Orbital ExpressOrbital Express completes first Autonomous Free Flight and capture
The Boeing Orbital Express system has completed another industry first by successfully performing a fully autonomous free-flight rendezvous and capture operation.
The demonstration of the two-spacecraft system is part of an ongoing Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) mission to validate on-orbit servicing capabilities.
Using its onboard cameras and advanced video guidance system, the Boeing Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations (ASTRO) servicing spacecraft separated from the NextSat client spacecraft, backed away to a distance of 10 meters (33 feet), maintained proximity flight with NextSat for a full orbit, and then approached and captured NextSat with its docking mechanism.
The demonstration occurred at full spacecraft autonomy to mark the first on-orbit rendezvous and capture operation performed with no active exchange of relative navigation information or any intervention or control from the ground.
"This successful demonstration is a critical milestone for the Orbital Express program," said Alex Lopez, vice president of Boeing Advanced Network and Space Systems. "On-orbit proximity and rendezvous capability is required to service satellites. Satellite servicing capability can reduce operations costs, increase spacecraft life and enable new space system architectures."
The Orbital Express program is a DARPA-led effort to validate technologies required to perform on-orbit satellite servicing. Orbital Express team members include NASA, Ball Aerospace, Northrop Grumman Space Technology, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., and Starsys Research.