Thursday, January 10, 2013


This post is of immediate interest as it happens on 1/11/13 -tomorrow NASA TV-

I find it of interest as it shows we are trying to interest the next generation in the challenges that may be met in the future if we continue to explore space flight.
- LRK -

Jan. 10, 2013

Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington

Sarah McDonnell
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.



WASHINGTON -- NASA will join the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and high school student teams from the United States and abroad for the fourth annual Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge Friday, Jan. 11. The event will take place on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., and be broadcast live on NASA Television beginning at 8:30 a.m. EST.

For the competition, NASA will upload software developed by high school students onto Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES), which are bowling ball-sized spherical satellites aboard the International Space Station. The top 45 teams from previous competitions had their code sent last week to the space station, where an astronaut will command the satellites to execute the teams' flight program. During a simulated mission, the teams will complete a special challenge inspired by future satellite
technologies, such as formation flight and close proximity operations.

Student finalists will be able to see their flight program live in the televised finals. The team with the highest software performance over several rounds of the competition will win the challenge. The winning team will receive certificates and a SPHERES flight patch that was flown aboard the space station.

News media wishing to cover this event must contact Sarah McDonnell at MIT at 617-253-8923 or NASA officials will be available to speak with news media after the competition.

In addition to their use in this competition, the SPHERES satellites are used inside the space station to conduct formation flight maneuvers for spacecraft guidance navigation, control and docking. The three separate satellites that make up SPHERES fly in formation inside the space station's cabin. The satellites provide opportunities to test a wide range of hardware and software at an affordable cost.

NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., operates and maintains the SPHERES National Laboratory Facility on the station.

For more information about SPHERES, visit:

For NASA TV schedule and video streaming information, visit:

For more about the Zero Robotics Program, visit:

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:


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SPHERES may the Force be with you - sorry, got carried away there.
- LRK -

Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES)

Brief Summary

Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) are bowling-ball sized spherical satellites. They will be used inside the space station to test a set of well-defined instructions for spacecraft performing autonomous rendezvous and docking maneuvers. Three free-flying spheres will fly within the cabin of the station, performing flight formations. Each satellite is self-contained with power, propulsion, computers and navigation equipment. The results are important for satellite servicing, vehicle assembly and formation flying spacecraft configurations.

Principal Investigator(s)
David W. Miller, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States

  • Edward Wilson, Ph.D., Intellization Incorporated, Moffett Field, CA, United States
  • Gregory E. Chamitoff, Ph.D., Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States


  •  United States Department of Defense Space Test Program, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States
  • Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Washington, DC, United States
  • Payload Systems Incorporated, Cambridge, MA, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization

National Laboratory - Department of Defense (NL-DoD)

ISS Expedition Duration:

October 2003 - September 2012


This was last year, 2012, and has information about the student envolvement.
- LRK -


"Zero Robotics" is a robotics programming competition where the robots are SPHERES satellites inside the International Space Station. The competition starts online, on this website, where teams compete to solve an annual challenge guided by mentors. Participants can create, edit, share, save, simulate and submit code, all from a web browser. After several phases of virtual competition, finalists are selected to compete in a live championship aboard the ISS. An astronaut will conduct the championship competition in microgravity with a live broadcast!

There are three types of Zero Robotics tournaments:
High School Tournament: geared towards students in grades 9-12, the tournament takes place from Sep-Dec each Fall. This is a nationwide event open to any teams from the US.

Middle School Summer Program: for younger students, this is a 5-week program where students learn to program through a graphical interface. The program will take place at TBD locations (where the SPHERES team has a strong presence). The first open program is expected to start in the Summer of 2013.

Open Challenges: these are open to everyone from around the world, including professionals, educators, university students, etc. You can participate individually or as a team. These competitions usually involve working on complex algorithms that will help future spaceflight missions.

All tournaments are free of charge. All you need to participate is to create an account and register your team for an active tournament. Plus, High School and Middle School teams need a primary mentor.
Hope we see more student participation with the ISS.

On the shoulders of those that have gone before may we continue to build anew.
- LRK -