A new challenge for high school students, the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, SPHERES, is being offered via NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in cooperation with MIT. The 2011 Zero Robotics challenge is a continuation and expansion of a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education program and consists of using bowling ball-sized spherical satellites aboard the International Space Station. Specifically the balls are used to test maneuvers for spacecraft performing autonomous rendezvous and docking operations.
The three satellites that make up SPHERES fly in formation inside the station's cabin. Each is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing and navigation equipment. Test results support satellite servicing, vehicle assembly and spacecraft that fly in formation.
The challenge requires high school student teams to write their own algorithm to fly the satellites in the station. Teams must register before Sept. 5 at this url.
Entries will be evaluated using simulations. MIT in Cambridge, Mass., will host a final ground testing competition in October. The top 27 teams will have their code sent to the station, where an astronaut will program the SPHERES satellites to run their tests.
The Zero Robotics challenge, facilitated by MIT, continues the STEM focus of the SPHERES program. The 2011 challenge expands on a pilot program performed in 2009 and 2010. By making the benefits and resources of the space program tangible to high school students, Zero Robotics is designed to inspire future scientists and engineers. Students will have the opportunity to push their limits and develop skills in STEM. This program builds critical engineering skills for students such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, team work and presentation skills.
MIT's Space Systems Laboratory developed SPHERES in 2006 to provide DARPA, NASA and other researchers with a long-term test bed for validating technologies critical to the operation of future satellites, docking missions and satellite autonomous maneuvers. The satellites provide opportunities to test a wide range of hardware and software at an affordable cost.
For additional information about NASA and MIT's Zero Robotics program, visit the program Web site.