By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies. You can find out more by following this link Accept & Close ›
Space Blog

The building blocks of a future in space

In the popular imagination, spacecraft and satellites are still the stuff of 1950s science fiction: large in scale and perhaps more shining matter than technological substance. However, the time has come to radically alter how we think about the scale of space technology. After all, the iPhone is infinitely more powerful than the computers that helped us put the first man on the moon! The contrast in scale between those two tech-icons would have seemed mindboggling a generation ago, but today, small is powerful. The unprecedented power of mobile technology fired up the imagination of the engineers at SSTL and its academic counterpart, the Surrey Space Centre (SSC), leading to the ongoing STRaND-1 mission. The miniature scale of this smartphone-powered satellite presented a question to the STRaND (Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) team: What might be possible if we could send multiple nanosatellites into orbit and dock them together as the "building blocks" for a satellite of infinite scale and flexibility? This intriguing question has led to STRaND-2, a twin-satellite mission to test an in-orbit docking system ­"“ this time employing XBOX Kinect technology. The SSTL team is developing identical twin satellites, each measuring just 30cm (3 unit Cubesat) in length and using the XBOX wireless games controller to scan space and provide the satellites with 3D spatial awareness. The twin satellites will dock together, and are envisaged as prototype "˜space building blocks’: intelligent components that could be stacked together in multiple configurations to form larger and more powerful, modular spacecraft. Docking systems have never before been deployed for missions on such a small scale; and the possible advantages of this new concept in space technology are both broad and exciting. Fundamentally, they are relatively low-cost; so the cost of building larger space structures such as telescopes could be considerably reduced along with the possibility of mission failure "“ with a modular system the failure of one component doesn’t mean blanket catastrophe.
The International Space Station (ISS) is an engineering marvel, built up from large modular spacecraft. Credit: NASA
Doug Liddle, Head of Science commented:
"This is the International Space Station (ISS) done small "“ we could build bigger aperture telescopes, upgrade satellites in-orbit, or reconfigure satellites. This approach helps solve the limitations of nanosatellites by distributing power, downlink or thermal functions to synthesize the capabilities of a 1 tonne satellite."
The results of STRaND-2 could also have radical impact on projects such the James Webb telescope, as Dr Chris Bridges, SSC project lead, explains:
"Our docking Nanosatellites could build large and sophisticated structures such as space telescopes. They could be re-configured depending on the mission objectives and upgrade in-orbit with the latest available technology."
The type of system-upgrading principle as described by Dr. Bridges is likely to sound very familiar to the average Earth-bound technology consumer. Whereas in the past so much of the consumer technologies we take for granted owe their origins to space technology’s development, the enormous investment in mobile technology R&D is providing both the inspiration and the technology for a future of cost-effective, fast evolving and flexible space infrastructure. You can follow the exploits of the team on the STRaND Facebook page and @SurreyNanosats on Twitter.





30 May 20120 Comments1 Comment

Back to Blog

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.
 Security code

About This Blog

SSTL's lowdown on cost effective space technology, small satellites, space science and interplanetary exploration.

Post Archive

October 2017(1)
May 2017(1)
January 2017(2)
October 2016(3)
September 2016(1)
July 2016(1)
June 2016(1)
April 2016(1)
March 2016(4)
February 2016(3)
December 2015(2)
November 2015(3)
October 2015(3)
July 2015(1)
May 2015(0)
May 2015(1)
April 2015(1)
March 2015(2)
February 2015(2)
January 2015(2)
December 2014(1)
November 2014(2)
October 2014(2)
September 2014(1)
July 2014(2)
June 2014(3)
May 2014(1)
April 2014(1)
March 2014(1)
February 2014(2)
January 2014(2)
November 2013(3)
October 2013(2)
September 2013(2)
July 2013(3)
June 2013(2)
May 2013(2)
April 2013(4)
March 2013(1)
February 2013(3)
January 2013(5)
December 2012(6)
November 2012(5)
October 2012(4)
September 2012(4)
August 2012(1)
July 2012(6)
June 2012(1)
May 2012(2)
April 2012(5)
March 2012(3)
February 2012(3)
January 2012(1)
December 2011(1)
November 2011(4)
October 2011(5)
September 2011(4)
August 2011(3)
July 2011(4)
June 2011(6)
May 2011(3)
April 2011(1)
March 2011(3)
February 2011(2)
January 2011(3)
December 2010(2)
November 2010(1)
October 2010(2)
September 2010(4)
August 2010(4)
July 2010(2)
June 2010(2)
May 2010(2)
April 2010(4)
March 2010(4)
February 2010(4)
January 2010(3)
December 2009(2)
November 2009(5)
October 2009(2)
September 2009(6)
August 2009(4)
July 2009(3)
June 2009(1)
May 2009(2)
March 2009(2)
February 2009(5)
January 2009(2)
December 2008(3)
November 2008(6)
October 2008(5)
September 2008(3)
August 2008(5)
June 2008(1)
May 2008(3)
April 2008(5)
March 2008(1)
February 2008(1)
January 2008(3)
December 2007(3)
November 2007(6)
October 2007(3)
September 2007(3)
August 2007(1)
July 2007(1)
June 2007(2)
May 2007(2)
April 2007(1)
January 2007(3)
December 2006(1)
September 2006(1)
May 2006(2)
January 2006(1)
December 2005(7)

Show/Hide All

If you like Space Blog, why not subscribe by RSS by clicking the subscribe button, or to recieve updates by email click the subscribe by email button.

*Comments Policy
SSTL reserves the right not to publish comments if they are deemed inappropriate.