How did we build the new Astro Pi computers for the International Space Station?

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We are really excited that our two upgraded Astro Pi units have arrived on the International Space Station. Each unit contains the latest model of the Raspberry Pi computer, along with a high-quality Raspberry Pi camera and a host of sensors on a custom Sense HAT, all housed in a special flight case designed to keep everything cool and protected . Here is the story of how the Astro Pi units were built:

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The upgraded Astro Pi units were designed and built in collaboration with ESA Education, the educational program of the European Space Agency. The purpose of the Astro Pis is for young people to use them in the European Astro Pi Challenge. The film highlights the units’ exciting new features, such as a machine learning accelerator and a new camera, which can capture images high-quality images of Earth from space using both visible light and near-infrared light.

The new Astro Pi unit, with its camera and machine learning accelerator.

There’s an extended team behind the new hardware and software, not just us working at the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the European Space Agency.

“Thank you to our friends at ESA, and to all the people who shared their unique expertise and knowledge with us, […] we managed to take two ordinary Raspberry Pi computers off the production line in Wales and see them end up on the International Space Station. It has been a real privilege to work with such an amazing group of space professionals.

– Richard Hayler, Senior Program Manager and Senior Astro Pi Units Engineer

The new Astro Pis are all ready to run computer programs for young people in the European Astro Pi Challenge. The young people who have successfully proposed experiments for the 2021/22 cycle of Astro Pi Mission Space Lab have just submitted their programs to us for testing. These programs will conduct the teams’ experiments on the new Astro Pis in May.

The code of your young people in space

There’s still time until March 18 to participate in the 2021/22 round of Astro Pi Mission Zero. Mission Zero is a coding activity for beginners for all young people up to 19 years old in ESA Member and Associate States. Mission Zero is free, can be completed online in one hour, and allows young people to send their unique message to astronauts aboard the ISS.

Logo of Mission Zero, part of the European Astro Pi Challenge.

To participate, participants follow our step-by-step guide to writing a simple Python program. Their program will display their message to the astronauts via the Astro Pi’s LED screen (with “sunglasses”). Parents or educators support participants by signing up to a mentor code to submit youth programs.

All participants in Mission Zero receive a certificate showing the exact time and location of the ISS when their program was executed – their moment in space history to be preserved. And this year alone, Mission Zero is extra special: participants can also help name the two new Astro Pi units!

Mark 2 Astro Pi units rotate in microgravity on the International Space Station.

You can watch ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer unpack and assemble the Astro Pi units in microgravity aboard the ISS. It’s so exciting to work with the European Space Agency to send the Youth Code into space. We hope you and your youngsters will participate in this year’s Astro Pi Challenge.

PS If you want to build your own replica of the Astro Pi units, we have a treat for you soon. Next week we will share a practical step-by-step guide, including 3D printing files.

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