Space innovators at the University of Surrey and SSTL are developing STRaND-2, a twin-satellite mission to test a novel in-orbit docking system based on the XBOX Kinect technology.
Similar in design to STRaND-1, the identical twin satellites will each measure 30cm (3 unit Cubesat) in length, and will utilise components from the XBOX Kinect games controller to scan the local area and provide the satellites with spatial awareness on all three axes - thus allowing them to dock.
The STRaND team sees the relatively low cost nanosatellites as intelligent "space building blocks" that could be stacked together and reconfigured to build larger modular spacecraft.
SSTL Project Lead Shaun Kenyon says
"We were really impressed by what MIT had done flying an autonomous model helicopter that used Kinect and asked ourselves: Why has no-one used this in space? Once you can launch low cost nanosatellites that dock together, the possibilities are endless, like space building blocks."
The STRaND-2 twins will be separated after launch. After the initial phase of system checks, the two satellites will be commanded to perform the docking procedure and, when in close proximity, the Kinect-based docking system will provide the satellites with 3D spatial awareness to align and dock.
Dr Chris Bridges, Surrey Space Centre Project Lead says
"It may seem far-fetched, but our low cost nanosatellites could dock to build large and sophisticated modular structures such as space telescopes. Unlike today's big space missions, these could be reconfigured as mission objectives change, and upgraded in-orbit with the latest available technologies."
Other applications for STRaND-2 include the safe removal of space debris and spacecraft maintenance, with a low cost "snap-on" nanosatellite providing backup power, propulsion or additional on-board computing capability.
STRaND-2 in the news:
Thinking outside the box in Space - BBC News
Nanosatellites to use XBox game controller for space docking mission - SEN
Twin satellites will use Kinect technology to dock in Space - Wired
New Brit nanosatellite to use XBox Kinect for docking in Space - The Register
Surrey Satellites to put XBox parts in space - Electronics Weekly