The Astro Pi will be the Raspberry Pi’s cosmic legacy

7 Dec 2015

The Astro Pi undergoing testing in the ESA's Columbus module. Image via Raspberry Pi Foundation

A heavily-modified Raspberry Pi Zero, dubbed the Astro Pi, has flown to the International Space Station (ISS) with programs developed by children to test advanced scientific research concepts.

The Astro Pi Raspberry Pi looks more akin to a Nintendo Gameboy than anything, but contains seven Python programs written and tested by students using their own Raspberry Pis. At 9.46pm Irish time last night (6 December), it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Cygnus rocket.

The launch last night precedes the arrival of Tim Peake, the first UK astronaut to visit the ISS. Peake, who will be launching on 15 December, will use the Astro Pis to conduct experiments ranging from fun reaction-time games to real science experiments looking at radiation in space.

Two Astro Pis will be used during the mission, both of which are equipped with technology referred to as the Sense HAT, which can measure the environment inside the station and how the ISS is moving through space, and pick up the Earth’s magnetic field.

The experiments are expected to take place over a few months, but once all of them have been completed, a long-term ISS environmental monitoring program will run that will produce a CSV file full of time-stamped sensor readings.

This dataset will then be made available as open source for students and adults to better understand the effects that occur aboard the ISS.

Tim Peake

Astronaut Tim Peake with the Astro Pi. Image via Raspberry Pi Foundation

The seven lucky students who managed to get their code into the powerful Astro Pis were chosen back in July from young innovators based in the UK.

Throughout his time aboard the largest human-made object in space, Peake has said that he hopes to spend some of his free time on Saturday afternoons doing educational outreach through a video feed with the public.

The small, highly-customisable Raspberry Pi board for programming was recently downsized to such an extent that it now costs just $5, earning it a nomination for’s game-changing gadget of the year for 2015.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic