Author Archives: David Honess

Announcing the 2017-18 European Astro Pi challenge!

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Astro Pi is back! Today we’re excited to announce the 2017-18 European Astro Pi challenge in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). We are searching for the next generation of space scientists.

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Astro Pi is an annual science and coding competition where student-written code is run on the International Space Station under the oversight of an ESA astronaut. The challenge is open to students from all 22 ESA member countries, including — for the first time — associate members Canada and Slovenia.

The format of the competition is changing slightly this year, and we also have a brand-new non-competitive mission in which participants are guaranteed to have their code run on the ISS for 30 seconds!

Mission Zero

Until now, students have worked on Astro Pi projects in an extra-curricular context and over multiple sessions. For teachers and students who don’t have much spare capacity, we wanted to provide an accessible activity that teams can complete in just one session.

So we came up with Mission Zero for young people no older than 14. To complete it, form a team of two to four people and use our step-by-step guide to help you write a simple Python program that shows your personal message and the ambient temperature on the Astro Pi. If you adhere to a few rules, your code is guaranteed to run in space for 30 seconds, and you’ll receive a certificate showing the exact time period during which your code has run in space. No special hardware is needed for this mission, since everything is done in a web browser.

Mission Zero is open until 26 November 2017! Find out more.

Mission Space Lab

Students aged up to 19 can take part in Mission Space Lab. Form a team of two to six people, and work like real space scientists to design your own experiment. Receive free kit to work with, and write the Python code to carry out your experiment.

There are two themes for Mission Space Lab teams to choose from for their projects:

  • Life in space
    You will make use of Astro Pi Vis (“Ed”) in the European Columbus module. You can use all of its sensors, but you cannot record images or videos.
  • Life on Earth
    You will make use of Astro Pi IR (“Izzy”), which will be aimed towards the Earth through a window. You can use all of its sensors and its camera.

The Astro Pi kit, delivered to Space Lab teams by ESA

If you achieve flight status, your code will be uploaded to the ISS and run for three hours (two orbits). All the data that your code records in space will be downloaded and returned to you for analysis. Then submit a short report on your findings to be in with a chance to win exclusive, money-can’t-buy prizes! You can also submit your project for a Bronze CREST Award.

Mission Space Lab registration is open until 29 October 2017, and accepted teams will continue to spring 2018. Find out more.

How do I get started?

There are loads of materials available that will help you begin your Astro Pi journey — check out the Getting started with the Sense HAT resource and this video explaining how to build the flight case.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below. We’re standing by to answer them!

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Astro Pi upgrades on the International Space Station

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In 2015, The Raspberry Pi Foundation built two space-hardened Raspberry Pi units, or Astro Pis, to run student code on board the International Space Station (ISS).

Astro Pi

A space-hardened Raspberry Pi

Astro Pi upgrades

Each school year we run an Astro Pi challenge to find the next generation of space scientists to program them. After the students have their code run in space, any output files are downloaded to ground and returned to them for analysis.

That download process was originally accomplished by an astronaut shutting down the Astro Pi, moving its micro SD card to a crew laptop and copying over the files manually. This used about 20 minutes of precious crew time.

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Last year, we passed the qualification to allow the Astro Pi computers to be connected to the Local Area Network (LAN) on board the ISS. This allows us to remotely access them from the ground, upload student code and download the results without having to involve the crew.

This year, we have been preparing a new payload to upgrade the operational capabilities of the Astro Pi units.

The payload consists of the following items:

  • 2 × USB WiFi dongles
  • 5 × optical filters
  • 4 × 32GB micro SD cards

Before anyone asks – no, we’re not going outside into the vacuum of space!

USB WiFi dongle

Currently both Astro Pi units are located in the European Columbus module. They’re even visible on Google Street View (pan down and right)! You can see that we’ve created a bit of a bird’s nest of wires behind them.

Astro Pi

The D-Link DWA-171

The decision to add WiFi capability is partly to clean up the cabling situation, but mainly so that the Astro Pi units can be deployed in ISS locations other than the Columbus module, where we won’t have access to an Ethernet switch.

