US and European Students Will Hack Robots on the International Space Station

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed the Spheres robots to test spacecraft maneuvering techniques on the International Space Station. The Spheres Zero Robotics Tournaments lets student write their own code to control the robots. Source: Nasa

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed the Spheres robots to test spacecraft maneuvering techniques on the International Space Station. The Spheres Zero Robotics Tournaments lets student write their own code to control the robots. Source: Nasa

Next January high school students will take over robots on the International Space Station. Throughout the Fall, teams of students will compete in European and American coding contests as part of the 2014 Zero Robotics High School Tournament. The contest lets students see how their coding skills can make a difference in the real world... and beyond.

The tournament encourages students to learn the coding skills they will need in their future careers while at the same time helping Esa and Nasa answer questions about the ways spacecraft maneuver in microgravity.

See my feature post Spheres Zero Robotics Competition for a full description of the tournament.

This year’s tournament begins in September with a month of practice sessions. The first round of competition in October will let teams build their skills. Surviving teams will form alliances in November and submit their code in December.

MIT hosts the US finals. A live feed from the International Space Station lets students watch the Spheres robots follow their commands and fly around the station. Source: Nasa

MIT hosts the US finals. A live feed from the International Space Station lets students watch the Spheres robots follow their commands and fly around the station. Source: Nasa

At the end of the year Nasa will load the students’ code into the Spheres robots inside the International Space Station, sending the small robots through a series of maneuvers. Teams will gather at MIT to watch the robots execute their code live... from SPACE. The team that best-executes the maneuvers while using the least amount of fuel will be declared the US and European champions.

Both contests are open to pre-college student aged 14-20. (A summer program for US middle school students is under way now.) The US contest is open to any student in the United States and its territories. The European contest is open to students in Esa’s full member states. (Italian teams must apply separately.) Canada and the 8 European nations with Esa Cooperative Agreements aren’t eligible.

Competition rules and application procedures will be posted to the 2014 Tournament page in the coming months. For more information, see Esa's announcement or Nasa's mission page.