Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge
NASA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT’s Space Systems Laboratory are offering the opportunity to design experiments that will be tested in space aboard the International Space Station.
The Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge is a programming tournament that uses bowling ball-sized spherical satellites aboard the International Space Station. These Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, are used inside the space station to test maneuvers for spacecraft performing autonomous rendezvous and docking.
This challenge opens the SPHERES satellite research platform to the general public for the first time. The goal of the tournament is to write a computer program to control a satellite to dock with a space object that may be tumbling through space. The best algorithm submissions from simulation competitions will be tested in microgravity on real SPHERES satellites aboard the International Space Station.
The Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge is open to anyone 13 years of age or older who meets eligibility requirements. Participants may work individually or in teams of up to 50 members to write their own algorithms to fly the satellites in the station.
The contest runs March 28 – April 25, 2012. Registration is now open and teams must join the competition by April 20, 2012. For more information, visit
The Zero Robotics project, a component of the ISS National Laboratory Education Project, or NLEP, is facilitated by MIT, TopCoder and Aurora Flight Sciences, continues the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, focus of the SPHERES facility. The Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge expands on a pilot program performed in 2009, 2010 and 2011. By making the benefits and resources of the space program tangible to high school and college students, Zero Robotics is designed to inspire future scientists and engineers. Students will have the opportunity to push their limits and develop skills in STEM. This program builds critical engineering skills, such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, team work and presentation skills.
MIT’s Space Systems Laboratory started operations of SPHERES in 2006 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. The satellites provide opportunities to test a wide range of hardware and software at an affordable cost.
For additional information about NASA and MIT’s Zero Robotics program, visit
For additional information about DARPA, visit