Spaceship Autonomously Docks With the ISS

Hey, look at that: the European Space Agency’s Jules Verne docked with the International Space Station under complete computer control. The Jules Verne uses laser-based sensors that are extremely similar to ones I’ve worked on. This means that the ESA and the Russians can dock to the ISS without a human pilot, but the US cannot.

6 thoughts on “Spaceship Autonomously Docks With the ISS

  1. So for the layman, how much sharing of technology is done between the various space agencies? Does that mean there is a team in Europe/Russia that are duplicating your efforts – even though you’d be docking to the same vessel?

  2. Geof:

    We could in the sense of “NASA has access to pieces of the necessary technology,” not in the sense of “NASA could do this today, or even next year.”


    There’s very little sharing among NASA, the ESA, and Roskosmos. Heck, it’s hard enough to get the various NASA centers to share.

    To clear up one thing, though, a bunch of different people and companies are doing docking sensor R&D. In one sense it’s duplication of effort, but in another everyone has a slightly different take on how to approach the problem. The Russian system is a radar-and-transponder approach, for instance.

  3. I read an article last week about an in-orbit traffic jam? Apparently, we have too much stuff up there?

    Aren’t we sharing this mess with the Russians? Don’t they have ‘too much stuff’ as well?

    My buddy works for Orbital Science, and keeps launching stuff from weird places, like out at sea or from their roof, or whatever. He says that in a coupl’a years, we’re either going to build a new station, or set up valet parking at the one we’ve got…

    At that point, what will it matter if it’s a person or a computer waiting in line?

  4. There’s definitely a fair amount of debris in low Earth orbit. That’s one reason people got so shirty about the Chinese blowing up a satellite and spreading hard-to-track junk all around.

    As for whether a person or computer waits in line, it’s safer to resupply the ISS with robotic craft rather than crewed ones.

  5. Oh, I know, Stephen. 🙂

    To answer the sharing question and add to Stephen’s response: yes, it’s pretty competitive. Functionally, the International Partners get Interface Definition Documents and Interface Control Documents … and that’s about it. As a contractor who works with multiple IPs … let me tell you, it’s fun.

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