This is the first open-registration ZR tournament for all high school students and educators in the US and its territories. EU schools will be participating, as invited by the European Space Agency.

The SPHERES Challenges are "Zero Robotics" tournaments that are held every Fall to open the world-class research facilities on the International Space Station (ISS) to high-school students. Students will actually write programs at their High School that may control a satellite in space! The goal is to build critical engineering skills for students, such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, and team work. Ultimately we hope to inspire future scientists and engineers so that they will view working in space as "normal", and will grow up pushing the limits of engineering and space exploration.

The participants compete to win a technically challenging game by programming their strategies into the SPHERES satellites. The programs are demonstrated first on the ground hardware and eventually in a final competition that runs the student software aboard the ISS. The game is motivated by a challenging problem of interest to DARPA, NASA and MIT. Teams compete by programming a SPHERES satellite to achieve the game objectives while competing or collaborating with other contestants. These satellites race against each other to win the game. The programs must be "autonomous" - that is, the students cannot control the satellites during the test itself. The tournament progresses in phases from 2D to 3D so that both 3DOF (on Earth) and 6DOF (on ISS) demonstrations are possible. The astronauts run the final robotics competition on the ISS, act as referees and interact with participating students via a live video broadcast in a large event at MIT, webcast live to all participants so that remote viewing is possible.

Student teams can create, edit, save and simulate projects online. They may use a High Level Language (HLL) editor or a C editor to write code, simulate their program immediately and see the results in a flash animation. The HLL editor allows them to drag and drop blocks in the visual programming interface and create code diagrammatically – very useful for students with little or no prior programming experience. The simulation uses a high-fidelity 3D model of the SPHERES satellites. MIT provides the simulation and C programming interfaces via the Zero Robotics website, therefore no special software is required. The simulation also enables teams to compete against themselves, against pre-coded standard players and challenge other teams informally; students have ample opportunities to test different versions of their strategies before submitting their code for a formal competition. All submissions to challenge others and to the competition are via the website. Students also have access to online tutorials and an MIT technical support system.