A team of intrepid Emanuel students have been granted ‘flight status’ in the AstroPi Mission Space Lab, one of only 114 teams to have made it so far. This means that their experiment will be running on the International Space Station some time this month.

The annual competition, which is run by the European Space Agency together with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, uses two Raspberry Pi computers loaded with various sensors, which were delivered to the ISS by British astronaut Tim Peak in 2015. The teams have to design an experiment and write computer code so that it can run remotely on the ISS.

The Emanuel team, made up of Alberto Astolfi, Ed Berkley, Alex De Guise, Fred Jimack, Ollie Olby and Mackenzie Sopocko, came up with an experiment to collect data about the strength of the magnetic fields experienced by the ISS as it travels around the Earth. With this data they will be able to observe the asymmetry of the Earth’s magnetic field due to the interaction with the solar wind. Their computer program records measurements of the magnetic field, together with the time, and calculated position of the ISS at that time.

The Emanuel AstroPi team.

Running the experiment is Phase Three of the competition, and the results will be beamed back to Earth and emailed to the team by May 10th. Phase Four then begins. The task ahead of the Emanuel team will then be to analyse the data, subtracting the overall mean magnetic field vectors from all magnetic field data to normalize for magnetic fields from the space station itself, and then use the data to graph the fluctuations of the magnetic field strength with respect to the latitude and also the position of the sun relative to the ISS which they will be able to determine from the location and time data.

British astronaut Tim Peake holds one of the ISS's Raspberry Pi computers.

We expect to see peaks in the fluctuations when the ISS will be passing nearest to the magnetic poles and we then expect to see greater values on the sun facing side of earth than the dark side, due to its interaction with solar winds, which should distort the field lines so that they are compressed on the light side and stretched out on the dark side. It is the asymmetry between the light and dark sides of the earth which we are most interested in investigating. We may also find fluctuations in the field due to local topography, for example if cities or mountain ranges affect the Earth’s magnetic field.

Dr Dancy (Teacher of Physics)

Below: Astronaut Alexander Gerst sends a message of congratulations to successful teams, recorded from the replica of the Colombus module at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne.