Astro Pi: Mission Update 2

Astro_Pi_Logo_WEB-300px

Time for an Astro Pi update! The ‘big idea’ phase of the competition, where students were only required to submit an idea, closed at the beginning of April. The fully anonymised judging process took place over two long days at York’s National STEM Centre on the 17th of April.

Nearly 200 teams from primary schools and code clubs all over the UK submitted ideas for experiments and games to be run on Tim Peake’s Astro Pi on board the International Space Station (ISS) later this year. He will set the winning experiments running, collect the data generated and then download it to Earth where it will be distributed to the winning teams.

Tim Peake has announced the primary school winners in a video message from Star City, where he is currently training. The secondary school competition is still open until the end of June.

Hannah Belshaw from Cumnor House Girl’s School in Croydon won top place with her idea to represent data from the Astro Pi in the world of Minecraft. The Cranmere Code Club team from Esher were also winners with their idea to investigate whether the Astro Pi can detect the presence of astronauts on the ISS using the temperature and humidity sensors.

Both schools will now receive a class set of Astro Pi kits which they’ll start coding on. They’ll also use them to get involved in the data logging activities once Tim starts his mission.

Major Tim Peake - photo provided by UK Space Agency under CC BY-ND

Major Tim Peake – photo provided by UK Space Agency under CC BY-ND

Hannah Belshaw’s Minecraft idea was the top entry overall in the primary school category. The code will be written by us at Raspberry Pi under her guidance and, in addition to getting it flown and run on the ISS, a British satellite will be realigned to take a picture of her school from space! They can all go outside into the playground and make a huge space invader perhaps?

We all recognised that Hannah’s idea is an ingenious way to represent abstract sensor data captured by the Astro Pi in a way that would allow children to gain an intuitive understanding. The terrain in Minecraft will be used to visualise magnetometer and gyroscope measurements downloaded from the ISS and can then be replicated by anyone who owns a Raspberry Pi.

Jonathan Bell, one of our software ninjas, said:

“We anticipate that we will have as much fun programming (and testing) this entry as children will have exploring a game world created from data captured in space.”

Cranmere Code Club’s concept of investigating whether or not multiple sensors from the Astro Pi could be used to detect the nearby presence of an astronaut appealed to everyone because it exploits so much of the Astro Pi hardware. Cranmere Code Club will use the visible camera to take a photograph when an increase in temperature and humidity is detected, and will review the images to see if they caught anyone!

Pat Norris from CGI said:

“the Cranmere entry was very clearly and comprehensively presented. It included a statement of the objective of what is effectively a scientific experiment and of the approach proposed to achieve that objective, and complemented this with logic flowcharts and a diagram. Part of the activity takes place on the ISS and part on the ground after the data has been collected, giving the Cranmere Code Club an opportunity to participate directly in the experiment. The judging panel was impressed by the sophistication of the entry, demonstrating an appreciation of the scientific method (hypothesis tested by experiment) and a thorough analysis of the logic involved.”

The standard of entries was so high that we also created a ‘highly commended’ category to reward outstanding effort. These entrants will individually receive an Astro Pi kit too.

Doug Liddle from SSTL said:

“The standard of entries was tremendously high. Ultimately, the winning teams had to propose ideas that were creative, practical and useful to stand a chance of winning. I hope that most of these talented primary school teams also decide to get involved in the next stage of the competition and give the secondary schools a run for their money.”

In the secondary school age group, the competition is running across three age categories, one for each of Key Stages 3, 4 and 5. Competitors have already submitted their ideas for experiments and applications with the best submissions in each age category winning an Astro Pi kit on which to code their idea and the two most promising ideas in each category winning a class set of kits. The teams who have earned a class set of kits are:

Key Stage 3 and equivalent:

Key Stage 4 and equivalent:

Key Stage 5 and equivalent:

Phase two of the Astro Pi competition is all about secondary schools realising their ideas from phase one in code, testing it, refining it and eventually submitting it via the competition website by the 29th of June. Primary schools are not required to do this, but those that want to code will be put into the lowest age category for the secondary school competition.

If you missed phase one, you can still enter! In fact, if you really wanted, you could turn up on the 28th of June with your code ready to go, enter, and submit the code on the same day! (That would be cutting it a bit fine though…)

Go here to enter!

After the end of June the entries will be judged for the last time. The best two from each key stage will then have their code flown on Tim Peake’s Astro Pi when he launches in November. The existing primary school entries will also be judged alongside these to be in with a chance to win the UK Space thematic prizes.

We are also providing support through the Astro Pi forum and you can still apply for a free Astro Pi HAT (on its own) if you didn’t win a kit. Oh oh! Yes… free stuff is up for grabs.

If you want to get one you need to send an email application to…

request@astro-pi.org

…describing what you intend to do with the hardware. Hint: those who intend to enter the Astro Pi secondary school competition will be looked upon favourably. You should provide a good description of what your entry will do for Tim Peake on the ISS. This will not entitle you to a board though! There are only a limited number of them so we will be selecting based on what you write in your application. So choose your words carefully.

In the future we hope that the European Space Agency will want to repeat the Astro Pi competition on a larger scale and so, currently, the UK competition is like a pilot. ESA are watching this with interest and they will be looking for the number of entries received and the number of students reached. Please do your bit by getting your school involved.