Tag Archives: Education

Astro Pi: Mission Update 5 – flight safety testing

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The road to space is long and winding, but the two Astro Pi flight units are almost there! The next thing for us after this is to hand over the final payload to the European Space Agency so it can be loaded onto the Soyuz-45S rocket for launch on December 15th with British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake.

To be allowed on the rocket, you need a flight safety certificate for your device, and these can only be obtained by presenting a whole host of measurements and test results to a panel of experts at ESA ESTEC in Holland.

The expertise and equipment to carry out many of these tests is well outside the capabilities of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and without the facilities and personnel available through our UK Space partners this would not have been possible – we’ve had to use facilities and partners all over Europe to get the work done.

I’ll list below the tests that were done approximately in chronological order starting from March.

Power integration test

AIRBUS Defence and Space, Bremen, Germany >

Once in orbit, the Astro Pi will have two ways of getting power. It can use an AC inverter (above) that allows the crew to use all kinds of standard domestic appliances (like a normal USB power block); it’s also able to get power from any laptop USB port.

It is likely that when the Astro Pi is deployed in the Columbus module we will run from an AC inverter, but when we’re in the Cupola module we’ll just draw power from one of the laptops which is also there.

To gain permission to draw power from a laptop like this we needed to do a power integration test, to evaluate that the electrical load doesn’t have any adverse effect on the laptop.


The most common laptop on the ISS is the IBM Thinkpad T61P (circa 2007 from before Lenovo acquired them – Eben also uses one of these). Pictured above is an identical ground laptop with a special USB current probe connected to an oscilloscope. Note that this was done before we had the aluminium flight case, so you’re just seeing the Sense HAT, Raspberry Pi and camera parts of the whole Astro Pi unit.

The flight hardware was then powered up through the current probe so the oscilloscope could measure current inrush as well as maximum current when using the Astro Pi at max performance. Some diagnostic software was then used to check that there were no adverse affects experienced by the laptop.

Coin Cell Battery

Surrey Satellite Technology, Guildford, UK >

Since the Astro Pi will not be connected to the LAN on the ISS the only means it has of keeping the correct time is with a Real Time Clock (RTC) and a backup battery.

The flight stack up for Astro Pi is as follows:

  1. Raspberry Pi B+
  2. Custom RTC Board (has coin cell holder and push button contacts)
  3. Sense HAT

Batteries on the ISS have a whole host of possible hazards associated with them, and so any battery flown is subject to a stringent set of batch tests.

Astro Pi has a batch of eight Panasonic BR-1225 coin cells which were all tested together. Here is number 5, which is one of the ones that will fly:


The test procedure involved visually inspecting the coin cells, measuring their width and size with callipers, testing their voltage output during open circuit and under load followed by exposing them to a vacuum of about 0.6 bar (~450 mmHg) for two hours.

Afterwards the measurements were redone to see if the coin cells had leaked, deformed or become unable to provide power.

Conformal Coating

Surrey Satellite Technology, Guildford, UK >

One of the safety requirements for circuit boards in space flight is that they are coated in a protective layer, rather like nail varnish, called conformal coating. This is a space grade silicone-based liquid that dries to form a hard barrier. In microgravity a metallurgical phenomenon called tin whiskers occurs. These are tiny hairs of metal that grow spontaneously from any metallic surface, especially solder joints.

The hazard here is that these little whiskers break off, float off and become lodged somewhere causing a short circuit. So the conformal coat has two purposes. One is to protect the PCB from any invading whiskers, and the other is to arrest any tin whiskers that may grow, and prevent them breaking free.


For the Sense HAT (above) we needed to define a number of keep out zones for the coating so as not to compromise the pressure and humidity sensors. The surfaces of the LEDs were not coated to avoid dulling their light too. If you look closely you can see the shiny coating on the HAT; in particular, see the joystick bottom right.

It’s much easier to see on two camera modules:




AIRBUS Defence and Space, Portsmouth, UK >

Vibe testing is not actually required for safety, but we undertook it anyway as insurance that the payload would survive the vibration environment of launch. The testing involved placing an Astro Pi into some flight equivalent packaging and strapping it down onto a vibe table.

