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BOULDER, Colo., March 8 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- The first-of-its kind, autonomous servicing demonstration satellite launched on Thursday, March 8, 2007 , aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The three-month space mission is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The Orbital Express (OE) Advanced Technology Demonstration Program dual-satellite mission, includes the Next Generation Satellite and Commodities Spacecraft (NextSat/CSC), built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., and the Autonomous Space Transfer and Robotic Orbiter (ASTRO) built by The Boeing Company. The mission is designed to demonstrate the capability of robotic refueling, autonomous rendezvous and docking, as well as repairs and equipment upgrades of a spacecraft on-orbit.
"This pioneering demonstration advances critical technologies that support national security missions," said David L. Taylor, president and chief executive officer of Ball Aerospace. "A successful Orbital Express demonstration could revolutionize future space systems both in terms of cost and the extension of spacecraft life."
The two spacecraft are designed to transfer between them spacecraft fuel and two Orbital Replacement Units, a battery and computer. On orbit they will separate and demonstrate rendezvous and capture from increasing distances and levels of autonomy. Ball Aerospace's NextSat/CSC employs architecture adapted from the successful Deep Impact Impactor, including software, command and data handling, and power switching; as well as elements from BCP-2000, such as then arrow-band telecom architecture from the Ball-built CloudSat. The DeepImpact Impactor was able to autonomously steer itself into the path of comet Tempel 1 in 2005, using similar technologies that the NextSat/CSC spacecraft bus will use to demonstrate rendezvous and capture sequences during its mission.