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Boeing Orbital Express to Demonstrate New On-Orbit Servicing Capability

A safe and cost-effective approach to autonomously service satellites in orbit. The ability to refuel, reconfigure and repair satellites has been considered a top priority for many years by both the military and civilian space launch and satellite industry. Advanced Systems is working on a futuristic system that will employ cost-effective autonomous maneuverable satellites to get this job done. Not only does this technology support critical national security missions, it also supports civilian space launch industry initiatives. See larger view
by Staff Writers
Cape Canaveral FL (SPX) Mar 11, 2007
A Boeing-led industry team has launched Orbital Express, a demonstration spacecraft that is part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program aimed at demonstrating fully autonomous on-orbit spacecraft servicing capabilities. Liftoff occurred Friday night at 10:10pm EST from Space Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Following a nominal flight, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket deployed the spacecraft to a low-Earth orbit. The three-month mission will demonstrate various functions of the new system.

"Orbital Express is a revolutionary system that will offer customers with appropriately configured on-orbit assets new options to enhance the operation of their systems," said George Muellner, president of Boeing Advanced Systems.

"This demonstration mission is the first step toward developing an operational system that can service satellites and support other space operations. Orbital Express continues our success in delivering solutions that shape new markets through the integration of people, innovation and technology."

Orbital Express consists of the Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations (ASTRO) servicing spacecraft developed by Boeing Advanced Network and Space Systems; and NextSat, a prototypical modular next-generation serviceable client spacecraft developed by Ball Aerospace.

The demonstration mission will validate capabilities critical for the development of emerging and future space systems. When operational, the new integrated rendezvous proximity operations and capture system will provide satellite and spacecraft operators with a routine on-orbit servicing capability for such things as fuel and component transfer, relocation, inspection, safe de-orbit and on-orbit assembly.

Major test objectives include:

+ Autonomous operations, including rendezvous from 7 km with a capability to support rendezvous at separation distances up to 1,000 km and beyond

+ Onboard relative navigation and guidance systems

+ Robotic arm system

+ Multiple captures of the NextSat client spacecraft performed directly and using the robotic arm

+ Sub-meter range autonomous station-keeping

+ Fluid and component transfer

+ Passive, targetless rendezvous sensor systems

"Today's launch is a major milestone for the Orbital Express program," said Alex Lopez, vice president, Boeing Advanced Network and Space Systems. "Our team has worked very hard to prepare for this important mission, and I congratulate them on their accomplishment. We're looking forward to a successful demonstration for our customer and moving forward with developing and deploying the first operational system."

DARPA selected Boeing as the prime integrator for Phase II of the Orbital Express Advanced Technology Demonstration program in March 2002.

Orbital Express team members include NASA, Ball Aerospace, Northrop Grumman Space Technology, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., and Starsys Research.

earlier related report
APL-Built Microscopic Instrument Launched Aboard Air Force Academy Satellite
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Md., in conjunction with scientists from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the U.S. Air Force Academy, have developed a tiny analyzer to study depletions of plasma (known as plasma bubbles) in the ionosphere, a phenomenon that can disrupt satellite communications.

The Flat Plasma Spectrometer (FlaPS) is one of three experimental payloads onboard the Air Force Academy's Falconsat-3 microsatellite that launched last night on an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The six-month mission is demonstrating an improved technology to help the Air Force better understand and forecast plasma bubbles.

Conceived by NASA GSFC and the Air Force Academy, and designed and fabricated by APL, FlaPS technology reduces a plasma spectrometer from the size of a coffee urn to that of a teacup.

"We've aggressively miniaturized the instrument by applying manufacturing techniques used in the micro-electronics world to build personal computer components," says Robert Osiander, APL's principal investigator for the FlaPS program.

Although the instrument isn't unique in terms of its science data, it is unique in terms of its size, which can help reduce overall mission costs. "We've applied MicroElectroMechanical (MEMS) technology to reduce the instrument's size by a factor of 100 while greatly increasing its sensitivity and resolution, and dramatically reducing weight and power requirements compared to conventional spectrometers," says Danielle Wesolek, APL's technical lead for FlaPS.

If you looked at the top of the device through an electron-scanning microscope, you would see a tiny hole smaller than the width of a human hair where particles enter the spectrometer. As particles travel through the electrostatic analyzer, or energy selector, they pass through another opening so small that a human hair or piece of dandruff would block it.

