27 April 2015 – Students from Croydon and Esher Primary Schools will soon be sending their own experiments into space after winning the Astro Pi “Big Idea” competition. Blasting to the top amongst hundreds of entrants, their ideas will now be turned into reality and be run in space on the International Space Station (ISS) in November 2015 with Britain’s very own European Space Agency astronaut, Tim Peake.
Nearly 200 teams from primary schools and clubs all over the UK submitted ideas for experiments and games to be performed using the modified Raspberry Pi computer. This computer, dubbed the ‘Astro Pi’, will be operated by Tim Peake on-board the ISS. He will set the winning experiments running, collect the data generated and then download it to Earth where it will be distributed to the winning teams.
Tim Peake has announced the winners in a video message from Star City, where he is currently training. (http://youtu.be/d0KahziNHO8)
Hannah Belshaw from Cumnor House Girl’s School in Croydon won top place with her idea to represent data from the Astro Pi in the world of Minecraft. The Cranmere Code Club team from Esher were also winners with their idea to investigate whether the Astro Pi can detect the presence of astronauts on the ISS using the temperature and humidity sensors.
Both schools will now receive a class set of Astro Pi kits, which will allow them to explore the Astro Pi further and get involved in the data logging activities once Tim starts his mission.
Hannah Belshaw’s Minecraft idea was also judged to be the top entry overall in the primary school category. In addition to getting her code flown on the ISS, her school wins an image of the school premises taken from space by a British satellite.
The judges recognised that Hannah’s idea is an ingenious way to represent abstract sensor data captured by the Astro-Pi computer in a format that would allow children to gain an intuitive understanding. A “digital flyby” incorporating terrain and magnetometer visualisations can be recreated in the Minecraft world from actual data downloaded from the International Space Station and replicated by anyone that owns a Raspberry Pi.
Minecraft has a huge draw with young children and is available on the Raspberry Pi platform as a Pocket Edition variant with a Python interface that allows programmatic manipulation of the game’s blocks.
Jonathan Bell, from Raspberry Pi said “We anticipate that we will have as much fun programming (and testing) this entry as children will have exploring a game world created from data captured in space.”
Cranmere Code Club’s concept of investigating whether or not multiple sensors from the Astro Pi could be used to detect the nearby presence of an astronaut, appealed to the judges because it exploits so much of the Astro Pi’s capability. Cranmere Code Club will use the visible camera to take a photograph when an increase in temperature and humidity is detected, and will review the images to see if an astronaut was present.
CGI’s Pat Norris from the judging panel said “the Cranmere entry was very clearly and comprehensively presented. It included a statement of the objective of what is effectively a scientific experiment and of the approach proposed to achieve that objective, and complemented this with logic flowcharts and a diagram. Part of the activity takes place on the ISS and part on the ground after the data has been collected, giving the Cranmere Code Club an opportunity to participate directly in the experiment. The judging panel was impressed by the sophistication of the entry, demonstrating an appreciation of the scientific method (hypothesis tested by experiment) and a thorough analysis of the logic involved.”
A number of other primary entries were highly commended by the competition judges and will receive individual Astro Pi kits. The fully anonymised judging process took place over 2 long days at York’s National STEM Centre.
“The standard of entries was tremendously high”, said SSTL’s Doug Liddle from the Astro Pi judging team. “Ultimately, the winning teams had to propose ideas that were creative, practical and useful to stand a chance of winning. I hope that most of these talented primary school teams also decide to get involved in the next stage of the competition and give the secondary schools a run for their money.”
The Astro Pi project comprises of a primary school competition and a secondary school competition. Whilst the primary category was based on ideas and has already been judged, the coding section of the secondary category is still open and primary students, even if they haven’t already entered the primary category, are able to submit coding in the youngest age bracket of the secondary school competition.
In the secondary school age group, the competition is running across three age categories, one for each of Key Stages 3, 4 and 5. Competitors have already submitted their ideas for experiments and applications with the best submissions in each age category winning an Astro Pi kit on which to code their idea and the 2 most promising ideas in each category winning a class set of kits. The teams who have earned a class set of kits are:
Key Stage 3 and equivalent:
- Therfield School, Leatherhead, Surrey
- Willington Scouts, Willington, Derbyshire
Key Stage 4 and equivalent:
- Balerno Community High School, Edinburgh
- Westminster School, London
Key Stage 5 and equivalent:
- Nower Hill High School, Pinner, Middlesex
- Magdalen College School, Oxford, Oxfordshire
The next stage of the competition is where ideas get turned into reality. The Astro Pi team are asking the school teams and clubs to code up their ideas and submit them by 20 June to get a chance to see their code in space.
“You don’t have to have registered already”, said Raspberry Pi’s Dave Honess from the Astro Pi judging team. “Even brand new teams can enter and get involved with the competition. We are providing support through the Astro Pi forum at http://www.raspberrypi.org/forums/viewforum.php?f=104 and you can still apply for a free sensor board”
Schools and other educational organisations or individuals wishing to get involved in the competition can apply for their free Astro Pi HAT by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Applicants should include their contact details and a brief summary of their organisation and the intended use of the boards.
Following June 29th, the entries from the coding phase will be judged in each age category and the best 2 will have their code flown on the Astro Pi on the International Space Station. The existing primary school entries will also be judged alongside these entries to be in with a chance to win exciting thematic prizes. Full details are available on www.astro-pi.org.