The Goddard Satellite Servicing Center are like an incubator for satellite servicing technology—where space systems, components and tasks are put to the test in simulated environments, honed and refined, and finally declared ready for action in orbit.
Operating under the mantra of "test, test, and retest," these Earth-bound labs use industrial robots, a motion-based platform, and customized algorithms to create simulations of space operations on large and small scales.
Capabilities range from simulating a robotic arm servicing a satellite in space, to how a satellite would approach a tumbling object (such as an uncontrollable spacecraft or a rotating asteroid), to seeing how fuel sloshing in a tank or thruster firings would affect a satellite's behavior in microgravity. Mission developers use the facilities' data to fine-tune systems, controllers, and systems for optimum performance and environment interaction.
The facilities are more than simulation labs—they are development centers and technology test beds all in one.
Unlike labs that rely on two-dimensional air floors and gravity off-load systems to perform simulations, the facilities use a three-dimensional dynamic simulator powered by industrial robots and a motion-based platform that offer a wide range of motion and dexterity. This allows facilities to deliver large- and small-scale simulations with both mockups (models) and actual flight hardware.
A large room with dark walls, a combination of industrial and space-qualified robots, and full-scale "mockups," or models, of space vehicles characterize the facility in West Virginia. The WV Center contains a replica of a human exploration vehicle, a mockup of an airlock and cargo hold, and models of satellites.
Two locations provide an optimum range of simulations and capabilities. The Satellite Servicing Center at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., primarily devotes its efforts to small-scale simulations and flight hardware preparation. The team works closely with the West Virginia University and the West Virginia Research and Technology Center in Fairmont, W.Va., which was built with the support of a grant from Goddard. The WVRTC focuses on developing and evaluating emerging technologies.
NASA's Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office relied heavily on the Goddard facility to develop, integrate, and test NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM. This 2011 International Space Station experiment is demonstrating robotic satellite-servicing tools, technologies and techniques. From the precise placement of cameras on the tools to robotic procedures and hardware development, the Goddard facility played an essential role in RRM development and will continue to support RRM's on-orbit operations on space station.
In the past, the Goddard facility has demonstrated lunar rover modularity and serviceability (2007), tested optical recognition sensors and relative navigation sensors (2007), dynamically simulated a proposed Lunar Surface Manipulator System (2008), and supported preparations for the Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 4 (2009).
In 2011, personnel from the West Virginia facility worked with researchers from NASA's Langley Research Center to start to develop procedures to construct a large rod and joint simulated space structure that could be used as a telescope mirror platform. Learn more about this "Giant 3-D Space Puzzle"