Author Archives: David Honess

Astro Pi upgrades launch today!

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Before our beloved SpaceDave left the Raspberry Pi Foundation to join the ranks of the European Space Agency (ESA) — and no, we’re still not jealous *ahem* — he kindly drafted us one final blog post about the Astro Pi upgrades heading to the International Space Station today! So here it is. Enjoy!

We are very excited to announce that Astro Pi upgrades are on their way to the International Space Station! Back in September, we blogged about a small payload being launched to the International Space Station to upgrade the capabilities of our Astro Pi units.

Astro Pi Raspberry Pi International Space Station

Sneak peek

For the longest time, the payload was scheduled to be launched on SpaceX CRS 14 in February. However, the launch was delayed to April and so impacted the flight operations we have planned for running Mission Space Lab student experiments.

To avoid this, ESA had the payload transferred to Russian Soyuz MS-08 (54S), which is launching today to carry crew members Oleg Artemyev, Andrew Feustel, and Ricky Arnold to the ISS.

Ricky Arnold on Twitter

L-47 hours.

You can watch coverage of the launch on NASA TV from 4.30pm GMT this afternoon, with the launch scheduled for 5.44pm GMT. Check the NASA TV schedule for updates.

The upgrades

The pictures below show the flight hardware in its final configuration before loading onto the launch vehicle.

Wireless dongle in bag — Astro Pi upgrades

All access

With the wireless dongle, the Astro Pi units can be deployed in ISS locations other than the Columbus module, where they don’t have access to an Ethernet switch.

We are also sending some flexible optical filters. These are made from the same material as the blue square which is shipped with the Raspberry Pi NoIR Camera Module.

Optical filters in bag — Astro Pi upgrades


So that future Astro Pi code will need to command fewer windows to download earth observation imagery to the ground, we’re also including some 32GB micro SD cards to replace the current 8GB cards.

Micro SD cards in bag — Astro Pi upgrades

More space in space

Tthe items above are enclosed in a large 8″ ziplock bag that has been designated the “AstroPi Kit”.

bag of Astro Pi upgrades

It’s ziplock bags all the way down up

Once the Soyuz docks with the ISS, this payload is one of the first which will be unpacked, so that the Astro Pi units can be upgraded and deployed ready to run your experiments!

More Astro Pi

Stay tuned for our next update in April, when student code is set to be run on the Astro Pi units as part of our Mission Space Lab programme. And to find out more about Astro Pi, head to the programme website.

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Astro Pi celebrates anniversary of ISS Columbus module

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Right now, 400km above the Earth aboard the International Space Station, are two very special Raspberry Pi computers. They were launched into space on 6 December 2015 and are, most assuredly, the farthest-travelled Raspberry Pi computers in existence. Each year they run experiments that school students create in the European Astro Pi Challenge.

Raspberry Astro Pi units on the International Space Station

Left: Astro Pi Vis (Ed); right: Astro Pi IR (Izzy). Image credit: ESA.

The European Columbus module

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of the European Columbus module. The Columbus module is the European Space Agency’s largest single contribution to the ISS, and it supports research in many scientific disciplines, from astrobiology and solar science to metallurgy and psychology. More than 225 experiments have been carried out inside it during the past decade. It’s also home to our Astro Pi computers.

Here’s a video from 7 February 2008, when Space Shuttle Atlantis went skywards carrying the Columbus module in its cargo bay.

STS-122 Launch NASA TV Coverage

From February 7th, 2008 NASA-TV Coverage of The 121st Space Shuttle Launch Launched At:2:45:30 P.M E.T – Coverage begins exactly one hour till launch STS-122 Crew:

Today, coincidentally, is also the deadline for the European Astro Pi Challenge: Mission Space Lab. Participating teams have until midnight tonight to submit their experiments.

Anniversary celebrations

At 16:30 GMT today there will be a live event on NASA TV for the Columbus module anniversary with NASA flight engineers Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei.

Our Astro Pi computers will be joining in the celebrations by displaying a digital birthday candle that the crew can blow out. It works by detecting an increase in humidity when someone blows on it. The video below demonstrates the concept.

AstroPi candle

Uploaded by Effi Edmonton on 2018-01-17.

Do try this at home

The exact Astro Pi code that will run on the ISS today is available for you to download and run on your own Raspberry Pi and Sense HAT. You’ll notice that the program includes code to make it stop automatically when the date changes to 8 February. This is just to save time for the ground control team.

