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ISS NASA Programming Science

Try Your Programming Skills In Space: DARPA Satellite Programming Challenge 54

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the geeks-in-space dept.
First time accepted submitter null action writes "Want to have your code run on a satellite in space? Take a look at this. MIT Space Systems Laboratory and TopCoder are hosting a DARPA competition to create the best algorithm for capturing a randomly tumbling space object. Contestants in the Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge will compete in online simulations, and four finalists will have their algorithms tested aboard the International Space Station on small satellites called SPHERES. 'In this challenge, you have no advance knowledge of how it will be rotating. We're pushing the limits of what we can do with SPHERES and we hope to break new ground with this challenge,' said Jake Katz of MIT."
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Try Your Programming Skills In Space: DARPA Satellite Programming Challenge

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  • For free? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @12:30PM (#39276515)

    So they just hope someone will come and make a very complex program for almost nothing (up to $1000 travel reimbursment if you go to MIT to see the test).

    • That's what I noticed as well.

      "Develop a program worth millions of dollars, and give it to us for free. If we choose, me might reimburse you up to $1000 for travel to watch a TV at MIT. That's if we decide to even have the contest, which we could cancel any time. We'd get to keep your code though."

      It's like a scam, but without the trying.

      • Pity. If they had offered more, they probably would have had the industry at their command.

        • by cayenne8 (626475)
          Well....just thinking of it, it might not be that hard to do.

          First, just start off with the old Atari Asteroids code...then modify it to capture tumbling objects, rather than shoot at them to blow them into smaller tumbling objects....

          ;)

      • "Develop a program worth millions of dollars, and give it to us for free.

        For whom is it worth millions of dollars? Would anyone pay millions of dollars for this program?
        It's a challenge of an unsolved problem, probably aimed at academia. If you solve it, you can put it on your CV and use it as a pickup line.

        • by JimboFBX (1097277)

          I doubt it hasn't already been solved. I think they go "hey this would be a nice project for schools". I think they humor us. Really, this is basic physics and vectors. Their's no hardware to read, you get a state which is your current position, direction, and vector and your basically turning it into a homing missile. I think what the reality is that their hardware isn't going to perform like their simulation models it which is that catch to all this.

          • by JimboFBX (1097277)

            in fact, think of this - their simulator probably took way more man hours than their developed solution to this problem

    • by chispito (1870390)
      I agree. Who would ever program something useful and not charge for it? I bet they hope the participants are so stupid, they even let everyone look at their source code, so that other programmers can learn from it or modify it. Suckers!
      • by Zentakz (618981)
        It isn't strongly emphasized in the release, but this is primarily run out of a lab at MIT (the Space Systems Laboratory). From that perspective a big goal is to make a contribution in the sense of academic research. The hope is that the outcome of the contest will prove useful to future space missions in much the same way that a publication of a paper could contribute. Compared to just publishing simulation studies, this provides an opportunity to actually test the algorithms in space. The chance to run
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      On the other hand you get to program a friggin spacecraft that collects space junk. For many people the coolness factor might be more than enough of a compensation.

    • Given that their prize-winners get to have their programs run on a real, live, satellite for field tests in space, I'd say the bragging rights and "cool" factor would be enough for a lot of people.

  • PhDs (Score:2, Funny)

    by g0bshiTe (596213)
    This is Dr Hofstadter, Dr Cooper, Dr Koothrappali, and this is Howard Wolowitz. So NASA wants us to be Howards?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)

      Big bang theory. Dumb jokes insulting smart people while pandering to people under the illusion that if they are a geek, they are therefor smart.

      • by crgrace (220738)

        I don't know if the jokes are that dumb. I work in a similar organization and the characters of that show certainly inhabit familiar archetypes. Where it goes off the rails, in my opinion, is in conflating science geekery with comic books, video games and the like.

        I don't know of anyone I work with who is into comics or video games.

      • If you are insulted I need to remind you Sheldon, that it's all in good fun.
      • by g0bshiTe (596213)
        If you think Big Bang Theory is bad I'll bet you never watched The IT Crowd.

        In a different vein I've known PhD's that have as much common sense as a wet hot dog, and I've known some drop outs that were more than capable of designing and building any machine they could imagine out of parts they scabbed from junkyards. I'm not sure which group is more terrifying.
        • by crgrace (220738)

          Funny, I've known PhDs who are incredibly competent and capable, and dropouts who couldn't reason themselves out of a paper bag.

          Just goes to show you that people are individuals.

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      This is Dr Hofstadter, Dr Cooper, Dr Koothrappali, and this is Howard Wolowitz. So NASA wants us to be Howards?

      I do the work of three men. Larry, Curly, Moe.
      Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard.

  • As close SCI-FI loving hackers can become astronauts.

  • Emulator download? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by capnchicken (664317) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @12:41PM (#39276629)

    Is there a SPHEREs emulator that you can plug the C code into? I tried reading some of the links and they included tutorials in basic math, physics, and programming, details on the API, and suggestions to download MS Visual C++ Express for coding in C, but I couldn't find where I would plug C code into running this in an emulated or simulated environment for testing. With all of these basics outlined I would have figured there would be an executable or library somewhere to download.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Fool! We said we're pushing the limits didn't we? From development straight to production, we don't need some fancy testing or QA.