The Raspberry Pi used in the Astro Pi flight units is the B+ (released in 2014), which does not have any built in wireless connectivity, so we need to use a USB dongle. This particular D-Link dongle was recommended by the European Space Agency (ESA) because a number of other payloads are already using it.

Astro Pi

An Astro Pi unit with WiFi dongle installed

Plans have been made for one of the Astro Pi units to be deployed on an Earth-facing window, to allow Earth-observation student experiments. This is where WiFi connectivity will be required to maintain LAN access for ground control.

Optical filters

With Earth-observation experiments in mind, we are also sending some flexible film optical filters. These are made from the same material as the blue square which is shipped with the Pi NoIR camera module, as noted in this post from when the product was launched. You can find the data sheet here.

Astro Pi

Rosco Roscalux #2007 Storaro Blue

To permit the filter to be easily attached to the Astro Pi unit, the film is laser-cut to friction-fit onto the 12 inner heatsink pins on the base, so that the camera aperture is covered.

Astro Pi

Laser cutting at Makespace

The laser-cutting work was done right here in Cambridge at Makespace by our own Alex Bate, and local artist Diana Probst.

Astro Pi

An Astro Pi with the optical filter installed

32GB micro SD cards

A consequence of running Earth observation experiments is a dramatic increase in the amount of disk space needed. To avoid a high frequency of commanding windows to download imagery to ground, we’re also flying some larger 32GB micro SD cards to replace the current 8GB cards.

Astro Pi

The Samsung Evo MB-MP32DA/EU

This particular type of micro SD card is X-ray proof, waterproof, and resistant to magnetism and heat. Operationally speaking there is no difference, other than the additional available disk space.

Astro Pi

An Astro Pi unit with the new micro SD card installed

The micro SD cards will be flown with a security-hardened version of Raspbian pre-installed.

Crew activities

We have several crew activities planned for when this payload arrives on the ISS. These include the installation of the upgrade items on both Astro Pi units; moving one of the units from Columbus to an earth-facing window (possibly in Node 2); and then moving it back a few weeks later.

Currently it is expected that these activities will be carried out by German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst who launches to the ISS in November (and will also be the ISS commander for Expedition 57).

Payload launch

We are targeting a January 2018 launch date for the payload. The exact launch vehicle is yet to be determined, but it could be SpaceX CRS 14. We will update you closer to the time.

Questions?

If you have any questions about this payload, how an item works, or why that specific model was chosen, please post them in the comments below, and we’ll try to answer them.

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Sense HAT Emulator Upgrade

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Last year, we partnered with Trinket to develop a web-based emulator for the Sense HAT, the multipurpose add-on board for the Raspberry Pi. Today, we are proud to announce an exciting new upgrade to the emulator. We hope this will make it even easier for you to design amazing experiments with the Sense HAT!

What’s new?

The original release of the emulator didn’t fully support all of the Sense HAT features. Specifically, the movement sensors were not emulated. Thanks to funding from the UK Space Agency, we are delighted to announce that a new round of development has just been completed. From today, the movement sensors are fully supported. The emulator also comes with a shiny new 3D interface, Astro Pi skin mode, and Pygame event handling. Click the ▶︎ button below to see what’s new!

Upgraded sensors

On a physical Sense HAT, real sensors react to changes in environmental conditions like fluctuations in temperature or humidity. The emulator has sliders which are designed to simulate this. However, emulating the movement sensor is a bit more complicated. The upgrade introduces a 3D slider, which is essentially a model of the Sense HAT that you can move with your mouse. Moving the model affects the readings provided by the accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer sensors.

Code written in this emulator is directly portable to a physical Raspberry Pi and Sense HAT without modification. This means you can now develop and test programs using the movement sensors from any internet-connected computer, anywhere in the world.

Astro Pi mode

Astro Pi is our series of competitions offering students the chance to have their code run in space! The code is run on two space-hardened Raspberry Pi units, with attached Sense HATs, on the International Space Station.

