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Space Droids Battle to Save Earth From Comet

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The 2013 Spheres competition trophy, backdropped by replicas of the Spheres.

In the Zero Robotics tournament, secondary-school students across Europe compete in writing algorithms to control autonomous satellites that hover around the International Space Station.

Credit: European Space Agency

The Zero Robotics tournament is an opportunity for secondary-school students from across Europe to compete in writing algorithms that control Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (Spheres). The Spheres are autonomous satellites that hover around the International Space Station using their own power, propulsion, and navigation.

The students compete in a virtual scenario in which they must save the planet from an oncoming comet.

"These finals are a great combination of gaming, science, and technology," says European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers. "Robotics have a promising future to help us in orbit."

The contest started last year with online rounds of increasing difficulty, as the teams faced real-world challenges such as the loss of signal, exhausted batteries, and strict deadlines. The satellites used gravitational attraction, laser repulsion, or a combination of methods to change the path of the virtual comet.

"Our strategy was to navigate towards the laser power-up, avoid the space debris, take the power-up, and shoot the comet," says Tommaso Chemello, who was a member of the winning team.

From European Space Agency
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