The vibe table is then programmed to simulate the severity of launch conditions on a Soyuz rocket.

The tests needed to be done in x, y and z axes. To accomplish this two different vibe tables were employed, one for up and down (z, see above) and one for back and forth (x and y, see below).

After the vibration sequence the Astro Pi was tested to ensure the vibration had not caused any issues, the case was also opened and the interior was inspected to ensure no connections had become loose.

Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC)

AIRBUS Defence and Space, Portsmouth, UK >

EMC is the study and measurement of unintended electromagnetic signals that could interfere with other electronics. Almost all electronic devices these days undergo EMC testing in order to get CE or FCC markings. The Raspberry Pi B+ and Sense HAT both carry these markings; however their test results were obtained in a home-user setup, with a keyboard, mouse, HDMI monitor and Ethernet all connected.

The Astro Pi flight unit will be used without all of those. So these tests were required to ensure that, when used in this way, the Astro Pi doesn’t cause any problems to other systems on board the ISS (like life support).

The tests were conducted in a special EMC test chamber. The walls are lined with super-absorbent foam spikes that exclude all electromagnetic signals from coming into the room from the outside.

That way, any electromagnetic signal measured must have originated inside the room.

A test script was run on the Astro Pi to stress it to maximum performance while a series of antennae were used to examine different ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum.

A set of electromagnetic susceptibility tests was also conducted to evaluate how the Astro Pi would behave when experiencing strong magnetic fields.

No issues were found, and all tests passed.

Off Gassing

ESA ESTEC, Noordwijk, Holland >

The off-gassing test is done to ensure the payload does not give off any dangerous fumes that might be harmful to the crew.

The test involves placing the payload into a bell jar and pumping out all of the air. Synthetic air of known properties is then pumped in, and the whole jar is held at 50 degrees Celsius for 72 hours. Afterwards the synthetic air, plus any gasses released by the payload, are pumped out and analysed using a mass spectrometer.


If you look closely, you can also see some Raspberry Pi SD cards in there. The test needed to be representative of the entire payload, so it’s one of the flight units plus five SD cards. The resulting measurements were then just doubled to account for two Astro Pi units with ten SD cards.

Thermal Capacity

Raspberry Pi, Cambridge, UK

This test needed to demonstrate that no touchable surface of the Astro Pi flight case would ever reach or exceed 45 degrees Celsius.

In microgravity the process of convection doesn’t occur, so the case was designed with thermal conduction in mind. Each of the square pins on the base can dissipate about 0.1 watts of heat. We also wanted to avoid any fans as these cause EMC headaches and other problems for safety (moving parts).

We used five temperature probes connected to another Raspberry Pi for the data logging. Four of the probes were placed in contact with the surface of the aluminium case using small thermal pads and kapton tape (HDMI side, base by the camera, SD card slot side and top side). One was used to monitor ambient temperature some distance away. The Astro Pi was then placed inside a small box to simulate the reduced airflow on board the ISS and was then stressed to maximum performance for four days.

The results showed that an equilibrium was reached fairly quickly where the only input into the system was the fluctuation of ambient temperature.

Sharp edges inspection

ESA ESTEC, Noordwijk, Holland >

This test was almost a formality, but was done so ESA could verify there were no sharp edges that could cause harm to the crew. The test was done using a special piece of fabric that was dragged over the surface of the flight case. If it snags then the test is failed, but thankfully we passed without issue first time.

The test is important because a crew member with a cut or infected hand is a serious problem on orbit.

Experiment Sequence Test

ESA-EAC, European Astronaut Centre, Cologne, Germany >

The experiment sequence test is a full end-to-end reproduction of everything that Tim Peake will do on orbit. It was done in a replica of the ISS Columbus module on the ground.

On orbit they have step by step procedures that the crew follow and these tests are an opportunity to improve and refine them. There is a procedure for deploying the Astro Pi, one for powering it from the ISS mains, and another for powering via laptop power. There is one for fault finding and diagnostics and also one for getting files off the Astro Pi for downlink to Earth.

The tests used a surrogate crew to play the role of Tim Peake. Each procedure was run, and any anomalies or problems that caused a deviation from the procedure were noted.