Image of Astro Pi unit Sense HAT emulator upgrade

Astro Pi skin mode

There are a number of practical things that can catch you out when you are porting your Sense HAT code to an Astro Pi unit, though, such as the orientation of the screen and joystick. Just as having a 3D-printed Astro Pi case enables you to discover and overcome these, so does the Astro Pi skin mode in this emulator. In the bottom right-hand panel, there is an Astro Pi button which enables the mode: click it again to go back to the Sense HAT.

The joystick and push buttons are operated by pressing your keyboard keys: use the cursor keys and Enter for the joystick, and U, D, L, R, A, and B for the buttons.

Sense Hat resources for Code Clubs

Image of gallery of Code Club Sense HAT projects Sense HAT emulator upgrade

Click the image to visit the Code Club projects page

We also have a new range of Code Club resources which are based on the emulator. Of these, three use the environmental sensors and two use the movement sensors. The resources are an ideal way for any Code Club to get into physical computing.

The technology

The 3D models in the emulator are represented entirely with HTML and CSS. “This project pushed the Trinket team, and the 3D web, to its limit,” says Elliott Hauser, CEO of Trinket. “Our first step was to test whether pure 3D HTML/CSS was feasible, using Julian Garnier’s Tridiv.”

Sense HAT 3D image mockup Sense HAT emulator upgrade

The Trinket team’s preliminary 3D model of the Sense HAT

“We added JavaScript rotation logic and the proof of concept worked!” Elliot continues. “Countless iterations, SVG textures, and pixel-pushing tweaks later, the finished emulator is far more than the sum of its parts.”

Sense HAT emulator 3d image final version Sense HAT emulator upgrade

The finished Sense HAT model: doesn’t it look amazing?

Check out this blog post from Trinket for more on the technology and mathematics behind the models.

One of the compromises we’ve had to make is browser support. Unfortunately, browsers like Firefox and Microsoft Edge don’t fully support this technology yet. Instead, we recommend that you use Chrome, Safari, or Opera to access the emulator.

Where do I start?

If you’re new to the Sense HAT, you can simply copy and paste many of the code examples from our educational resources, like this one. Alternatively, you can check out our Sense HAT Essentials e-book. For a complete list of all the functions you can use, have a look at the Sense HAT API reference here.

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European Astro Pi Challenge winners

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In October last year, with the European Space Agency and CNES, we launched the first ever European Astro Pi challenge. We asked students from all across Europe to write code for the flight of French ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the Proxima mission. Today, we are very excited to announce the winners! First of all, though, we have a very special message from Thomas Pesquet himself, which comes all the way from space…

Thomas Pesquet congratulates Astro Pi participants from space

French ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet floats in to thank all participants in the European Astro Pi challenge. In October last year, together with the European Space Agency, we launched the first ever European Astro Pi challenge for the flight of French ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of mission Proxima.

Thomas also recorded a video in French: you can click here to see it and to enjoy some more of his excellent microgravity acrobatics.

A bit of background

This year’s competition expands on our previous work with British ESA astronaut Tim Peake, in which, together with the UK Space Agency and ESA, we invited UK students to design software experiments to run on board the ISS.

Astro Pi Vis (AKA Ed) on board the ISS. Image from ESA.

In 2015, we built two space-hardened Raspberry Pi units, or Astro Pis, to act as the platform on which to run the students’ code. Affectionately nicknamed Ed and Izzy, the units were launched into space on an Atlas V rocket, arriving at the ISS a few days before Tim Peake. He had a great time running all of the programs, and the data collected was transmitted back to Earth so that the winners could analyse their results and share them with the public.

The European challenge provides the opportunity to design code to be run in space to school students from every ESA member country. To support the participants, we worked with ESA and CPC to design, manufacture, and distribute several hundred free Astro Pi activity kits to the teams who registered. Further support for teachers was provided in the form of three live webinars, a demonstration video, and numerous free educational resources.

