Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament (SPHERES-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament) - 05.30.18

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament (SPHERES-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament) experiment allows high school students to design and operate experiments on the International Space Station (ISS). SPHERES satellites are volleyball-sized robotic satellites on board the ISS. As part of a competition, students design software to control the satellites and complete game objectives. After several phases of Earth-based competition, finalists’ software designs are selected to compete in a live championship aboard the ISS supervised by space station crew members.
Science Results for Everyone
Forget American Idol – this is American Algorithm. High school students write algorithms for free-flying robotic satellites to accomplish specific tasks, and the best designs are selected to operate the satellites on the space station. In 2010, 24 teams selected from a pool of 48 applicants participated in the inaugural competition, and in 2011, more than 100 teams began the competition, then formed alliances of three teams each with the top nine alliances competing in the finals. In 2010, crowdsourcing was used to develop the spacecraft software framework used by the students during the challenge, which increased its quality. In 2012 and 2013 European teams joined to compete in a parallel competition.  In 2014 the competition became truly international with alliances formed of three teams with at least one team from a different continent.
 

The following content was provided by Alvar Saenz-Otero, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom:

Principal Investigator(s)
Alvar Saenz-Otero, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States
Jeffrey A. Hoffman, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States

Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
Information Pending

Developer(s)
Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, Cambridge, MA, United States
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States
Topcoder Inc., Glastonbury, CT, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory Education (NLE)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
October 2009 - March 2010; September 2010 - March 2011; September 2011 - March 2013; September 2013 - March 2014; September 2014 - September 2015; September 2016 - April 2017

Expeditions Assigned
21/22,25/26,29/30,31/32,33/34,37/38,41/42,43/44,49/50

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament (SPHERES-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament) opens up the International Space Station (ISS) for use by high school students, providing them the opportunity to act as ground controllers for research in space utilizing the SPHERES satellites.
  • High school students program the SPHERES satellites as part of separate competitions to design algorithms for a predetermined objective.

Description

Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament (SPHERES-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament) 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 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 high school competition:
  • Proposal Submission: Teams outline their plans for the competition, specifically addressing team skills, team organization, importance of programming, and familiarity with SPHERES satellites. This phase teaches students the basics of writing a proposal and also serves as a registration step. Teams are not eliminated at this step. 2D and 3D Simulation: Students implement their algorithm in simulation. This step verifies successful algorithm implementation prior to hardware testing, and allows for a baseline performance expectation. If the number of teams participating is greater than can be accommodated in flight, this step is used as an elimination round.
  • Alliance Phase: Advancing teams form alliances of three teams each. Teams are required to work with other teams outside their own metropolitan area to teach remote collaboration. Alliance teams work collaboratively to code and test game algorithms in competition with other alliances. If the number of teams participating is greater than can be accommodated in flight, this step is used as an elimination round.
  • Flight Testing: The top teams from the Alliance phase modify their algorithms for implementation in space. Tests are integrated and packaged to run on ISS. This step includes at least one ISS test session, with live feed of the crew executing the tests. Students have the opportunity to view their test run in real-time. Data and telemetry is downlinked to the students a few days after the event so that they can review their performance.

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Applications

Space Applications
SPHERES-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament builds critical engineering skills, including problem solving, the design thought process, operations training, and teamwork. It connects students with prominent scientists and encourages them to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and/or math (STEM). Student participants develop valuable writing and programming skills as they draft proposals and develop and test software, which all leads into their competing to win a technically challenging game by programming their strategies into the SPHERES. The program culminates in a tournament where winning teams’ SPHERES battle aboard the ISS.

Earth Applications
The SPHERES-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament competition directly engages students in space research, and provides an educational opportunity unrivaled on Earth. Students view working in space as “normal,” which inspires new careers in space science and engineering. The students must solve problems determined by NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including docking, assembly and formation flight, and their solutions may be relevant to future space missions using small autonomous satellites.

