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Laboratory Demonstration of a Prototype Geosynchronous Servicing Spacecraft

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Journal article

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The benefits of autonomous spacecraft rendezvous and capture for future military, civil, and commercial space missions are far-reaching and intriguing. These include satellite reposition, service life extension, debris removal, repair, replenishment, technology refresh, on-orbit assembly, and salvage. Because of the large number of high-value assets in the geosynchronous GEO belt, autonomous servicing of these spacecraft could provide the greatest utility. Furthermore, requiring modification of the target spacecraft bus to accompany aided docking sensors and mechanisms is impossible for existing GEO assets and impractical for most future assets that rely on existing standardized bus designs. Hence, development of a general-purpose space tug to service an unaided geosynchronous target is highly desirable. This tug will require the utilization and integration of many challenging technologies, such as long-range sensors for acquisition and tracking, machine vision for target imaging, algorithms for feature recognition and pose estimation, manipulators for end effector positioning, and intelligent robot arm control algorithms. To evaluate and test these critical issues, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA is sponsoring the Spacecraft for the Universal Modification of Orbits SUMO project, a technology risk reduction program executed by the Naval Center for Space Technology at the Naval Research Laboratory. The purpose of the program is to demonstrate the integration of machine vision, robotics, mechanisms, and autonomous control algorithms to accomplish approach and grapple of common hardpoint interfaces traceable to existing and future spacecraft hardware. To date, the SUMO program has consisted of three phases an exploratory study phase in 2002, a concept design phase in 2003, and a laboratory demonstration phase in 2004-2005.

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  • Astronautics

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