The SPHERES have eyes

Apr 24, 2013 by Lori Keith
The SPHERES-VERTIGO investigation setup showing tracking (with goggles) and target SPHERES. Each satellite is an 18-sided polyhedron that is 0.2 meter in diameter and weighs 3.5 kilograms. Credit: MIT Development Team

(Phys.org) —It looks like something out of a sci-fi movie...free-formation-flying robotic spheres hovering around the International Space Station with goggles on. The Visual Estimation and Relative Tracking for Inspection of Generic Objects (VERTIGO) study, a part of the Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) investigation explores the use of small satellites equipped to analyze and capture data from specified objects, producing a 3-D model of those objects.

The 1.6 kilogram VERTIGO designed for each SPHERES satellite are similar to a small —with 1.2 gigahertz data processor, camera, Wi-Fi device and batteries—allowing the satellite to see what it is navigating around. This technology could result in techniques for recycling of old aperture satellites or mapping of an asteroid for exploration, among other missions.

NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn conducts the SPHERES-VERTIGO investigation aboard the International Space Station to study the ability to create a three-dimensional model of an unknown object in space using only one or two small satellites. Credit: NASA

In a March 26 interview on NASA Television, Brent Tweddle, a doctoral candidate at the Space Systems Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., said the goggles allow for each satellite to, "see, perceive and understand its world visually. We use that … to communicate that information to the SPHERES satellites using a package called the VERTIGO goggles. [The goggles] are their own little intelligence block that sticks on the front-end of the SPHERES and allows it to see the rest of the world that it wants to navigate through."

Tweddle talked about a variety of topics related to the SPHERES and VERTIGO during the interview, including the different teams interested in this research. He described how the SHPERES are commanded by algorithms. Tweedle also spoke on the February 2012 test run and future SPHERES tests.

The VERTIGO addition to the SPHERES satellites is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-funded Integrated Research Experiments (InSPIRE) program that leverages the human presence in space for rapid, iterative experimentation and design of space capabilities. It is providing the next generation of scientists and engineers (through the ZERO Robotics Competition) with exposure and experience in carrying out meaningful space experimentation economically and over reasonable time scales.

Explore further: Mysteries of space dust revealed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Synchronized tumbling: how to catch a retired satellite

Aug 30, 2012

In space, there are no brakes. Active satellites and spacecraft achieve controlled movement with thrusters. Retired satellites, on the other hand, no longer controlled from Earth, tumble in their orbits through ...

NASA's smartphone-powered satellite

Jul 11, 2011

In 1999, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor David Miller showed the movie, "Star Wars" to his students on their first day of class. Following the scene where Luke Skywalker spars with a ...

Recommended for you

Mysteries of space dust revealed

Aug 29, 2014

The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA's Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks open a door to studying the origins of the ...

A guide to the 2014 Neptune opposition season

Aug 29, 2014

Never seen Neptune? Now is a good time to try, as the outermost ice giant world reaches opposition this weekend at 14:00 Universal Time (UT) or 10:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 29th. This means that the distant ...

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative: A citizen forum

Aug 28, 2014

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially ...

Image: Rosetta's comet looms

Aug 28, 2014

Wow! Rosetta is getting ever-closer to its target comet by the day. This navigation camera shot from Aug. 23 shows that the spacecraft is so close to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that it's difficult to ...

User comments : 0