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T0127-P

Reduced Gravity Flight Demo of SPHERES Universal Docking Ports

PI: Alvar Saenz Otero, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John Merk (Co-I), Aurora Flight Sciences

In 2015, the DARPA Phoenix mission will demonstrate robotic servicing and assembly for the purposes of harvesting retired communications satellites. To provide a testing environment for these new technologies, the Phoenix team has paired with the MIT Space Systems Lab to utilize the Synchronized Position Hold Engage Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) testbed onboard the International Space Station (ISS). As part of this partnership, MIT has developed a Universal Docking Port (UDP) designed to enable multiple (SPHERES) to rigidly dock and undock. To maximize the ISS test session productivity, a parabolic flight campaign is used to bridge the gap between 2D and 3D docking and undocking operations. The parabolic flight campaign will validate the design of the UDP in a full 6-DOF environment, prior to ISS operations.

Technology Areas (?)
  • TA04 Robotics, Tele-Robotics and Autonomous Systems
  • TA11 Modeling, Simulation, Information Technology and Processing
Problem Statement

In 2015, the DARPA Phoenix mission will demonstrate robotic servicing and assembly for the purposes of harvesting retired communications satellites. Reusing assets from existing satellites has the potential to greatly reduce the cost of new missions. To provide a testing environment for these new technologies, the Phoenix team has paired with the MIT Space Systems Lab to utilize the Synchronized Position Hold Engage Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) testbed onboard the International Space Station (ISS). As part of this partnership, MIT has developed a Universal Docking Port (UDP) designed to enable multiple (SPHERES) to rigidly dock and undock. With this capability, spacecraft reconfiguration and modularity technical challenges can be addressed, including performing relative sensing and characterization for docking, reconfiguring the system controller to account for the new dynamics of the docked vehicles, and reconfiguring the actuation and sensing subsystems of the new system. The knowledge gained from ISS test sessions will help inform the Phoenix mission. As a result of the proposed flight testing, adjustments can be made to the hardware and software to ensure the necessary precision and structure are in place for docking aboard the ISS. This approach, which has extensive heritage as part of the SPHERES program (the SPHERES satellites themselves were flown on a parabolic flight campaign, as was the Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System (RINGS) system), will save valuable time aboard the ISS.

Technology Maturation

A parabolic flight campaign will validate the design of the UDP in a full 6-DOF environment, prior to ISS operations. While the UDPs have been successful in 2D ground testing, only 3 of the 6 degrees of freedom are tested. Additionally, the 2D environment removes 3D effects which need to be tested prior to launch, such as clocking angles and relative offsets in the other degrees of freedom. The parabolic flight campaign will advance three principle technologies in line with TA04 (Robotics, Tele-Robotics, and Automation): (1) an autonomous model-based decision maker, (2) vision-based relative sensing algorithms between agents, (3) a novel Resource Aggregated Reconfigurable Controller.

Future Customers

The knowledge gained from ISS test sessions will help inform the Phoenix mission. A parabolic flight campaign will validate the design of the UDP in a full 6-DOF environment, prior to ISS operations.

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    AFO8 (April 2014)
  • Program Status
    Completed
  • Current TRL (?)
    Unknown
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 1 Parabolic

Development Team

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