NASA TV Airs Live Kickoff of 2012 Zero Robotics Competition


NASA TV Airs Live Kickoff of 2012 Zero Robotics Competition

WASHINGTON — NASA Television will broadcast live the virtual kickoff ceremony of the 2012 Zero Robotics High School Tournament beginning at 1 p.m. EDT, Saturday, Sept. 8.

Zero Robotics challenges teams of high school students to write their own algorithms to fly the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES. The bowling ball-sized spherical satellites are used to test telerobotics and maneuvers for spacecraft performing autonomous flight, including rendezvous and docking. Three of these satellites fly aboard the International Space Station. Each is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing and navigation equipment.

The kickoff will include welcoming talks from each of the tournament’s sponsors, including NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Alvar Saenz-Otero, associate director of the Space Systems Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will announce details of this year’s specific challenge that students will work to overcome in their software development.

This year’s Zero Robotics tournament is sponsored by NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Space Systems Laboratory at MIT, TopCoder and Aurora Flight Sciences will facilitate the contest. The teams must address challenges of satellite docking, assembly and flight formation. This educational program builds critical engineering skills for students, such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, teamwork and presentation skills.

Teams that reach the finals will have their software programs installed on the SPHERES microsatellites aboard the space station. NASA astronauts will execute the student data commands in series of competitive heats to test the accuracy of each team’s software programming. Teams will continue to be eliminated until a final champion is determined. The final competition will be held in January 2013 at MIT and aboard the station, 250 miles above the Earth.

There is no cost to participate in the Zero Robotics program, and registration for the 2012 Zero Robotics High School Tournament is open until Sept. 28. To register, visit:

MIT’s Space Systems Laboratory developed the SPHERES flight hardware 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. Numerous organizations, including other government agencies and graduate student research groups have used SPHERES since the program began in 2006. The satellites provide opportunities to test a wide range of hardware and software at an affordable cost.

For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:

For additional information on the Zero-Robotics program, visit:

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