The Astro Pi in Space

For experiments to run in space, an Astro Pi board fitted with sensors and gadgets is a great way to begin. For this, school pupils in UK are being challenged to write apps for the tiny, inexpensive, single board computer, the Raspberry Pi or the RBPi. As Tim Peake readies for his rendezvous with the International Space Station in November 2015, the British Astronaut will carry with him two RBPis, fortified with Astro Pis. He will have six months to complete the experiments in space.

Analyzing the Astro Pi reveals it to be a HAT or Hardware Attached on Top for the RBPi. It is well packed with several goodies such as – sensors for magnetometer, accelerometer, gyroscope, temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, a real time clock with battery backup, several push-buttons and a versatile 8×8 RGB LED display. In addition, there is also a camera module and an infra-red camera on board the Astro Pi.

With all this gear, Astro Pi is most suitably equipped to carry out real-time science and innovative experiments in space. School children resident in the UK are being encouraged to join in the competition for setting up experiments that astronauts will conduct in space later this year.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, along with the UK Space and the European Space Agency are organizing the contest. For this, they have devised five themes for stimulating the kids’ creativity and scientific thinking. These include Satellite Imaging, Data Fusion, Space Measurements, Space Radiation and Spacecraft Sensors.

Kids of ages under 11 in the primary school will devise and describe original ideas for application or experimenting on the Astro Pi. Teams presenting the two best submissions will be able to work with the Astro Pi team for interpreting their ideas. The team at the Raspberry Pi Foundation will code these two ideas and get them ready for flight on the ISS.

The competition in the secondary schools will run across three age categories of 11-13, 14-16 and 16+. A selection of the best 50 submissions will be made for each age category and they will win an RBPi and an Astro Pi on which they can code their original concept. From each age category, two winning teams will be selected.

During his six-month space stint, Tim Peake will be deploying the Astro Pis, uploading the winning experiment code, set them running, collect the generated data and download it to be distributed to the winning teams.

Astro Pi is also great for fun sciences. This is possible because of its Sense HAT, incorporating all the sensors on the single board. For example, with the on-board sensors, one can make a self-balancing attack robot that can also sense humans. In reality, most equipment for experimentation in schools is too expensive – the Astro Pi and RBPi combination changes that dimension.

Apart from the huge scope for fun sciences, useful data is expected to be gathered from using the Astro Pi sensors while on the International Space Station. Young people will have a unique chance to learn core computing skills and this will be extremely useful to them in the future.