An innovative satellite maker is developing a mission to dock two small satellites in orbit using XBOX Kinect game controller software.
The nanosatellite mission was conceived and is being built by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) in partnership with the University of Surrey's Space Centre.
The idea is to see if two satellites can dock in space using the spatial awareness technology found in the XBOX Kinect game controller.
Shaun Kenyon, project leader at SSTL, explained how the idea for the mission came about: "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."
Each of the two satellites will measure 30cm in length and consist of three cubesats (10cmx10xcmx10cm) joined together.
The mission is known as STRaND-2, after the Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator programme. The first STRaND satellite, STRaND-1, is almost constructed and will be powered by a, Android Google Nexus 1 smartphone.
The STRaND satellites will be fitted with micro-thrusters to enable them to manoevre. Click here to read more about CubeSats and the STRaND-1 mission.
Docking systems are usually only used on major space missions such as the International Space Station or the Apollo missions. STRaND envisions that docking can be implemented with small, low cost satellites in order to build larger craft while in orbit.
As for mission timeframe, Shaun Kenyon told Sen: "We are still in the very early development phase of this mission, and if it is anything like STRaND-1 we'll be looking at launch in 24-36 months assuming a suitable piggy-back ride can be found. The UK Space Agency part-funded an initial feasibility assessment into the mission concept under the NSTP (National Space Technology Programme) - which is still ongoing - and so far no show-stoppers have been identified for this mission. It will still be very, very challenging - but that is exactly what the STRaND programme is about."
Once launched, the two STRaND-2 satellites will be separated, before joining together again after system checks have been performed. The docking procedure will use the Kinect based technology to safely and accurately align the nanosatellites.
“It may seem far-fetched, but our low cost nanosatellites could dock to build large and sophisticated modular structures such as space telescopes,” said Chris Bridges, project leader at the Surrey Space Centre “Unlike today’s big space missions, these could be reconfigured as mission objectives change, and upgraded in-orbit with the latest available technologies.”
The innovative technology could also provide a solution to the problem of hazardous space debris, with a “snap-on” satellite that could provide propulsion. In addition, the nanosatellites could be used for maintenance by supplying extra computing power.
SSTL has constructed and launched 36 small satellites since 1981, with purposes varying from scientific to communications.