January 21, 2014
A comet heading towards Earth threatens humanity’s existence – that was the virtual scenario of this year’s Zero Robotics tournament. Secondary-school students from across Europe controlled miniature satellites on the International Space Station in a competition to save our planet.
The Space Station was turned into a playing field for the finals. The ultimate robot game challenged youngsters to write algorithms that controlled the Spheres, short for Synchronised Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites.
The Spheres are volleyball-sized satellites that hover around the Station using 12 jets powered by compressed gas. These autonomous robots have their own power, propulsion and navigation.
Last Friday was the fourth time European contenders ran their commands in space, and each year the competition has grown. Over 140 European students joined the US competitors, writing code to redirect an incoming comet while taking space debris and limited laser resources into account.
European finalists met at the ESA Technical Centre in the Netherlands to follow the competition live from space. The US teams were connected at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
image credit: ESA