing content for her YouTube channel, and public speaking at universities, conferences, and hackathons.

She lives in Houston, Texas and likes tacos.

Douglas Kimble

A member of team ISS Mimic giving a thumbs up while working on the ISS Mimic
Where are the dogs, Douglas?!

Douglas Kimble currently works as an electrical/mechanical design engineer at Boeing. He has designed countless wire harness and installation drawings for the ISS.

He assumes the mentor role and interacts well with diverse personalities. He is also the world’s biggest Lakers fan living in Texas.

His favorite pastimes includes hanging out with his two dogs, Boomer and Teddy. 

Craig Stanton

A member of team ISS Mimic raising an eyebrow while working on the ISS Mimic hardware
Craig’s knows what’s up. Or knows a secret. We can’t tell. Maybe both?

Craig’s father worked for the Space Shuttle program, designing the ascent flight trajectories profiles for the early missions. He remembers being on site at Johnson Space Center one evening, in a freezing cold computer terminal room, punching cards for a program his dad wrote in the early 1980s.

Craig grew up with LEGO and majored in Architecture and Space Design at the University of Houston’s Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA).

His day job involves measuring ISS major assemblies on the ground to ensure they’ll fit together on-orbit. Traveling to many countries to measure hardware that will never see each other until on-orbit is the really coolest part of the job.

Sam Treagold

A member of team ISS Mimc sitting at a laptop
Sam: not to be trusted with hardware you don’t want shot in the desert

Sam Treadgold is an aerospace engineer who also works on the Meteoroid and Orbital Debris team, helping to protect the ISS and Space Launch System from hypervelocity impacts. Occasionally they take spaceflight hardware out to the desert and shoot it with a giant gun to see what happens.

In a non-pandemic world he enjoys rock climbing, music festivals, and making sound-reactive LED sunglasses.

Chen Deng

A member of team ISS Mimic showing off a solar panel
Chen showing off the very shiniest part of the ISS Mimic (solar panels)

Chen Deng is a Systems Engineer working at Boeing with the International Space Station (ISS) program. Her job is to ensure readiness of Payloads, or science experiments, to launch in various spacecraft and operations to conduct research aboard the ISS.

The ISS provides a very unique science laboratory environment, something we can’t get much of on earth: microgravity!  The term microgravity means a state of little or very weak gravity.  The virtual absence of gravity allows scientists to conduct experiments that are impossible to perform on earth, where gravity affects everything that we do.

In her free time, Chen enjoys hiking, board games, and creative projects alike.

Bryan Murphy

bryan murphy from team iss mimic at nasa
Bryan, adorned with an LED necklace, posing next to ISS Mimic’s rotating solar panel ‘wings’

Bryan Murphy is a dynamics and motion control engineer at Boeing, where he gets to create digital physics models of robotic space mechanisms to predict their performance.

His favorite projects include the ISS treadmill vibration isolation system and the shiny new docking system. He grew up on a small farm where his hands-on time with mechanical devices fueled his interest in engineering.

When not at work, he loves to brainstorm and create with his artist/engineer wife and their nerdy kids, or go on long family roadtrips—- especially to hike and kayak or eat ice cream. He’s also vice president of a local makerspace, where he leads STEM outreach and includes excess LEDs in all his builds.


A member of team ISS Mimic
Here’s Susan rocking some of those LED glasses and getting a good grip on ISS Mimic

Susan is a mechanical engineer and a 30+-year veteran of manned spaceflight operations.  She has worked the Space Shuttle Program for Payloads (middeck experiments and payloads deployed with the shuttle arm) starting with STS-30 and was on the team that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope.

She then transitioned into life sciences experiments, which led to the NASA Mir Program where she was on continuous rotation for three years to Russian Mission Control, supporting the NASA astronaut and science experiments onboard the space station as a predecessor to the ISS.

She currently works on the ISS Program (for over 20 years now), where she used to write procedures for on-orbit assembly of the Space Xtation and now writes installation procedures for on-orbit modifications like the docking adapter. She is also an artist and makes crosses out of found objects, and even used to play professional women’s football.

