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Small Spacecraft Technology

CubeSat Proximity Operations Demonstration (CPOD)

Completed Technology Project
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Project Description

The  Tyvak  Nano-Satellite  Systems,  Inc.  de-signed  CPOD  3U  CubeSat  incorporates  a  suite  of  RPOD  sensors,  high  performance  low power processors, modular flight soft-ware,  and  an  advanced  control  system  that  includes a multi-thruster propulsion system.

The CubeSat Proximity Operations Demonstration (CPOD) project will demonstrate rendezvous, proximity operations and docking (RPOD) using two 3-unit (3U) CubeSats. Each CubeSat is a satellite with the dimensions 4 inches x 4 inches x 13 inches (10 centimeters x 10 centimeters x 33 centimeters) and weighing approximately 11 pounds (5 kilograms). This flight demonstration will validate and characterize many new miniature low-power proximity operations technologies applicable to future missions. This mission will advance technologies for nanosatellite attitude determination, navigation and control systems, in addition to demonstrating relative navigation capabilities.

CPOD will demonstrate the ability of the two spacecraft to remain at determined points relative to each other, which is known as relative station keeping. CPOD will also demonstrate precision circumnavigation and docking. Docking will employ the use of a novel universal docking device, imaging sensors, and a multi-thruster cold gas propulsion system.

Many of the proximity operations test scenarios will be performed autonomously using high-performance, on-board processors and flight software. The satellite design leverages existing and next-generation, high performance systems, including sensors and flight software for guidance, navigation and control. The CPOD satellites have 3-axis attitude determination and control and large power charging capacity and storage. The system also contains a half-duplex (one-way communication) ultra high frequency (UHF) communications system with a high-speed, S-band downlink for payload data transfer.

The two satellites will be deployed into orbit together and will initially undergo a series of checkout steps to ensure proper operation and maneuvering capability. Once the initial checkout is complete, the two spacecraft will separate and continue checkout to then begin the proximity operations. The space-to-ground data link from each satellite will enable transmission of images of the other satellite. The two spacecraft will use an inter-satellite link to share GPS and other data.

Using on-board navigation systems, one satellite will perform a series of circumnavigation maneuvers relative to the second satellite in order to validate and characterize performance of the new miniature sensors. After the sensors have been characterized, the chaser satellite will begin closing the distance to the first satellite during a series of planned maneuvers. Finally, when they have reached a close relative range, they will conduct the last portion of the mission by engaging the docking mechanism and performing a full docking of the two spacecraft.

This mission opens a new frontier for exploration and operations with small spacecraft. The maturation of these capabilities will enable new applications for small spacecraft to explore asteroids, planets, moons, and to inspect other spacecraft. In addition, the CPOD mission enhances the capability of small spacecraft to work in coordination with one another for observations or to become in space building blocks for more sophisticated systems.

Fast Facts:

  • The entire sequence of rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking (RPOD) of CPOD’s two 3U CubeSats will mark the first occurrence of this operation between 3U CubeSats in orbit.
  • The RPOD operational sequence will be performed autonomously, without control from the ground.
  • CPOD’s propulsion system occupies the center section of each 3U spacecraft. A total of eight thrusters per spacecraft allow the precise maneuvering required for the RPOD sequence.
  • The CPOD mission launched on May 25, 2022 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida aboard a Falcon 9 rocket as part of SpaceX’s Transporter-5 mission.
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