And again in the finals! For the fifth time in a row secondary school teams from Berlin and Brandenburg participated in the international Zero Robotics SPHERES Tournament and for the fifth time some of these teams made it into the Finals. Becoming the overall winners, however, turned out not to be feasible this year. “An overall winner of this year’s tournament could not be determined unambiguously due to unexpected technical problems with the SPHERES satellites on the International Space Station ISS.” says Dr. Theo Roelofs from the Research Center Matheon, who coached the regional teams also this year. “For the students this is of course somewhat surprising and disappointing; however, at the same time it shows them the tough reality of working with high-level technology”.
The Tournament is organised and run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from the USA and sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) are football-sized satellites that are being used as test infrastructure for autonomous rendezvous- and docking-manoeuvres of space vehicles. The challenge for the students’ teams is to develop optimal codes for specific motion sequences and scenarios according to the game plot as defined in each year’s game. In this process they build alliances with two other teams from abroad. The best 14 alliances then get the opportunity to have the codes that they developed be executed by astronauts aboard the ISS.
From the Berlin region five secondary school teams participated this year: Lise-Meitner-Oberstufenzentrum, Herder-, Heinrich-Hertz- and Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium, as well as the Torhorst-Gesamtschule in Oranienburg. In total 170 teams started in this year’s tournament, among them 86 from USA, 65 from Europe, 6 from Russia, 10 from Australia, 3 from Costa Rica as well as 1 team from Mexico. The teams coached by Matheon built alliances with teams from the USA, Italy, Romania and Australia. The teams from Herder-Gymnasiums, Lise-Meitner-Oberstufenzentrums and Torhorst-Gesamtschule made it into this year’s Finals. Together with Dr. Roelofs they got to attend the European ISS Finals Event that took place at the ESA Center in Redu (Belgium), where they were connected via live videoconference to parallel events at MIT and Australia and of course to the ISS.