The Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites - Zero - Robotics (SPHERES-Zero-Robotics) investigation establishes a opportunity for high school students to design research for the International Space Station (ISS). As part of a competition, students write algorithms for the SPHERES satellites to accomplish tasks relevant to future space missions. The algorithms are tested by the SPHERES team and the best designs are selected for the competition to operate the SPHERES satellites on board the ISS.Principal Investigator(s)
Top Coder Inc, Glastonbury, CT, United States
Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, Cambridge, MA, United States
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States
Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership, Boston, MA, United States
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory Education (NLE)ISS Expedition Duration:
October 2009 - March 2014
21/22,23/24,25/26,29/30,31/32,33/34,35/36,37/38Previous ISS Missions
SPHERES-Zero-Robotics makes use of the SPHERES satellites currently on board the ISS.
Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites-Zero-Robotics (SPHERES-Zero-Robotics) provides dozens of high school students access to the microgravity environment for experimentation and analysis. Through the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) program, the next generation of scientists and engineers are inspired to push the limits of space exploration and engineering. SPHERES-Zero-Robotics develops and builds critical engineering skills for students including: problem solving, design thought process, operations training, teamwork and presentation skills. The SPHERES-Zero-Robotics program provides high school students the opportunity to develop algorithms for SPHERES currently on board the International Space Station (ISS). Students design software to accomplish complex tasks in space; such as docking, assembly, and formation flight.
Each season begins with the unveiling of a game motivated by a challenging problem of interest to NASA and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). During the competition, each team must complete a set of pre-determined tasks. During all phases, the students are challenged not only with programming, but also with the development of documentation and presentations to add to their engineering and communication skills. In all cases, the students have to learn and practice successful teamwork skills as there are minimum team size requirements. There are four steps in the competition:
The NASA "International Space Station Education Concept Development Report" calls out three levels of interaction for students involved with NASA activities: exposure, engage, and educate. SPHERES-Zero-Robotics provides a unique and valuable opportunity to go far beyond exposure. The students are truly engaged in space research; the need for them to create their own programs takes it to the point where they are being educated. In this way, SPHERES-Zero-Robotics inspires future scientists and engineers to work within the space program. Starting at the high school age group, students view working in space as "normal", with the expectation that they become inspired to push the limits of space exploration, engineering, and development.Earth Applications
SPHERES-Zero-Robotics provides a unique and valuable opportunity to maintain students interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers; even those who do not wish to pursue space careers see their lives affected by knowing their work can have an impact beyond the classroom. The ability of the students to participate in real engineering activities, beginning in high school, potentially encourages them to remain interested in those fields. SPHERES-Zero-Robotics also builds critical engineering skills for students such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, teamwork, and presentation skills.
The SPHERES-Zero-Robotics Competition has four steps in the process:
During the flight sessions there are three phases: programming SPHERES, free-flying operations, and data retrieval. Programming the satellites involves uploading the algorithms for each specific session to the SPHERES laptop from the ground crew. The laptop is used to send the algorithms and commands to the satellites, and receive data and status reports from the satellites. The data is then downlinked to the ground crew for analysis. During free-flying operations, the satellites perform various maneuvers with one to three satellites operating simultaneously. Once the test session is complete, the data is downlinked to the ground, via the Operations Local Area Network (Ops LAN), for analysis by the SPHERES team. This analysis allows new and/or modified tests to be uplinked for use in the next test session.
In the fall of 2009, the pilot competition for SPHERES-Zero-Robotics included two teams from Idaho. Bonners Ferry High School and Coeur d'Alene School district competed in simulation, ground testing and ISS testing. Neither team was eliminated at any point. The first SPHERES-Zero-Robotics competition aboard the ISS took place on December 9, 2009.(Saenz-Otero et al. 2011)
Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge 2010: HelioSPHERES saw 24 teams selected from a pool of 48 applicants to participate in the inaugural competition. The finals took place on December 16, 2010 with the LCA Team Zero BotX from Lexington Christian Academy, Massachusetts, winning the tournament. Team Delta Falmouth from Falmouth High School, Maine, received special mention for being the only team to demonstrate station docking during the finals. Team Ganymede from Friendswood High School, Texas, also received special mention for leading the competition until the finals and setting the path for exemplary strategies. The final standings were as follows:
Saenz-Otero A, Katz JG, Mwijuka AT. The Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge 2010. IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Magazine. 2011; 26(7): 4-17. DOI: 10.1109/MAES.2011.5958758.
Nag S, Hoffman JA, de Weck O. SPHERES Zero Robotics Software Development: Lessons on Crowdsourcing and Collaborative Competition and STEM Education using SPHERES Zero Robotics. Massachusetts Institute of Technology; 2012.
Nag S, Heffan I, Saenz-Otero A, Lydon M. SPHERES Zero Robotics software development: Lessons on crowdsourcing and collaborative competition. 2012 IEEE Aerospace Conference. Big Sky, MT; 2012 1-17.