Phase 2 of the European Astro Pi Challenge begins

Alongside ESA and its partners, we’re happy to announce that more than 350 teams have been selected for the 2017 European Astro Pi challenge! These teams will now have the chance to compete to send their code to the International Space Station (ISS).

The teams, representing 15 European countries, will soon receive their Astro Pi Kit at their school. They will start familiarising themselves with the Astro Pi hardware and its sensors, and will have to find a solution to the 2017 challenge: a mission assignment that ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet prepared especially for them, before being launched to the ISS earlier in November 2016 for his six-month Proxima mission.

The teams will have until 28 February 2017 to submit their solutions. Up to five teams per country will then be selected for Phase 3 of the challenge: they will fly their code to the ISS and run their Astro Pi mission in orbit during spring 2017.

The 2017 Astro Pi mission assignment

The challenge will be composed of two missions that all participating teams will perform using Astro Pi:

  • a primary mission, for which teams will write the code needed to respond to a specific task assigned by Thomas Pesquet, and
  • a secondary mission, for which teams will come up with their own design of a scientific investigation and will write the code to execute it.

Note that Astro Pi is the only hardware you will have at your disposal to run your missions, and coding is your only tool. No other hardware or equipment is available.

Thomas himself will install the Astro Pi on a multi-use bracket in the Columbus module and leave it there for the duration of the challenge. Note that the Astro Pi cannot be moved from or around this fixed position, and that astronauts cannot be requested to operate it.

Primary mission: detect ISS crew members working in the Columbus module!

Every day, crew activities take place in the Columbus module, Europe’s space laboratory on the ISS. Astronauts spend a lot of their working day there, conducting several science experiments. At the same time, other space experts control and monitor the execution of these experiments from their offices on Earth.

Can you help these scientists understand if astronauts are present in the Columbus module at a certain time?

Ed_AvatarYour team’s primary mission is to write code that will allow the ISS Astro Pi and its sensors to detect crew presence in the Columbus module.

Astro Pi Ed is ready for his mission!

Secondary mission: design your own Astro Pi investigation on the ISS!

On the ISS, Thomas will conduct many investigations, ranging from monitoring the space environment, to biology and technology demonstrations. The secondary mission of the 2017 European Astro Pi challenge is an investigation as well, involving the teams designing an exploratory project where the scientific value will be of major importance, just like in Thomas’s mission.

Izzy_AvatarYour team’s secondary mission is to design a scientific investigation which requires the exclusive use of the ISS Astro Pi and its sensors, and to write the code needed to execute it.

Ideas for the secondary mission have to be related to different aspects of life, work, and science on board the ISS. If relevant, teams can use the idea that they already submitted when registering for Phase 1, or something completely new!

What you need to know: mission requirements and constraints

Both your primary and secondary missions will need to meet the following requirements and constraints:

  • At least one sensor per mission has to be used
  • The LED matrix has to be used
  • Data has to be collected and stored with a timestamp, for later analysis on the ground
  • Code must be written in Python 3.4 or 2.7
  • The total time of execution for both the primary and secondary missions combined cannot be more than 3 hours

Considering the busy schedules of the astronauts, the Astro Pi on the ISS will be controlled from the ground without the involvement of the crew. For this reason:

  • Astronaut interaction with the Astro Pi through the joystick and the buttons cannot be considered in your mission design and execution code
  • The Astro Pi cameras cannot be used
  • The Astro Pi cannot be moved from and around its fixed position in Columbus

Keep these indications in mind when you design and prepare your missions to guarantee the feasibility of your investigations!

Astro Pi KitAstro Pi kit and classroom resources

All the teams selected to participate in Phase 2 of the challenge will receive an ESA-branded Astro Pi kit at their school. The kit contains the equipment necessary to test their codes, except for the monitor, USB keyboard, and mouse, which the teams will have to provide themselves.

Inside the Astro Pi kit you will find:

  • a Raspberry Pi computer similar to the one present in the European Columbus module on the ISS
  • a Sense HAT that includes two cameras, although these cameras aren’t available for use in this year’s challenge
  • all the components you need to assemble your flight case (you’ll need access to a 3D printer). Assembling the flight case is optional.

The teams (students and teachers) can find the supporting resources (in English) here. These will help them explore and learn how to use the Astro Pi kit. This supporting material will soon also be available in French, Polish, Portuguese, and Italian. At the end of November 2016, a video and an online education resource to demonstrate how to assemble the Astro Pi flight case was made available in English.

How to submit your entries

The teams’ entries will have to be submitted in electronic form no later than 28 February 2017, 22:00 CET (Central European Time).

The entries must include a full description of both the primary and secondary missions, including a description of the mission objectives, of the procedure and methodology to be followed, and of the expected results, as well as the two programs written to execute both the primary and secondary missions.

Entries must be submitted in English (including any comment you may like to add within your Python code), except for the French and Portuguese teams, who can submit their entries in their native language.

A document template, as well as instructions on how and where to submit the entries, will be published on this site on 12 January 2017.

Evaluation criteria

The teams’ entries will be evaluated based on their:

  • Scientific value
  • Creativity and originality
  • Feasibility of the missions within the ISS environment
  • Code readability and quality
  • Overall rigour, clarity, and comprehensiveness

Thomas Pesquet and ESA, ESERO, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, CNES, and the UK Space Agency wish you the best of luck for the next three months of work!


If you have any questions regarding Astro Pi, please check the FAQ section of the Astro Pi website or join the Astro Pi forums. If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, please send an email to