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Enhanced Raspberry Pi units ready for International Space Station challenge



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The use of Raspberry Pi computers on the International Space Station (ISS) is being expanded with new hardware added to enable more young people to run more complex experiments for the European Astro Pi Challenge.

The Astro Pi IR+vis
The Astro Pi IR+vis

The first Astro Pi units were taken up to the ISS by British ESA astronaut Tim Peake in December 2015 as part of the Principia mission. Since then 54,000 young people from 26 countries have coded on them. Working with partners at the European Space Agency, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is now upgrading the Astro Pi units to the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B with 8GB RAM, Raspberry Pi high quality camera, Google Coral machine learning accelerator, colour and luminosity sensor and a passive infrared sensor.

The new hardware makes it possible for teams to design new types of experiments. With the Raspberry Pi high quality camera they can take sharper, more detailed images, and, for the first time, teams will be able to get full-colour photos of the beauty of Earth from space. This will also enable teams to investigate plant health thanks to the higher-quality optical filter in conjunction with the IR-sensitive camera. Using the Coral machine learning accelerator, teams will also be able to develop machine learning models that allow high-speed, real-time processing.

The Astro Pi units, in their space-ready cases of machined aluminium, will travel to the ISS in December on the SpaceX Dragon Cargo rocket, launching from Kennedy Space Center. Once the resupply vehicle docks with the ISS, the units will be unpacked and set up ready to run Astro Pi participants’ code in 2022.

Tim Peake’s Principia mission (2015-2016) on the International Space Station with two space-hardened Raspberry Pi Astro Pi computers, which were used to run students’ and young people’s programs with ISS crew support. Picture: Picasa
Tim Peake’s Principia mission (2015-2016) on the International Space Station with two space-hardened Raspberry Pi Astro Pi computers, which were used to run students’ and young people’s programs with ISS crew support. Picture: Picasa

There are two Astro Pi missions for young people to choose from: Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab. Young people can participate in one or both of the missions! Participation is free and open for young people up to age 19 in ESA member states (exceptions listed on the Astro Pi website).

In Mission Zero, young people write a simple Python program that takes a sensor reading and displays a message on the LED screen. This year, participation in Mission Zero also gives young people the opportunity to vote for the names of the two new computers. Mission Zero can be completed in around an hour and is open to anyone aged seven to 19 years old. Every eligible entry is guaranteed to run on board the ISS and participants will receive an official certificate with the exact time and location of the ISS when their program ran. Mission Zero is now open and runs until March 18, 2022.

The International Space Station
The International Space Station

Mission Space Lab is for teams of young people who want to run their own scientific experiments on the Astro Pi units aboard the ISS. It runs over eight months in four phases, from idea registration to data analysis. To start, Mission Space Lab team mentors just need to send their team’s experiment idea by October 29, 2021.

The SpaceX CRS-24 launch is in December. Details of how to participate here.



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