Keep in touch

Team ISS posing in NASA t shirts in front of the ISS mimic

You can keep up with Team ISS Mimic on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. For more info or to join the team, check out their GitHub page and Discord.

Kids, run your code on the ISS!

Logo of the European Astro Pi Challenge

Did you know that there are Raspberry Pi computers aboard the real ISS that young people can run their own Python programs on? How cool is that?!

Find out how to participate at astro-pi.org.

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Q&A with NASA engineers behind Raspberry Pi–powered ISS Mimic

Post Syndicated from NASA Engineers original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/qa-with-nasa-engineers-behind-raspberry-pi-powered-iss-mimic/

Did you see the coolest International Space Station (ISS) on Earth on the blog last week? ISS Mimic is powered by Raspberry Pi, mirrors exactly what the real ISS is doing in orbit, and was built by NASA engineers to make the ISS feel more real for Earth-bound STEAM enthusiasts.

Here’s (most of) the team behind ISS Mimic

The team launched ISS Mimic in celebration of 20 years of continuous human presence in space on the ISS. And they’ve been getting lots of questions since we posted about their creation so, we asked them back to fill you in with a quick Q&A.

And here are newbies Dallas and Estefannie (Estefannie made the ISS Mimic video)

1. Since this is NASA-related, “MIMIC” must be an acronym, right?

Yes, we forced one: “Mechatronic Instantiated Model, Interactively Controlled”

2. What’s your subtitle? 

“The second-most complicated International Space Station ever made”. We also like “1/100th scale for 1/100,000,000th cost”

3. Wait, are US tax dollars paying for you to make this?

No, it’s a volunteer project, but we do get lots of support. It’s done on our own time and money — though many NASA types and others have kicked in to help buy materials. 

ISS Mimic, filmed by YouTube’s finest Estefannie Explains it All

4. So you have supporters?

Yes — mostly other organisations that we have teamed up with. We partner with a non-profit makerspace near NASA, Creatorspace, for tools, materials, and outreach. And an awesome local 3D printer manufacturer, re:3D, has joined us and printed our (large) solar panels for free, and is helping to refine our models. They are also working towards making a kit of parts for sale for those who don’t have a printer or the time to print all the pieces, with a discount for educators.

Particularly helpful has been Space Center Houston (NASA’s visitor center), who invited us to present to the public and at an educator conference (pre-COVID), and allowed us to spend a full day filming in their beautiful facility. Our earliest supporter was Boeing, who we‘ve worked with to facilitate outreach to educators and students from the start.

The real International Space Station (ISS) in orbit

5. How long have you been working on this?

5 years — a looong time. We spent much effort early on to establish the scale and feasibility and test the capabilities of 3D printing. We maintained a hard push to keep the materials cost down and reduce build time/complexity for busy educators. We always knew we’d use Raspberry Pi for the brain, but were looking for less costly options for the mechatronics. We’d still like to cut the cost down a lot to make the project more attainable for lower-income schools and individuals.

6. Have you done any outreach so far?

All of the support has allowed us to take our prototype to schools and STEM events locally. But we really want this to be built around the world to reach those who don’t have much connection to space exploration and hands-on STEM. The big build is probably most suitable for teens and adults, while the alternative builds (in-work) would be much more approachable for younger students.

‘ISS Mimic’ on display

7. So, this just for schools? 

No, not at all. Our focus is to make it viable for schools/educators — in cost and build complexity — but we want any space nerd to be able to build their own and help drive the design.

8. Biggest challenge?

Gravity. And time to work on the project… and trying to keep the cost down.

9. What about a Lunar Gateway or Habitat version of ISS Mimic?

It’s on our radar! Another build that’s screaming to be made is hacking the LEGO ISS model (released this year) to rotate its joints and light LEDs.

Raspberry Pi on the real ISS

There are two Raspberry Pi computers aboard the real ISS right now! And even better, young people have the chance to write Python code that will run on them — IN SPACE — as part of the European Astro Pi Challenge.

Tell the young space enthusiast in your life about Astro Pi to inspire them to try coding! All the info lives at astro-pi.org.

