One of the important components of the Virtual System Integration (VSI) process is subsystem testing. The Orbital Express Capture System (OECS), an important subsystem of the DARPA/Boeing Orbital Express Program Demonstration System, was put through 6 DOF testing at the Marshall Space Flight Center Contact Dynamics Simulation Laboratory. Aims of the testing were two-fold: verify proper functionality of the system in a flight-like test to give early indication of any design issues, and provide appropriate test data for correlation and validation of the capture system dynamics analysis model to support OECS verification.
This paper will briefly review the VSI process, the Orbital Express program, the Orbital Express Capture System and describe recent 6 DOF testing of the Orbital Express 6 DOF Capture System.
The development of autonomous servicing of on-orbit spacecraft has been a sought after objective for many years. A critical component of on-orbit servicing involves the ability to successfully capture, institute mate, and perform electrical and fluid transfers autonomously. As part of a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, Starsys Research Corporation (SRC) began developing such a system. Phase I of the grant started in 1999, with initial work focusing on simultaneously defining the parameters associated with successful docking while designing to those parameters. Despite the challenge of working without specific requirements, SRC completed development of a prototype design in 2000. Throughout the following year, testing was conducted on the prototype to characterize its performance. Having successfully completed work on the prototype, SRC began a Phase II SBIR effort in mid-2001. The focus of the second phase was a commercialization effort designed to augment the prototype model into a more flight-like design. The technical requirements, however, still needed clear definition for the design to progress. The advent of the Orbital Express (OE) program provided much of that definition. While still in the proposal stages of the OE program, SRC began tailoring prototype redesign efforts to the OE program requirements. A primary challenge involved striking a balance between addressing the technical requirements of OE while designing within the scope of the SBIR. Upon award of the OE contract, the Phase II SBIR design has been fully developed. This new design, designated the Mechanical Docking System (MDS), successfully incorporated many of the requirements of the OE program. SRC is now completing dynamic testing on the MDS hardware, with a parallel effort of developing a flight design for OE. As testing on the MDS progresses, the design path that was once common to both SBIR effort and the OE program begins to diverge. The MDS will complete the scope of the Phase II SBIR work, while the new mechanism, the Orbital Express Capture System, will emerge as a flight-qualified design for the Orbital Express program.