The Astro Pi will run a Python program called the MCP (master control program*) and this oversees the running of the competition winning code from the students. It is designed to monitor how long each has run for, and ensures that each receives the allotted run time, despite the Astro Pi being, potentially, rebooted multiple times from single event upsets due to the radiation environment on the ISS.

There were a couple of minor issues found, and we’re required to repeat one of the tests again in September. But otherwise everything worked successfully.

All the test reports are then combined into a Flight Safety Data Pack (FSDP). This also includes a flammability assessment which is an examination of all materials used in the payload and their risk of being a flame propagation path on the ISS. The main heavy lifting with the FSDP documentation was done by Surrey Satellite Technology, whom we’re eternally grateful to.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far! Next mission update will be after we’ve handed over the final payload.

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Forumula AllCode – robotics course

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Liz: Robotics is a really powerful way to get kids excited about programming and electronics, and a Kickstarter from Formula AllCode, with its integrated course, has all the elements you need to get a kid from zero to robot overlord. I asked Liam Walton from Matrix TSL, the people behind Formula AllCode, to write a few words for us about what they’re doing with the project. 

We think the Formula AllCode robotics course is great for makers to test their skills and capabilities; it’s also great for introducing learners to programming and robotics in a fun and motivating way.

Raspberry Pi is one of the hosts you can use for this neat little robot from Matrix TSL​, designed as part of a course in robotics that aims to cater for beginners and advanced users alike. It’s controlled over Bluetooth from any platform that can support the Bluetooth RFCOMM protocol, so you can program for it in just about anything (popular examples are provided).


Matrix TSL have also written a full tutorial about how users will talk to the Formula AllCode robot using the Raspberry Pi.


Kitted out with a variety of sensors, microphone, speakers and LCD display, and with capacity for expansion, it has plenty of appeal, and it’s on Kickstarter now with 16 days left to go. You can back the project by clicking here.

The project itself consists of:

  • The Formula AllCode robot
  • A FREE course in robotics
  • Accessories used to learn, including graphical mat and maze walls


The robot can be used with a number of hosts, including Raspberry Pi. A low cost robot buggy, the AllCode is great for makers to test their skills and capabilities using an interesting and diverse platform or for introducing younger school children to programming and robotics in a fun and motivating way with huge scope for further work and competitions.


The video below explains more about the vision for Formula AllCode and provides some examples of what the robot itself can achieve when used with Raspberry Pi and other devices.

The Formula AllCode Kickstarter campaign runs until 4th September. To back the campaign from as little as £5 click here.

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Australia & Singapore Pioneering Education Tour

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As an education pioneer for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, I’m on a mission to ensure that all children everywhere have some exposure to computing, whether this comes in the form of digital making, the arts, robotics or computer programming. Recently I’ve been on a brief tour to Australia and Singapore to spread the Raspberry Pi education ethos to as many people as possible.

Straight after Euro Python in Spain, where Ben Nuttall, James Robinson and I helped to kick start an Education Summit, I boarded a flight to Australia via Dubai. The months between June and September are often the busiest for the Foundation team with the northern hemisphere schools on summer break and southern hemisphere schools in the middle of the academic year. There are often lots of outreach opportunities alongside large conferences in the space of a single month.


After around 30 hours (with two stops) I arrived in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland and home to Pycon Australia 2015, where I was to give a talk as part of their first ever education mini conference and give a keynote at the main conference. Fellow Python Software Foundation (PSF) board member Nick Coghlan contacted me to attend the education mini conference way back in January, stating:

I would personally be particularly excited to have you attend, as I came up with the idea of the Python in Education miniconf after Dr James Curran’s presentation last year on the new Australian Digital Curriculum, and his hopes to have Python feature strongly in the implementation of that curriculum.

There are a number of countries around the world which are starting to address the digital skills gap through formal education. In England we have a new Computing curriculum being taught in both primary and secondary schools. In Australia a new Digital Curriculum has been developed, and in some states has already been adopted by forward thinking teachers. Here was an opportunity to work with industry professionals to highlight the changes, and with educators to collaborate and share best practice.