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ISS Mimic: A Raspberry Pi-powered International Space Station model that syncs with the real thing

Post Syndicated from NASA Engineers original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/iss-mimic-a-raspberry-pi-powered-international-space-station-model-that-syncs-with-the-real-thing/

A group of us NASA engineers work on the International Space Station (ISS) for our day-jobs but craved something more tangible than computer models and data curves to share with the world. So, in our free time, we built ISS Mimic. It’s still in the works, but we are publishing now to celebrate 20 years of continuous human presence in space on the ISS. 

Here’s the latest version of ISS Mimic, filmed by YouTube’s finest Estefannie Explains it All

This video was filmed and produced by our friend, new teammate, and Raspberry Pi regular Estefannie of Estefannie Explains it All. Most of the images in this blog are screen grabbed from her wonderful video too.

What does Mimic do?

One of the first versions of ISS Mimic at a public event at the Space Center in Houston, before 3D printed parts saved the day

ISS Mimic is a 1% scale model of the International Space Station, bringing the American football field-sized beauty down to a tabletop-sized build. Most elements in the final version of the build which you see in the video are 3D printed — even the solar arrays. It has 12 motors: 10 to control the solar panels and two to turn the thermal radiators. All of these are fed by live data streaming from the ISS, so what you see on ISS Mimic is what’s happening that very moment on the real deal up in space.  

Physical connection

Lunch onboard the real ISS

Despite the global ISS effort, most people seem to feel disconnected from space exploration and all the STEAM goodness within. Beyond headlines and rocket launches, even space enthusiasts may feel out of touch. Most of what is available is via apps and videos, which are great, but miss the physical aspect.

Some of the team showing off the earliest version of their homage to the ISS

ISS Mimic is intended to provide an earthbound, tangible connection to that so-close-but-so-far-away orbiting science platform. We want space excitement to fuel STEAM interest.

Raspberry Pi brains and Braun

As you may have guessed, a Raspberry Pi is the brain of the business.  Raspberry Pi taps into NASA’s public ISS live data stream to parse the telemetry into the bits we want. There’s JavaScript and tons of Python, including Kivy for the graphics.

A screen grab of the home screen for the mimic program
The main screen for the Mimic program

Users toggle through various touchscreen data displays of things like battery charge states, electrical power generated, joint angles, communication dish status, gyroscope torques, and even airlock air pressure — fun to watch prior to a spacewalk!

The user can also touchscreen-activate the physical model, in which case Raspberry Pi sends the telemetry along to Arduinos, which in turn command motors in the model to do their thing, rotating the solar panels and thermal radiators to the proper angle. The solar panel joints use compact geared DC motors with Hall-effect sensors for feedback. The sensor signals are sent back down to the Arduino, which keeps track of the position of each joint compared to ISS telemetry, and updates motor command accordingly to stay in sync. 

A diagram of the International Space Station tracking its speed
Some of the data Raspberry Pi can receive

The thermal radiator motors are simpler. Since they only rotate about 180° total, a simple RC micro servo is utilised with the desired position sent from an Arduino directly from the Raspberry Pi data stream.

When MIMIC is in ‘live mode’, the motor commands are the exact data stream coming from ISS. This is a fun mode to leave it in for long durations when it’s in the corner of the room. But it changes slowly, so we also include advanced playback, where prior orbit data stored on Raspberry Pi is played back at 60× speed. A regular 90-minute orbit profile can be played back in 90 seconds.

A diagram of the International Space Station orbit tracker
Tracking the ISS orbit

We also have ‘disco mode’, which may have been birthed during lack of sleep, but now we plan to utilise it whenever we want to grab attention — such as to alert users that the ISS is flying overhead.

LED addiction

We may have a mild LED addiction, and we have LEDs embedded where the ISS batteries would live at the base of the solar arrays. They change colour with the charge voltage, so we can tell by watching them when the ISS is going into Earth’s shadow, or when the batteries are fully charged, etc.

That doesn’t look like TOO many LEDs to us…

A few times when we were working on the model and the LEDs suddenly changed, we thought we had bumped something. But it turned out the first array was edging behind Earth. These are fun to watch during spacewalks, and the model gives us advanced notice that the crew is about to be in darkness.

