The MIT Space Systems Laboratory developed the SPHERES (Synchronized
Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites)
laboratory environment to provide DARPA, NASA, and other researchers
with a long term, replenishable, and upgradable testbed for the validation of
high risk metrology, control, and autonomy technologies for use in formation
flight and autnomous docking, rendezvous and reconfiguration algorithms. These
technologies are critical to the operation of distributed satellite and docking
missions such as Terrestrial Planet Finder and Orbital Express.
To approximate the dynamics that will be encountered
during these missions, the testbed consists of three small, self-contained
vehicles, or "spheres," which can control their relative positions and
orientations, and is operable on a 2-D laboratory platform, NASA's KC-135,
and the International Space Station. SPHERES draws upon the MODE family
of dynamics and control laboratories (STS-40, 42, 48, 62, MIR) by providing
a cost-effective laboratory with direct astronaut interaction that exploits
the micro-gravity conditions of space.
The first of three SPHERES satellites reached the International Space Station on
24-April-2006 aboard Progress P21. The first operating
sessions occurred on Thursday, 18-May-2006 from 10:30am-1:30pm CST.
Here is a video of the first SPHERES test (a checkout procedure) aboard the
(Click on the picture to download the video, MP4 - 8MB)
Here is a video of a recent Test Session aboard the ISS:
More videos and pictures are available following the links in the left menu.