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Official Rules   















As United States Air Force demands for the capabilities of small satellites surge, there is a need to field larger constellations of satellites. The numbers of such systems will be such that conventional manufacturing approaches may be economically inefficient. Thus, the Air Force Research Laboratory-New Mexico (AFRL-NM) is investigating novel approaches to affordably produce high-value, low-volume systems. Robotic assembly has been used in many industries to reduce production costs, but the high initial capital expense required to create a structured environment suitable for robotic assembly is not suitable for low-volume production. Moving robotic assembly concepts to unstructured environments that require autonomy has the potential to solve this problem, however, it remains a difficult challenge.

The 2017 Spacecraft Robotics Challenge is sponsored by AFRL-NM to strengthen ties between the military, industrial, and academic robotics communities and to promote research and development in the application of unstructured automation and robotic assembly concepts to small satellites. Entrants will be tasked with using an autonomous robot to assemble a series of simplified satellite assembly steps based solely on computer aided design (CAD) parts and assembly models. The effort combines object recognition and identification, orientation recognition, grasp and motion planning, object avoidance, task planning and execution, and error detection and recovery. Entrants will be scored both on how well their robot assembles a series of five Challenge Levels of increasing difficulty and on the time it takes to complete each assembly. Teams will share and disseminate their approach to improve future Challenge results and industrial implementations. See below for the complete Challenge details.


15 July             Entry period and Preliminary phase open

15 Oct              Entry period closes (extended)

02 Nov             Team and equipment arrive in Albuquerque

03 Nov             Testing and setup

04 Nov             Competition Day


EVENT PRIZES (all in USD): 1st place is $6000, 2nd place is $3000, and 3rd place is $1000.



To enter the challenge, entrants must register through the challenge website ( Only registration through the website will be accepted for entry. For Teams, only the Team leader needs to complete the registration form and submit it on the website on behalf of the team. Entry information will include Team Leader name, email address, mailing address, daytime phone number, confirmation of age, team size, and team member names.


Preliminary Level 1 3D print part file #1

Preliminary Level 1 3D print part file #2

Preliminary Level 1 CAD assembly file


After the registration form has been processed, the registrant will be provided by AFRL-NM with the electronic files of the preliminary challenges to be completed. There will be at least five sample challenge problems, Levels 1 to 5, each increasing in complexity. The electronic files will be provided via the US Army’s secure large file transfer service (AMRDEC SAFE) and will include:

1.     SolidWorks 2017 part files for each part

2.     SolidWorks 2017 assembly files for each Level

3.     .iges and .stp files for each part and assembly for transfer to other CAD programs

4.     .stl files for each part so that the part can be printed on a 3D printer

5.     Read-me file with additional information

Additional CAD file types may be added by AFRL-NM at a later date at AFRL-NM’s discretion. The sample challenge problems are examples of the types of challenges that will be provided on the Competition Day. The actual challenges at the competition will be different from the sample challenges, but will use similar characteristics from each level of preliminary problems.

For this competition, Entrants must provide their own Robot for all challenge phases including the Preliminary and Competition phases. All Robots must have an emergency stop that is easily accessible by anyone that stops the movement of the Robot and powers it down safely. All robots must operate autonomously; no teleoperation or semi-autonomous user input features are permitted. Robot shall not be designed to intentionally damage the challenge parts, as example piercing or crushing the part to pick it up. Accidental damage is grounds for disqualification during the Competition at the discretion of the Judges. Robots may include vacuum systems or other noise generating elements but the noise levels be less that the OSHA prescribed limit for hearing protection and must allow other people to work nearby without disruption. Excessive high-pitched noises are not allowed. Questionable approaches should be cleared with AFRL-NM prior to the end of the Preliminary Phase. Additional requirements are described in the description of the Challenge Event below.

To be eligible to participate on Competition Day, each Entrant must submit to AFRL-NM a video demonstrating their attempt at each of the five sample challenge Levels prior to the end of the Preliminary Phase. In addition to the video, Entrants shall provide their accompanying computer code used during the attempt shown in the video. AFRL-NM will treat the computer code as proprietary information and will protect it in accordance with US statute for Government Employees. Entrants are not required to complete each of the sample challenges for acceptance to the competition. AFRL-NM will judge select Competition Day participants on the likelihood the approach will result in successful performance on Competition Day and based on the following criteria: available space, number of sample challenge Levels successfully completed, time to complete all challenges, and STEM outreach goals. AFRL-NM will notify all Entrants of their selection or non-selection to participate in Competition Day within one week after the close of the Preliminary Phase.

The top 10 Proposal Entries ranked highest by AFRL-NM will be invited to attend the AFRL-NM Spacecraft Robotics Challenge scheduled to take place in Albuquerque, NM from November 2–4, 2017 where they will have the opportunity to have their Robot compete against other finalist Robots subject to verification and compliance with these Official Rules.

Sample Challenge Level videos shall be submitted via AMRDEC SAFE according to instructions to be provided by AFRL-NM. No other methods of submission will be accepted.  Videos can be submitted any time prior to the end of the Preliminary Phase and early submission is recommended to minimize last minute complications with file transfer. All videos shall clearly designate the start of the Level attempt and shall run continuously without modification until the end of the Level attempt. Determination of compliance with entry, technical, and other requirements as well as these Official Rules will be at the sole discretion of AFRL-NM.

Submission videos may be submitted at any time during the Preliminary Phase. Only one Entry is to be submitted on behalf of each Team. By submitting videos, the Team warrants and represents that it is the creator of the Entry and that the Team consents to the submission and use of the Entry in the Challenge.