Nick had curated a brilliant day of talks as part of the education mini conference. This was one of the first Python conferences which was not only well attended by teachers, but where most of the talks were given by teachers! In fact you can watch all the talks which have helpfully be added to a playlist by the conference organisers. My favourite talk of the day was given by a nervous developer, Caleb Hattingh, to a room full of teachers about his experiences trying to teach Python to children at a coding club. It was brutally honest and I think sums up many of the problems educators also face in moving from visual programming languages like Scratch to text based languages like Python.

My other notable talk of the day was given by Katie Bell from Grok Learning in which she talks about her work with the Girls Programming Network in Sydney, the National Computer Science School (NCSS) Challenge, and the NCSS summer school where young people spend a few days rapidly prototyping heir own website or embedded electronic device. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Katie before at PyconUK last September and at ISTE this June in Philadelphia with Grok Learning co-founder Nicky Ringland. Their passion for computing education is phenomenal and can be witnessed in this talk:

I ended day 1 with my keynote on Raspberry Pi and physical computing, which included a live demo, and started day 2 with a keynote to the entire conference about lessons we’ve learned about teaching children how to program.

I’m grateful to Nick Coghlan and the other organisers of PyconAu for their hard work to bring the event together.


A short flight from Brisbane brought me to Sydney where I accepted a challenge from new education team member Marc Scott to take a selfie in front of an iconic landmark before setting out on a series of talks and workshops.

I gave a brief demo to ICT educators of New South Wales  on the first evening at an event where teachers give up their free time to share ideas and practices around teaching ICT and computer science in a state where it is not a formal part of their curriculum. These were inspirational teachers, willing to push what is possible in their classrooms.

At the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences at the Powerhouse in Sydney I got the chance to speak to education specialists and teachers about our work at Raspberry Pi before leading a fruity physical computing workshop. I was able to share fun ideas and meet some fabulous STEM education enthusiasts.

The museum was truly a fabulous space with well equipped resources for schools. I was lucky enough to receive a brief tour of all the facilities like the Mars Lab, a recreation of the Martian surface, and robotics lab which is used to encourage students to use technology to search for life on Mars. Schools are able to connect to the lab and their rovers via the internet, allowing students to program the bots directly. Using the cameras, they can experience what it is like for space engineers. They test rovers there, and I got to meet one.

Whilst in Sydney I visited good friend Dan Bowen, a CAS #include committee member, and some Windows IoT Raspberry Pi developers at Microsoft, where they all showed me their latest work with the operating system and Physical computing on the Pi. I was invited to meet the Code Club Australia team who are working with schools across all the territories and training teachers in a bid to give children an opportunity to learn to code. I also found time to speak to girls at two different coding clubs and meet some fans!

There are clearly lots of initiatives in Sydney that parents and educators can tap into from online learning platforms like Grok Learning and the NCSS challenge, to free professional development and workshops from ICTENSW and the MAAS Museum.


I was lucky enough to be able to stop in Singapore on my way back to the UK during the nation’s 50th anniversary thanks to the Raspberry Pi team at Broadcom Singapore. I was asked to drop by the office to eat pizza and give a presentation to their engineers about the Raspberry Pi Foundation by Jeffery Chin who leads the Broadcom Singapore Raspberry Pi team, who provide Raspberry Pi outreach to teachers and students in their spare time.

I was then taken to Singapore’s Science Centre to meet their STEM education specialists and Ministry of Education representatives to discuss Raspberry Pi professional development for teachers and their computing outreach programmes. Before heading out for some of the best dumplings I’ve ever eaten!


Singapore Science Centre STEM educators, Ministry of Education representatives and  Broadcom’s Jeffery Chin & TK Tan

It is one of the many joys of working for the Raspberry Pi Foundation that I get to meet so many inspiring individuals across the globe and to forge partnerships with them as we all embark this movement to enrich children’s education.

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Preparing 200 teachers to inspire students with electronics

via Arduino Blog


Arduino Verkstad has just started CTC* Catalunya 2015 in Barcelona with David Cuartielles preparing a group of 200 teachers that will be teaching CTC to students in Cataluña next September. A technology fair will be hosted at the end of the program and we are expecting more than 2500 people to attend.

