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Smart SPHERES Satellites Employ Smartphone Software for Navigation Demonstration
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Smart SPHERES Satellites Employ Smartphone Software for Navigation Demonstration

On Thursday, January 8, 2015, International Space Station (ISS) crew successfully conducted the Human Exploration Telerobotics (HET) Smart Synchronize Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) free-flying navigation demonstration. European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti connected a modified Google Project Tango smartphone to the SPHERES satellite and commanded it to conduct a series of maneuvers. The smartphone provided a trajectory to the SPHERES, then the Smartphone vision-based navigation software used the InfraRed (IR) projector and wide-angle camera on the phone to estimate the satellite’s pose relative to the inside of ISS. The data collected will be analyzed to compare the quality of the smartphone estimate to the SPHERES beacon estimate. This was the first time that hardware connected to SPHERES estimated its position relative to ISS without using the beacons. It was also the first time that the SPHERES operated outside the beacon space; this was a significant achievement for the satellites.

BACKGROUND: The purpose of the HET project is to demonstrate and assess remote operation of advanced robots to increase productivity, reduce cost, and mitigate risk for future deep-space human exploration missions. The HET Smart SPHERES project explores how we can use free-flying robots to augment and support crew activities. The free-flying SPHERES are volleyball-sized satellites with power, propulsion, computing and navigation equipment. The Google Project Tango smartphone acts as an embedded computing platform and integrated sensor package that includes an IR projector, IR camera, Red-Green-Blue (RGB) camera, and a wide-angle camera. For the HET Smart SPHERES tests, the smartphone is connected to the SPHERES through a communication cable. A wireless network connection to ISS provides the data path to the ground.

TEAM: ARC: Terry Fong, Jason Lum, Zack Moratto, Chris Provencher, Ernie Smith, Vinh To, and DW Wheeler; JPL: Jay Torres

COLLABORATORS: Technology Demonstration Missions (TDM), Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD)


Contact: Chris Provencher

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