Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mini satellites rocketing to space station

26.04.2006


A Russian rocket launched Monday, April 24, is carrying the first of three small, spherical satellites developed at MIT to the International Space Station -- a major step toward building space-based robotic telescopes and other systems.



The MIT SPHERES project -- the acronym stands for Synchronized Position Hold Engage Re-orient Experimental Satellites -- involves satellites about the size of volleyballs that are designed to float weightless in space while maintaining a precise position. A gang of such instruments, floating free in space, could serve as parts of a massive telescope looking for planets near other stars.

Launched from the Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan, the rocket with the satellites is expected to dock with the station today, April 26.


The first critical test of the SPHERE is set for Thursday, May 18 -- inside the space station. Two additional SPHERES are scheduled to reach the space station, carried up by the U.S. space shuttle, before the end of the year.

"We’re doing this because these missions have a lot of new, untried technology," said David W. Miller, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "Testing inside the space station will allow us to mature these technologies in a less risky micro-gravity environment," meaning inside the warm, air-filled station, rather than outside in the hazardous conditions of space.

Eventually, such autonomous space vehicles will fly on their own -- in formation in orbit -- and maintain their positions via radio links, interacting almost constantly to stay where they belong in relation to each other. Like a huge multiple-mirror telescope, each element will be "tweaked" frequently to keep the overall instrument "in tune."

The SPHERES were originally prototyped by undergraduate students at MIT. Subsequently, the flight SPHERES were built by MIT graduate students and Payload Systems Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., but launch was delayed for years by loss of the shuttle Columbia, and by a very crowded launch schedule. In the meantime, all the original students on the project have graduated, all but one have left MIT, and the technology has been steadily refined.

Two astronauts -- one from NASA, the other from the European Space Agency -- have already been trained to run the first experiments with SPHERES adrift inside the space station. According to Miller, an ultrasound system -- rather than a radio-based system -- was also installed inside the space station, so the SPHERES floating untethered have something to tell them where they are as they’re being tested in micro-gravity. The goal is to have them hover in space, not drifting "off station" by more than 1 centimeter.

"Our first test session, with astronauts getting it out to fly, will be May 18. That will be a check-up for the SPHERE," Miller said. Then "there will be some single-sphere maneuvers, such as rudimentary docking, inside the space station," where it should perform "with the same kind of resolution that the space radio system will have."

Earlier flight tests, involving some of the MIT students who helped develop the experimental SPHERES, were conducted aboard the "vomit comet," a KC-135 tanker plane that NASA uses to give astronauts their first experience with weightlessness. Now only one of the original students works at MIT: Alvar Saenz-Otero, a postdoctoral associate in aeronautics and astronautics, is managing the project.

Graduate students currently working on the project are Simon Nolet, Mark Hilstad, Swati Mohan, Nick Hoff and Georges Aoude. Miller and Professor Jonathan How are the participating faculty.

Scientists envision using SPHERES’ mechanical offspring as talented robots that can come together to work on construction projects, repair damage, refuel other satellites or work as parts of other systems -- including telescopes of unprecedented size.

These first SPHERES serve as prototypes for bigger instrument packages that will be spread out in space to work together.

Miller, who is also director of MIT’s Space Systems Laboratory, said the two other identical test SPHERES will be carried up to the space station on Saturday, July 1, the other on Thursday, Dec. 14, if shuttle launches occur as planned. One goal is to refine and test the technology for use with the bigger, more complex spheres yet to come.

Before the SPHERES finally got off the ground this week, the project encountered several delays. "They were ready to go in 2003," Miller said, but then the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated in the blazing heat of re-entry, killing the astronauts on board and setting the U.S. space program back by years. Of course, there’s no guarantee that all of the SPHERES will get aloft now, Miller said. There is huge demand for cargo space, especially aboard the shuttles, but launch delays because of technical problems, or simply the weather, are common.

This work is funded by DARPA, with additional support from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA’s Ames Research Center and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Molecule flash mob
19.01.2017 | Technische Universität Wien

nachricht Magnetic moment of a single antiproton determined with greatest precision ever
19.01.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland

19.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Not of Divided Mind

19.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Molecule flash mob

19.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>