Launching a spacecraft is a big investment. If anything goes wrong, you’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars of junk in space. And even if the spacecraft is working perfectly, but just runs out of fuel, its communications equipment can’t be directed at the Earth properly.
Boeing took a step forward to solving that problem last week with a test of its Orbital Express system, a spacecraft that will validate on-orbit servicing. During a 5-hour test on June 16, the Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations (ASTRO) servicing spacecraft separated from another spacecraft, made an automated fly around, and then re-attached.
The important thing here is that the entire maneuver was done autonomously. It simulated the approach that a servicing spacecraft would take when docking with a spacecraft, making sure to avoid its antennas and cameras.
During its next test, ASTRO will depart and fly to a range of 4 km (2.5 miles) before approaching and performing a free-fly capture with its robotic arm.
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Original Source: Boeing