News story

Astronaut Tim Peake to run UK students’ code on Space Station

Students from around the country will see their computer coding ideas run on-board the ISS by British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake.

The winning entries of the nationwide competition were announced today at the UK Space Conference by Tim Peake.

Students from around the country have been coding their ideas to run on a modified Raspberry Pi computer that is going to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year. Well over 1000 students from around the country have engaged with the project and a panel of leading UK space companies, the UK Space Agency, Raspberry Pi and the UK Space Education Office (ESERO-UK) have judged all the coded ideas.

Code entries were received in all secondary school Key Stages and some primary schools also entered code in the coding competition and were considered amongst the Key Stage 3 entries. The primary school competition ended in April and asked the students to come up with a big idea that would then be coded by the Raspberry Pi team.

Doug Liddle of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd said:

We are delighted that the competition has reached so many school children and we hope that this inspires them to continue coding and look to space for great career opportunities.

Jeremy Curtis, Head of Education at the UK Space Agency, said:

We’re incredibly impressed with the exciting and innovative Astro Pi proposals we’ve received and look forward to seeing them in action aboard the International Space Station.

Not only will these students be learning incredibly useful coding skills, but will get the chance to translate those skills into real experiments that will take place in the unique environment of space.

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake will operate the computer, dubbed the ‘Astro Pi’, on board the ISS during his six-month mission, starting in December. 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.

The Space-Byrds team from Thirsk School and Kieran Wand from Cottenham Village College won in the Key Stage 3 (and equivalent) age group. Space-Byrd’s application will use information about the ISS orbit to determine the country that the ISS is flying over and then display the flag of the country and a message for Tim using the LED matrix. Kieran Wand’s application monitors the ISS environment with the Astro Pi sensors, and displays this data on the LED matrix. If values change outside a set range, an alert is displayed on the LED matrix.

Andy Powell of the Knowledge Transfer Network said:

All of the judges were impressed by the quality of work and the effort that had gone into the winning KS3 projects and they produced useful, well thought through and entertaining results.

The winners in the Key Stage 4 (and equivalent) age group were from Lincoln University Technical College (UTC) and Westminster School. Oliver Turnball from Westminster School designed an experiment that uses the infrared camera on the Astro Pi to measure the Normalised Differentiated Vegetation Index (NDVI), which is a measure of the health of plants. Team Terminal from Lincoln UTC designed a suite of games that can be played on the Astro Pi and be used to study how crew’s reaction times change during a long duration mission. Lincoln UTC also won the prize for the best overall submission in the secondary school completion. In addition to seeing their code fly in space, the team from Lincoln UTC have won photographs of their school taken from space, by one of Airbus or SSTL’s satellites.

Magdalen College School, Oxford, won the Key Stage 5 (and equivalent) age category by turning the Astro Pi into a cosmic ray detector. The camera on the Astro Pi is blanked off to stop visible light getting in but it will still allow space radiation and cosmic rays to get through. These are seen as flashes on the camera sensor.

Dave Honess of Raspberry Pi said:

It was great to see the effort and thought that had been put into this project. The students have developed a way of detecting damaged pixel in the camera sensor and have tested the whole thing with a radiation source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

These winning codes will be joined on the ISS by the winners of the primary school competition, Hannah Belshaw from Cumnor House Girl’s School, Croydon, and the Cranmere Code Club, from Cranmere Primary School in Esher. Raspberry Pi has turned Hannah’s idea into reality by taking the data recorded by the Astro Pi and representing it in a Minecraft world. Cranmere Code Club opted to code their own idea, with support from Raspberry Pi, to detect the presence of crew via changes in temperature and humidity.

In addition to the main prizes, UK space companies offered prizes in a number of themes. The winners of these competitions get a range of prizes including private tours of the UK’s leading space facilities so that the students can see first hand why the UK is one of the leading space nations and the range of career opportunities the sector offers.

The theme competition was sponsored by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, National Physical Laboratory, National Nuclear Laboratory, Airbus Defence and Space and CGI. The winners of each theme were those judged to be the best entry linked to each of the themes, from across the age categories. The winners are:

  • Space Sensors: Hannah Belshaw, from Cumnor House Girl’s School with her idea for Minecraft data visualisation.
  • Measurements: Kieran Wand from Cottenham Village College for his ISS environment monitoring system.
  • Imaging and Remote Sensing: Oliver Turnball from Westminster School with their experiment to measure the crop health from space using near infra-red images.
  • Space Radiation: Magdalen College, Oxford with their Space Radiation Detector.
  • Data FusionL Nicole Ashworth, from Reading, for her weather reporting system; comparing historical weather data from the UK with the environment on the ISS.
  • Coding Excellence: Charlie Maclean from Horsham, West Sussex for his Labyrinth game.

Pat Norris of CGI said:

It has been great to see so many schools getting involved in developing software and we hope that this competition has inspired the next generation to take up coding, space systems or any of the many other opportunities the UK space sector offers. We were particularly impressed by the way Charlie structured his code, added explanatory comments and used best practice in developing the functionality.

There is still opportunity for all schools to get involved with Astro Pi through the Flight Data phase of the project. When Tim is on the ISS, the Astro Pi will collect data from the sensors and it will be sent back to Earth and made available to all schools so they can develop their own experiments. For example, they could record the same data in their classroom and compare it with the ISS or look for out of the ordinary changes in the data from the ISS and investigate the causes. Education resources are being developed for this phase of the project and will be available by signing up on the Astro Pi website ( The general public can also get involved when the Astro Pi boards go on general sale in a few weeks.

Libby Jackson of the UK Space Agency said:

Although the competition is over, the really exciting part of the project is just beginning. All of the winning entries will get see their code run in space and thousands more can take part in real life space experiments through the Flight Data phase.