Engineers use XBox technology to make 'space building blocks'

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Space innovators at the University of Surrey and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) are developing ‘STRaND-2’, a twin-satellite mission to test a novel in-orbit docking system based upon XBOX Kinect technology that could change the way space assets are built, maintained and decommissioned.

STRaND-2 is the latest mission in the cutting edge STRaND (Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) programme, following on from the smartphone-powered STRaND-1 satellite that is near completion.  Similar in design to STRaND-1, the identical twin satellites will each measure 30cm (3 unit Cubesat) in length, and utilise components from the XBOX Kinect games controller to scan the local area and provide the satellites with spatial awareness on all three axes.

Docking systems have never been employed on such small and low cost missions and are usually reserved for big-budget space missions to the International Space Station (ISS) or historically, the Mir space station and the Apollo program. The STRaND team sees the relatively low cost nanosatellites as intelligent “space building blocks” that could be stacked together and reconfigured to build larger modular spacecraft.

University of Surrey researcher and SSC Project Lead, Dr Chris Bridges, explains: “It may seem far-fetched, but our low cost nanosatellites could dock to build large and sophisticated modular structures such as space telescopes.  Unlike today’s big space missions, these could be reconfigured as mission objectives change, and upgraded in-orbit with the latest available technologies.”

SSTL Project Lead Shaun Kenyon explained: “We were really impressed by what MIT had done flying an autonomous model helicopter that used Kinect and asked ourselves: Why has no-one used this in space? Once you can launch low cost nanosatellites that dock together, the possibilities are endless – like space building blocks.”    

The STRaND-2 twins will be separated after launch.  After the initial phase of system checks, the two satellites will be commanded to perform the docking procedure and, when in close proximity, the Kinect-based docking system will provide the satellites with 3D spatial awareness to align and dock.

Other applications include the safe removal of space debris and spacecraft maintenance, with a low cost “snap-on” nanosatellite providing backup power,  propulsion or additional on-board computing capability.

Follow the STRaND programmes on the STRaND Facebook Page www.facebook.com/nanosats and Twitter @SurreyNanosats

About SSTL

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) is the world's leading small satellite company, delivering operational space missions for a range of applications including Earth observation, science and communications. The Company designs, manufactures and operates high performance satellites and ground systems for a fraction of the price normally associated with space missions, with over 400 staff working on turnkey satellite platforms, space-proven satellite subsystems and optical instruments.

Since 1981 SSTL has built and launched 36 satellites – as well as providing training and development programmes, consultancy services, and mission studies for ESA, NASA , international governments and commercial customers, with its innovative approach that is changing the economics of space.

Based in Guildford, UK, SSTL is owned by Astrium, an EADS company.
www.sstl.co.uk

About Surrey Space Centre

The Surrey Space Centre (SSC), a Research Centre of the Faculty of Electronics and Physical Sciences (FEPS) at the University of Surrey, is a world leading Centre of Excellence in Space Engineering, whose aim is to underpin the technical development of the space industry through its advanced research programmes. SSC, comprising over 90 researchers and, faculty develops new innovative technologies which are exploited by the space industry.

Surrey's pioneering small satellite activities started in 1979 as an academic activity at the University, leading in 1985 to the formation of a highly successful spin-out company – Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL). SSC provides well-focused space engineering education, postgraduate and industrial short courses, training the next generation space scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and business leaders. It has a large body of PhD, academic and industrial research, with a direct route through SSTL for rapid commercialization. 

SSC's Academic Research Laboratories cover advanced multidisciplinary small satellite and space system engineering techniques for Earth orbit and interplanetary space; innovative communications, remote sensing, robotics and space science payloads for small satellites; and enabling technologies for low cost space exploitation and planetary exploration, working in close collaboration with SSTL.
www.surrey.ac.uk/SSC

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