I Have Stuff in Orbit

I don’t normally talk about work here, since that’s a good way to get Dooced, but this is too cool for me not to share. About three years ago I had a project to design and build retro-reflecting targets for the Advanced Video Guidance Sensor, a device that measures how far away the targets are and how they’re oriented. If you know that and you know how the targets are mounted to a satellite, you know the distance to the satellite and which way the satellite is pointing. That’s the kind of stuff you need to know if you’re going to dock two spacecraft on orbit without a pilot flying one of them.

And as it happens, DARPA, Boeing and NASA are doing just that for the Orbital Express mission. Orbital Express has two satellites that will move away from each other, re-dock, and transfer fluid to demonstrate on-orbit satellite refueling. OE is using AVGS and our targets.

OE targets

Ah, there our targets are, nicely circled in red. Anyway, Orbital Express launched on March 8th. Today I found out that DARPA has released footage of the two satellites on orbit as viewed from the camera arm. If you watch the video, at the very beginning you can see one of our targets — it’s the bright white cylinder in the top right corner. At 00:26 you can see one of the targets move from the left side of the video to the right and another come into the field of view. At 02:25 to 02:27 you can see a very overexposed version of the smaller target cluster.

Like many kids, I dreamed of being an astronaut. One night in high school, while I waited for my parents to pick me up, I lay down in the grass and stared up past the brick wall next to me and into space. “I’ll see you one day,” I whispered to the moon. Later I realized that I would never be an astronaut, and how the difficulties of going to space meant I would likely never leave the ground. For a boy who dreamed of the stars, having something you held in your hand, something you helped shepherd from idea to reality, now orbiting the Earth is the next best thing.

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