    • by ardiri (245358) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @01:01PM (#39276877) Homepage

      http://www.zerorobotics.org/documents/10429/11067/IDE+Tutorial.pdf

      seems you do everything online, requires adobe flash for you to run simulations. you edit, compile and execute (simulate) code online.

      • If I can only access the simulator online, and I can only copy paste my C code into a flash window "IDE", then this sounds pretty dead in the water already. No thanks.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Zentakz (618981)

          If I can only access the simulator online, and I can only copy paste my C code into a flash window "IDE", then this sounds pretty dead in the water already. No thanks.

          Disclaimer: I'm involved with the project. Coding and project management is online in a JS-based IDE. The flash component is for viewing the results of the simulation in 3D. Also, we're working on adding 2D charts/plots to be deployed before this starts. The editor has evolved from a simplified IDE targeted at high school students and constrained in ways to make the code compatible with the satellite hardware, so be prepared for some limitations. At the same time, there's really quite a lot you can do.

          • by ardiri (245358)

            i thought it would have been cool to get involved (been programming 20+ years now) - but the focus is really on high school students, so it needs to be dumbed down a little bit - if anyone has programmed for embedded environments, the idea of a restrictive IDE forcing you to do some things is a good thing. what they done want is a stack overflow on a unit in space :) not like you can remotely log into it to reboot it :) i would be interested in being a mentor to a group of students located in Munich, it sou

            • by Zentakz (618981)

              i would be interested in being a mentor to a group of students located in Munich, it sounds like a fun project.

              Keep an eye out for the competition in the fall. We ran a pilot program with ESA this year including some schools in Germany, and it will likely expand this year.

    • by Zentakz (618981)

      Disclaimer: I'm involved with the project. Sorry, the tutorial there is a bit out of date and refers to an older pilot of the program. We host the simulation and editing tools online for a number of reasons, including the ability to distribute bug fixes and updates rapidly as well as allow for online collaboration and centralized scoring. A downloadable version of the simulation has been a repeated request, and it is in the long-term queue, though likely not for this competition.

  • by jlar (584848) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @01:43PM (#39277371)

    Fortunately I got a head start when I "acquired" the space station control codes....

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "create the best algorithm for capturing a randomly tumbling space object"

    should read:

    "create the best algorithm for capturing a randomly tumbling non-U.S.A. satellites" ;

    A.K.A. THEFT !

    Yours In Beijing,
    Kilgore Trout, Cosmonaut

  • They're looking for a quick way to grab those tumbling meteors before they hit the planet? Now that's a conspiracy theory.
  • I'll be honest, this whole thing looks like a mess.

    A team composed of 5 or more [highschool or college] students
    At least one mentor affiliated with the school or program to supervise the team
    At least one mentor with programming experience to guide the students
    At least two computers with internet access and the Adobe Flash plugin
    Available time to meet either during or after school, as organized by the primary mentor

    I doubt many if any at all from slashdot will register to do

    • by Zentakz (618981)
      Most of the text on the main page refers to the high school robotics program this is based off of. You do not need to be affiliated with a school to participate in the new challenge.
    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
      Mess? Perhaps you could have chosen a different word? Government agency promoting learning of math, physics, programming, etc... with the incentive that your code might actually run on machines in space? That seems like US government actually doing something good for once instead of making a mess of things.
  • This is just an excuse by the gaming company to get somebody else to write Tetris 3D without paying them.

  • Polhode motion explained: here [stanford.edu].

    A solid object in space (not necessarily a sphere) has three principal axes of rotation. Call them x, y and z. x is the short axis, which is where the other two axes' energy will redistribute (eventually). The trick is to figure out from observation of fixed points on the surface of the object, where this axis extends from. It is at these two points, commonly known as the North and South Poles, where a grab could be made - at any time. The other two axes don't even have to be

  • by Fishbulb (32296) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @06:50PM (#39282089)

    FTA:

    The algorithm must enable a satellite to accomplish a feat that’s very difficult to do autonomously: capture a space object that’s tumbling, spinning or moving in the opposite direction.

    So you shoot a sticky mass attached to a tether at the tumbling satellite/mass/whatever, let it wrap around a couple of times, then slowly start increasing tension on the line. Just like catching a fish. You could do that entirely mechanically, including attitude control of the capture satellite, especially if the mass of the target "spinner" is known.

    I fail to see how that requires an algorithm or much programming at all, really. Follow the KISS principle.

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      FTA:

      The algorithm must enable a satellite to accomplish a feat that’s very difficult to do autonomously: capture a space object that’s tumbling, spinning or moving in the opposite direction.

      So you shoot a sticky mass attached to a tether at the tumbling satellite/mass/whatever, let it wrap around a couple of times, then slowly start increasing tension on the line. Just like catching a fish. You could do that entirely mechanically, including attitude control of the capture satellite, especially if the mass of the target "spinner" is known.

      I fail to see how that requires an algorithm or much programming at all, really. Follow the KISS principle.

      Spiderman, spiderman.

  • Given:
    weight/ mass; speed; x, y, z, T axes; known point on retrieving satellite (reinforced)
    approach object to retrieve, touch with known point, putting satellite into uncontrolled spin. recover from spin recording all data to regain initial position as well as energy imparted to object to retrieve. analyze data and search for plane of greatest energy. touch again. continue to touch object to retrieve, transferring energy to satellite for dissipation. Conservation of momentum. FTFY

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