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Proceedings Paper

DARPA Orbital Express program: effecting a revolution in space-based systems
Author(s): David A. Whelan; E. Allen Adler; Samuel B. Wilson III; Gordon M. Roesler Jr.
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Paper Abstract

A primary goal of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is to develop innovative, high-risk technologies with the potential of a revolutionary impact on missions of the Department of Defense. DARPA is developing a space experiment to prove the feasibility of autonomous on- orbit servicing of spacecraft. The Orbital Express program will demonstrate autonomous on-orbit refueling, as well as autonomous delivery of a small payload representing an avionics upgrade package. The maneuverability provided to spacecraft from a ready refueling infrastructure will enable radical new capabilities for the military, civil and commercial spacecraft. Module replacement has the potential to extend bus lifetimes, and to upgrade the performance of key subsystems (e.g. processors) at the pace of technology development. The Orbital Express technology development effort will include the necessary autonomy for a viable servicing infrastructure; a universal interface for docking, refueling and module transfers; and a spacecraft bus design compatible with this servicing concept. The servicer spacecraft of the future may be able to act as a host platform for microsatellites, extending their capabilities while reducing risk. An infrastructure based on Orbital Express also benefits from, and stimulates the development of, lower-cost launch strategies.

Paper Details

Date Published: 7 November 2000
PDF: 9 pages
Proc. SPIE 4136, Small Payloads in Space, (7 November 2000); doi: 10.1117/12.406656
Show Author Affiliations
David A. Whelan, DARPA (United States)
E. Allen Adler, DARPA (United States)
Samuel B. Wilson III, DARPA (United States)
Gordon M. Roesler Jr., Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Inc. (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 4136:
Small Payloads in Space
Brian J. Horais; Robert J. Twiggs, Editor(s)

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