NASA SBIR 2002 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER:02-II S4.02-8438 (For NASA Use Only - Chron: 023561 )
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Planetary Mobility and Robotics, Sub-Surface Access, and Autonomous Control Technologies
PROPOSAL TITLE: SPHERES-derived Mars Orbiting Sample Retrieval Testbed (SPHERES MOSR)

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN: (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/ZIP, Phone)
Payload Systems, Inc.
247 Third Street
Cambridge , MA   02142 - 1129
(617 ) 868 - 8086

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER: (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/ZIP, Phone)
Joe Parrish
247 Third Street
Cambridge , MA   02142 - 1129
(617 ) 868 - 8086

We propose to modify the Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) system to serve as an on-orbit testbed for Mars orbiting sample retrieval (MOSR) equipment and techniques for a Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. The SPHERES system, a novel spacecraft flight testbed developed by Payload Systems Inc. and the MIT Space Systems Laboratory, is currently scheduled for its first mission aboard the International Space Station in 2004 to demonstrate metrology, formation flying, rendezvous/docking, and autonomy algorithms. The innovation proposed here would adapt and extend the SPHERES system for a follow-on mission to ISS to serve as a testbed for MSR autonomous terminal-phase rendezvous and capture technologies ? including guidance algorithms, rendezvous and capture techniques, and capture mechanisms ? as would be involved in the retrieval of a sample lofted into Mars orbit. The autonomous retrieval of the orbiting sample is one of the most technically complex and risky aspects of the MSR mission. The SPHERES MOSR testbed would streamline OS retrieval algorithm and hardware development, and significantly reduce the risk of this critical MSR mission operation. This Phase II effort would result in a flight hardware system implementation ready to enter the Shuttle/ISS payload integration process.

The primary NASA commercial application for the SPHERES MOSR testbed is in support of the NASA Mars Sample Return mission development. We believe that the testbed will play a unique role in simulating contact dynamics between the target and chaser. An unanticipated result obtained during Phase I was that the testbed could serve a critical role in evaluating capture mechanism designs. We also feel that the testbed will be useful for rapid prototyping of MSR rendezvous/capture algorithms, taking advantage of the unique iterative capability of the SPHERES system during operation on ISS. The testbed would have immediate relevance to other NASA missions requiring autonomous on-orbit rendezvous/docking, including sample return missions from other planetary bodies and construction/servicing of large, distributed space optical systems. While these other missions are still in the initial planning phases, the testbed could be highly useful in support of advanced technology development and mission architecture studies.

We anticipate applications in the military and commercial sectors. The DoD is seriously investigating autonomous rendezvous and docking for the purpose of resupply, maintenance, and upgrading of valuable orbital assets. DARPA?s Orbital Express program is leading this investigation. If the Orbital Express program yields a positive result, we anticipate that several DoD organizations will develop autonomous rendezvous and docking technologies. We would position the SPHERES MOSR testbed in a similar role as for the NASA missions ? as a low-cost, uniquely-capable system for rapid, iterative evaluation of algorithms and hardware for the last-few-meters problem. Also, because it is extraordinarily inexpensive relative to other spaceflight and associated ground research systems, we believe that there are multiple commercial sales opportunities for the testbed in academic and government research programs. We would expect that these applications would be for complete systems ? perhaps more oriented toward ground application ? than the mission-oriented options discussed above.

Form Printed on 10-03-03 11:34