If you have a Raspberry Pi and a Sense HAT, you can use the terminal commands below to download and run the code yourself:

wget -O
chmod +x

When you see a blank blue screen with the brightness increasing, the Sense HAT is measuring the baseline humidity. It does this every 15 minutes so it can recalibrate to take account of natural changes in background humidity. A humidity increase of 2% is needed to blow out the candle, so if the background humidity changes by more than 2% in 15 minutes, it’s possible to get a false positive. Press Ctrl + C to quit.

Please tweet pictures of your candles to @astro_pi – we might share yours! And if we’re lucky, we might catch a glimpse of the candle on the ISS during the NASA TV event at 16:30 GMT today.

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Astro Pi Mission Zero: your code is in space

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Every school year, we run the European Astro Pi challenge to find the next generation of space scientists who will program two space-hardened Raspberry Pi units, called Astro Pis, living aboard the International Space Station.

Italian ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli with the Astro Pi units. Image credit ESA.

Astro Pi Mission Zero

The 2017–2018 challenge included the brand-new non-competitive Mission Zero, which guaranteed that participants could have their code run on the ISS for 30 seconds, provided they followed the rules. They would also get a certificate showing the exact time period during which their code ran in space.

Astro Pi Mission Zero logo

We asked participants to write a simple Python program to display a personalised message and the air temperature on the Astro Pi screen. No special hardware was needed, since all the code could be written in a web browser using the Sense HAT emulator developed in partnership with Trinket.

Scott McKenzie on Twitter

Students coding #astropi emulator to scroll a message to astronauts on @Raspberry_Pi in space this summer. Try it here: #Rm9Parents #CSforAll #ontariocodes

And now it’s time…

We received over 2500 entries for Mission Zero, and we’re excited to announce that tomorrow all entries with flight status will be run on the ISS…in SPAAACE!

There are 1771 Python programs with flight status, which will run back-to-back on Astro Pi VIS (Ed). The whole process will take about 14 hours. This means that everyone will get a timestamp showing the 1 February, so we’re going to call this day Mission Zero Day!

Part of each team’s certificate will be a map, like the one below, showing the exact location of the ISS while the team’s code was running.

The grey line is the ISS orbital path, the red marker shows the ISS’s location when their code was running. Produced using Google Static Maps API.

The programs will be run in the same sequence in which we received them. For operational reasons, we can’t guarantee that they will run while the ISS flies over any particular location. However, if you have submitted an entry to Mission Zero, there is a chance that your code will run while the ISS is right overhead!

Go out and spot the station

Spotting the ISS is a great activity to do by yourself or with your students. The station looks like a very fast-moving star that crosses the sky in just a few minutes. If you know when and where to look, and it’s not cloudy, you literally can’t miss it.

Source Andreas Möller, Wikimedia Commons.

The ISS passes over most ground locations about twice a day. For it to be clearly visible though, you need darkness on the ground with sunlight on the ISS due to its altitude. There are a number of websites which can tell you when these visible passes occur, such as NASA’s Spot the Station. Each of the sites requires you to give your location so it can work out when visible passes will occur near you.

Visible ISS pass star chart from Heavens Above, on which familiar constellations such as the Plough (see label Ursa Major) can be seen.

A personal favourite of mine is Heavens Above. It’s slightly more fiddly to use than other sites, but it produces brilliant star charts that show you precisely where to look in the sky. This is how it works:

  1. Go to
  2. To set your location, click on Unspecified in the top right-hand corner
  3. Enter your location (e.g. Cambridge, United Kingdom) into the text box and click Search
  4. The map should change to the correct location — scroll down and click Update
  5. You’ll be taken back to the homepage, but with your location showing at the top right
  6. Click on ISS in the Satellites section
  7. A table of dates will now show, which are the upcoming visible passes for your location
  8. Click on a row to view the star chart for that pass — the line is the path of the ISS, and the arrow shows direction of travel
  9. Be outside in cloudless weather at the start time, look towards the direction where the line begins, and hope the skies stay clear

If you go out and do this, then tweet some pictures to @raspberry_pi, @astro_pi, and @esa. Good luck!

More Astro Pi

Mission Zero certificates will be arriving in participants’ inboxes shortly. We would like to thank everyone who participated in Mission Zero this school year, and we hope that next time you’ll take it one step further and try Mission Space Lab.

Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab are two really exciting programmes that young people of all ages can take part in. If you would like to be notified when the next round of Astro Pi opens for registrations, sign up to our mailing list here.

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