SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI) seeks NASA support for the development of a “smart” docking connector for autonomous dock sequencing on a pair of androgynous spacecraft connectors. The “smart” features on the pair of spacecraft connectors includes a sensing and short-range communication technology that will offer navigational information, handshaking, and auto-dock sequencing during proximity operations and docking between the host spacecraft and target spacecraft. As envisioned, once the enhancements through hardware and software are implemented on the connector system an operational capability is offered to help assist the construction of large spacecraft structures or offer upgradeable modular platforms to existing spacecraft structures. The scope of the Phase I effort includes the study and simulation of proximity operations and the benefits that can be added with a “smart” docking connector configuration. This activity will leverage SpaceWorks' existing, novel connector solution, dubbed FuseBlox™, to create a new autonomous docking system and capability.
Applications that involve the development of a very large spacecraft architectures in GEO orbit and beyond can directly benefit from this development. Such applications include, but are not limited too, the following: Lunar Gateway initiative, large space telescopes (such as iSAT), and deep space missions that require a large support system for human transport.
The Air Force and DARPA have been actively pursuing robotic in space assembly and servicing. AFSPC SMS effort has recognized the need for modular hardware and the ability to connect, disconnect and re-connect hardware blocks or assemblies on orbit. Commercial entities such as Intelsat and SES could also use this connector for persistent/modular GEO platform system architectures.