Tech

April 18, 2014

Phoenix makes strides in orbital robotics, satellite architecture research

darpa-phoenix1
The process of designing, developing, building and deploying satellites is long and expensive. Satellites today cannot follow the terrestrial paradigm of “assemble, repair, upgrade, reuse,” and must be designed to operate without any upgrades or repairs for their entire lifespan—a methodology that drives size, complexity and ultimately cost.

These challenges apply especially to the increasing number of satellites sent every year into geosynchronous Earth orbit, approximately 22,000 miles above the Earth. Unlike objects in low Earth orbit, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, satellites in GEO are essentially unreachable with current technology.

DARPA created the Phoenix program to help address these daunting challenges. Phoenix seeks to change the current paradigm by enabling GEO robotics servicing and asset life extension, while developing new satellite architectures to reduce the cost of space-based systems. Specifically, Phoenix’s goal is to develop and demonstrate technologies that make it possible to inspect and robotically service cooperative space systems in GEO and to validate new satellite assembly architectures. Phoenix has achieved promising Phase 1 results and has awarded eight companies prime contracts for its Phase 2 efforts.

“Phase 1 not only showed the feasibility of our robotic tools and assembly techniques, but also validated the concept that we could build new satellites on orbit by physically aggregating satlets in space,” said David Barnhart, DARPA program manager. “These successes could eventually lead to the revolutionary ability to create new, truly scalable space systems on orbit at a fraction of current costs.”

Phoenix’s Phase 2 efforts plan to focus on developing technologies in three primary technical areas of research:

o Advanced GEO space robotics: DARPA is developing a variety of robotics technologies to address key on-orbit mission needs, including assembly, repair, asset life extension, refueling, etc., in the harsh environment of geosynchronous orbit. Development activities include the maturation of robotic arms and multiple generic and mission-specific tools.\

These technologies would be part of a future robotic assembly platform, the Servicer/Tender.

* Satlets: A new low-cost, modular satellite architecture that can scale almost infinitely. Satlets are small independent modules (roughly 15 pounds/7 kg) that incorporate essential satellite functionality (power supplies, movement controls, sensors, etc.). Satlets share data, power and thermal management capabilities.

darpa-phoenix2

Satlets also physically aggregate (attach together) in different combinations that would provide capabilities to accomplish a range of diverse space missions with any type, size or shape payload. Because they are modular, they can be produced on an assembly line at low cost and integrated very quickly with different payloads. DARPA is presently focused on validating the technical concept of satlets in LEO.

* Payload Orbital Delivery (POD) system: The POD would be a standardized mechanism designed to safely carry a wide variety of separable mass elements to orbit—including payloads, satlets and electronics—aboard commercial communications satellites. This approach would take advantage of the tempo and “hosted payload” services that commercial satellites now provide while enabling lower-cost delivery to GEO. DARPA is also pursuing a possible risk-reduction flight to validate the POD technology, which could eventually provide “‘FedEx®’ to GEO” capabilities to make future space deliveries to high orbit much easier and faster.

“Individually or together, these technologies could help enable not just Phoenix’s original concept of re-use, but a broad class of other robotically enabled missions at GEO as well,” Barnhart said. “They could help satellites reach new or proper orbits, inspect satellites as part of routine maintenance or troubleshooting efforts, repair or replace worn-out components, or add or upgrade capabilities. These capabilities would enable space systems, for the first time, to have the flexibility, accessibility and resilience that designers of terrestrial systems take for granted.”

DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 2 of Phoenix to the following companies:

* Busek

* Energid Inc.

* Honeybee Robotics

* MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.-Canada

* MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.-U.S.

* NovaWurks

* Oceaneering Inc.

* Space Systems/Loral




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
NASA JPL image

NASA analysis: 11 trillion gallons to replenish California drought losses

NASA JPL image NASA satellite data reveal the severity of California’s drought on water resources across the state. This map shows the trend in water storage between September 2011 and September 2014. It will take about 11 tr...
 
 
NASA photograph by George Hale

NASA’s IceBridge Antarctic campaign wraps up

NASA photograph by George Hale A view from an IceBridge survey flight Nov. 3, 2014, showing a cloud’s shadow on crevassed Antarctic ice. NASA’s Operation IceBridge recently completed its 2014 Antarctic campaign, marking the...
 
 

NASA’s 2014 HS3 hurricane mission investigated four tropical cyclones

NASA photograph NASA’s Global Hawk takes off into the sunset after mission wrap-up at NASA Wallops and heads back to NASA Armstrong. NASA’s Hurricane and Severe Storms Sentinel, or HS3, mission investigated four tropical cyclones in the 2014 Atlantic Ocean hurricane season: Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard and Gonzalo. The storms affected land areas in the Atlantic...
 

 

NASA tests software that may help increase flight efficiency, decrease aircraft noise

NASA researchers Dec. 12 began flight tests of computer software that shows promise in improving flight efficiency and reducing environmental impacts of aircraft, especially on communities around airports. Known as ASTAR, or Airborne Spacing for Terminal Arrival Routes, the software is designed to give pilots specific speed information and guidance so that planes can be...
 
 
nasa-app-challenge

Help U.S. cope with climate change: Enter NASA-USGS data app challenge

NASA in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey is offering more than $35,000 in prizes to citizen scientists for ideas that make use of climate data to address vulnerabilities faced by the United States in coping with clim...
 
 
dryden-social3

Event introduces attendees to NASA’s aviation contributions

  NASA is transforming aviation by reducing aircraft environmental impacts, enhancing safety and leading the way in revolutionary new technologies. Those are some of the key ideas from a two-day NASA Aeronautics Research M...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>