Huong Nguyen
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Ann Marie Trotta
Headquarters, Washington
Jan. 18, 2012
NASA Joins MIT and DARPA for Out-of-This-World Student Robotic Challenge
Local NASA’s Ames Research Center engineer and mentor for a finalist team available for interviews.

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- NASA will join the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and high school student teams from the U.S. and abroad for the third annual Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge on Monday, Jan. 23. The event will take place on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., and be broadcast live on NASA Television from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.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 27 teams from previous competitions will have their code sent Monday 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 be awarded certificates and a SPHERES flight patch that was flown to the space station.

Wendy Holforty, an engineer from NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and mentor for a finalist team, the CookieBots, will be available for interviews. This is the first year the CookieBots have competed in the Zero Robotics Competition and are sponsored by The Space Cookies, an all-Girl Scout robotics team, the Girl Scouts of Northern California and the NASA Robotics Alliance Project. To schedule an interview with Holforty, contact Huong Nguyen at 650-604-4789 or

News media wishing to cover this event must contact Caroline McCall at MIT ( or 617-253-1682) by 2 p.m. EST on Friday, Jan 20. NASA officials and members of the astronaut corps will be available to speak with news media after the competition.

In addition to their use in this competition, the 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.

The SPHERES National Laboratory Facility on the station is operated and maintained by NASA Ames.

For more about the Zero Robotics program, visit:

For more information about SPHERES, visit:

For NASA TV schedule and video streaming information, visit:

For more information about the space station, visit:


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