Tag Archives: astro pi

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 http://rpf.io/colbday -O birthday.py
chmod +x birthday.py
./birthday.py

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: https://t.co/0KURq11X0L #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 www.heavens-above.com
  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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Manufacturing Astro Pi case replicas

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Tim Rowledge produces and sells wonderful replicas of the cases which our Astro Pis live in aboard the International Space Station. Here is the story of how he came to do this. Over to you, Tim!

When the Astro Pi case was first revealed a couple of years ago, the collective outpouring of ‘Squee!’ it elicited may have been heard on board the ISS itself. People wanted to buy it or build it at home, and someone wanted to know whether it would blend. (There’s always one.)

The complete Astro Pi

The Sense HAT and its Pi tucked snugly in the original Astro Pi flight case — gorgeous, isn’t it?

Replicating the Astro Pi case

Some months later the STL files for printing your own Astro Pi case were released, and people jumped at the chance to use them. Soon reports appeared saying you had to make quite a few attempts before getting a good print — normal for any complex 3D-printing project. A fellow member of my local makerspace successfully made a couple of cases, but it took a lot of time, filament, and post-print finishing work. And of course, a plastic Astro Pi case simply doesn’t look or feel like the original made of machined aluminium — or ‘aluminum’, as they tend to say over here in North America.

Batch of tops of Astro Pi case replicas by Tim Rowledge

A batch of tops designed by Tim

I wanted to build an Astro Pi case which would more closely match the original. Fortunately, someone else at my makerspace happens to have some serious CNC machining equipment at his small manufacturing company. Therefore, I focused on creating a case design that could be produced with his three-axis device. This meant simplifying some parts to avoid expensive, slow, complex multi-fixture work. It took us a while, but we ended up with a design we can efficiently make using his machine.

Lasered Astro Pi case replica by Tim Rowledge

Tim’s first lasered case

And the resulting case looks really, really like the original — in fact, upon receiving one of the final prototypes, Eben commented:

“I have to say, at first glance they look spectacular: unless you hold them side by side with the originals, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s changed. I’m looking forward to seeing one built up and then seeing them in the wild.”

Inside the Astro Pi case

Making just the bare case is nice, but there are other parts required to recreate a complete Astro Pi unit. Thus I got my local electronics company to design a small HAT to provide much the same support the mezzanine board offers: an RTC and nice, clean connections to the six buttons. We also added well-labelled, grouped pads for all the other GPIO lines, along with space for an ADC. If you’re making your own Astro Pi replica, you might like the Switchboard.

The electronics supply industry just loves to offer *some* of what you need, so that one supplier never has everything: we had to obtain the required stand-offs, screws, spacers, and JST wires from assorted other sources. Jeff at my nearby Industrial Paint & Plastics took on the laser engraving of our cases, leaving out copyrighted logos etcetera.

Lasering the top of an Astro Pi case replica by Tim Rowledge

Lasering the top of a case

Get your own Astro Pi case

Should you like to buy one of our Astro Pi case kits, pop over to www.astropicase.com, and we’ll get it on its way to you pronto. If you’re an institutional or corporate customer, the fully built option might make more sense for you — ordering the Pi and other components, and having a staff member assemble it all, may well be more work than is sensible.

Astro Pi case replica Tim Rowledge

Tim’s first full Astro Pi case replica, complete with shiny APEM buttons

To put the kit together yourself, all you need to do is add a Pi, Sense HAT, Camera Module, and RTC battery, and choose your buttons. An illustrated manual explains the process step by step. Our version of the Astro Pi case uses the same APEM buttons as the units in orbit, and whilst they are expensive, just clicking them is a source of great joy. It comes in a nice travel case too.

Tim Rowledge holding up a PCB

This is Tim. Thanks, Tim!

Take part in Astro Pi

If having an Astro Pi replica is not enough for you, this is your chance: the 2017-18 Astro Pi challenge is open! Do you know a teenager who might be keen to design a experiment to run on the Astro Pis in space? Are you one yourself? You have until 29 October to send us your Mission Space Lab entry and become part of the next generation of space scientists? Head over to the Astro Pi website to find out more.

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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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Thomas and Ed become a RealLifeDoodle on the ISS

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Thanks to the very talented sooperdavid, creator of some of the wonderful animations known as RealLifeDoodles, Thomas Pesquet and Astro Pi Ed have been turned into one of the cutest videos on the internet.

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And RealLifeDoodles aaaaare?

Thanks to the power of viral video, many will be aware of the ongoing Real Life Doodle phenomenon. Wait, you’re not aware?

Oh. Well, let me explain it to you.

Taking often comical video clips, those with a know-how and skill level that outweighs my own in spades add faces and emotions to inanimate objects, creating what the social media world refers to as a Real Life Doodle. From disappointed exercise balls to cannibalistic piles of leaves, these video clips are both cute and sometimes, though thankfully not always, a little heartbreaking.

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Our own RealLifeDoodle

A few months back, when Programme Manager Dave Honess, better known to many as SpaceDave, sent me these Astro Pi videos for me to upload to YouTube, a small plan hatched in my brain. For in the midst of the video, and pointed out to me by SpaceDave – “I kind of love the way he just lets the unit drop out of shot” – was the most adorable sight as poor Ed drifted off into the great unknown of the ISS. Finding that I have this odd ability to consider many inanimate objects as ‘cute’, I wanted to see whether we could turn poor Ed into a RealLifeDoodle.

Heading to the Reddit RealLifeDoodle subreddit, I sent moderator sooperdavid a private message, asking if he’d be so kind as to bring our beloved Ed to life.

Yesterday, our dream came true!

Astro Pi

Unless you’re new to the world of the Raspberry Pi blog (in which case, welcome!), you’ll probably know about the Astro Pi Challenge. But for those who are unaware, let me break it down for you.

Raspberry Pi RealLifeDoodle

In 2015, two weeks before British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake journeyed to the International Space Station, two Raspberry Pis were sent up to await his arrival. Clad in 6063-grade aluminium flight cases and fitted with their own Sense HATs and camera modules, the Astro Pis Ed and Izzy were ready to receive the winning codes from school children in the UK. The following year, this time maintained by French ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet, children from every ESA member country got involved to send even more code to the ISS.

Get involved

Will there be another Astro Pi Challenge? Well, I just asked SpaceDave and he didn’t say no! So why not get yourself into training now and try out some of our space-themed free resources, including our 3D-print your own Astro Pi case tutorial? You can also follow the adventures of Ed and Izzy in our brilliant Story of Astro Pi cartoons.

Raspberry Pi RealLifeDoodle

And if you’re quick, there’s still time to take part in tomorrow’s Moonhack! Check out their website for more information and help the team at Code Club Australia beat their own world record!

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