Ball Aerospace Completes Payload-to-Bus Integration for Orbital Express NextSat/CSC Spacecraft
February 10, 2006
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. recently completed integration of the payload and bus modules on the NextSat Commodities Spacecraft (NextSat/CSC) for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Orbital Express program. The NextSat/CSC bus is part of a dual-satellite mission to demonstrate the capability of robotic refueling, reconfiguring and repairs of a spacecraft on orbit. The program is expected to be the first-of-its-kind autonomous servicing demonstration.
"Ball Aerospace brings to this program the reputation for innovation that is needed to change what we know is possible in space," says David L. Taylor, president and chief executive officer of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.
Payloads recently integrated into the NextSat/CSC include: a fluid transfer system for the on-orbit refueling demonstration; a capture mechanism to allow docking with the servicing spacecraft; and a crosslink transponder for inter-satellite communications. With the payloads fully integrated, the NextSat/CSC weighs just under 500 pounds. The spacecraft is now being readied for integrated systems testing.
The Orbital Express mission includes the Autonomous Space Transfer and Robotic Orbiter, or ASTRO, and the NextSat/CSC. Launched in a "stacked," or mated, flight configuration the two spacecraft are designed to transfer between them spacecraft fuel and an Orbital Replacement Unit (ORU) containing a backup battery. The two spacecraft will then separate and demonstrate rendezvous and capture from increasing distances and levels of autonomy.
The NextSat/CSC has a dual role in the Orbital Express mission emulating the "client" or serviceable spacecraft, and as the "commodities" spacecraft which, in an operational spacecraft constellation, would be an orbiting depot storing fuel and replacement or upgraded spacecraft components. The NextSat/CSC spacecraft bus design is based on the Ball Aerospace-built Impactor spacecraft for the Deep Impact mission. The Impactor was able to autonomously steer itself into the path of comet Tempel 1 last year, using similar technologies that the NextSat/CSC spacecraft bus will use to demonstrate rendezvous and capture sequences during its mission.
The Orbital Express program is funded through DARPA and managed by The Boeing Company. The Orbital Express team includes Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., the Northrop Grumman Corporation, McDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. and Starsys Research Corp.
Ball Aerospace celebrates its 50th year in business in 2006. The company began building pointing controls for military rockets in 1956, and later won a contract to build one of NASA's first spacecraft, the Orbiting Solar Observatory. Over the years, the company has been responsible for numerous technological and scientific 'firsts.' Ball Aerospace now develops spacecraft, payloads, systems and components for important national missions.
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