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Orbital tests begin for advanced communication with small spacecraft



The Small Spacecraft Optical Communication and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) mission enables multiple small spacecraft to collaboratively collaborate on scientific or exploration missions to approach another spacecraft or object Observation or maintenance, or to connect small spacecraft together to form larger systems or networks in space. Credit: NanoRacks

NASA's Space and Space Telescope (ISARA) and Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) technologies have recently completed the system checkout and have entered the operational phase to demonstrate a series of technology demonstrations.

The ISARA mission is the first demonstration of a space-based reflectarray antenna as well as an integrated antenna and solar system. ISARA is also the first demonstration of the radio frequency Ka band from a reflector array antenna. In a relatively new type of antenna, the reflection array consists of flat plates with an array of printed circuit boards arranged to focus the radio signal in a manner similar to a parabolic antenna.

ISARA has successfully initiated the demonstration of its radio frequency communications technology by generating a beep through its reflector array antenna at the ground station of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This demonstration enables the downlink of data from a high bandwidth CubeSat Scale spacecraft. The ISARA team will continue to characterize the reflector array antenna to include measurements of signal strength and solar array performance.

OCSD consists of a pair of spacecraft each equipped with lower power laser communication systems. Each spacecraft also has a limited water-based propulsion system. OCSD will demonstrate the very first high-speed laser communication from a CubeSat to a ground station. OCSD will also demonstrate for the first time an optical communications uplink to a CubeSat


Credit: Orbital ATK

OCSD optical communications payload demonstration requires nighttime operation and clear weather due to the limited power of the laser. During the first part of this technology demonstration phase, the mission team is working to align the laser of each spacecraft with a ground station to prepare for the final demonstration of high-speed optical downlink communication. An optical telescope on Mount Wilson in Southern California will be used for the final demonstration.

An additional demonstration involves reconnaissance operations by maneuvering the pair of OCSD spacecraft up to 650 feet apart. OCSD's Proximity Operations demonstration requires that the two spacecraft reduce their distance to three miles so that the laser rangefinders attached to each spacecraft can locate each other. The OCSD spacecraft, which is currently 100 miles apart, has fired its water-based propulsion systems to launch maneuvers to reduce their distance. In the coming days, the two spacecraft are approaching a final distance of 650 feet to begin approach maneuvers.

The ISARA probe is commissioned before launch Integration. Credit: NanoRacks

The technology demonstrations for ISARA and OCSD will continue in the summer until completion.

ISARA's reflector array antenna deployed in orbit to prepare a high-speed wireless communication demonstration. Credit: NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory


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