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Operations

Operational Requirements and Protocols

The SPHERES-Zero-Robotics-High School Tournament competition has four steps in the process:
  • Step 1:  Proposal Preparation and Submission. Introduces the students to the basics of writing a proposal. There is no elimination criterion at this step; all teams who submit a complete proposal are accepted.
  • Step 2:  2D and 3D Simulation. The 2D simulation competition is a practice competition only. However students must submit code to the 2D competition to be eligible to continue on to the 3D simulation competition. If the number of teams participating is greater than can be accommodated in flight, the 3D simulation competition is used as the first elimination round.
  • Step 3:  Alliance Simulation Competition: Advancing teams form alliances of three teams each. Alliance teams work collaboratively to code and test game algorithms in simulation in competition with other alliances. The winners of the Alliance simulation competition have their algorithms compete on the ISS.
  • Step 4:  ISS Finals. The top teams have their code tested on board the ISS as part of a live finals event! The SPHERES satellites must be operated under the supervision of a crew member. Each SPHERES-Zero-Robotics-High School session lasts between three to four hours. The session has as much real-time video and audio available as possible; therefore, the ground teams can get the results immediately after each test and tally scores.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

2009:  Zero Robotics Pilot Program
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 refereed by crew member Jeff Williams. (Saenz-Otero et al. 2011)

2010:  HelioSPHERES
SPHERES-Zero Robotics High School Tournament 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, refereed by crew member Scott Kelly with the LCA Team ZeroBotX 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 recognition for leading the competition until the finals and setting the path for exemplary strategies.

The final standings were as follows:
• 1st - LCA Team ZeroBotX, Lexington Christian Academy, MA
• 2nd - Delta Falmouth, Falmouth High School, ME
• 3rd - SuperNOVA, Prince William County School System, VA
• 4th - A-Team, Cyprus High School, UT
• 5th - Ganymede, Friendswood High School, TX
• 5th - Glenbrook North, Glenbrook North High School, IL
• 5th - USC SCALE, Upper St. Clair School District, PA
• 5th - Stuy-Naught, Stuyvesant High School, NY
• 9th - BACON, Charlottesville High School, VA
• 9th - Team Vector, Naples High School, FL

The impact of crowdsourcing, the process of outsourcing a task to an outside group of people, was also investigated in conjunction with the SPHERES Zero Robotics Challenge 2010. Crowdsourcing was used to develop the spacecraft software framework used by the students during the challenge (Nag et al. 2012). Results showed that crowdsourcing increased the quality of solutions for the software framework (Nag 2012 thesis).

2011:  AstroSPHERES
SPHERES-Zero-Robotics High School Tournament 2011:  AstroSPHERES finals took place on January 23, 2012 refereed by crew member Donald Pettit. Over 100 teams began the competition. After the 3D simulation competition, they formed alliances of 3 teams each. The top 9 alliances reached the finals aboard the ISS (a total of 27 teams). A special award was announced for Team y0b0tics! from Montclair High School, NJ, for spearheading the leading protocol and setting the pace in the tournament.

The competition winners were:
• 1st- Team Rocket, Riverhill High School, MD
• 1st- Storming Robots, NJ
• 1st- The Pink Team, Rockledge High School, FL.

2012:  RetroSPHERES
SPHERES-Zero-Robotics High School Tournament 2012:  RetroSPHERES ISS finals were held on January 11, 2013 involving over 200 High School students from around the world and refereed by crew members Kevin Ford and Thomas Marshburn.

Game premise:  Students programmed robotic satellites to remove virtual space debris.

This competition was the first SPHERES-Zero-Robotics tournament involving European students through participation hosted by the European Space Agency (ESA). The top 9 US alliances (a total of 27 US teams) and the top 6 ESA alliances (a total of 18 ESA teams) reached the finals aboard the ISS. 

The US ISS champions were:
• 1st- Mira Loma Matadors, Mira Loma High School, CA
• 1st- y0b0tics!, Montclair High School, NJ
• 1st- Green Wrenches, Evergreen School District, WA.

2013:  CosmoSPHERES
SPHERES-Zero-Robotics High School Tournament 2013: CosmoSPHERES involved 108 US and 57 ESA competing teams.  ISS finals were held on January 17, 2014 refereed by crew members Oleg Kotov and Rick Mastracchio.

