The European Astro Pi Challenge is 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 aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Astronaut Paolo Nespoli with the Astro Pi computers aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: ESA (European Space Agency)

There are two different Missions students and young people can take part in. Mission Space Lab gives them the chance to team up and write a computer program for a scientific experiment. The best experiments will be deployed to the ISS, and will run on an Astro Pi computer there. Then the teams will have the opportunity to analyse and report on their results. The ten teams with the best reports will be selected to win an exclusive prize!

Mission Zero is non-competitive and offers students and young people the chance to have their code run in space on the ISS! Teams write a simple program to display a message to astronauts on board. No special equipment or coding skills are needed, and all teams that follow the guidelines are guaranteed to have their programs run in space! They also receive certificates showing where exactly the ISS was when their programs ran.


History of the project

Astronaut Tim Peake using a Raspberry Pi aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: ESA (European Space Agency)

As part of British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake’s mission Principia (2015–2016) on the ISS, the UK Space Agency and the Raspberry Pi Foundation collaborated on the Astro Pi UK challenge to foster young people’s interest in space science and to help them develop computing and digital making skills. For this purpose, two space-hardened Raspberry Pi computers, called Astro Pis, equipped with environmental sensors (a Sense HAT, Hardware Attached on Top) were sent to the ISS and then used to run students’ and young people’s programs, with ISS crew support.

After the Astro Pi UK challenge, ESA decided to embrace the project and extend it to the whole of Europe, taking advantage of the Astro Pi computers already in orbit. So in 2016–2017, ESA and the Raspberry Pi Foundation joined forces and launched the first European Astro Pi Challenge!

In the first run of the European challenge, which had French ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet as its ambassador during his Proxima mission to the ISS, we invited student teams to devise a science experiment to be performed using the ISS’s Astro Pis. To take part, students had to write and test computer programs in Python (or Scratch, only for French teams), and these were uploaded to and run on the Astro Pi computers without need of astronauts’ help.

Since the European Astro Pi Challenge’s second run (2017–2018), to reach a larger base of participants, we are including a second complexity level for younger teams. In addition to the established challenge to code an experiment, which is now called Mission Space Lab, students and young people can also take part in Mission Zero. In this simpler, non-competitive activity, participants write a program to display the ISS temperature reading and a message to ISS astronauts for 30 seconds. In the 2017–2018 run of the challenge, ESA astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Alexander Gerst served as ambassadors.

Cranmere Code Club

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