Image of Astro Pi kit box

The Astro Pi activity kit used by participants in the European challenge.

The challenge

Thomas Pesquet assigned two missions to the teams:

  • A primary mission, for which teams needed to write code to detect when the crew are working in the Columbus module near the Astro Pi units.
  • A secondary mission, for which teams needed to come up with their own scientific investigation and write the code to execute it.

The deadline for code submissions was 28 February 2017, with the judging taking place the following week. We can now reveal which schools will have the privilege of having their code uploaded to the ISS and run in space.

The proud winners!

Everyone produced great work and the judges found it really tough to narrow the entries down. In addition to the winning submissions, there were a number of teams who had put a great deal of work into their projects, and whose entries have been awarded ‘Highly Commended’ status. These teams will also have their code run on the ISS.

We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who participated. Massive congratulations are due to the winners! We will upload your code digitally using the space-to-ground link over the next few weeks. Your code will be executed, and any files created will be downloaded from space and returned to you via email for analysis.

In no particular order, the winners are:

France

  • Winners
    • @stroteam, Institut de Genech, Hauts-de-France
    • Wierzbinski, École à la maison, Occitanie
    • Les Marsilyens, École J. M. Marsily, PACA
    • MauriacSpaceCoders, Lycée François Mauriac, Nouvelle-Aquitaine
    • Ici-bas, École de Saint-André d’Embrun, PACA
    • Les Astrollinaires, Lycée général et technologique Guillaume Apollinaire, PACA
  • Highly Commended
    • ALTAÏR, Lycée Albert Claveille, Nouvelle Aquitaine
    • GalaXess Reloaded, Lycée Saint-Cricq, Nouvelle Aquitaine
    • Les CM de Neffiès, École Louis Authie, Occitanie
    • Équipe Sciences, Collège Léonce Bourliaguet, Nouvelle Aquitaine
    • Maurois ICN, Lycée André Maurois, Normandie
    • Space Project SP4, Lycée Saint-Paul IV, Île de la Réunion
    • 4eme2 Gymnase Jean Sturm, Gymnase Jean Sturm, Grand Est
    • Astro Pascal dans les étoiles, École Pascal, Île-de-France
    • les-4mis, EREA Alexandre Vialatte, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
    • Space Cavenne Oddity, École Cavenne, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
    • Luanda for Space, Lycée Français de Luanda, Angola
      (Note: this is a French international school and the team members have French nationality/citizenship)
    • François Detrille, Lycée Langevin-Wallon, Île-de-France

Greece

  • Winners
    • Delta, TALOS ed-UTH-robotix, Magnesia
    • Weightless Mass, Intercultural Junior High School of Evosmos, Macedonia
    • 49th Astro Pi Teamwork, 49th Elementary School of Patras, Achaia
    • Astro Travellers, 12th Primary School of Petroupolis, Attiki
    • GKGF-1, Gymnasium of Kanithos, Sterea Ellada
  • Highly Commended
    • AstroShot, Lixouri High School, Kefalonia
    • Salamina Rockets Pi, 1st Senior High School of Salamina, Attiki
    • The four Astro-fans, 6th Gymnasio of Veria, Macedonia
    • Samians, 2nd Gymnasio Samou, North Eastern Aegean

United Kingdom

  • Winners
    • Madeley Ad Astra, Madeley Academy, Shropshire
    • Team Dexterity, Dyffryn Taf School, Carmarthenshire
    • The Kepler Kids, St Nicolas C of E Junior School, Berkshire
    • Catterline Pi Bugs, Catterline Primary, Aberdeenshire
    • smileyPi, Westminster School, London
  • Highly Commended
    • South London Raspberry Jam, South London Raspberry Jam, London

Italy

  • Winners
    • Garibaldini, Istituto Comprensivo Rapisardi-Garibaldi, Sicilia
    • Buzz, IIS Verona-Trento, Sicilia
    • Water warmers, Liceo Scientifico Galileo Galilei, Abruzzo
    • Juvara/Einaudi Siracusa, IIS L. Einaudi, Sicilia
    • AstroTeam, IIS Arimondi-Eula, Piemonte