The opening leads to a series of tiny parallel plates that deflect the particles toward the exit from this section of the analyzer. Only particles of a selected bandwidth pass through and are collected. Data is then downlinked to science teams on the ground through Falconsat-3's mission operations center located at the Air Force Academy.

The spectrometer's small size, low weight and power consumption, and increased resolution make it ideal and affordable for use in large numbers, and could be applied to other types of missions.

"These spectrometers could be advantageous for mapping missions, for example, which require a large number of microsatellites to simultaneously map multiple points in space," says Osiander. "Where we once could only carry one spectrometer per spacecraft, we can now carry dozens."

The multi-organizational team is already working on the next-generation device known as WISPERS (Wafer-scale Integrated SPectrometERS), an instrument suite created by the same micro-electronics-based manufacturing techniques.

"We're creating an entire suite of instruments on a single wafer or chip - the platform on which all integrated microcircuits are built," says Osiander.

"These instrument suites will greatly increase our functionality within a much smaller area." WISPERS is scheduled to fly on Falconsat-5 scheduled for launch in fall 2009. Falconsat-3 was one of six satellites launched aboard a single rocket as part of the Defense Department's Space Test Program-1 mission, the first Air Force mission to launch aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle.

earlier related report
Ball Aerospace Nextsat Launched For Orbital Express Mission
The first-of-its kind, autonomous servicing demonstration satellite launched on Thursday, March 8, 2007, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The three-month space mission is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The Orbital Express (OE) Advanced Technology Demonstration Program dual-satellite mission, includes the Next Generation Satellite and Commodities Spacecraft (NextSat/CSC), built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., and the Autonomous Space Transfer and Robotic Orbiter (ASTRO) built by The Boeing Company.

The mission is designed to demonstrate the capability of robotic refueling, autonomous rendezvous and docking, as well as repairs and equipment upgrades of a spacecraft on-orbit.

"This pioneering demonstration advances critical technologies that support national security missions," said David L. Taylor, president and chief executive officer of Ball Aerospace. "A successful Orbital Express demonstration could revolutionize future space systems both in terms of cost and the extension of spacecraft life."

The two spacecraft are designed to transfer between them spacecraft fuel and two Orbital Replacement Units, a battery and computer. On orbit they will separate and demonstrate rendezvous and capture from increasing distances and levels of autonomy.

Ball Aerospace's NextSat/CSC employs architecture adapted from the successful Deep Impact Impactor, including software, command and data handling, and power switching; as well as elements from BCP-2000, such as the narrow-band telecom architecture from the Ball-built CloudSat.

The Deep Impact Impactor was able to autonomously steer itself into the path of comet Tempel 1 in 2005, using similar technologies that the NextSat/CSC spacecraft bus will use to demonstrate rendezvous and capture sequences during its mission.

The prototype ASTRO servicing satellite and the surrogate next generation serviceable satellite, NextSat system were a payload on the Air Force Space Test Program STP-1 mission. The Orbital Express program is funded through DARPA and managed by The Boeing Company.

The Orbital Express contractor team includes Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boeing, Northrop Grumman Corporation, McDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. and Starsys Research Corp.

earlier related report
NRL SHIMMER And CITRIS Experiments Launched On STPSat-1 To Study Earth's Atmosphere
Two innovative experiments built at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) launched into low earth orbit on March 9, onboard the Space Test Program Satellite-1 (STPSat-1). Both payloads contain pioneering technology designed to answer compelling scientific questions about the Earth's atmosphere. The Atlas V launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, included five additional satellites, all part of the STP-1 mission.

NRL's Spatial Heterodyne Imager for Mesospheric Radicals (SHIMMER) instrument is the primary payload of STPSat-1. It is a compact, rugged, high-resolution ultraviolet spectrometer that will image the Earth's atmosphere. SHIMMER is the first satellite-based instrument to use the spatial heterodyne spectroscopy (SHS) technique, which significantly reduces the instrument's size and weight while retaining the spectral resolution and exceeding the sensitivity of comparable conventional instrumentation.

The two main goals of the SHIMMER mission are to demonstrate SHS for long-duration (greater than one year) spaceflight, and to measure altitude profiles of the hydroxyl radical (OH) between 40 and 100 km altitude. OH participates in the photochemical destruction of ozone and is also a proxy for water vapor, which is a tracer for large-scale circulation in the Earth's upper atmosphere.

