Unmated Operations Resume for Successful Orbital Express Mission
June 18, 2007
The nation's first autonomous satellite servicing demonstration has resumed unmated demonstration activities as the successful Orbital Express mission between Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.'s Next Generation Satellite and Commodities Spacecraft (NextSat/CSC), and Boeing's Autonomous Space Transfer and Robotic Orbiter (ASTRO,) continues its three month mission. Both satellites for the Orbital Express mission were built for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Technologically advanced feats accomplished since launch on March 8 include:
-- Spacecraft separation of 10 meters, followed by one hour of formation flying before successful re-mating. Both satellites operated autonomously, almost exclusively without the need for ground control. -- Multiple successful transfers of hydrazine and the battery orbital replacement unit between ASTRO and NextSat using ASTRO's robotic arm. This marked the first time hardware has been autonomously transferred between unmanned spacecraft on orbit.
These activities pave the way for the final goal of achieving separation to a distance of 7 km and re-mating, to conclude the nominal demonstration.
The Orbital Express mission will help determine the feasibility of extending the life of future on-orbit spacecraft by refueling or even upgrading them in space. The mission was designed to include demonstrations of short range separation, proximity operations, and capture.
"The innovative technologies employed on the Orbital Express mission demonstrate and support goals to reduce costs, improve safety, and extend the life of satellites by five, 10, or even 15 years," said David L. Taylor, president and CEO of Ball Aerospace.
Ball Aerospace adapted significant elements from its highly successful Deep Impact spacecraft in building NextSat/CSC, including software, command and data handling, and power control. Other elements were derived from the Ball Commercial Platform, such as the narrow-band telecom architecture from the Ball-built CloudSat spacecraft, launched in 2006.
Images available at: http://www.darpa.mil/orbitalexpress/mission_updates.html
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. supports critical missions of important national agencies such as the Department of Defense, NASA, NOAA and other U.S. government and commercial entities. The company develops and manufactures spacecraft, advanced instruments and sensors, components, data exploitation systems and RF solutions for strategic, tactical and scientific applications. Over the past 50 years, Ball Aerospace has been responsible for numerous technological and scientific 'firsts' and acts as a technology innovator for the aerospace market.
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