Cygnus spacecraft to use Canadian technology
A system developed by Ottawa-based Neptec Design Group and tested on three NASA space shuttle flights will be used in the unmanned Cygnus spacecraft being developed by Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp., Neptec announced this week.
"It's really gratifying to see after our three test flights that we now have a commercial application for the product," said Mike Kearns, vice president of space exploration for Neptec, Friday.
Unmanned cargo spaceships
Unmanned cargo spaceships have already been sent to the International Space Station by Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency. They are typically designed to be single-use craft that burn up in the atmosphere upon reentry.
In 2008, NASA awarded contracts to Orbital Sciences Corp. and SpaceX Technologies Corp. to deliver a minimum of 20 tonnes of cargo to the International Space Station. Both companies are currently developing unmanned spacecraft, and SpaceX is scheduled to launch its first flights later in 2011.
"It's very exciting and important for the company."
The company would not disclose the amount of the contract, citing competitive reasons.
The Cygnus spacecraft will be used by Orbital to fulfill its $1.9 billion contract with NASA for eight cargo delivery flights to the International Space Station after the end of NASA's space shuttle program.
NASA's final space shuttle flight returned to Earth this past Wednesday, forcing it to rely on commercial flights for the next few years.
The first Neptec sensor will be used on the second Cygnus flight, and two others will be on each flight after that for a total of 13. Each spacecraft is designed to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere after delivering its cargo.
Neptec's TriDAR rendezvous and docking system uses lasers to locate a specific object in space, such as the International Space Station, based on its geometry.
The system's ability to find and track the space station was tested on shuttle flights in 2009 and 2010, as well as aboard Atlantis for NASA's final space shuttle flight. However, the astronauts did not actually rely on the information as the Cygnus spacecraft will.
"We're hoping to find other applications in the space world."
The first Cygnus demonstration mission is scheduled to take place in the first three months of 2012. Two commercial resupply flights are scheduled for later in the year.