“Astro Academy: Principia” - UK’s National Space Academy sends educational experiments into space

Posted by er134 at Sep 04, 2015 12:05 PM |
Flight-testing for space launch was carried out by the University of Leicester’s Space Research Centre

Issued by the National Space Academy on 4 September 2015

A kit of experiments to teach fundamental physics and chemistry to UK students has arrived today (Friday 5th September) at the International Space Station (ISS) for British ESA astronaut Tim Peake to run during his 6-month mission in space.

Launched from Kazakhstan on Tuesday on board the Soyuz TMA 18-M mission, the kit was funded by the UK Space Agency and designed and built by the National Space Academy. Flight-testing for space launch was carried out by the University of Leicester’s Space Research Centre.

‘Astro Academy: Principia‘ is an ambitious science education programme that will use the unique microgravity facilities on board the ISS to teach fundamental aspects of physics and chemistry, using experiments and demonstrations that are impossible to conduct on Earth.  After starting his mission in December 2015, Tim will operate the equipment in space, and the footage of his demonstrations and experiments will be included in a suite of teaching films and accompanying teacher education guides that will be released in 2016.

Jeremy Curtis, Head of Education at the UK Space Agency, said: “We’re excited that Tim will be able to carry out demonstrations in space to help teachers explain science to their students.  His videos and other teaching materials developed by the National Space Academy will be available from summer next year.”

The films will focus on specific topics from school physics and chemistry curricula and will include student experiments which can be conducted on Earth, along with the footage of Tim’s orbital experiments which show the differences that result from a microgravity environment. The narrative for each film will also showcase many of the successes of the UK’s own space industry – which employs over 30 000 people and generates more than £11 billion per year for the UK economy.

National Space Academy Director Anu Ojha OBE has led the development of the Astro Academy: Principia programme and payload:

“Tim Peake’s mission to the international Space Station has given us an amazing opportunity to develop Astro Academy: Principia - a series of ground based-classroom experiments , unique orbital demonstrations  and the accompanying  teaching films and written guides which will influence the core physics and chemistry understanding of thousands of students over the coming years . For the first time, the UK is now formally involved in new, inspirational areas of physical and life science studies linked to human spaceflight and having Tim as our dedicated educational researcher aboard the ISS has given us a tremendous opportunity for school science education.

“Our ambitions for Astro-Academy:Principia are bold  – to deepen the curriculum understanding of physics and chemistry students, to support teachers in their curriculum programme delivery and to take advantage of the unique microgravity classroom we have aboard ESA’s Columbus module of the International Space Station.

“Our original flight payload was aboard the Space-X’s Falcon 9 rocket that was destroyed shortly after launch due to a catastrophic failure of its upper stage on 28th June. We are delighted that the UK Space Agency, working with ESA, managed to secure another flight opportunity for our back-up flight kit so soon after this major setback – meaning that Tim’s mission is once again on course to deliver world-class physics and chemistry teaching demonstrations.”

The University of Leicester’s Space Research Centre (SRC) led the flight qualification testing of the Astro-Academy: Principia payload. The SRC team, led by Professor Mark Sims (SRC  Director and also a Director of the National Space Centre),  conducted the essential vibration tests that were needed to prove that the payload could survive launch

Professor Sims said: “It was a privilege to help use the Space Research Centre’s expertise to ensure flight of these experiments which will educate and inspire UK children in science as part of Tim Peake’s Principia mission”.

Notes for editors

  1. 1. Tim Peake

Tim Peake will be the first British ESA astronaut to live and work on the ISS. His mission, named Principia after Newton’s world-changing three-part text on physics, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, is scheduled to begin in December 2015. Whilst on-board the ISS he will be using the unique environment of space to run experiments as well as trying out new technologies for future human exploration missions.

