Engineers at Goddard Space Flight Center have overcome limitations plaguing the satellite sector since its inception through the development of a robotic system allowing for the autonomous capture and servicing of in-orbit satellites. By enabling spacecraft to identify, pursue, and attach to a target satellite, this innovation will make possible satellite inspection, repairing, refueling, and upgrading. The major benefits provided by this technology will be of great interest to the commercial satellite sector.
This method begins with the optical seeking and ranging of a target satellite using LiDAR. Upon approach, the tumble rate of the target satellite is measured and matched by the approaching spacecraft. As rendezvous occurs, the spacecraft deploys a robotic grappling arm or berthing pins to provide a secure attachment to the satellite. A series of robotic arms performs servicing autonomously, either executing a pre-programmed sequence of instructions, or a sequence generated by artificial intelligence (AI) logic onboard the robot. Should it become necessary or desirable, a remote operator maintains the ability to abort an instruction or utilize a built-in override to teleoperate the robot.