Game premise:  Students programmed robotic satellites to deflect virtual in-coming comets away from Earth.

The top 9 US alliances (a total of 27 US teams) and the top 6 ESA alliances (a total of 18 ESA teams) reached the finals aboard the ISS.

The US ISS champions were:
• 1st- y0b0tics!, Montclair High School, NJ
• 1st- The Gru Crew, Lubbock High School, TX
• 1st- Cosmic Eagles, Adv. Math and Science Academy Charter School, MA.

The ESA ISS champions were:
• 1st-  Sunday Programmers, Liceo E. Fermi, Italy
• 1st-  Nemesis Colegio Retamar,  Spain
• 1st-  Hello World, American School of Paris, France.

2014:  Corona SPHERES
SPHERES-Zero Robotics High School Tournament 2014: CoronaSPHERES involved over 2000 students and 178 teams from the US, Europe and also included pilot teams from Mexico and Russia.  ISS finals were held on January 16, 2015 refereed by Astronauts/Cosmonaut: Elena Olegovna Serova, Samantha Cristoforetti, and Barry E. "Butch" Wilmore.

Game premise: Use a robotic satellite to take pictures of “points of interest” on an asteroid. Collect and upload as many new pictures as possible while avoiding effects of solar flares.

A total of 16 alliances/teams (a total of 46 teams) reached the final competitions aboard the ISS.

The International ISS champions were:
• 1st- Team Lake, Clear Lake High School, TX, USA
• 1st- Corà's Eleven Liceo G.B.Brocchi, Italy
• 1st- VADARS South Charleston High School, WV, USA.

2015:  Spy SPHERES
SPHERES-Zero Robotics High School Tournament 2015:  Spy SPHERES involved 171 teams from the US, Europe, Russia and also included pilot teams from Australia.  ISS finals were held on January 25, 2016 refereed by crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko.

Game premise: Recycle defunct satellite parts in LEO and spy on opponents while managing use of solar energy during light and eclipse periods.

A total of 16 alliances/teams (a total of 48 teams) reached the final competitions aboard the ISS.

The 2015 competition resulted in co-champions!  The International ISS co-champions were from two different alliances including the following teams:
• 1st- Crab Nebula, Liceo Cecioni, Italy
• 1st- MV Zero, Monta Vista High School, CA, USA
• 1st- VADARS, South Charleston High School, WV, USA
• 1st- The Fermi Floating Team, Liceo Scientifico Statale "E.Fermi", Italy
• 1st- Tachyons, Saratoga High School, CA, USA
• 1st- Juggler, I.I.S.G.B.Vaccarini Catania, Italy.

2016:  SPACE-SPHERES
SPHERES-Zero Robotics High School Tournament 2016:  SPACE SPHERES involved 174 teams from the US, Europe, Russia, Australia. ISS finals were held on January 27, 2017 refereed by crew members Andrei Borisenko, Peggy Whitson, and Thomas Pesquet. A total of 16 alliances/teams (a total of 48 teams) reached the final competitions aboard the ISS.

The International ISS champions were:
• 1st- ZRighi, ITI "Augusto Righi", Napoli, Italy
• 1st- OverExtendedProgramming (OEP), Centennial High School, Peoria, AZ, USA
• 1st- LSA Robotics Team, Liceo Scientifico Avogadro, Vercelli, Italy.


 

 

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Results Publications

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

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Related Websites
Zero Robotics

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Imagery

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Photo of the SPHERES-Zero-Robotics Pilot Program teams at MIT during the ISS Test Session (12-09-2009). The two teams (Delta [left] and Absolute Zero [right]) with the SPHERES team (front). Astronaut Jeff Williams is shown on the screen running one of the tests.

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NASA Image: ISS016E014220 - Three satellites fly in formation as part of the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) investigation. This image was taken during Expedition 16 in the Destiny laboratory module.

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On Dec. 9, 2009, the Zero Robotics pilot teams observed the demonstration of their code running on the SPHERES robots aboard the space station. Image courtesy of MIT.

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