European Astro Pi Challenge: Code your ISS experiment



ESA is inviting teams of students who are 16 years old and younger to join the first European Astro Pi challenge and have their experiments run on the International Space Station! Take this opportunity to learn about science and coding, just like space scientists do!

Deadline to submit your registration is 13 November 2016.

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet officially launched the first European Astro Pi challenge last week. Thomas is looking forward to his first spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS) with the Proxima mission later this year, and is looking forward to assisting the Astro Pi challenge from orbit.

Watch Thomas’ message in the video above!

What is an Astro Pi?

Astro Pi is the name of a small computer developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, in collaboration with the UK Space Agency and ESA.

There are two very special Astro Pi’s. Their names are Ed and Izzy, and they have been qualified for spaceflight. They are now onboard the ISS for students like you to use.

Astro Pi computers come with a set of sensors and gadgets that can be used to run cool scientific experiments. This set of sensors is called ‘Sense HAT’.

With the Sense HAT you can sense movements, measure humidity, temperature and pressure, and detect radiation. Ed and Izzy are also equipped with a joystick and buttons just like a videogame console! Discover more about the Astro Pi Sense HAT and its sensors here and experience what you can do with them by using this web-based emulator.

Join the competition: your code may go to space!

Astro Pi inside its flight case

The European Astro Pi challenge invites school students to design a scientific experiment that can be run using Astro Pi Ed’s sensors, and to write the computer code with which the Astro Pi needs to be programmed in order to execute this experiment on the ISS.

Ed is ready and anxious to run your code. What are you waiting for?

The Astro Pi challenge is divided into three phases. You have to succeed Phase 1 in order to be selected to participate in Phases 2 and 3.

Phase 1 – Warm up and show us you are up to the Astro Pi challenge!

ESA’s Astro Pi kit

In this phase, ESA expects your team – with the help of your teacher – to get acquainted with the Astro Pi and its sensors (see links provided above) and to demonstrate you have a clear idea of the kind of science experiments you can run with it.

In order to achieve this objective, ESA asks you to come up with an experiment idea to be run using the Astro Pi on the ISS and its sensors (Sense Hat), and to describe this idea by filling out this template.No coding is needed at this stage: only an experiment idea!

Your idea can be related to different aspects of life and work onboard the ISS. Search for cosmic rays? Record a loss of altitude or measure the acceleration of the ISS? Or perhaps just detect the crew’s movement?

Here you can find some ideas for using Astro Pi and doing fantastic science. Have a look and get inspired!

Ask your teacher to give you guidance and help you find additional inspiration by downloading the teacher’s guide here.

The more creative, rich, and original your idea is, the better you will demonstrate your motivation, and the bigger chance you will have to be selected for Phase 2 of the challenge. If your team’s experiment idea is selected, you will also receive an ESA-branded Astro Pi kit, including all its sensors and components, directly at your school for free!

You have until 13 November 2016 to submit your entries. Do this by following the indications provided below in the section ‘How do I submit my application?’. The selected teams will be notified of their acceptance to Phase 2 by 25 November 2016.

Phase 2 – Take the scientific mission assigned by ESA and write your computer code

In this second phase, which will take place between 25 November 2016 and 28 February 2017, Thomas Pesquet will assign the selected student teams with a scientific mission to be run on the ISS using Astro Pi Ed. To accomplish the objectives of this mission, you will have to define the steps of the scientific experiment you want to run, and you will have to write the computer code necessary to operate the Astro Pi accordingly. You will have to use the ‘Python’ programming language.

Not an expert in coding? Don’t worry! ESA will provide you with supporting material and guidelines that explain how to use the Astro Pi and its sensors and to how to write a simple code in Python. This material will be published on this site by 21 November 2016.

Phase 3 – Best experiments/codes are selected and run on the ISS
In this third phase, which will take place between 1 March and 15 May 2017, an evaluation panel composed of ESA, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and other national experts will select the winning experiments/codes per country that will be sent to the ISS to be run on Astro Pi Ed. On 15 May 2017, the results of the experiments will be published, and astronaut Thomas Pesquet will comment them from orbit!

Who can take part?

Teams of students 16 years old and under  from an ESA Member State*. Each team must be supported by at least one teacher.

*ESA Member States:
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

How do I submit my application?
In Phase 1 (4 October – 13 November 2016), teams have to register online and submit their original experiment idea. The deadline is 13 November 2016.

  • If you are a team from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, you can access the online registration form here, where you will need to provide information about your school, team and teacher.  You will also have to attach the filled-intemplate (‘Describe your experiment idea’) in English.
  • If you are a team from France, you should register through the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), in French, at this link.
  • If you are a team from Poland, you should register through ESERO Poland in Polish.
  • If you are a team from Portugal, you should register through the ESERO Portugal in Portuguese. This link will be available later this week.

In Phase 2 (25 November 2016 – 28 February 2017), the selected teams will be notified on how to submit the experiment they propose to accomplish, as well as the computer codes necessary to operate Astro Pi. Deadline is 28 February 2017.

For questions, please send an email to teachers @ with the subject: European Astro Pi Challenge.

Good luck!

1st European Astro Pi Challenge – Timeline

Launch of European Astro Pi Challenge 4/10/16
Phase 1 – Registration and submission of Experiment Idea 4/10/16 – 13/11/16
Publication of supporting resources and Astro Pi guidelines 21/11/16
Selection of teams who presented best experiment ideas 16/11/16 – 24/11/16
Announcement of selected teams and mission announcementDistribution of Astro Pi kits to the selected teams


Phase 2 – Discover the Astro Pi, design the experiment to accomplish the mission, write and submit your code  25/11/16 – 28/02/17
Deadline for submitting your experiment/code 28/02/17
Phase 3 – Best experiments/codes are selected and run on the ISS 1/03/17 – 15/05/17
Selection of the best experiment/codes to be run on the ISS 1/03/17 – 14/03/17
Announcement of the selected experiments/codes 15/03/17
Publication of the results (after the codes have been run on the ISS) 15/05/17