The SPHERES have eyes

April 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: Research update: SPHERES to get powerful magnets and goggles

Related Stories

Synchronized tumbling: how to catch a retired satellite

August 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 space while ...

NASA's smartphone-powered satellite

July 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 floating droid "remote," ...

Recommended for you

In search of the ninth planet

October 17, 2017

A University of Michigan doctoral student has logged two pieces of evidence that may support the existence of a planet that could be part of our solar system, beyond Neptune.

To keep Saturn's A ring contained, its moons stand united

October 17, 2017

For three decades, astronomers thought that only Saturn's moon Janus confined the planet's A ring - the largest and farthest of the visible rings. But after poring over NASA's Cassini mission data, Cornell astronomers now ...

Microbes leave 'fingerprints' on Martian rocks

October 17, 2017

Scientists around Tetyana Milojevic from the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna are in search of unique biosignatures, which are left on synthetic extraterrestrial minerals by microbial activity. The biochemist ...

0 comments

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.