This week, Altius is rolling out an updated homepage with a focus on a commercial ISS-enabled SmallSat deployment project (“HatchBasket™”) that we’re developing with the help of NanoRacks LLC. HatchBasket is a basket-shaped structure that carries one or more CubeSat/SmallSat deployers, which is designed to mount into the hatchway of an ISS cargo vehicle, immediately prior to departure from ISS. HatchBasket allows deployment of spacecraft at altitudes higher than ISS (potentially up to 500km altitude), giving them a much longer on-orbit lifetime.
We’ll be doing a series of blog posts over the coming days to explain in more detail what HatchBasket is, how it works, what type of unique missions it can enable, and what benefits it can provide customers (you can get a sneak preview by checking out our SmallSat paper on our publications page). But for those of you who have been following us for the past several years, we wanted to start with a little bit of back-story explaining how a space robotics company got involved with developing a small satellite deployment system.
Sticky Boom™/CSRM Flight Demonstration
Over the past several years, we have been developing prototype deployable robotics systems for spacecraft capture (Sticky Boom™), inspection (STEM Arm), dextrous manipulation (Compactly Stowable Robotic Manipulators), and space logistics (Direct to Station/D2S™).
Back in 2012, we started investigating various approaches for flight-testing some of this hardware once it was ready. We were particularly interested in flight testing our capture technologies, so we were trying to find a vehicle that already had prox-ops capabilities (like Dragon, Cygnus, and other ISS cargo vehicles) to enable us to demonstrate both rendezvous and capture operations. We started initially looking at hosting a robotic arm on the face of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft that is enclosed within the CBM Vestibule when berthed do the station. That way the robot arm could be installed post-launch, and checked-out prior to departure. We weren’t sure at the time what “keep-in” volume NASA would give us for payloads inside the vestibule, so one of our team members had the concept of replacing the pressure hatch (before leaving the station) with a basket-like structure to give us more volume to work with…
Over the same 2011-2012 timeframe, we had been discussing with NanoRacks some options for using our robotic arms for deploying CubeSats and larger SmallSats from ISS, a concept we were calling NanoDeploy at the time.
While NanoRacks decided to go with a simpler, more traditional approach for their ISS CubeSat launches, they did bring up the fact that many of their customers were interested in deployments at higher altitudes than ISS. Deployments from ISS at its current 415km operating altitude typically have lifetimes on the order of 6-12 months. While that is more than sufficient for some educational and tech demo cubesats, many customers of theirs were interested in methods that could extend the lifetime of their satellites by starting at a higher orbit…
Putting Things Together
We realized that we could combine the two ideas to create a system that could both deploy commercial CubeSats/SmallSats from ISS and also serve as a hosted payloads platform for performing tests that would not be safe to perform at ISS, such as demonstrating non-cooperative capture or demonstrating our Direct to Station deliveries concept. And that’s the genesis of how Altius became involved in developing a commercial SmallSat deployer.
SmallSat 2014 Presence
We’ll be presenting our HatchBasket concept on Tuesday at 11:45am at the 2014 AIAA Small Sat Conference, and we have booth #132T in case you are here at the conference and would like to learn more about HatchBasket, and see a full-scale mockup of our largest HatchBasket version.
More HatchBaskety goodness to follow.