  1. 2. Flight qualification testing

The flight qualification testing carried out by the University of Leicester’s Space Research Centre (SRC) was critical in getting the experiments accepted for launch as part of the NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) safety review. The space engineering and testing experience of the SRC was used by the National Space Academy  given the SRC’s extensive experience of building, preparing and testing instruments for the Space environment gained through many programmes such as the MIRI instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope and the MIXS instrument for ESA’s Bepi-Colombo mission. The vibration testing of the payload was carried out using facilities at RAL-Space at the Harwell Campus near Didcot.

UK Space Agency (www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-space-agency )

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space.  It is responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provides a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions.

The Agency is responsible for ensuring that the UK retains and grows a strategic capability in the space-based systems, technologies, science and applications. It leads the UK’s civil space programme in order to win sustainable economic growth, secure new scientific knowledge and provide benefits to all citizens.

The UK Space Agency:

•          co-ordinates UK civil space activity

•          encourages academic research

•          supports the UK space industry

•          raises the profile of UK space activities at home and abroad

•          increases understanding of space science and its practical benefits

•          inspires our next generation of UK scientists and engineers

•          licences the launch and operation of UK spacecraft

•          promotes co-operation and participation in the European Space programme

National Space Academy (www.nationalspaceacademy.org )

The National Space Academy is the largest space education and space skills development programme in the UK.

The programme utilises contexts from astronomy, space science/engineering and Earth Observation Science to boost student attainment and teacher effectiveness in curriculum science, mathematics and engineering at secondary school level and above. Led by the National Space Centre, funders include the UK Space Agency, STFC, Satellite Applications Catapult, ESA (the European Space Agency), Lloyds Register Foundation, Ogden Trust and various space and aerospace sector companies.

With core teams at the National Space Centre and Harwell, the programme also uses a network of more than 25 outstanding current secondary teachers (“Lead Educators”) across the UK who work with current space sector scientists and engineers to deliver:

  • Intensive student masterclasses for more than 6000 students per year at GCSE and A Level
  • The UK’s first full-time sixth-form courses in Space Engineering, now being delivered in Loughborough, Manchester and Birmingham
  • Support for the UK’s first state schools with space contexts embedded throughout the curriculum (Space Studio Schools in Banbury and West London)
  • Continual Professional Development (CPD) training for over 1000 teachers per year
  • Space and aerospace careers conferences for more than 1000 GCSE, A Level and University students per year
  • International teaching programmes for ESA and the Norwegian Space Centre
  • Delivery of the undergraduate level Higher Apprenticeship in Space Engineering for space sector employees
  • Leading the skills/training foci of the UK-China programme of collaboration in space science and technology


University of Leicester Space Research Centre (https://www2.le.ac.uk/institution/space/space-science )

The Space Research Centre (SRC) is part of the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and forms a focus for Space instrumentation and engineering activities within the University and is housed in the Michael Atiyah building. The University of Leicester has been involved in Space Research for over 50 years and every single year since 1967 has seen a Leicester-built instrument operating in space (www.le.ac.uk/space). The SRC's programme has three main foci:  developing novel sensors and optics for high energy astrophysics (including ground based facilities Cherenkov Telescope Array), planetary landers and orbiters and interdisciplinary research in the Life Sciences and Medicine (including medical devices) on its own and in conjunction with other research groups; providing engineering capability in Space ; and planetary science including concepts for the next generation of instrumentation, tools and techniques and (Mars and early solar system) planetary materials and their analysis and curation. Space missions the SRC is, or has been, involved in include XMM, Chandra, SWIFT, Beagle 2, Meteosat Second Generation, James Webb Space Telescope and Bepi-Colombo amongst others.

The University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is a leading UK University committed to international excellence through the creation of world changing research and high quality, inspirational teaching. Leicester is consistently one of the most socially inclusive of the UK’s top 20 universities with a long-standing commitment to providing fairer and equal access to higher education. Leicester is a three-time winner of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education and is the only University to win seven consecutive awards from the Times Higher. Leicester is ranked among the top one per-cent of universities in the world by the THE World University Rankings. The University of Leicester works with the National Space Centre to help deliver the National Space Academy.



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