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UTC Reading goes to the International Space Station

UTC Reading Year 13 students achieve flight status in The European Astro Pi Challenge, with their experiment to be deployed aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The annual competition, for young people aged 19 and under, run by ESA Education in collaboration with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, offers students the opportunity to perform scientific investigations in space by writing computer programmes that run on Raspberry Pi computers about the ISS.

Year 13 computer science students, Saagar and Ashara, formed a team called ‘Nebulae’ and have used extra-curricular UTC time to investigate Life in Space, designing and programming their experiment, investigating the moments/turning effects caused by the generated forces on the ISS to maintain its orientation in orbit. 

The project had to meet certain criteria including being written using only the Python 3 programming language, using at least one Sense HAT sensor or the Camera Module, be designed for the actual Astro Pi hardware on the ISS and run for a maximum of three hours and terminate cleanly, amongst other set requirements.

Competing against over a thousand entries, Nebulae have received ‘flight status’ for their experiment, making it into the ‘deploy’ phase of the competition, where their programmes will be run on the ISS during April and May 2021.

One half of team Nebulae, Saagar, said:

“As Ashara's classmate, I noticed he’s fond of trying new things and is always on the lookout for opportunities like these. We used the knowledge and skills we gained from our computer science course, but applying them in a space experiment, was a brand-new concept for the both of us.

“As for me, the universe has been among the fascinating parts of science. Did you know that Neutron stars can spin up to 600 times per second? or that we will only ever have 0.00000000001% of the observable universe to ourselves?  It's facts like these that never cease to amaze (and scare) me.

“This competition has given me a unique and fun experience as it has showed me various unheard-of tricks in programming languages that I could use.

“I was mind blown when I received the message that we'd made it through to the next stage; part of me still refuses to believe it! It is still hard to believe our experiment is among 213 others that were qualified to run on the ISS (out of 2000!).”

Once the experimental data has been collected in orbit, it will be distributed back to team Nebulae to analyse – the final stage of this project. The team will then submit their final report and compete in achieving Mission Space Lab winner status, later this year.

UTC Reading’s Computer Science teacher, David McArthur, who has mentored the students throughout this project, said:

“I'm really proud of them; they’ve worked really hard on researching and coding the project at a time when Covid-19 has disrupted their work and their studies. I’m looking forward to seeing the results when they have been transmitted back from the space station.”

Congratulations to Saagar and Ashara for reaching the next phase of this competitive project, as well as to our other Year 10 and Year 11 students who also submitted exceptional experiments.

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