Poland

  • Winners
    • Birnam, Zespół Szkoły i Gimnazjum im. W. Orkana w Niedźwiedziu, Malopolska
    • TechnoZONE, Zespół Szkół nr 2 im. Eugeniusza Kwiatkowskiego, Podkarpacie
    • DeltaV, Gimnazjum nr 49, Województwo śląskie
    • The Safety Crew, MZS Gimnazjum nr 1, Województwo śląskie
    • Warriors, Zespół Szkół Miejskich nr 3 w Jaśle, Podkarpackie
  • Highly Commended
    • The Young Cuiavian Astronomers, Gimnazjum im. Stefana Kardynała Wyszyńskiego w Piotrkowie Kujawskim, Kujawsko-pomorskie
    • AstroLeszczynPi, I Liceum Ogolnokształcace w Jasle im. Krola Stanislawa Leszczynskiego, Podkarpackie

Portugal

  • Winners
    • Sampaionautas, Escola Secundária de Sampaio, Setúbal
    • Labutes Pi, Escola Secundária D. João II, Setúbal
    • AgroSpace Makers, EB 2/3 D. Afonso Henriques, Cávado
    • Zero Gravity, EB 2/3 D. Afonso Henriques, Cávado
    • Lua, Agrupamento de Escolas José Belchior Viegas, Algarve

Romania

  • Winners
    • AstroVianu, Tudor Vianu National High School of Computer Science, Bucharest
    • MiBus Researchers, Mihai Busuioc High School, Iași
    • Cosmos Dreams, Nicolae Balcescu High School, Cluj
    • Carmen Sylva Astro Pi, Liceul Teoretic Carmen Sylva Eforie, Constanța
    • Stargazers, Tudor Vianu National High School of Computer Science, Bucharest

Spain

  • Winners
    • Papaya, IES Sopela, Vizcaya
    • Salesianos-Ubeda, Salesianos Santo Domingo Savio, Andalusia
    • Valdespartans, IES Valdespartera, Aragón
    • Ins Terrassa, Institut Terrassa, Cataluña

Ireland

  • Winner
    • Moonty1, Mayfield Community School, Cork

Germany

  • Winner
    • BSC Behringersdorf Space Center, Labenwolf-Gymnasium, Bayern

Norway

  • Winner
    • Skedsmo Kodeklubb, Kjeller Skole, Akershus

Hungary

  • Winner
    • UltimaSpace, Mihaly Tancsics Grammar School of Kaposvár, Somogy

Belgium

  • Winner
    • Lambda Voyager, Stedelijke Humaniora Dilsen, Limburg

FAQ

Why aren’t all 22 ESA member states listed?

  • Because some countries did not have teams participating in the challenge.

Why do some countries have fewer than five teams?

  • Either because those countries had fewer than five teams qualifying for space flight, or because they had fewer than five teams participating in the challenge.

How will I get my results back from space?

  • After your code has run on the ISS, we will download any files you created and they will be emailed to your teacher.

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Desktop Sense HAT emulator

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If this post gives you a sense of déjà-vu it’s because, last month, we announced a web-based Sense HAT emulator in partnership with US-based startup Trinket.

Today, we’re announcing another Sense HAT emulator designed to run natively on your Raspberry Pi desktop, instead of inside a browser. Developed by Dave Jones, it’s intended for people who own a Raspberry Pi but not a Sense HAT. In the picture below, the sliders are used to change the values reported by the sensors while your code is running.

sense-emu

So, why do we need two versions?

  • For offline use, possibly the most common way Raspberry Pis are used in the classroom.
  • To accommodate the oldest 256 MB models of Raspberry Pi which cannot run the web version.
  • To allow you to integrate your Sense HAT program with any available Python modules, or other Raspberry Pi features such as the Camera Module.

