6 mins read 05 Aug 2021

Dream Rover's code heading for the ISS

The Sydney-based Dream Rover team is representing Australia in the 2nd Kibo Robot Programming Challenge 2021. Their code will instruct the NASA robots on the International Space Station to make repairs while avoiding debris and obstacles in their path.  

Dream Rover is a team of Sydney primary and secondary school students – (not in order) Albert, Annabel, Douglas, Ethan, Jai and Joshua with Team Managers, Brandon and Jarod. Credit: Supplied by One Giant Leap Foundation.

The Mission? An air leak on the International Space Station, which had an emergency repair completed last year, has reopened. Protect the International Space Station (ISS) by patching the rupture caused by a small meteor hitting it at a velocity of about 28,000 km/h, and ensure future meteors don’t harm the space station. 

This is the fictional scenario for the 2nd Kibo Robot Programming Challenge (RPC), an international initiative that JAXA hosts in collaboration with NASA and other Asia Pacific Space Agencies and schools. In Australia, One Giant Leap Australia Foundation is the champion and point of contact for the challenge. 

On Sunday 18 July, Australia’s Dream Rover team joined teams representing eight other countries for the International Programming Skills round, the penultimate round of the challenge. Teams submit their code to instruct a NASA Astrobee robot to fix a hypothetical leak on the International Space Station (ISS). While this round of the competition took place on a simulation of the ISS, the final round later this year, will be held live on the Kibo module of the ISS within a microgravity environment.

Dream Rover from Sydney Robotics Academy, is representing Australia for the 2nd Kibo RPC and is a team of Sydney primary and secondary school students – Albert from Scots College, Annabel from Artarmon Public, Joshua and Ethan from Sydney Boys High, Douglas from Killara High, and Jai from Knox Grammar. Dream Rover took seventh place out of the nine countries in the preliminary round which defines the order in which each team’s code will be deployed on the ISS in the final round in October this year. 

Impressively, the Dream Rover team is made up of both secondary and primary school team members while many other countries are represented by university-based teams. 

“The team is very honoured to represent Australia in the Kibo RPC – it’s like an extension of the Olympic Games being battled out on the International Space Station,” said team member Jacob.

Annabel is the youngest member of the team at the age of 11.  

“I am so happy to be part of this amazing program and feel very fortunate to be representing Australia! I’m scared, nervous, excited and proud,” she said. 

“We are very enthusiastic about this competition because we are interested in deepening our understanding of space and robotics. During the process of the competition, we developed a special bond through our common interest, and learnt about teamwork and determination. With hope, skill, and some luck, we endeavour to bring the Dream Rover spirit out into space,” the Dream Rover team said.

2nd KIBO Robot Programming Challenge

Preliminary round mission complete - Australian team Dream Rover came seventh out of nine teams with the primary and secondary students beating two university teams from Bangladesh and Indonesia. Credit: Supplied by One Giant Leap Foundation.

The Kibo Robot Programming Challenge is designed to give students the opportunity to get more involved in the space industry, teaching and using coding that is currently used on the ISS, and to inspire creative problem-solving within true-to-life scenarios.

One Giant Leap Australia Foundation Director, Bob Carpenter, OAM explained why the Kibo RPC was so important.

“Unique, high quality, equitable, engaging STEM education opportunities are essential to inspire the next generation of students to improve our nation’s space capabilities and create a well-rounded workforce. Kibo RPC is a terrific example of one of those programs,” said Mr. Carpenter. 

In a positive and supportive atmosphere, teams are able to work together, come up with solutions to challenges and develop each other’s coding and problem-solving skills. Last year’s Australian representatives Galen VEX came in third place in the final round in the 2020 challenge, and while they came in second after the Dream Rover team to represent Australia this year, the team has been both supporters and mentors to those in the competition. 

The Kibo RPC is delivered in Australia by One Giant Leap Australia Foundation with the support of the Australian Space Agency. Mr. Enrico Palermo is the Head of the Australian Space Agency.

“Inspiring the next generation of the space workforce through STEM education and activities like the Kibo Robot Programming Challenge will help support the growth of Australia’s space industry in the years and decades to come,” said Mr. Palermo.

“A big congratulations to Dream Rover for their accomplishments as part of this year’s challenge. May this terrific achievement inspire many other Australian teams to participate in 2022.”

“We were delighted to be able to support this exciting STEM initiative and we celebrate team Dream Rover’s success,” said NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte.

The final round will take place live on the ISS sometime in October. This final round will be recorded by JAXA and made available on YouTube following the event. 

The Astrobees

Expedition 59 Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques tests the free-flying Astrobee robotic assistant. Credit: NASA Johnson

Astrobee is NASA’s free-flying robotic system designed to help astronauts complete routine tasks. There are three cubed-shaped Astrobees aptly named Honey, Queen and Bumble and they have only been on the International Space Station since July 2019. The docking station was installed in the Japanese Experiment Module on the space station in February 2019, where the Astrobees can recharge.

Along with their other duties, the robotic system also serves as a research platform that can be outfitted and programmed to carry out experiments in microgravity - helping NASA to learn more about how robotics can benefit astronauts in space.

The robots use electric fans as a propulsion system that allows them to fly through the station's microgravity environment. Cameras and sensors help them to navigate their surroundings and they also carry a perching arm that allows them to grasp station handrails to conserve energy or to grab and hold items.

These robots will play a significant part in NASA’s Moon to Mars mission as well as other missions. The robots such as Astrobees can take on repetitive and caretaker tasks such as working to monitor and keep systems operating smoothly while crews are away or otherwise occupied.