It was a perfect STORRM. On Tuesday, July 20, NASA and its industry partners Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., successfully demonstrated a new sensor technology that will make it easier and safer for spacecraft to rendezvous and dock to the International Space Station. This new docking navigation system prototype consists of an eye-safe lidar Vision Navigation Sensor, or VNS, a high-definition docking camera, as well as the avionics and flight software. Both sensors will provide real-time three-dimensional images to the crew with a resolution 16 times higher than the current space shuttle sensors.
This next generation system also provides data from as far away as three miles three times the range of the current shuttle navigation sensor. "You are looking at the future of rendezvous and docking right here," said David L. Taylor, president and CEO of Ball Aerospace, as he welcomed dozens of NASA and industry engineers to the demonstration. The hardware will be tested by astronauts aboard STS-134, the last planned shuttle mission, currently scheduled for February 2011, as part of the Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation (STORRM) Development Test Objective (DTO).
On Flight Day 11 of the mission, the shuttle crew will conduct an unprecedented on-orbit maneuver; they will undock from the space station and then re-rendezvous with the station on an Orion-like approach. Five retro-reflectors, which will serve as targets for the VNS, were installed on the station's visual docking target during the STS-131 shuttle mission in May. The demonstration, held at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colo. offered the STORRM team the chance to operate the flight hardware for personnel who will be supporting STORRM during the mission the astronaut crew, flight director, and mission operations personnel.