Aurora's Space Technologies


Aurora’s history with space projects dates back to extensive work on the MarsFlyer aircraft for flight in the atmosphere of Mars. With the acquisition of Payload Systems Incorporated in 2007, Aurora further bolstered its space portfolio, including the unique SPHERES on-orbit testbed. Payload and Aurora spaceflight systems have performed successfully — without a single unrecoverable failure on orbit — on more than two-dozen missions on free-flyers, the Space Shuttle, Spacelab, the International Space Station, and the Russian Mir space station.


Synchronized Position Hold, Engage & Reorient Experiment Satellites (SPHERES)

The SPHERES project is a collaborative effort with the MIT Space Systems Laboratory to develop and operate a testbed for satellite formation flight on the International Space Station. The SPHERES system consists of three self-contained satellites, each with battery power, a cold gas propulsion system, and onboard communications and navigation equipment. Using Ultrasound transmitter beacons in a designated arrangement aboard ISS, the satellites individually measure their respective positions and attitudes in relation to one other and to the defined volume. SPHERES provides a unique opportunity for researchers on the ground to test control algorithms in the microgravity environment of space, receive testing data, then refine and uplink new algorithms in a relatively short period of time, thus contributing to an accelerated iterative process unavailable in other testing environments.

Positive Pressure Relief Valve (PPRV)

An overpressure condition (for example, from a gas container leaking during launch) in any sealed ISS module would be potentially catastrophic for the modules. PPRV’s protect the structural integrity of the module during the launch phase by venting overboard when the internal module pressure rises above a preset value. Prior to launch, the PPRV’s are installed on the end-caps of ISS modules; following initial on-orbit activities, they are subsequently replaced with manual Pressure Equalization Valves and returned to earth for reuse. We also refurbish and re-certify used valves as they are deinstalled and returned to Earth. PPRV’s are installed on all US and Japanese ISS modules.

Aurora is currently under contract to Thales Alenia Space Italia to supply PPRV flight sets for use on COTS commercial cargo modules for launch to the International Space Station.


Low–design-Impact Inspection Vehicle (LIIVe)

Very close autonomous proximity operations with a host spacecraft is an enabling ability for many kinds of space missions, including orbital debris disposal, spacecraft inspection, servicing, and space situational awareness (SSA). Such operations have, however, never been demonstrated on orbit. NRL’s Low–design-Impact Inspection Vehicle (LIIVe) program is developing the sensors, algorithms, and concepts of operations (ConOps) necessary to safely operate a small inspection vehicle at single–meter distances from a host spacecraft. LIIVe is based on MIT’s SPHERES vehicle, to which it adds an expansion board with cameras, lighting, and a powerful flight processor. In preparation for a full orbital demonstration, NRL proposes to fly the LIIVe expansion board to ISS and use it to demonstrate a SPHERES vehicle flying autonomously through the interior of the space station.

Synthetic Imaging Maneuver Optimization (SIMO)

Space-based interferometry missions have the potential to revolutionize imaging and astrometry, providing observations of unprecedented accuracy. Realizing the full potential of these interferometers poses several significant technological challenges. SIMO will develop a methodology, calibrated through hardware-in-the-loop testing, to optimize spacecraft maneuvers to more efficiently synthesize images for space-based astronomy missions such as Stellar Imager. Time and fuel-optimal maneuvers, maneuver waypoints (number and location), number of spacecraft, the size of the sub-apertures, and the type of propulsion system will be modeled and comprehensively traded. Selected architectures will be tested using the SPHERES test bed augmented with custom designed instrumentation.