Classroom coding goes into orbit: Astro Pi Challenge allows students to run experiments on the International Space Station

Two upgraded Raspberry Pi computers are set to be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) this December, enabling young people aged 19 and under to run scientific experiments in space and communicate with astronauts aboard the ISS.

The European Astro Pi Challenge from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, in partnership with the European Space Agency, empowers primary, secondary and sixth form students, no matter their experience with computers, to write a simple computer program and share a message with the astronauts orbiting 408km above the Earth.

  • The European Astro Pi Challenge from the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the European Space Agency supports children to code experiments and send messages to Raspberry Pi computers on the International Space Station
  • The free Mission Zero online activity is curriculum aligned and guides pupils to write a simple computer program that will take a humidity reading onboard the International Space Station.
  • Combining new STEM and coding skills with creativity and imagination, Mission Zero takes an hour, requires no specialist equipment or prior coding knowledge from student or teacher.
  • Every eligible child that follows the step-by-step guidelines is guaranteed to have their program run in space with participants receiving a certificate.

The European Astro Pi Challenge Mission Zero is aimed at primary school pupils and new coders in secondary school and guides young explorers through the curriculum-aligned steps of writing a computer program to measure the humidity on the ISS. They can share a personal message and create a digital animation that appears on the LED display for the station’s astronauts to read and enjoy.

Samantha Cristoforetti, Astro Pi Challenge Ambassador - Credit: ESA

Samantha-Cristoforetti, Astro Pi Ambassador - Credit_ ESA.jpg

Mission Zero is free, takes about an hour to complete and can be done in the classroom through the Astro Pi website: astro-pi.org. Teachers do not need to be coding-confident to include it in their lesson and no specialist equipment is required beyond internet connected computers.

The two Raspberry Pi computers will replace older, less-advanced models called Ed and Izzy that were originally deployed as part of Tim Peake's Principia mission in 2015.

Every pupil that follows the step-by-step guidance is guaranteed to have their computer program, message and animation run in space and will receive a personalised certificate to confirm the date, time and location of the ISS when their program was run. They will also have the opportunity to name the Raspberry Pi computers heading to space in December. Young people can have a go and send their messages to the space station until 18 March 2022.

Philip Colligan, CEO, Raspberry Pi Foundation said: “I can’t think of many free science-education projects for young people that have their own space programme. The Astro Pi Challenge is a fun activity to support children to discover coding, explore digital creativity and take part in an ‘out of this world’ learning opportunity. We are putting the power of computing into children’s hands with one of the coolest educational opportunities out there.”

Olympia Brown, Head of Youth Partnerships, Raspberry Pi Foundation said: “More than 54,000 young people from 26 countries have taken part in the Astro Pi challenges to date to run their own computer programs in space . Our two new Raspberry Pi computers mean even more young people can learn about coding and digital creativity to empower them to share messages with the International Space Station. The upgraded technology allows young participants to develop and run more detailed and complex experiments than they have ever been able to before.”

In addition to Mission Zero, the Astro Pi Challenge Mission Space Lab is aimed at teams of young people with some prior experience of coding. Teams develop more detailed experiment ideas in school or as part of a coding club that can run on the two Raspberry Pi computers, learning about the real-world impact that their experiments can have.

The deadline for entries to this year’s Mission Space Lab has now closed but the most promising experiments will now be supported by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to progress their ideas, with selected teams receiving hardware to refine their experiment on Earth before the best ideas run on the ISS. Previous Mission Space Lab experiments designed by young people explored the health of forests and plant erosion and monitoring for wildfires.

The Astro Pi Challenge has been designed to be “device neutral” meaning schools do not need to have access to a Raspberry Pi computer to take part – however they do need access to an internet-connected computer.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a UK-based charity that works to put computing and digital-creativity into the hands of young people all over the world. It aims to empower young people to harness the power of community and digital technology to solve problems that matter to them and to express themselves creatively .

To find out more about the Astro Pi Challenge and take part in Mission Zero today, visit astro-pi.org