Engineers use XBox technology to make 'space building blocks'

May 29, 2012

Space innovators at the University of Surrey and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) are developing ‘STRaND-2’, a twin-satellite mission to test a novel in-orbit docking system based upon XBOX Kinect technology that could change the way space assets are built, maintained and decommissioned.

STRaND-2 is the latest mission in the cutting edge STRaND (Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) programme, following on from the smartphone-powered STRaND-1 satellite that is near completion.  Similar in design to STRaND-1, the identical twin satellites will each measure 30cm (3 unit Cubesat) in length, and utilise components from the XBOX Kinect games controller to scan the local area and provide the satellites with spatial awareness on all three axes.

Docking systems have never been employed on such small and low cost missions and are usually reserved for big-budget missions to the International Space Station (ISS) or historically, the Mir space station and the Apollo program. The STRaND team sees the relatively low cost nanosatellites as intelligent “space building blocks” that could be stacked together and reconfigured to build larger modular spacecraft.

University of Surrey researcher and SSC Project Lead, Dr Chris Bridges, explains: “It may seem far-fetched, 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.”

SSTL Project Lead Shaun Kenyon explained: “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 .”    

The STRaND-2 twins will be separated after launch.  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.

Other applications 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.

Explore further: Italy's first female astronaut heads to ISS in Russian craft

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

China to launch space station module prototype

Aug 17, 2011

China’s space program is in the news again, this time with unconfirmed reports that the Tiangong 1 space lab may be launching into orbit sometime this year – possibly later this month.  Previous ...

Canada looks to the future in space

Feb 01, 2012

When it comes to space, the first thing most people think of is NASA. Or Russia and the European Space Agency, or even more recently, countries like China and Japan. In the public eye, Canada has tended to ...

ViviSat space vehicles will keep satellites on track

May 16, 2012

(Phys.org) -- A company that aims to sell satellite protective services is eagerly stating its business case to geosynchronous satellite operators that can benefit from its approach toward orbit mission extension. ...

Recommended for you

How can we search for life on icy moons such as Europa?

8 minutes ago

Our solar system is host to a wealth of icy worlds that may have water beneath the surface. The Cassini spacecraft recently uncovered evidence of a possible ocean under the surface of Saturn's moon, Mimas.

CubeSat instruments to demonstrate NASA firsts

1 hour ago

The Dellingr six-unit CubeSat, which is taking its developers just one year to design, build and integrate, won't be the only potentially groundbreaking capability for NASA. Its heliophysics payloads also ...

Musk is testing x-wing style fins, spaceport drone ship

3 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Elon Musk over the weekend sent out a number of tweets about what's up at SpaceX in its rocket endeavors, talking about features that triggered a steady response stream of "Awesome," "Rad," ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.