Engineers to use Kinect technology to dock orbiting satellites

Surrey Satellite Technology and the University of Surrey to develop small satellites that can be attached to form bigger satellite

Microsoft’s Kinect technology may soon help small satellites dock in space.

U.K. based tech company, Surrey Satellite Technology, is working with researchers at the University of Surrey to develop small satellites that can be attached to form bigger satellites.

To dock the satellites together in space, the innovators have derived the technology straight from Microsoft’s now famous Kinect technology. The small satellites are called STRaND. The innovators plan to test the new docking system through a test mission of the twin satellites.

The satellites are developed from low cost materials extracted from everyday electronics. For instance, STRaND-1’s on board computer is a Google Nexus phone. A year ago, it would have been hard to imagine that the same Kinect technology common in gaming could help satellites coordinate docking in space.

The satellites, measuring 12-inch, will dock using Kinect sensors to scan the surrounding, determine their immediate situation in 3D and dock together. The idea is akin to Kinect sensor’s use in home gaming, where it detects movements and gestures of users. The idea is to build smaller robots and stack them together in space to form larger modular spacecraft.

According to project leader Dr Chris Bridges, a spacecraft engineer at the University of Surrey, the new smaller satellites could be handy in undertaking complex space missions that need reconfiguring. The satellites can be easily reconfigured as requirements for missions adjust and advance.

Researchers could easily switch out components and update equipment in orbit, Bridges said. In essence, the smaller satellites are more "like space building blocks," said Shaun Kenyon, a Surrey Satellite Technology engineer and another project lead.

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