On August 10th, middle school students from the Natick Novas robotics team watched their computer program control a satellite on the International Space Station (ISS) during the finals of the Zero Robotics competition. The Novas had won the right to represent Massachusetts at the state championship on July 27th, competing against eight other teams from around the state.
For the international finals, teams from all over the northeast gathered at MIT to join a video conference with other teams from around the world. NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel joined the call from the ISS and acted as the facilitators for the competition. The teams on the ground watched as the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) on the ISS competed
head-to-head, controlled by the code written by the 12 finalist teams.
After comfortably topping their bracket to advance to the semi-finals, the Natick team narrowly lost to the eventual champions, a collaboration between Russia and Pennsylvania. The Natick Novas team consists of 7 students from Natick and Newton.
The four Natick students included representatives from both Wilson and Kennedy Middle Schools.
Zero Robotics is a summer STEM program for middle schoolers that “seeks to inspire our next generation of great minds by allowing them unprecedented access to space at the middle school level.” The students spend five weeks learning about programming, engineering, and space exploration, while developing code to control satellites known as SPHERES. In this year’s competition, each team wrote code to control the SPHERES in a game that simulated satellites drilling for samples in the icy crust of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.
During this five-week program, the students rely on a simulation environment to develop their code. After the state finals, the international finalists’ code is tested on physical SPHERES at MIT before being uploaded to the ISS. The teams only see how their code performs on the actual SPHERES in space during the finals event held at MIT.
Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program is provided through a partnership between the MIT Space Systems Lab, the Innovation Learning Center, and Aurora Flight Sciences. For more information on the Natick Novas, visit https://sites.google.com/site/naticknovas/t