We are excited to share that 294 teams of young people participating in this year’s Astro Pi Mission Space Lab achieved Flight Status: their programs will run on the Astro Pis installed on the International Space Station (ISS) in April.
Mission Space Lab is part of the European Astro Pi Challenge, an ESA Education project run in collaboration with the Raspberry Pi Foundation. It offers young people the amazing opportunity to conduct scientific investigations in space, by writing computer programs that run on Raspberry Pi computers on board the International Space Station.
To take part in Mission Space Lab, young people form teams and choose between two themes for their experiments, investigating either ‘Life in space’ or ‘Life on Earth’. They send us their experiment ideas in Phase 1, and in Phase 2 they write Python programs to execute their experiments on the Astro Pis onboard the ISS. As we sent upgraded Astro Pis to space at the end of 2021, Mission Space Lab teams can now also choose to use a machine learning accelerator during their experiment time.
In total, 771 teams sent us ideas during Phase 1 in September 2022, so achieving Flight Status is a huge accomplishment for the successful teams. We are delighted that 391 teams submitted programs for their experiments. Teams who submitted had their programs checked for errors and their experiments tested, resulting in 294 teams being granted Flight Status. 134 of these teams included some aspects of machine learning in their experiments using the upgraded Astro Pis’ machine learning accelerator.
The 294 teams to whom we were able to award Flight Status this year represent 1245 young people. 34% of team members are female, and the average participant age is 15. The 294 successful teams hail from 21 countries; Italy has the most teams progressing to the next phase (48), closely followed by Spain (37), the UK (34), Greece (25), and the Czech Republic (25).
Life in space
Teams can use the Astro Pis to investigate life inside ESA’s Columbus module of the ISS, by writing a program to detect things with at least one of the Astro Pi’s sensors. This can include for example the colour and intensity of light in the module, or the temperature and humidity.
81 teams that created ‘Life in space’ experiments have achieved Flight Status this year. Examples of experiments from this year are investigating how the Earth’s magnetic field is felt on the ISS, what environmental conditions the astronauts experience compared to those on Earth directly beneath the ISS as it orbits, or whether the cabin might be suitable for other lifeforms, such as plants or bacteria.
Life on Earth
In the ‘Life on Earth’ theme, teams investigate features on the Earth’s surface using the cameras on the Astro Pis, which are positioned to view Earth from a window on the ISS.
This year the Astro Pis will be located in the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF), which is larger than the window the computers were positioned in in previous years. This means that teams running ‘Life on Earth’ experiments can capture better images. 206 teams that created experiments in the ‘Life on Earth’ theme have achieved Flight Status.
Thanks to the upgraded Astro Pi hardware, this is the second year that teams could decide whether to use visible-light or infrared (IR) photography. Teams running experiments using IR photography have chosen to examine topics such as plant health in different regions, the effects of deforestation, and desertification. Teams collecting visible light photography have chosen to design experiments analysing clouds in different regions, changes in ocean colour, the velocity of the ISS, and classification of biomes (e.g. desert, forest, grassland, wetland).
Each of this year’s 391 submissions has been through a number of tests to ensure they follow the challenge rules, meet the ISS security requirements, and can run without errors on the Astro Pis. Once the experiments have started, we can’t rely on astronaut intervention to resolve any issues, so we have to make sure that all of the programs will run without any problems.
This means that the start of the year is a very busy time for us. We run tests on Mission Space Lab teams’ programs on a number of exact replicas of the Astro Pis, including a final test to run every experiment that has passed all tests for the full three-hour experiment duration. The 294 experiments that received Flight Status will take over 5 weeks to run.
97 programs submitted by teams during Phase 2 of Mission Space Lab this year did not pass testing and so could not be awarded Flight Status. We wish we could run every experiment that is submitted, but there is only limited time available for the Astro Pis to be positioned in the ISS window. Therefore, we have to be extremely rigorous in our selection, and many of the 97 teams were not successful because of only small issues in their programs. We recognise how much work every Mission Space Lab team does, and all teams can be very proud of designing and creating an experiment.
Even if you weren’t successful this year, we hope you enjoyed participating and will take part again in next year’s challenge.
Once all of the experiments have run, we will send the teams the data collected during their experiments. Teams will then have time to analyse their data and write a short report to share their findings. Based on these reports, we will select winners of this year’s Mission Space Lab. The winning and highly commended teams will receive a special surprise.
Congratulations to all successful teams! We are really looking forward to seeing your results.