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AAS GN&C Breckenridge 2015: Pointing the Future of Spacecraft in the Right Direction

While many people across the U.S. were preparing for a New England/Seattle Super Bowl showdown, Surrey US was gearing up for the 38th annual Guidance, Navigation & Control (GN&C) Conference sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Astronautical Society (AAS). At this conference, engineers across the aerospace industry from the U.S. and abroad converge to discuss future mission concepts and advances in GN&C hardware and software. Pleased to sponsor and attend this event, we were eager to find new and exciting ways to apply the state-of-the-art techniques learned here to advance the capability of our spacecraft.
With our Orbital Test Bed (OTB) satellite at the point of payload integration in our Englewood facility clean room, we were excited for the opportunity to show off some of our subsystem hardware. Among those on display were our Procyon Star Tracker with its data processing unit, our X-band Transmitter, and our Antenna Pointing Mechanism. This particular combination of Surrey hardware makes it possible for a satellite to image a target on the ground to thousandths of a degree accuracy while simultaneously downlinking up to 500 megabits per second to a ground station located several hundred miles away. Conferences like AAS GN&C Breckenridge drive development of these kinds of technologies and push satellites into an exciting new realm of possibilities.
 Surrey's Procyon Star Tracker, X-Band Transmitter, and Antenna Pointing Mechanism
Along with many other participants, on Saturday night we attended the technical exhibits session. Booths set up across the conference floor allow attendees to observe displays and demonstrations of state-of-the-art hardware, analysis tools, and services applicable to the advancement of GN&C technology. Among the demonstrations was a remote-controlled robot called “Shazbots” moving about the conference floor stacking and unstacking plastic tubs. This demonstration, put on by Monarch High School of Louisville, Colorado, drew much attention, and it was quite “moving” to see such overwhelming support from the GN&C community. Surrey US recognizes the importance of encouraging STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, and we routinely sponsor student-level projects. The CU Surrey Payload (CUSP), developed by a team of graduate students from the University of Colorado, will fly on OTB in 2016.
 

After a successful exhibition, we attended several technical briefings, paying particular interest to topics covering space debris and innovations in space propulsion. Space debris in the form of dead satellites and small pieces of these satellites broken off over time pose a serious threat to future spacecraft. Debris as small as a fingernail can supply enough energy to destroy or severely damage a spacecraft, jeopardizing relatively expensive scientific objectives. Characterizing the debris environment and understanding future efforts to mitigate this problem are critical to Surrey’s continued success on-orbit. One of the papers presented discusses a technique to de-spin a dead satellite without ever having to “touch” it. Proximity operations and docking with a tumbling satellite that is not well understood in its physical properties is risky. An idea was presented that considers firing electrons at a tumbling target satellite to magnetically charge it. This would allow a nearby satellite to use electromagnetic forces to remove energy from the tumble and make it stable enough to approach for removal from orbit. Other topics included a presentation on the radiation encountered by a star tracker used for a Jupiter mission, and several others making use of the escalating potential of cubesats/nanosats to support increasingly more complex missions.
 Breckenridge, Colorado
All in all, AAS Breckenridge was an enlightening experience—a gathering of minds in such a serene place made for a relaxed learning and networking environment. We’re excited for the future of spacecraft GN&C and the potential that it brings to future missions. Telling a machine in space where to go and how to get there has always been a challenging, often mathematically rich task. We remain focused on finding ways to reduce this complexity through the use of new technologies and techniques that will enable low-cost and high-quality Surrey space missions in the future.

 

05 February 20150 Comments1 Comment

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