Solve a scientific task in space
In Mission Space Lab teams are invited to write computer programs that solve a scientific task in space: to gather data to calculate the speed at which the International Space Station (ISS) is travelling as accurately as possible.
To achieve this, teams write a Python program to first use the Astro Pi computers’ sensors or camera and gather data about the orientation and motion of the ISS as it orbits the Earth, and then calculate the speed of the ISS based on the gathered data.
Taking part in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab enables young people to learn about the ISS, about gathering and using data to answer a scientific question, and about creating and troubleshooting a computer program. They also have the exciting opportunity to learn about the science of motion and the orbit of the ISS. Eligible programs will be deployed on the ISS, and teams will receive certificates and data collected in space.
The Astro Pi computers
An Astro Pi computer is a Raspberry Pi computer equipped with a Sense HAT add-on board, a High Quality Camera, a Coral machine learning accelerator, and a hard casing designed especially for space travel. Its Sense HAT has a number of sensors that teams can choose to use to capture data:
- A passive infrared sensor (PIR)
- A colour and luminosity sensor
- A gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor
- A temperature sensor
- A humidity sensor
- A pressure sensor
Planning a Mission Space Lab program
To calculate the speed of the ISS, young people will need to learn about some scientific concepts, and about the ISS itself.
This year there will be a project guide that walks teams through one of the ways to calculate the speed of the ISS. This guide will help beginners write their programs.
Teams of more experienced programmers can find their own unique solutions for calculating the speed using the different sensors. There are many ways for them to get creative and try out their own ideas to see what’s possible.
See the Astro Pi sensors webpage for more details.
Mentors register their teams from 6 November 2023. Each mentor receives a unique team ID for each team they register, which they need for submitting the team’s finished program.
Write and test programs
Teams write Python programs to accurately estimate the ISS’s speed. They test their program using a Python library we provide specially for Mission Space Lab teams. This library simulates their program’s run based on historic data from previous Astro Pi missions.
To write their Python program, teams can use any macOS, Windows, or Linux computer and any code editor or integrated development environment (IDE) that supports Python. Be aware that Astro Pi computers will not be provided as part of the Astro Pi Challenge. If teams wish, they can use their own Raspberry Pi to write and test their program.
Checklist for programs
Each program needs to meet some key criteria so it is possible to be run on the Astro Pis on board the ISS. There will be a checklist to help teams and mentors make sure a team’s program is ready to be submitted.
Submit teams’ programs
Mentors submit a team’s completed and tested program using the unique team ID.
Mission timeline 2023/2024
Phase 1: Create
6 November 2023 to 19 February 2024
- Mentors register their teams
- Teams write and test their programs
- Mentors submit their teams’ completed programs
- Astro Pi Mission Control tests and assesses each submitted program
Phase 2: Deploy
April to May 2024:
Programs that pass testing and assessment are awarded ‘flight status’ and deployed on board the ISS
May to June 2024:
Teams receive the data their program has gathered while running on the ISS, and a certificate of participation
Why participate in Mission Space Lab?
We asked some participants of Mission Space Lab how they feel about the challenge, and why it’s important to them.
“Astro Pi helped me to be creative and think about ways to use the devices and resources on board of the ISS. It was really fun and I learned a lot about the ISS itself. The Astro Pi challenge motivated me to continue coding lessons in school and someday make computer sciences a part of my life.”
Alexandra, Team ISS Girls, age 16
“We had a great time working on Astro Pi. It strengthened our bonds of friendship as collaboration and teamwork is required to achieve this unique goal. We recommend Astro Pi to everybody who is interested in space to take part of this challenge. All difficulties you will encounter, will finally turn into benefits as you are going to learn how to overcome them. Don’t be afraid to be part of such an adventure - take your chance to become a space scientist”