SSL - Flight Programs - SPHERES
testing prototype sphere vehicles on NASA's
KC-135 microgravity airplane 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.
The future of formation flight
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 ISS:

(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.

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