SPHERES: A Space Odyssey (aboard the ISS)
On 2009-08-15 the MIT SPHERES Team held is 18th Test Session with astronauts Michael Barratt and Timothy Kopra operating our satellites aboard the International Space Station. The SPHERES program (http://ssl.mit.edu/spheres) operates nano-satellites aboard the ISS in order to help mature control algorithms.
In this specific test (which is slightly sped up in the video), the two satellites are performing "Formation Flight" tests. They start close to each other, and slowly spiral out creating a larger circle. They did this staying within 13mm of the target path. The peacefulness of the spiral motion reminded everyone in the room of "2001 A Space Odyssey", so we gave this video the same score from "An der schönen blauen Donau" (On The Beautiful Blue Danube) by Johann Strauss II.
Formation Flight will be useful for future space telescopes. If we can get two or more small telescope satellites to fly in formation, and keep their mirrors aligned to within a few nano-meters (we're getting started, but have a long way to go), then the formation flying satellites would simulate a large telescope, giving us images of distant planets far beyond the great things that the Hubble Space Telescope can do today.
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