The heart of SHIMMER is a monolithic interferometer, which allows SHIMMER to simultaneously observe the OH solar resonance fluorescence from 32 altitudes at a superior resolving power of 25,000. NRL's Space Science Division developed SHIMMER in cooperation with St. Cloud State University and the University of Wisconsin. NASA's Planetary Instrument Definition and Development Program supported the development of the monolithic interferometer.

"In addition to improving our understanding of the atmosphere, a successful flight of SHIMMER will be a tremendous step towards future SHS space instruments for terrestrial and planetary applications," says Dr. Christoph R. Englert, principal investigator of SHIMMER.

OH remains one of the least measured trace gases in the middle atmosphere. The first global measurements of OH were made by NRL's Middle Atmosphere High Resolution Spectrograph Investigation (MAHRSI) in 1994 and 1997. MAHRSI produced the first maps of OH on a satellite deployed and retrieved from the space shuttle during two one-week missions. Compared to MAHRSI, SHIMMER is not only smaller by a factor of three in mass and volume, but it samples the atmosphere seven times faster due to its higher sensitivity.

"SHIMMER is undeniably a bold technological advance, but the mission concept is also scientifically very exciting. MAHRSI answered many questions about the global distribution of OH but raised many more that we could not answer with only a couple of weeks of data," notes Dr. Michael H. Stevens, project scientist for SHIMMER.

One additional goal of SHIMMER is to observe the equatorward edge of the polar mesospheric cloud (PMC) region, around 55 latitude. Originally, PMCs were thought to be caused solely by water vapor lofted from the lower atmosphere over the summer polar region. However, MAHRSI demonstrated that water vapor exhaust injected into the upper atmosphere from the space shuttle can also form PMCs. By observing both the OH (water vapor) and the PMCs, SHIMMER results will help quantify this contribution to PMCs.

The second NRL payload on STPSat-1 is the Scintillation and Tomography Receiver in Space (CITRIS). CITRIS will detect when and where radio wave propagation through the ionized atmosphere (called the ionosphere) is adversely affected by scintillation and refraction, and will provide a global map of ionospheric densities and irregularities. CITRIS is a four-frequency receiver that uses a multi-band antenna located on the ram or wake side of STPSat-1. CITRIS data will be used to improve current models of the ionosphere. Dr. Paul A. Bernhardt of NRL's Plasma Physics Division is the principal investigator and is supported by technical staff of the Plasma Physics Division and NRL's Naval Center for Space Technology.

The Earth's ionosphere is the primary source for errors in GPS and other navigation systems. Also, regions of turbulence in the ionosphere provide disruptions of GPS and communications signals that make the systems unusable. CITRIS will provide ionospheric data that will help the Navy locate harmful regions in the ionosphere. "In the future, we expect that the CITRIS measurements will provide a warning of impending outages for both civilian and military radio systems" says Dr. Carl Siefring the CITRIS Project Scientist.

CITRIS uses existing radio sources around the world to monitor ionospheric electron density structures. One source of radio signals is the NRL CERTO radio transmitters in low-earth-orbit on the DMSP/F15, COSMIC, CASSIOPE, C/NOFS and EQUARS satellites. With these space-based beacons and a global array of French ground beacons (DORIS), CITRIS will provide worldwide measurements of ionospheric refraction and radio scintillations.

The CITRIS team has been formulating new science algorithms that permit characterization of plasma structures along propagation paths between orbiting satellites. The primary advantage of the space-based receiver is to provide ionospheric specifications in regions where instrumentation is not available, such as remote regions at sea.

The results of CITRIS on STPSat-1 will demonstrate the usefulness of these algorithms in the latitudes below 35 degrees where the ionosphere is often corrupted by natural plasma irregularities of equatorial origin. "We've provided digital signal processors in CITRIS which rapidly convert the received radio signals into useful data products" states Mr. Ivan Galysh, project engineer for CITRIS.

SHIMMER and CITRIS are joint efforts between the DoD Space Test Program (SMC/SDTW) and the Naval Research Laboratory.

Related Links
United Launch Alliance
Naval Research Laboratory
Ball Aerospace
Automated Rendezvous and Docking (AR and D) at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Orbital Express Space Operations Architecture -- an overview from DARPA
The Flight Robotics Laboratory
Orbital Express at Boeing
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SPACEHAB Subsidiary Awarded $3 Million Contract
Houston TX (SPX) Mar 09, 2007
SPACEHAB has announced that its Astrotech Space Operations subsidiary has been awarded a one-year contract extension for payload processing services by United Launch Alliance (ULA). The contract is valued at $3.3 million for support of Atlas missions during the one-year period.

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