Eric T. Mazzacone
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Washington
WASHINGTON -- NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are offering high school students the opportunity to design experiments that will be tested in space.
The 2011 Zero Robotics challenge is a continuation and expansion of a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education program using bowling ball-sized spherical satellites aboard the International Space Station.
The Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, are used inside the station to test maneuvers for spacecraft performing autonomous rendezvous and docking. 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 http://zerorobotics.mit.edu/.
Entries will be evaluated using simulations. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (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 http://go.nasa.gov/zero-robotics.
For additional information about DARPA, visit http://www.darpa.mil.
- end -