Students to send experiments into space

Croydon and Esher Primary School students will send their 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, 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. 

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. 

The 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.

Schools and other educational organisations or individuals wishing to get involved in the competition can apply for their free Astro Pi HAT by emailing [email protected].  Applicants should include their contact details and a brief summary of their organisation and the intended use of the boards.


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