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Inspiring young scientists: it's as easy as Astro Pi


Andy Walker

Tim Peake will make history on 15 December as the first UK-ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut to travel to the International Space Station (ISS), as he begins his six-month Principia mission.

QinetiQ graduates have been working hard to make the most of this opportunity to get young people excited about careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

On a mission to inspire

The ISS is a unique scientific research facility, where astronauts can work on experiments that can’t be done on Earth; some to improve our understanding of fundamental science, and others to demonstrate new applications of science and technology. The intention is to improve quality of life on Earth or help us in the next stages of human exploration of the solar system.

Tim also wants to use his mission to inspire people in the UK, particularly children, to develop their interest in science and engineering and to learn more about career opportunities that they open up. Part of his mission will be to engage young people in the excitement of computer programming, space science, and manned spaceflight.

Tim Peake with AstroPi
Astronomical ideas

UK children have been competing to develop computer experiments, with the winners having theirs loaded onto an easily programmable computer (Raspberry Pi) for launch to the ISS ahead of Tim’s flight; this part of the mission is called AstroPi. QinetiQ’s graduates have been expanding the capabilities of AstroPi, with the goal of using it for more than just computer experiments.

Working in collaboration with the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS), they’re building a network with ESA and the UK Space Agency to expand the programme and offer innovative ways for children (and adults!) to measure radio signals from the ISS, and potentially even communicate with astronauts.

Future recruits

In support of Tim’s mission, our graduates and STEM ambassadors have been visiting schools, giving dynamic presentations and running experiments, such as ‘bottle rocket launches’ – a practical and fun way of teaching children about thrust, drag, Newton’s third law, and aerodynamics.

With a predicted 100,000 people working in the UK space industry by the year 2040, the industry will need engineers, scientists and many other disciplines to continue to function. We’re proud of the work our graduates are doing to generate the interest and excitement in young people that will help make that happen.

Watch this ‘space’ for further instalments of their adventures!