It’s like something out of Star Wars – a tiny satellite that keeps a close-up eye on orbiting spacecraft. We’ll take a look, too – today on Engineering Works!
One of the big problems with flying spacecraft into orbit is that astronauts can’t see very well what’s going on outside. That could be why the space shuttle Columbia was lost in 2003. Nobody knew that a piece of foam had damaged tiles that were supposed to protect the shuttle from re-entry heat.
Even before that, NASA engineers were working on a miniature satellite that could give future astronauts a clearer view of what’s going on outside their spacecraft. The satellite is about the size of a volleyball and weighs about 10 pounds.
Tiny xenon gas engines will move it from place to place outside the space shuttle or the International Space Station. It will use camera-on-a-chip imagers to see what’s going on and a global positioning system, or GPS, will help controllers keep track of where it is.
The computer control system is based on a microprocessor from a Power PC computer. Its designers expect that it’ll even be able to launch and refuel itself. And either astronauts in orbit or ground controllers will be able to fly the satellite into position.
The pint-sized satellite also should help astronauts working on the International Space Station inspect the outside of the orbiter without having to make a space walk to do it.
Our orbit is taking us out of range. See you later.
Image courtesy of NASA/ Johnson Space Center