The Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge asks individuals and teams of programmers from around the world to develop a fuel-optimal control algorithm. The algorithm must enable a satellite to accomplish a feat that’s very difficult to do autonomously: capture a space object that’s tumbling, spinning or moving in the opposite direction. From March 28 to April 25, 2012, challenge participants will collaborate via the Zero Robotics Website to create a computer algorithm that will be programmed into bowling-ball sized satellites called SPHERES (short for Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites) aboard the International Space Station (ISS). An object, simulating a Phoenix payload on-orbit delivery system, will be set in motion inside the ISS under varying conditions, such as tumbling or spinning. The algorithm developed will need to direct the SPHERES satellite to approach the moving object and orient itself to contact with the object via Velcro on the SPHERES satellites. The winners of each round will be invited to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to view the finals via videolink from the ISS, where the four algorithms will be programmed into SPHERES and tested. Zero Robotics is co-sponsored by NASA and is run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Space Systems Laboratory to engage U.S. middle and high school students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
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