Following the success of the ‘Astro Pi’ competition, there is a new competition offering UK school children the chance to send their computer code to ESA astronaut Tim Peake on the International Space Station (ISS).
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Two augmented Raspberry Pi computers, called Astro Pis, are on board the ISS as part of ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s Principia mission. Both are equipped with different cameras and a range of sensors that the students can use in a wide variety of experiments.

The new competition ‘Astro Pi Coding Challenges’, launched this month, presents a specific problem to students and asks them to solve it with code. This approach differs from the 2015 competition, where students were given an open-ended brief to come up with their own ideas for experiments.

This time, Tim has a particular task in mind for them, with two challenges on offer, both of which are music-based.

“This competition offers a unique chance for young people to learn core computing skills that will be extremely useful in their future. It’s going to be a lot of fun!” said Tim Peake.

The winners will have their code uploaded to the ISS and used by Tim on the Astro Pi computers (on a best-effort basis subject to operational constraints).

David Honess, from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, spoke with Tim just before launch and learned that it is difficult to update the astronaut’s MP3 player while in space. “So there’s a practical, utilitarian purpose for having the students code this MP3 player for him. It’ll solve a real problem on the space station,” said David.

The first challenge is for students to write Python code to turn the Astro Pi into an MP3 music player, something that it was never designed for. The students will need to program the buttons, joystick and LED display to provide an iPod-like interface, so that Tim can plug in headphones and listen to music.

The second challenge requires students to compose their own music using a tool called Sonic Pi. This allows music to be created using lines of code, and is a really fun and engaging way to learn to program. Tim will then use the MP3 player code from the first challenge to listen to the second challenge’s music in space.

The competition is open to all primary and secondary school-age students who are resident in the United Kingdom, and it is supported by a comprehensive range of teaching resources that are available for free on the Astro Pi website. The deadline for submissions is 31 March.

The competition is divided into four age categories – 11 years and under, 11 to 14 years, 14 to 16 years and 16 to 18 years – with a winner selected from each for both challenges. In total, four MP3 players and a minimum of four songs will be uploaded and played by Tim in space the most exclusive concert venue imaginable.

The judging will be conducted by a panel of experts selected from industry partners that have been involved in the Astro Pi project from the start. These are UK Space Trade Association, UK Space Agency, European Space Agency, Surrey Satellite Technology, Airbus Defence and Space, CGI, QinetiQ, ESERO UK, National STEM Centre, and Space KTN.