Friday, August 5, 2011

Mechanical 'Tractor Beam' Wins Prize

Mechanical 'Tractor Beam' Wins Prize: "A company developing technology to enable FedEx-style package deliveries to the International Space Station using an extendable 'sticky boom' to capture and retrieve nanosats has won the 2011 Heinlein NewSpace Business Plan competition run by the Space Frontier Foundation.

Winning the $250,000 prize comes soon after Altius Space Machines tested a prototype of its electroadhesive rendezvous and docking system in zero gravity during parabolic flights of the modified 727 operated by Zero-G.

Video: Altius Space Machines

The sticky boom uses electrostatic adhesion technology developed by SRI International. This can grip both conductive metals and non-conductive materials and would enable a flexible gripper on the end of a long steerable boom to reach out and grab nanosats that are not equipped to rendezvous and dock with the ISS (pdf presentation).

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Graphics: Altius Space Machines

This is the enabler for Altius' 'Direct to Station' concept for just-in-time small package deliveries to the ISS using unmodified nanosats, without needing space tugs or dedicated delivery vehicles.

Altius says the sticky boom system could also be used in small planetary sample-return space probes, to capture and deorbit space junk, or be scaled up to enable EELV-class expendable launchers to deliver Shuttle-class payloads to the ISS, such as expansion modules or replacement components.

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