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Teens compete to run experiments with space station satellites

By Jessica Kay King, CNN
  • The three small satellites fly within the International Space Station
  • A NASA/MIT program gives high school students a chance to program those units
  • Ten out of the 24 teams will see their experiments run by an astronaut

(CNN) -- NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are giving 24 high school teams a chance to program satellites on the International Space Station.

The three volleyball-shaped satellites already fly through the space station's cabin. NASA calls them SPHERES: Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites. They test functions such as navigation and docking.

The high schoolers' challenge is to be ground controllers for testing new flight formations of the SPHERES. The top 10 teams will launch their programs into space. An astronaut aboard the station will run the tests.

According to NASA, MIT designed the competition to inspire future scientists and engineers.

The International Space Station is a space laboratory that orbits 240 miles above Earth, and is home to a crew of international astronauts. Sixteen countries provide support to the lab, which is continuously staffed by working astronauts. In-space assembly of the facility began in 1998, and when it is done, it will be the size of a U.S. football field -- including end zones.

Completion is expected next year.