28 May 2012

Games console technology used to make ‘space building blocks’

Engineers at the University of Surrey and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) are developing a twin satellite mission to test an in orbit docking system based upon Xbox Kinect technology.

STRaND-2 is the latest mission in the STRaND (Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) programme, following on from the smartphone powered STRaND-1 satellite that is currently nearing completion.

The new twin satellites will each measure 30cm in length and use components from the Kinect games controller to scan the local area and provide spatial awareness on all three axes. The team believes they could be stacked together and reconfigured to build larger modular spacecraft.

SSTL project lead Shaun Kenyon commented: "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."

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.

Dr Chris Bridges, SSC project lead, explained: "It may seem farfetched, 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."

Other applications could potentially 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.

Author
Simon Fogg

Supporting Information

Websites
http://www.sstl.co.uk
http://www.surrey.ac.uk/

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