We plan to cram more LEDs in to react to other data. The project is open source, so anyone can build one and improve the design — help wanted!  After all, the ISS itself is a worldwide collaboration with 19 countries participating by providing components and crew. 

Chaotic wire management

The solar panels on the ISS are mounted on what’s known as the ‘outboard truss’ — one each on the Port and Starboard ends of ISS. Everything on the outboard truss rotates together as part of the sun-tracking (in addition to each solar array rotating individually). So, you can’t just run the power/signal wires through the interface or they would twist and break. ISS Mimic has the same issue.

A closer look at the newest ISS Mimic’s mini solar panels

Even though our solar panels don’t generate power, their motors still require power and signals. The ISS has a specialised, unique build; but fortunately we were able to solve our problem with a simple slip ring design sourced from Amazon. 

So twisty. So shiny. So tricky to manage cables for.

Wire management turned out to be a big issue for us. We had bird nests in several places early on (still present on the Port side solar), so we created some custom PCBs just for wire management, to keep the chaos down. We incorporated HDMI connectors and cables in some places to provide nice shielding and convenient sized coupling — actually a bit more compact than the Ethernet we’d used before.  

The real ISS flexing its power-generating solar panels in space

Also, those solar panels are huge, and the mechanism that supports the outboard truss (everything on the sides that rotate together) on the ISS includes a massive 10 foot diameter bull gear called the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint. A pinion gear from a motor interfaces with this gear to turn it as needed.

Some of the 3D printed parts for the latest iteration of the build

We were pleasantly surprised that our 3D-printed bull gear held up quite well with a similar pinion-driven design. Overall, our 3D prints have survived better than expected. We are revamping most models to include more detail, and we could certainly use help here.

Education focus

Our sights are set firmly on educators as our primary area of focus, and we’ve been excited to partner with Space Center Houston to speak at public events and a space exploration educator conference with international attendance earlier this year.

Team ISS Mimic at STEM outreach during the first Robotics National Championship

The feedback has been encouraging and enlightening. We want to keep getting feedback from educators, so please provide more insights by either commenting on this blog or via the contact info listed at the bottom. 

NASA Mission Control — failure is actually an option… sometimes

A highlight for the team was when the ISS Mimic prototype was requested to live for a month in NASA’s Mission Control Center and was synced to live data during an historic spacewalk. Mimic experienced an ‘anomaly’ when a loose wire caused one of the solar panel motors to spin at 100× the normal rate. 

Our tiny computer with the ISS Mimic’s control panel

You’ll be happy to know that none of the engineering professionals were fooled into thinking the real ISS was doing time-trials. Did I mention it’s still a work in progress? You can’t be scared of failure (for non-critical applications!), particularly when developing something brand-new. It’s part of shaking out problems and learning.

Space exploration has an exciting Future

Showing off ISS Mimic during a STEM outreach event at the Space Center in Houston

It’s an exciting time in human and robotic spaceflight, with lots of budding projects and new organisations joining the effort. This feels like a great time to deepen our connection to this great progress, and we hope ISS Mimic can help us to do that, as well as encourage more students to play in coding, mechatronics, and STEAM.

Shoutouts and social

Hi to [most of] Team ISS Mimic!

You can keep up with Team ISS Mimic on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For more info or to join the team, check out our GitHub page and Discord.

One of the best parts of this project has been teaming up with organisations to share the love. We partner with a non-profit makerspace near NASA called Creatorspace, for tools, materials, and outreach.  And an awesome local 3D printer manufacturer, re:3D, has joined us to print some of our larger components for free and is helping to refine our models.  Space Center Houston (NASA’s visitor centre) invited us to present to the public and at an educator conference, and generously allowed us to spend a full day filming in their beautiful facility.   Our earliest supporter was Boeing, who we’ve worked with to facilitate outreach to educators and students from the start.  And of course we are thankful to NASA for providing the public data stream that makes the project possible.

Astro Pi

Did you know that there are Raspberry Pi computers aboard the real ISS that young people can run their own Python programs on? Find out more at astro-pi.org.

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