NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are asking for proposals to enhance small satellite experiments on the International Space Station. The goal is to better utilize the station as a test bed for advanced space technologies.
The effort is centered on Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES). SPHERES are bowling-ball sized spherical satellites used inside the station to test maneuvers for spacecraft performing autonomous rendezvous and docking.
The three satellites fly in formation inside the station’s cabin. Each is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing and navigation equipment. The test results are used to support satellite servicing, vehicle assembly and spacecraft that fly in formation.
“The continued expansion of capabilities will lead to an increased knowledge of navigation systems and stimulate a large number of next generation spacecraft developers,” said Jason Crusan, chief technologist for Space Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
A new program, International Space Station Spheres Integrated Research Experiments, or InSPIRE, is designed to use SPHERES to test advanced space technologies and facilitate student and public participation in the development process. NASA and DARPA are soliciting ideas to bring the power of crowd-sourcing – a concept in which many people in a community can contribute ideas or concepts – to SPHERES experiments.
Crowd-sourcing and educational outreach activities, including a competition among high schools across the U.S., are an important part of the InSPIRE program. The purpose is to advance science, technology, engineering and mathematics educational outreach for high school students and the public.
SPHERES have been used by many organizations, including other government agencies and graduate student research groups, since the program began in 2006. The satellites provide opportunities to test a wide range of hardware and software at an affordable cost.
“The ability to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers through meaningful space experimentation is really at the heart of this new program,” said Paul Eremenko, DARPA program manager.