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Boeing Robot Satellite Servicing System Works Well In Orbit

By | April 23, 2007

      A robotic satellite servicing craft developed by The Boeing Co. [BA] performed well in a test conducted in orbit, the company announced.

      The Boeing Orbital Express system autonomously transferred propellant fuel and a battery from one spacecraft to another, an industry first, according to Boeing.

      During the fuel transfer demonstration, the Boeing Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations (ASTRO) servicing spacecraft successfully transferred hydrazine propellant with the Ball Aerospace NextSat, a prototypical modular next-generation serviceable client spacecraft.

      The ASTRO vehicle also used a robotic arm to transfer a battery to NextSat. It marked the first time that a spacecraft autonomously transferred hardware to another spacecraft using a robotic arm.

      These are the first tests in a series of planned demonstrations during a three-month mission to validate system functionality.

      “The Orbital Express team is accomplishing things that have never been done before in space,” said George Muellner, president of Boeing Advanced Systems. “These achievements are the first steps toward developing a system that will extend the life and operation of various types of spacecraft.”

      Orbital Express, launched to orbit on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 8, is a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-led effort consisting of the Boeing ASTRO servicing spacecraft and the NextSat serviceable client spacecraft.

      Through pre-demonstration system checks, the team verified that the spacecraft can stay connected and hold a firm seal during transfer operations.

      The ASTRO fluid transfer system supports typical client spacecraft configurations using either a pressure-fed (ullage recompression) or transfer pump system.

      In the ullage recompression demonstration, ASTRO transferred approximately 31.97 lbm (pounds mass) of hydrazine to NextSat, satisfying the objective of 32 lbm. In the transfer pump demonstration, ASTRO transferred 2.2 lbm more than the 17 lbm target. The team then conducted a pump fluid transfer from NextSat back to ASTRO.

      The team also performed an autonomous transfer of hardware between the two spacecraft, using its robotic manipulator arm to provide a battery to NextSat.

      Orbital Express team members include NASA, Ball Aerospace, Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] unit Space Technology, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., and Starsys Research.

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