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Mission Space Lab Mentor Guide

Welcome to the European Astro Pi Challenge 2023/24: Mission Space Lab. Mission Space Lab offers teams of young people the amazing opportunity to conduct scientific experiments in space by writing computer programs that run on Astro Pi computers on board the International Space Station (ISS).

This mentor guide provides information and tips to help you support your teams to take part.

First, we’d like to give a big shout-out to all Mission Space Lab mentors. Thank you for sharing your time, knowledge, and enthusiasm to support and inspire the next generation.

Before you start, please check the eligibility criteria

No prior experience required

You do not need any previous experience of the Astro Pi Challenge to take part in Mission Space Lab. We provide a number of helpful resources to support you and your team during the Mission.

This mentor guide provides instructions and information to help you take part in the Mission with your team, including technical support and debugging tips. We have also included some suggestions for how to organise your team, help them plan their work, and get everyone working together. If you have a larger team, this might be helpful to ensure everyone is able to contribute effectively.

You will find out more about other resources available to help you and your team later in this guide.

The canada robot arm on the ISS

Astro Pi Mission Space Lab overview

The goal of Mission Space Lab is to create a program that can run for 10 minutes on the ISS, and in that time, collect data from the Astro Pi computer’s sensors and camera and use it to calculate the velocity of the ISS.

Once your team have written and tested their program, you will submit it for evaluation and testing by a panel of specialists from the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the European Space Agency. All programs that follow the Mission Space Lab rules will then be considered for ‘flight status’, which would allow them to be run in space for 10 minutes. The Astro Pis can only be used to deploy programs for Mission Space Lab for a limited amount of time, and we will try to run as many programs as we can.

Mission resources and preparation

In addition to this mentor guide, we provide a number of resources for Mission Space Lab mentors and teams.

The Mission Space Lab rulebook contains all the requirements and technical instructions to support young people to create a Python program that can be awarded flight status (be run on the ISS). Think of it as the specification that the program must meet in order to be considered for running on the ISS.  

The Mission Space Lab creator guide introduces some of the coding skills your team may need to produce their Python program, and includes guidance to help teams review, refine, and test their programs.

There is no complete step-by-step guide on how to create a program that will solve the problem posed in this Mission. Your team will need to come up with ideas and solutions and work out how to implement them. 

Wondering where to start? You may want to take a look at our ‘Calculate the speed of the ISS using photos’ project guide, which shows one way to calculate the ISS’s speed using static photos. Your team could use this as a starting point and modify their program to run on the ISS using real-time photos taken with the Astro Pi’s camera. You could also use our ‘Astro Pi flight data analysis’ project guide with the repository of historical sensor data to see what other measurements might help produce a value of the ISS’s speed. These are not the only approaches you could use, so if your team has other ideas, you should support them in developing a design. You can find sample images to use in our collection on Flickr, and you can find further resources about the Astro Pi hardware in stage 2 in this guide

Answers to many of the questions that arise can probably be found by searching online, and you should encourage your team to use a research-based approach whenever they get stuck. We will also be running a couple of scheduled online webinars where you can ask questions of the team at Astro Pi Mission Control, or you can email us at [email protected]. Don’t hesitate to contact us — we would love to hear from you.

To complete Mission Space Lab, teams will need:

  • A computer with an internet connection

  • A Python editor (we recommend Thonny)

  • A way to save and retrieve their files locally (offline)

Participation in Mission Space Lab requires around 5–10 hours of contact/project time. To make the best use of that time, we recommend making sure the computers your team will be using have everything installed before you start.

We suggest running the activity as a series of informal sessions that take teams through the design thinking process (you can find out more about this in stage 3 in this guide). There is no set delivery format for Mission Space Lab, and the stages in this guide do not need to be completed in a single session, lesson, or period at your venue.


Whether you run your activities in a school, club, or public place, it’s important that you provide a safe space for young people and are aware of what to do if you have any concerns for their welfare.  

  • Make sure you’re familiar with the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s safeguarding policy and our safeguarding resources. If you work directly with children, young people, and vulnerable adults, and you have any concerns for their welfare, you should report them to us immediately.

  • Please complete our 30 minute interactive safeguarding training, which will help you create a safe learning environment for all young people you engage with.

  • Do a quick check of the projects your group or teams are working on. If you plan to submit them as part of a challenge, then please note that we will not accept any projects that depict realistic violence towards people or animals, nudity, sexual posturing, obscenities, or bad or discriminatory language. 

  • Please check the submission guidelines and eligibility criteria for the challenge. 

If you are not sure how to report a safeguarding incident, take a look at our short guide on how to deal with safeguarding concerns.

Exactly what does the program need to do?

Your team will need to take data in real time from the sensors and/or camera on an Astro Pi computer and use this to calculate the current speed of the ISS. Their program will run for 10 minutes, so they will take multiple measurements and compute an average or other statistical result. By the end of the 10-minute runtime, their program will need to terminate and write a file containing the value in kilometres per second (km/s) of the speed that has been calculated. Your team’s program can also save other data and photos that will be sent to you after their program has been deployed on the ISS. The full technical specifications and data limits are explained in the Mission Space Lab creator guide, so make sure you and your team read it carefully.