Teams will be notified by email regarding their participation on Competition Day at the email address provided on the Entry Form. All members of Teams participating in the Event will be required to complete and return a Participation Agreement within the timeframe stated on the notification. If any email notification is returned as undeliverable, if a Team does not respond within the required number of days specified by AFRL-NM, or if information collected within the entry is found in non-compliance with these Official Rules, or a potential competitor decides to decline the Entry for any reason whatsoever, AFRL-NM shall have no further obligation to such Team and the applicable prize will be forfeited and may be awarded to a runner-up Team.


The Final Competition will take place over three days. Day 1 will be to unpack and setup the Robot at the Entrant’s dedicated workstation. Day 2 is allotted for testing and practice using the preliminary challenges and for final tweaks to account for changes between the Entrant's home facility and the Competition facility. Entrants shall furnish their own preliminary challenge hardware for practice at the competition location. At the end of Day 2, the Robot and any control hardware will be ‘hands-off’ until the Entrant’s official start time on Competition Day. Day 3 is Competition Day. AFRL-NM will specify at its sole discretion the order of Entrants for each task at the Challenge Event.

The workstation area at the Competition location will consist of a 2.5 m x 2.5 m area with a single work table. A single six outlet power strip will be provided to each workstation. The dimensions of the workstation area subject to change as the details of the Competition venue are finalized. AFRL-NM will notify all Entrants selected for the Final Competition of any changes to the workstation area no less than two weeks prior to the Final Competition.

At the designated start time for the Entrant’s Challenge Attempts, the Entrant will be provided a USB thumb drive or CD-ROM with the model and assembly files for each of the five Competition Challenge Levels. The Entrant shall copy the files to a folder on the computer’s Desktop. The files and formats will be the same as in the Preliminary Phase. Once handed the files, the Entrant will have one hour to complete as many of the Challenge Levels as fast as possible. For each Attempt, a representative from AFRL-NM will place the Level parts on the workstation surface. The starting location and orientation of the parts will be chosen by AFRL-NM and will be the same for each Entrant. The starting location can be anywhere on the workstation surface.

Each level attempt must be initiated with a single simple command line such as “Level_n,” where “n” designates the Level number. The Attempt will start as soon as the command is entered. The attempt ends when one of the following conditions is met: the parts are successfully assembled, the time limit expires, the Team Leader verbally declares the run is complete, or a human intervenes with the run either remotely or physically. The score recorded for the attempt will be the score at the moment that the ending condition is met. Multiple attempts can be made for each level within the one hour period. The highest scoring attempt will be used in the final point and time totals. No human interaction (remote or physical) is allowed with the Robot after the start of an attempt except to stop the attempt. Note that this precludes any teleoperation or semi-autonomous user input to the Robot.



●     10 points for each successfully completed Challenge Level. A successful completion requires correct assembly as per the assembly model, including orientation, and full engagement of the individual parts.

●     5 points for achieving partial engagement of the individual parts

●     3 points for correctly orienting the parts in the workstation prior to assembly

●     1 point for successfully locating and moving each part in the workspace

●     -20 points for each part that is damaged by the Entrant or Robot

The total time required for each of the scored Attempts will be used as a tiebreaker in the event of a tie in points

In the event of a tie for both points and time, the winners will split the sum of the funding for respective places. For example in the event of a tie for 2nd place, the Entrants will split the 2nd and 3rd place prizes.



·      To be eligible to enter, you must a U.S. resident and at least 18 years of age. Team members can be under the age of 18 with parental consent, but the team leader that registers for the event must be at least 18 years of age. 

·      AFRL employees are eligible to enter the Challenge and compete, but they are not eligible to receive prize money.

·      The competition is open to individual entrants or teams of up to six members.

·      Individuals can only be part of a single team.

·      The Team Leader will be the primary registrant for each team, but all Team Members must be listed on the entrance form.

·      Only one person per entrant will be designated Team Leader, and he/she will be the primary point of contact for the Challenge.

·      Every team member must be eligible to participate in the Challenge and comply with these Official Rules, otherwise the team may be disqualified.

·      AFRL-NM must be notified to any changes to team composition by the 29th of September 2017.


Additional Information

By submitting their Preliminary Phase video to AFRL-NM, each entrant certifies that their submission:

1.     Is the original work of the Entrant;

2.     Does not infringe or violate the rights of any third party, including but not limited to, intellectual property (i.e. patents, copyright, trademarks, licensing rights, etc.) privacy rights, moral rights, or other material not owned by the Entrant;

3.     Is not subject to third party agreements;

4.     Does not promote any activity that may appear to be unsafe or dangerous;

5.     Follows all local, state, and federal laws, regulations, and rules;

6.     Does not contain any use of names, likenesses, photographs, or other identifying elements in whole or in part, or any person, living or dead, without permission.

·      Except where prohibited by law, all federal, state, or other tax liabilities and withholdings are the responsibility of the prize winners.

·      Team Captains will be responsible for dividing prize winnings among team members.

·      If you are entering as part of a company or on behalf of your employer, these Official Rules are bind you, individually, and/or your employer.

·      If you are acting within the scope of your employment, as an employee, contractor, or agent of another party, you warrant that such party has full knowledge of your actions and has consented thereto, including to the terms of these Official Rules and your potential receipt of a prize. You further warrant that your actions do not violate your employer’s or company’s policies and procedures.

·      This Challenge is subject to all applicable local, state, and federal laws.

·      AFRL-NM reserves the right to verify eligibility and to adjudicate on any dispute at any time.

·      The Challenge is void where prohibited.

·      By participating in the Challenge, each entrant and team unconditionally accepts and agrees to comply with and abide by these Official Rules and the decisions of AFRL-NM, which will be final and binding.