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Program Overview

The Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program is an innovative and inspiring program for middle school students that is truly out of this world! The five-week STEM curriculum introduces students to computer programming, robotics, and space engineering, and provides hands-on experience programming SPHERES (Synchronized, Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites). The program culminates in a tournament where winning teams’ SPHERES compete aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Middle school participants will get to see the SPHERES operate in space via a live feed from the ISS while NASA astronauts provide real-time commentary.

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. The Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program is sponsored by NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), and the Northrup Grumman Foundation.

Zero Robotics seeks to inspire our next generation of great minds by allowing them unprecedented access to space at the middle school level. By making the benefits and resources of the International Space Station tangible to students, Zero Robotics hopes to cultivate an appreciation of science, technology, engineering and math through healthy, immersive, collaborative competition.


Student participants compete to win a technically challenging game by programming their strategies into the SPHERES. Students’ programs control the satellites’ speed, rotation, and direction of travel. The students program their satellites to complete competition objectives, for example navigating obstacles, while conserving resources such as fuel. The programs are autonomous – that is, the students are not able to directly control the satellites while they are running.

Each year’s game is motivated by a problem of interest to NASA and MIT.

Students create, edit, save, and simulate projects online. They use a graphical editor to write code, then simulate their programs immediately and see the results using a simulation. The programming interface and simulation are entirely web-based, so ZR does not require any software downloads or computer configuration. The system even allows teams to compete against themselves so that they can test different strategies before finalizing their competition submissions.

Summer Program Sessions

The program schedule varies by region with the final ISS competition occurring in Mid- Aug.

Session 1: June 13- July 15, 2016

Key Dates

June 13 (Mon) Start of Session 1 Week 1
June 20 (Mon) or June 21 (Tues) Field Day


Week 2
June 30 (Thu), 5:00pm local time Practice Code Deadline Week 3
July 8 (Fri), 5:00 pm, local time Regional Code Deadline Week 4
July 14 (Thu), 5:00 pm, local time ISS Code Deadline Week 5
Mid-Aug ISS Finals


Session 2: July 5- August 5, 2016

Key Dates

July 5 (Tues) Start of Session 2 Week 1
July 11 (Mon) or July 12 (Tues) Field Day Week 2
July 22 (Fri), 5:00pm local time Practice Code Deadline Week 3
July 29 (Fri), 5:00 pm, local time Regional Code Deadline Week 4
Aug 4 (Thu), 5:00 pm, local time ISS Code Deadline Week 5
Mid-Aug ISS Finals


How To Participate


The Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program is recommended for middle school students who are rising 6th graders through rising 9th graders.  Teams are typically 10-20 students.   Due to the complexities of programming in space within the context of a middle school summer program, the Middle School Summer Program is available to selected middle-school aged teams in areas where youth serving summer programs have been selected. Programs are currently available in the following states/organizations:California, Colorado, Maryland, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, MUREP, Oregon, Texas, West Virginia.

Organizations/Programs Interested In Offering Zero Robotics

Any public or private school or community-based organization that serves middle school youth is eligible to apply. Programs must serve a team of 10-20 youth for a minimum of 15 hours per week for 5 weeks. Each program must have computers and internet access.

Priority consideration will be given to programs that serve under-represented or under-served populations.

If you are interested in hosting a team,

Applications and any attachment must be submitted via e-mail to with “Zero Robotics Application” in the subject line.

Please Click Here For Application



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About Heidi DeGarmo, South-Metro Salem STEM Webmaster (137 Articles)
Heidi DeGarmo is a senior at OregonTech majoring in IT-Health Informatics. As a combat veteran it is a passion of hers to pay it forward. The South Metro-Salem STEM Partnership (SMSP) is a collaboration of school districts, community colleges, universities, out-of-school programs and business and community partners that is focused on increasing student access and success in STEM fields.