Game Console Technology to Guide Satellites
UK engineers are developing a satellite guiding system using Microsoft’s Kinect, originally designed for the Xbox 360.
The motion tracking software will allow twin shoebox-sized satellites to dock in-orbit.
Separating after launch, the twin STRaND-2 nanosatellites navigate through space by detecting each other’s movements. The Kinect components kick in once they are already in close proximity, allowing the satellites to scan the local area, providing 3D spatial awareness so they can align and connect.
The STRaND-2 twins are the latest innovation from the Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator programme (STRaND). The programme utilises low-cost technology from consumer products to create innovative designs. The STRaND-1 satellite (soon to be completed) uses a Google Nexus phone as its onboard computer.
Kinect technology has already been used to fly autonomous helicopters, guide the blind and teach robots how to sword fight, inspiring the creators of STRaND-2 to ask how it could be used in space.
“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?” project lead Shaun Kenyon said.
If these tiny test satellites are successful, it will be the first time such small crafts have docked in-orbit, a feat normally reserved for the likes of the International Space Station, the Apollo program and the Mir space station.
The STRaND team hope to use the nanosatellites for the removal of space debris, spacecraft maintenance, and as ‘space building blocks’ by connecting multiple units together to build large structures in-orbit, like telescopes.
“Once you can launch low cost nanosatellites that dock together, the possibilities are endless,” said Kenyon.