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Orbital Express Space Operations Architecture

The goal of the Orbital Express Space Operations Architecture program is to validate the technical feasibility of robotic, autonomous on-orbit refueling and reconfiguration of satellites to support a broad range of future U.S. national security and commercial space programs. DARPA foresees that an Orbital Express-derived satellites servicing architecture will usher in a revolution in space operations, enabling maneuverable and upgradable satellites supporting critical national security missions, as well as new and enhanced capabilities for civil and commercial space activities.

Refueling satellites will enable frequent maneuvering to improve coverage, change arrival times to counter denial and deception and improve survivability, as well as extend satellite lifetime. Electronics upgrades on-orbit can provide regular performance improvements and dramatically reduce the time to deploy new technology to space. In addition, a servicing satellite can support deployment and operations of micro-satellites for missions such as space asset protection and sparse aperture formation flying, or deploy nanosatellites for inspection to provide data to support satellite repair.

The Orbital Express advanced technology demonstration program will design, develop and test on-orbit, a prototype servicing satellite (ASTRO) and a surrogate next generation serviceable satellite (NextSat). The elements of the Orbital Express demonstration will be tied together by non-proprietary satellite servicing interfaces (mechanical, electrical, etc.) that will facilitate the development of an industry wide on-orbit servicing infrastructure.

NASA is a partner in the Orbital Express Program and will apply the sensors and software developed for autonomous rendezvous and proximity operations to enable future commercial resupply of the International Space Station and for possible use with a Hubble Space Telescope robotic servicing/deorbit mission. NASA's Space Launch Initiative (SLI) is partnering with DARPA in the Orbital Express demonstration in order to reduce technical risks associated with developing autonomous rendezvous capabilities. Leveraging work done through the Orbital Express technology demonstration is one step toward enabling potential commercial logistics missions to the International Space Station.

Launch of the demonstration system is scheduled for September 2006 as the primary payload on the Air Force Space Test Program STP-1 mission. The routine, cost-effective, autonomous capability for re-supply and reconfiguration of on-orbit spacecraft planned for the post-2010 timeframe.

On 15 March 2002 the Boeing Company was selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as the prime integrator to perform Phase II of the Orbital Express Advanced Technology Demonstration. Under the 42-month $113 million agreement with options, a Boeing Phantom Works team will finalize the design, fabricate and demonstrate the various technologies required for autonomous satellite servicing while on-orbit.

The Boeing Orbital Express Team includes, Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., TRW Space and Technology, McDonald Dettwiler Robotics, Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. and Starsys Research Corp. The team is led by the Phantom Works, the advanced research and development element, which serves as the catalyst of innovation for the Boeing enterprise. By working with the business units, it provides advanced systems solutions and innovative, breakthrough technologies for reducing the cycle time and cost while improving the quality and performance of aerospace products and services.

Ball Aerospace is a member of the Boeing team selected for Phase II of the Orbital Express Advanced Technology Demonstration Program. Ball Aerospace will provide the Next Generation Satellite and Commodities spacecraft (NEXTSat/CSC) and ground support equipment, and reinforce launch and mission operations. Ball Aerospace's NEXTSat/CSC employs architecture from the Deep Impact Impactor, including software, command and data handling, and power switching, as well as elements from BCP-2000, such as the narrow-band telecom architecture from CloudSat.




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