The autonomous assembly of a reconfigurable space telescope (AAReST), is a novel approach to the issue of placing telescopes with a diameter of over 20 metres into orbit. Instead of using high-precision formation flying to deliver the satellite, AAReST allows for the telescope to be assembled while in orbit. It was developed by us in collaboration with the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA/JPL).


AAReST is a fully functional, self-building space telescope that is used to discover more about the weather conditions, atmosphere and sights within space.

To keep demonstration costs down, AAReST is based on 3U CubeSat-like nanosatellite technologies. The new electro-magnetic RDV docking system provides automatic alignment and controls the final phase of the docking manoeuvres.

Rendezvous relative position and motion are achieved using the same COTS PrimeSense LIDAR technology as was used in the Microsoft KINECT. A compact 6-DOF butane thruster has been developed for orbital manoeuvres.

Spacecraft design

AAReST is based on spacecraft bus technology derived from Surrey's SNAP nanosatellite programme. Related missions include the SNAP-1 nanoSat programme (butane propulsion and pitch-axis momentum wheel/ magnetic control ADCS), STRaND-1 (UK׳s first CubeSat) and STRaND-2.

The AAReST telescope payload was developed by CalTech and NASA/JPL, and comprised a main mirror telescope, with six "satellite" mirrors - know as mirrocraft. The mirrocraft are able to undock and redock autonomously to change the configuration of the telescope to allow various astronomical and earth observation optical experiments to be carried out.


The AAReST mission involved two “nanosatellite” class vehicles based on 3U CubeSat-type structures (MirrorSats), which each carry a deformable mirror payload and a central “15U” microsatellite (CoreSat), which houses two rigid reference mirror payloads and a camera package mounted on a deployable carbon-fiber composite boom.

All three spacecraft were launched as a single 40 kg microsatellite package with a stowed volume of 0.4 m by 0.4 m by 0.6 m.