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"SPHERES" Engineering Team Completes SPHERES "Blue" Satellite Repair for International Space Station
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"SPHERES" Engineering Team Completes SPHERES "Blue" Satellite Repair for International Space Station

The Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) are bowling ball-sized spherical satellites with power, propulsion, computers, and navigation that can be used for inspections, maintenance, spacecraft assembly, and other operations. The International Space Station (ISS) has been using three of them to conduct science and test a diverse array of hardware and software for more than a decade. One of them, identified as “Blue", was recently found to have some issues with its navigation and propulsion subsystem. It's ultrasound measurements and thrusting performance were not operating nominally, resulting in its return to Earth onboard the SpaceX Dragon Commercial Resupply Service-9 mission for inspection and repair here at NASA Ames Research Center.

In the SPHERES Lab of the Intelligent Systems Division, the SPHERES engineering team, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), spent four weeks working to make the satellite fully operational and meet required standards. The satellite was also integrated with MIT’s Visual Estimation for Relative Tracking and Inspection of Generic Objects (VERTIGO) avionics stack, a vision-based navigation and mapping algorithm program, and the SPHERES ring-shaped Halo attachment, which expands the amount of hardware that is usable simultaneously on a SPHERES satellite. The SPHERES engineering team then performed functional tests to confirm readiness to continue further science on station, which Blue passed. Blue will now be redeployed back up to the ISS with its expanded capabilities.

BACKGROUND: The Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) were originally developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding. The Human Exploration Telerobotics (HET) project added an Android smartphone (Google Nexus S), as well as robotics software, to transform the SPHERES into “Smart SPHERES” – free-flying telerobots equipped with cameras, accelerometers, wireless, and high-performance embedded computing.

The HET project demonstrates how telerobotics – robots remotely operated by astronauts or ground controllers – can be used to perform a variety of routine, highly repetitive, dangerous, or long-duration tasks. The primary goal of HET is to improve NASA’s understanding of the requirements, benefits, limitations, costs, and risks of integrating telerobotics into future deep-space exploration missions.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: Advance Exploration Systems (AES) program, Human Exploration and Operations Mission directorate (HEOMD)

AMES RESEARCH CENTER SPHERES TEAM: Jonathan Barlow, Jose Benavides, Jose Cortez, Robert Hanson, Simeon Kanis, Aric Katterhagen, Darryl LeVasseur, Ken Oyadomari, and Cedric Priscal

COLLABORATORS: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

POINT OF CONTACT: Jose Benavides, jose.v.benavides@nasa.gov

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