The emulator will come pre-installed in the next Raspbian release but, for now, you can just install it by typing the commands below into a terminal window:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install python-sense-emu python3-sense-emu python-sense-emu-doc sense-emu-tools -y

You can then access it from the Desktop menu, under Programming.

The emulator closely simulates the Sense HAT hardware being attached to your Pi. You can read from the sensors or write to the LED matrix using multiple Python processes, for example.

sense-idle

Write your code in IDLE as before; there are also a number of examples that can be opened from the emulator’s built-in menu. If you then want to port your code to a physical Sense HAT, you just need to change

sense_emu

to

sense_hat

at the top of your program. Reverse this if you’re porting a physical Sense HAT program to the emulator, perhaps from one of our educational resources; this step isn’t required in the web version of the emulator.

sense-emu-prefs

There are a number of preferences that you can adjust to change the behaviour of the emulator, most notably sensor simulation, otherwise known as jitter. This costs some CPU time, and is disabled by default on the low-end Raspberry Pis, but it provides a realistic experience of how the hardware sensors would behave. You’ll see that the values being returned in your code drift according to the known error tolerances of the physical sensors used on the Sense HAT.

This emulator will allow more Raspberry Pi users to participate in future Astro Pi competitions without having to buy a Sense HAT: ideal for the classroom where 15 Sense HATs may be beyond the budget.

So, where do you start? If you’re new to the Sense HAT, you can just copy and paste many of the code examples from our educational resources, like this one. You can also check out our e-book Sense HAT Essentials. For a complete list of all the functions you can use, have a look at the Sense HAT API reference here.

You can even install this emulator on other types of Linux desktop, such as Ubuntu! For more information on how to do this, please visit the emulator documentation pages here.

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Astro Pi Coding Challenges: a message from Tim Peake

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Back in February, we announced an extension to the Astro Pi mission in the form of two coding challenges. The first required you to write Python Sense HAT code to turn Ed and Izzy (the Astro Pi computers) into an MP3 player, so that Tim Peake could plug in his headphones and listen to his music. The second required you to code Sonic Pi music for Tim to listen to via the MP3 player.

Astro_Pi_Logo_WEB-300px

We announced the winners in early April. Since then, we’ve been checking your code on flight-equivalent Astro Pi units and going through the official software delivery and deployment process with the European Space Agency (ESA).

Crew time is heavily regulated on the ISS. However, because no science or experimentation output is required for this, they allowed us to upload it as a crew care package for Tim! We’re very grateful to the UK Space Agency and ESA for letting us extend the Astro Pi project in this way to engage more kids.

The code was uploaded and Tim deployed it onto Ed on May 15. He then recorded this and sent it to us:

Tim Peake with the Astro Pi MP3 player

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s message to the students who took part in the 2016 Astro Pi coding challenges to hack his Astro Pi mini-computer, on the International Space Station, into an MP3 player. The music heard is called Run to the Stars composed by one of the teams who took part.

In total, there were four winning MP3 players and four winning Sonic Pi tunes; the audio from the Sonic Pi entries was converted into MP3 format, so that it could be played by the MP3 players. The music heard is called Run to the Stars, composed with Sonic Pi by Iris and Joseph Mitchell, who won the 11 years and under age group.

Tim tested all four MP3 players, listened to all four Sonic Pi tunes, and then went on to load more tunes from his own Spacerocks collection onto the Astro Pi!

Tim said in an email:

As a side note, I’ve also loaded it with some of my Spacerocks music – it works just great. I was dubious about the tilt mechanism working well in microgravity, using the accelerometers to change tracks, but it works brilliantly. I tried inputting motion in other axes to test the stability and it was rock solid – it only worked with the correct motion. Well done to that group!!

“That group” was Lowena Hull from Portsmouth High School, whose MP3 player could change tracks by quickly twisting the Astro Pi to the left or right. Good coding, Lowena!

Thanks again to everyone who took part, to our special judges OMD and Ilan Eshkeri, and especially to Tim Peake, who did this during his time off on a Sunday afternoon last weekend.

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