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Try Your Programming Skills In Space: DARPA Satellite Programming Challenge

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the geeks-in-space dept.

ISS 54

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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I could be wrong (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39276501)

But I'm pretty sure this is a dupe. I remember reading this before.

For free? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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).

Re:For free? (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 2 years ago | (#39276973)

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.

Re:For free? (1)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#39277441)

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

Re:For free? (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 2 years ago | (#39277777)

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....

;)

Re:For free? (2)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 2 years ago | (#39277705)

"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.

Re:For free? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39282219)

An unsolved problem's value is more than the salary of the combined effort that fails to solve it.

Re:For free? (1)

JimboFBX (1097277) | more than 2 years ago | (#39282931)

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.

Re:For free? (1)

JimboFBX (1097277) | more than 2 years ago | (#39282971)

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

Re:For free? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39279863)

Not into "for the greater good" or "the advancement of scientific knowledge" reasons, are you? Capitalism is all well and good but some people still like to do things for fun/practice/lulz.

Re:For free? (1)

chispito (1870390) | more than 2 years ago | (#39277597)

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!

Re:For free? (1)

Zentakz (618981) | more than 2 years ago | (#39281749)

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 (and view in real time!) tests on the ISS is quite a rare opportunity.

...they even let everyone look at their source code, so that other programmers can learn from it or modify it.

Not everyone's code will be published, just the finalists that have been guaranteed a spot for the ISS tests.

Re:For free? (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39277661)

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.

They'll toss in a satellite as part of the prize (1)

sirwired (27582) | more than 2 years ago | (#39278417)

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 (2, Funny)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 2 years ago | (#39276523)

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

Re:PhDs (1, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39276571)

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.

Re:PhDs (1)

crgrace (220738) | more than 2 years ago | (#39276919)

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.

Re:PhDs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39277053)

Given the age of the characters, I'm sure it was an easy bit of color to add.

I think the show is fun, if not overly concerned with who the characters have to be to best represent real life. Which is fine, because that would be horribly boring.

But I'm on the other side of this concern with stereotypes. I identify with a lot of what the characters do (sometimes eerily so), but I'm not nearly as smart as any of the characters in the show.

I think it's funny as hell (1)

Timmy D Programmer (704067) | more than 2 years ago | (#39277021)

If you are insulted I need to remind you Sheldon, that it's all in good fun.

Re:PhDs (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 2 years ago | (#39279047)

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.

Re:PhDs (1)

crgrace (220738) | more than 2 years ago | (#39280169)

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.

Re:PhDs (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 2 years ago | (#39283335)

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.

DARPA Needs HTML Help First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39276531)

Creating a legible website appears to be an impossible task for DARPA...let alone capturing a randomly tumbling object in space.

Im psyced! (1)

Deus.1.01 (946808) | more than 2 years ago | (#39276575)

As close SCI-FI loving hackers can become astronauts.

Re:Im psyced! (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39276861)

well as close as you can without actually trying.

Emulator download? (4, Interesting)

capnchicken (664317) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Emulator download? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39276761)

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.

Re:Emulator download? (1)

WalkingBear (555474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39277093)

So... about normal for the tech industry then.. Carry on.

Re:Emulator download? (4, Informative)

ardiri (245358) | more than 2 years ago | (#39276877)

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.

Re:Emulator download? (1)

capnchicken (664317) | more than 2 years ago | (#39278271)

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:Emulator download? (3, Informative)

Zentakz (618981) | more than 2 years ago | (#39282917)

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.

Re:Emulator download? (1)

ardiri (245358) | more than 2 years ago | (#39284791)

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 sounds like a fun project.

Re:Emulator download? (1)

Zentakz (618981) | more than 2 years ago | (#39289611)

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.

Re:Emulator download? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39278623)

Is body piercing optional or required?
Just looking at the video on the page... http://www.zerorobotics.org/web/zero-robotics/home-public

Re:Emulator download? (1)

Zentakz (618981) | more than 2 years ago | (#39282957)

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.

can some aim at D10/D11/D12 and make HBO HD FTA? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39276797)

game of thrones is comeing

Re:can some aim at D10/D11/D12 and make HBO HD FTA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39280249)

You're bored aren't you?

I would be too if I spent all my time in my mom's basement. In fact, spending all my time in your moms bed, I'm quite bored.

In Space... (-1)

SeattleGameboy (641456) | more than 2 years ago | (#39276799)

In space, no one can hear you type...

Capture using facial hardware? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39276849)

If I hadn't read TFA, I'd think the goal was to capture the Zero Robotics project lead using his facial hardware. Good grief man.

Video:
http://www.zerorobotics.org/web/zero-robotics/home-public [zerorobotics.org]

How about a net? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39277015)

Just like a fisherman's net. It's not an algorithm, so I guess I don't win.

ISS control codes (2)

jlar (584848) | more than 2 years ago | (#39277371)

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

Re:ISS control codes (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#39280839)

oh, ka-CHING!

DARPA Correction: +5, Espionage (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39277405)

"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

Or just maybe ... (1)

Kittenman (971447) | more than 2 years ago | (#39278435)

They're looking for a quick way to grab those tumbling meteors before they hit the planet? Now that's a conspiracy theory.

Flash IDE? Required to be affiliated with school? (1)

tibman (623933) | more than 2 years ago | (#39278577)

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 this.

Re:Flash IDE? Required to be affiliated with schoo (1)

Zentakz (618981) | more than 2 years ago | (#39280333)

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.

Re:Flash IDE? Required to be affiliated with schoo (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | more than 2 years ago | (#39309463)

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.

Here's an example... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39279423)

have the ISS match the velocity of the AWOL satellite and simply crash into it.... The satellite will merge with the ISS therefore catching it!!

We just need to rebuild the ISS after it captures CXZ-11024 (chinese spy satellite)

Conspiracy! (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#39280037)

This is just an excuse by the gaming company to get somebody else to write Tetris 3D without paying them.

Here's a good start (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#39280827)

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 stabilised at this point (in fact, the middle axis (y) will always be unstable). The long axis, z, has the smallest moment of inertia hence will eventually spin itself out, the angular momentum distributing (nominally) to the other two axes. Absent outside influences such as friction, this is an inevitability.

A famous example is Earth itself. Some of us are aware it has a primary rotation period about its x axis (the shortest axis, North to South), of 23 hours 56 minutes 4 seconds (relative to a distant fixed point in space). It also has several other minor rotational anomalies, the most important of which being the precession of the Poles, describing a circle 46.8 degrees in diameter over 25,700-odd years.

chewing gum + string (2)

Fishbulb (32296) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:chewing gum + string (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 2 years ago | (#39283425)

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.

Re:chewing gum + string (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39289295)

I like it - and I'd love to see one of those computer generated animations showing how it was going to work.

When I read the summary (obviously, carefully avoiding the actual article), I thought it would be to write code to stop yourself from spinning. That is, fire propulsion at just the right times to stop yourself spinning. That would be fun to think about (and then never get around to writing), but since it's catching something else, I'm with you - maybe even just a big net or something would do the job.

Here,s your algorythm (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 2 years ago | (#39283417)

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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