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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Draper Heads to Space, Ready for Fire Experiments

Draper-guided cargo ship returns to the ISS 

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Fresh from a successful launch, the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft is headed to the International Space Station (ISS) this week carrying more than essential crew supplies, cubesats and science experiments. Researchers will also use the mission to find out how a large-scale fire acts in space by igniting a 40 cm wide by 96 cm long sample aboard the unmanned spaceship after it leaves the ISS and re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. 

Draper has been a mission partner on Cygnus since the spacecraft assumed commercial resupply missions of the ISS from the Space Shuttle. Draper provides the fault-tolerant computer design, the guidance, navigation and targeting software, and the software that enables Cygnus to rendezvous and berth with the ISS.

Cygnus is returning to the ISS for its seventh resupply mission under Orbital ATK’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, and was named the S.S. John Glenn in honor of the NASA astronaut that passed away this past December at the age of 95. 

The series of spacecraft fire experiments, Saffire, is the first of its kind, according to NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division who sponsor these experiments. Saffire-III—the third and final experiment in this series—will examine how fire spreads in space. Saffire-III follows two previous successful Cygnus missions carrying Saffire-I and Saffire-II. These experiments are designed to give insight into microgravity flammability to improve the safety of future missions. 

Regular cargo trips providing experiments, equipment and necessary crew supplies are essential to life and safety aboard the ISS. During one week in February there were two cargo deliveries within 24 hours of one another. SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft provided supplies for life science studies in space, while the Progress 66 Russian cargo ship arrived hours later with food, fuel and other supplies. In February, four spaceships berthed at the ISS. 

About Orbital ATK 

Orbital ATK is a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies. The company designs, builds and delivers space, defense and aviation systems for customers around the world, both as a prime contractor and merchant supplier. Its main products include launch vehicles and related propulsion systems; missile products, subsystems and defense electronics; precision weapons, armament systems and ammunition; satellites and associated space components and services; and advanced aerospace structures. Headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, Orbital ATK employs more than 12,500 people in 18 states across the U.S. and in several international locations. For more information, visit

Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo spacecraft is captured using the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Orbital ATKs Cygnus pressurized cargo module atop lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.Photo Credit: NASA
Capabilities Used
Positioning, Navigation & Timing (PNT)

Draper develops novel PN&T solutions by combining precision instrumentation, advanced hardware technology, comprehensive algorithm and software development skills, and unique infrastructure and test resources to deploy system solutions. The scope of these efforts generally focuses on guidance, navigation, and control GN&C-related needs, ranging from highly accurate, inertial solutions for (ICBMs) and inertial/stellar solutions for SLBMs, to integrated Inertial Navigation System(INS)/GPS solutions for gun-fired munitions, to multisensor configurations for soldier navigation in GPS-challenged environments. Emerging technologies under development that leverage and advance commercial technology offerings include celestial navigation (compact star cameras), inertial navigation (MEMS, cold atom sensors), precision time transfer (precision optics, chip-scale atomic clocks) and vision-based navigation (cell phone cameras, combinatorial signal processing algorithms).

Fault-Tolerant Systems

Draper has developed mission-critical fault-tolerant systems for more than four decades. These systems are deployed in space, air, and undersea platforms that require extremely high reliability to accomplish challenging missions. These solutions incorporate robust hardware and software partitioning to achieve fault detection, identification and reconfiguration. Physical redundancy or multiple, identical designs protect against random hardware failures and employ rigor in evaluating differences in computed results to achieve exact consensus, even in the presence of faults. The latest designs leverage cost-effective, multicore commercial processors to implement software-based redundancy management systems in compact single-board layouts that perform the key timing, communication, synchronization and voting algorithm functions needed to maintain seamless operation after one, two or three arbitrary faults of individual components.

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