SFL and DSI demonstrate enabling technology for low-cost asteroid missions and constellations
The world’s first demonstration of autonomous spacecraft maneuvering was recently completed by Silicon Valley-based Deep Space Industries (DSI) and the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) of Toronto, Canada. Using their highly-successful CanX-4 and CanX-5 pair of nanosatellites, SFL operators executed a DSI-defined experiment on-orbit, in which the world’s first spacecraft-to-spacecraft orbit maneuver was commanded by one satellite and executed by the other.
In this experiment, one of the two spacecraft (CanX-4) autonomously programmed the other (CanX-5) to perform an orbit change using its on-board propulsion system, over a shared S-band Inter-Satellite Link (ISL) radio. CanX-5 subsequently executed the maneuver, raising its orbit, as confirmed by operators at SFL’s Mission Control Center (MCC) in Toronto and data from the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
To the best of each organization’s knowledge, this is the first time in history that one satellite has autonomously commanded another to execute propulsive maneuvers, with no operator in the loop.
“This experiment was a key demonstration of a critical capability for multi-spacecraft asteroid missions, as well as constellations of spacecraft in Earth orbit,” said Grant Bonin, DSI’s Chief Engineer. “It was also a first step in demonstrating ship-to-shore command relay in-space, which could potentially reduce the difficulty of communicating with very small spacecraft at long range.”
“The experiment was an important risk reduction exercise for DSI, which intends to use small spacecraft for initial asteroid prospecting missions in the next five years,” Bonin continued. “The ability to relay commands from spacecraft to spacecraft, and perform in-space maneuvers autonomously, without operator intervention, is a critical capability that has major implications for mission-level redundancy—not just for asteroid missions, but also for low-cost Earth orbit constellations. This also shows that, if necessary, we can take the operator entirely out of the loop during a mission, which can translate into significant savings.”
Read more: Deep Space Industries teams with UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory to demonstrate autonomous spacecraft maneuvering – via Deep Space Industries
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