Raspberry Pi Supports Students to Deploy Programs on the International Space Station!

Raspberry Pi Supports Students to Deploy Programs on the International Space Station!

Exciting news! Raspberry Pi Foundation together with ESA Education has successfully launched numerous programs and applications from starry-eyed young programmers into space to the International Space Station (ISS) to complete the “European Astro Pi Challenge” for the years 2020 to 2021.

As part of both of the two missions that the Astro Pi Challenge has launched – Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab – almost 15,000 participants from around the globe constructed, designed, and successfully tested 9,408 programs. All of these programs have now reached the Raspberry Pi computers of the International Space Station: the Astro Pis Ed and Izzy.

Mission Zero: A Message Across the Stars

During 2020 - 2021, 14,054 budding young programmers from 24 countries participated in Mission Zero, with the Astro Pi computers around the ISS running each program every 30 seconds.

During Mission Zero, students developed programs to measure humidity aboard the ISS space shuttle Columbus using a special add-on for the Raspberry Pi, called the “Sense HAT add-on.” This special add-on has an 8x8 RGB LED matrix, a 5-button joystick, and a gyroscope, magnetometer, accelerometer barometric sensor, temperature sensor, and a humidity sensor (which was used in Mission Zero.) 

Each programmer used the LED matrix of the Sense HAT to display the recorded measurement along with the own message to the astronauts. This year, one of the astronauts overlooking Mission Zero aboard the ISS was Thomas Pesquet who deployed both the Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab programs.

The COVID pandemic and subsequent lockdowns added extra challenges for this year’s participants in Mission Zero, so Raspberry Pi updated its rules. For example, this was the first time that students could join either on their own or with a team. This option was a big hit, as 6,308 entries came from solo participants. Even with all the challenges, there were only about 5% fewer participants compared to previous years, an indication of how much students love the Astro Pi challenge and are eager to get involved!


Mission Space Lab: Look What I Found!

In addition to Mission Zero, 939 students (separated into 232 teams) are also now involved in the last phase of the Astro Pi Mission Space Lab. During May 2021, got to run the programs for their scientific experiment on either Astro Pi Izzy or Astro Pi Ed for a total of three hours

Some teams conducted an experiment based on the theme, “Life on Earth” using Astro Pi Izzy’s near-infrared sensor-camera to take awe-inspiring photos of our planet’s surface from space. The experiments included weather forecasting through the intricate analysis of accumulated cloud patterns, investigating how vegetation has changed in different regions around the globe using the NDVI index (normalized difference vegetation index) to determine long-term impacts of climate change, and surveying the movement of the Earth’s electromagnetic field over time.

Other teams also conducted experiments based on the theme, “Life on Space,” using Astro Pi Ed’s wide options of sensors to examine and learn about the quality of living aboard the space shuttle Columbus. Some of the experiments included measuring the distribution of gravity inside the space ship, analyzing the quality of onboard air, and calculating where the ISS’s orbital location and direction.


The Magnificent Seven Aboard the ISS! Vilros

Even though the ISS is around 356 feet (or 109 meters) end-to-end, reaching the same size as an American football field, the ISS only has sleeping pods for seven astronauts. (In a recent instance when eleven astronauts were aboard the ship all at once, they needed to get creative on how to get a good night’s sleep!)

For Astro Pi Ed and Astro Pi Izzy, large crews could have created potential problems especially with all those connected cables lying around. The astronauts needed to carefully consider how they would move across the ISS without bumping into the computers and accidentally unplugging the power source.


Who Will Be the Winner?

Raspberry Pi in collaboration with the ESA Education Association convened a panel of judges to examine all the reports from data compiled during the Mission Space Lab for 2020 – 2021 and select 10 teams with the top reports to be this year’s winners. The prize for the winning teams will be an invitation to a special webinar with an ESA astronaut where they can learn directly about living in outer space. 

Here at Vilros we’re excited to congratulate all the students who participated in this year’s European Astro Pi Challenge! What moonshot challenge involving Raspberry Pi excites you the most?

If you want to read more inspiring stories and learn about updates for Raspberry Pi and Arduino, be sure to check out more of our posts here on our Vilros blog!