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Friday 9 October, 2020

A team of Galen College VEX students from Wangaratta have coded their way into history, by being one of three teams that successfully completed the space mission for JAXA’s inaugural Kibo Robotic Programming Challenge: KiboRPC.

300 teams entered the competition from around the world, seven made it to the final, and only three successfully completed the final mission in Space: Indonesia (first), Thailand (second) and Australia (third), with Japan, UAE, Taiwan, Singapore not being able to complete the space mission successfully. 

 On Thursday 8th October, teams competed in the final challenge to program NASA’s Astrobee Robot on the International Space Station. The teams were all linked into JAXA’s Mission Control, to participate in the live coverage of the five hour long event. Each team’s code was sent up to the International Space Station’s Commander Chris Cassidy, by NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California. Groups worked on a virtual simulation, prior to the event, fine tuning their code to complete the challenge.

On Thursday, with eyes glued to their screens, each team watched with excitement as their code took control of the real Astrobee. No more simulations! This was the real deal! There were plenty of technical issues as NASA’s Ames crew worked with Commander Chris Cassidy to stabilise the Astobee’s starting position and onboard localisation, prior to each country’s code taking control. When it came to the Australian team’s turn, only two other teams had completed the challenge successfully, Thailand and Indonesia.

UAE and Japan’s programs were fast and accurate in the simulator, but their speed caused the real Astrobee to go over the mark and crash into the Kibo Module walls. Taiwan started off well, but half way through seemed to stop and start floating off towards the roof. Next it was the Australian Team’s chance. The Galen VEX team members excitedly watched their code take control, only to see the astrobee float up towards the roof and turn in the opposite direction to what was expected. There was silence in the room. A minute or two went by. Still nothing had changed. Then a voice from NASA Ames asked Chris to bring the Astrobee back to the starting point and they’d give it another start. The excitement built up again, then the same thing happened the astrobee floated towards the roof. There was disappointment all round. The Australian team remained calm but extremely happy. They had been involved in this wonderful and unique experience.

Next up was Singapore, the final team. Commander Chris, set the Astrobee up and their code took over, the Astrobee once again started to float up towards the roof, in the exact same way as it did for the Australian Team. Voices from Ames came through the system “That’s a copy-cat of the last run. Something is not right here. Let us look into it from ground base”. A 10-minute break ensued. Once back online, they had rebooted the Astrobee and changed it’s batteries. They were going to give the last three teams, Taiwan, Australia and Singapore another run.

Taiwan started off well again but failed to complete the mission in their second run. Australia was up next. The excitement grew again, this was it. Checkpoint 1 Complete, Checkpoint 2 Complete, Checkpoint 3 complete – Fire the laser – MISSION COMPLETE! Australia successfully completed the mission. Cheers went up all throughout the room. Singapore up next, Checkpoint 1 complete, Checkpoint 2 complete…. Then it went off course and crashed into the wall. Australia’s Galen VEX team was extremely proud to be one of the three teams that successfully completed the final mission. Indonesia coming first with an accurate laser hitting the target, Thailand second hitting the edge of the target. Australia got within 20cm of the target, putting them in third. Congratulations to the Galen VEX team on this extraordinary achievement!

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