Astro Pi: Mission Update 9 – Science Results

Now that British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake is back on the ground it’s time for the final Astro Pi mission update: the summary of the experiment results from the International Space Station (ISS). We’ve been holding this back to give the winners some time to publish the results of their experiments themselves.

Back in 2015 we ran a competition where students could design and program computer science experiments, to be run by Tim Peake on specially cased Raspberry Pis called Astro Pis. Here’s the original competition video, voiced by Tim himself:

Astro Pi

This is “Astro Pi” by raspberrypi on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.

The competition ran from January to July 2015 and produced seven winning experiments, which were launched into space a few days before Tim started his mission. Between February and April 2016, these experiments were run on board the ISS under Tim Peake’s supervision. They’re mostly based around the sensors found on the Sense HAT, but a few also employ the Raspberry Pi Camera Module. Head over to the Astro Pi website now to check out the results, released today!

You might also know that we ran an extension to this competition involving a couple of music-based challenges. These challenges have no scientific output to discuss, because they were part of a crew care package for Tim’s enjoyment, but you can get your hands on the winning code to turn the Astro Pis into MP3 players and Sonic Pi tunes.

One of the main things we’ve learnt from running Astro Pi is that the biggest motivational factor for young people is the very tangible goal of having their code run in space. This eclipses any physical prize we could offer. Many people see space as quite distant and abstract, but with Astro Pi you can actually get your hands on space-qualified hardware, create something that would work up in space, and become an active participant in the European space programme.

Many of the Astro Pi winners now express an interest in studying aerospace and computer science. They’ve gained exposure to the real-life process of scientific endeavour, and faced industrial software development challenges along the way. We hope that everyone who participated in Astro Pi has been positively influenced by the programme. The results also demonstrate that the payload works reliably in space. This has been noticed by ESA, who are now planning to use it during upcoming missions. It’s really important for us that the payload continues to be used to run your code in space, so we’re working hard with ESA to make sure that we can do Astro Pi all over again.

This project has been a huge collaborative effort from the start and the Raspberry Pi Foundation would like to thank everyone who has participated in the competitions, and the following companies who have contributed staff time, facilities, and funding to make it all happen: UK Space Agency, European Space Agency, BIOTESC, TLOGOS, Surrey Satellite Technology, Airbus Defence and Space, CGI Group, QinetiQ Space, UK Space Trade Association, ESERO UK, KTN Space, and Nesta. Of course, Tim Peake himself has been hugely supportive and enthusiastic about the project from the start.

British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake with the prototype Astro Pi

British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake with the prototype Astro Pi. Image credit ESA.

We would also like to thank Libby Jackson, who is the Astronaut Flight Education Programme Manager at the UK Space Agency and a former flight director at ESA. She oversees all of the Principia educational activities, including Astro Pi.

Libby Jackson, UK Space Agency. Image credit German Zoeschinger.

Libby Jackson, UK Space Agency. Image credit German Zoeschinger.

During the interview for her job at the UK Space Agency a few years ago, she pitched an idea for running a project on the ISS involving Raspberry Pi computers. Instead of launching traditional physical equipment, the experiments would be in the form of computer software, meaning that many more experiments could be accommodated. That kernel of an idea is what eventually became Astro Pi.


Izzy deployed on the Nadir Hatch window of Node 2. Image credit ESA.