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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Making Commercial Space Flight More Accessible

Draper Readies Dream Chaser for International Space Station

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Flight software developed by Draper is helping to bring routine commercial space flight one step closer to reality. The software will be on Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser® spacecraft for resupplying the International Space Station (ISS). When the un-crewed spacecraft launches to the ISS, its mission will be to deliver six tons of food, supplies and fuel to the orbiting laboratory. 

As an un-crewed spacecraft, Dream Chaser presents a unique set of challenges in its design and navigation. SNC envisioned a spacecraft that could land on a runway, similar to the Space Shuttle, so that it could be reused and put back into space within 60 days. SNC also wanted Dream Chaser to be resilient so that it could meet its goal of flying a minimum of 15 times. 

For the Dream Chaser Cargo System, Draper addressed these challenges by applying its flight-proven capabilities that also enable cargo delivery to the ISS aboard Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft. The capabilities include mission automation and guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) software, as well as the human-rated fault-tolerant flight computer. 

Draper used these same capabilities during the Constellation Program (CxP), when NASA had the Moon as a stepping stone towards missions to Mars. Now the company has brought those capabilities to one of the few spacecraft designated by NASA for resupplying the International Space Station under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) contract awarded to SNC.

Seamus Tuohy, director of space systems at Draper, believes Dream Chaser represents a new chapter in space travel. “The future of routine commercial space flight is quickly approaching, promising to make a trip into space as routine as air travel. Dream Chaser is an important step by showing how we can get to the Space Station and back quickly, easily and safely, and provide the vital cargo for making living and working in space possible for humans.”

The next test for Dream Chaser—a free flight and landing at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center—will help validate the systems specially designed by Draper. The test flight will help confirm elements of the flight software and the flight control computer. It will also validate the spacecraft’s handling and performance characteristics during landing. 

“Dream Chaser enhances the American capability to deliver and return ISS cargo, decreasing our reliance on foreign providers,” added Tuohy. “It also has the potential to increase use of hosted payloads and deployment of CubeSats by more industry and university partners.”

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s un-crewed version of the Dream Chaser space glider will be equipped with Draper’s GN&C software and flight computer. (Credit: SNC) Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser Cargo Spacecraft on runway. (Credit: SNC) An artist’s conception shows Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser Spacecraft and Cargo Module attached to the ISS. (Credit: SNC)
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).

Autonomous Systems

Draper combines mission planning, PN&T, situational awareness, and novel GN&C designs to develop and deploy autonomous platforms for ground, air, sea and undersea needs. These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. The design of these systems generally involves decomposing the mission needs into sets of scenarios that result in trade studies that lead to an optimized solution with key performance requirements.  Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of mission planning, sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.

Precision Instrumentation

Draper develops precision instrumentation systems that exceed the state-of-the-art in key parameters (input range, accuracy, stability, bandwidth, ruggedness, etc.) that are designed specifically to operate in our sponsor’s most challenging environments (high shock, high temperature, radiation, etc.).  As a recognized leader in the development and application of precision instrumentation solutions for platforms ranging from missiles to people to micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Draper finds or develops state-of-the-art components (gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, precision clocks, optical systems, etc.) that meet the demanding size, weight, power and cost needs of our sponsors and applies extensive system design capabilities consisting of modeling, mechanical and electrical design, packaging and development-level testing to realize instrumentation solutions that meet these critical and demanding needs.

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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