Creative Technologies in the Classroom (CTC) is a collaborative learning curriculum designed for schools that wish to incorporate emerging technologies into their existing technology classes. It’s also a collection of experiments aimed at transforming the way technology is taught in schools around the world. These experiments introduce basic concepts in programming, electronics, and mechanics.These experiments introduce basic concepts in programming, electronics, and mechanics.

Thanks to the Departament d’Ensenyament of the Generalitat de Catalunya and our partner eduCaixa Obra Social “La Caixa” who is also involved with launching CTC for 75 schools in Andalusia in the fall. Stay tuned with Arduino Verkstad blog for news on CTC Andalucía.

Last year’s show included over 240 projects, which means we’ll probably have twice as many for this year’s show. This is the second edition of the program and it will reach 103 schools; we expect about 2.500 students to be involved in the project and the final fair will be at CosmoCaixa Museum in Barcelona on February 6th, 2016. Since the numbers promise a lot and the amount of people participating might be big, we will need the whole temporary exhibition space at the museum to be booked for the fair! :)

Click here for a press article on the teachers’ training in Barcelona. (in Catalan).

The news was originally posted on the Arduino Verkstad Blog.

Education Summit Videos from EuroPython

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At the end of July, a subset of our Education Team went to Bilbao in Spain for EuroPython. As well as giving a number of talks at the conference, we’d arranged with the organising committee to run an Education Summit and invite teachers along.

EuroPython Education Summit_Logo_FULL

On the Thursday of the conference, we had a day of Education talks lined up, starting with Carrie Anne who gave the opening keynote, ‘Education: A Python solution‘:

(see the slides)

We were lucky enough to meet the creator and BDFL of Python, Guido van Rossum, who also gave a keynote.

IMG_20150723_102228 IMG_1409resized IMG_1410resized

Watch my talk on ‘Physical Computing with Python and Raspberry Pi‘:

(see the slides)

Watch James’s first talk, ‘Raspberry Pi Weather Station‘:

(see the slides)

Watch James’s second talk, ‘Pycon – A teacher’s perspective‘:

(see the slides)

Alex Bradbury also gave a lightning talk on Pyland – a project he’s working on with a group of interns at the Cambridge Computer Lab. Pyland is a game designed for children to learn Python as a way to progress in the game. Watch out for more on Pyland next month!


The conference had two Raspberry Pi powered arcade machines and all the TV screens showing the talks schedule were running on Pis too!

At the weekend’s sprints we had a team of developers working on PyGame Zero, and as part of the Education Summit we ran an intro session for teachers.

IMG_1484resized IMG_1483resized IMG_1482resized
The Pyjokes Society

The Pyjokes Society

This year, EuroPython was run by the organisers of PySS, a conference in San Sebastian, with a brilliant team of volunteers who helped make it all happen – they did a great job.


A huge thanks to the EuroPython team!

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Welcome Marc – our new Head of Curriculum

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Yesterday we welcomed a new member of staff to the Foundation’s growing Education Team. Marc Scott is a former teacher, joining as our new Head of Curriculum.


Marc used to run a Raspberry Pi and Minecraft club at his old school, where he taught Computer Science, and Systems and Control. Marc also used to write all his lesson resources in Markdown and host them on GitHub – which is exactly how we create our resources and projects on this website; we’re excited to see what he’ll contribute.

Originally, Marc started out as a Science teacher, and he’s keen to explore cross-curricular learning, looking at how things like Astro Pi and the Weather Station can be used in the KS3 Science and Geography curricula.

The first page in Marc’s notebook

We’re really excited to see Marc getting stuck into creating new learning resources, and aiding us to structure them into a curriculum.

Marc has a wife, three kids, two dogs and a double black belt in karate and taekwondo. He’s a member of the Open Rights Group, he’s an occasional blogger at coding2learn.org (worth a browse!); he says he’s as comfortable with the terminal as he is in the classroom; and that he’s a dab hand with a soldering iron (let’s see if he passes Gordon’s test). On Monday I asked him to bring in a bootable USB stick if he wanted to install Linux on his laptop – he said “I tend to use a standard Ubuntu server install and build up from there – I use i3 as a windows manager anyway, and hate all the bloat that comes with Ubuntu Desktop.” – we think he’s going to fit in around here just fine.

Welcome Marc!

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