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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

NASA - SPHERES program

The NASA project SPHERES caught my eye at today. Instead of something out of Star Trek (nerds), this one actually comes from... Star Wars! From the NASA site itself:

You won’t find any light sabers on the International Space Station, but you will find a trio of “droids” that look a lot like what any self-respecting science fiction fan remembers as a Star Wars “remote.”

That’s the tricky little device that Luke Skywalker used to hone his light-saber skills before he went up against Darth Vader and the rest of the evil empire.

But instead of being used for light-saber practice, the droids on the space station are being used to test automated rendezvous and formation flying in zero-gravity. And soon, there may be a host of other things the droids will be used to test as their capabilities and uses are expanded and made available for National Laboratory and other uses.

Known officially as Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, the droids have been on the station since 2006. Astronauts have conducted more than 20 experiment sessions with them, and are on tap to conduct many more. Each SPHERES droid is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing and navigation equipment. Together, they are testing techniques that could lead to advancements in automated dockings, satellite servicing, spacecraft assembly and emergency repairs.

NASA even paired it up with a HS development program called Zero Robotics in which students across the US develop code for the robots to solve real world problems. They got to send their code to MIT to test on the actual hardware. Pretty cool.

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