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Raspberry Pi 4s Launch into Space as Astro Pi Program Upgrades

The two new Astro Pi machines
(Image credit: Raspberry Pi Foundation)

The Astro Pi (opens in new tab) project, which saw a pair of Raspberry Pi (opens in new tab) computers shot into space to live aboard the ISS running experiments written by schoolchildren, is getting an upgrade to the latest Raspberry Pi 4 board.

Known as Izzy and Ed, the original computers saw almost 15,000 under 19s from all over Europe carry out experiments in the last year alone. The Mark II machines - a pair of 8GB Raspberry Pi 4 (opens in new tab) boards fitted with Sense HATs (breakout boards designed for basic collection of sensor data), high-quality cameras (opens in new tab), and a Coral USB Accelerator (opens in new tab) for machine learning tasks - currently known as VIS (for visible light Earth-observation photography) and IR (for near-infrared Earth observation uses), though new names will be voted on by project participants. 

The Pi boards are placed within specially designed aluminum cases to protect them from the rigors of space station life. The cases are designed to act as heatsinks for the Raspberry Pi 4, and to provide a simple means of input. All of the equipment being sent to the ISS has to undergo rigorous testing before they are confirmed as ready for use and will travel to the ISS in December this year on the SpaceX Dragon Cargo rocket, launching from Kennedy Space Center.

Entries are open for both phases of a competition to run code on the orbiting SBCs, Mission Zero runs until 18 March 2022, and Mission Space Lab until 29 October this year. Winning teams in the past have harnessed machine learning to predict the weather, calculated the magnetic poles of any star or planet, converted data from the Pis’ sensors into music, and simulated the growth of mould inside the ISS. 

Progress of the launch and the experiments can be followed via the Astro Pi Twitter account, and anyone coveting the look of those chunky space-cases will be pleased to know that a 3D-printable version will be available soon (opens in new tab). In the meantime, here are some of the best Raspberry Pi projects (opens in new tab) not taking place in space.

Ian Evenden
Freelance News Writer

Ian Evenden is a UK-based news writer for Tom’s Hardware US. He’ll write about anything, but stories about Raspberry Pi and DIY robots seem to find their way to him.