Roadside assistance in space: The service satellite that just launched

Passing digitals signals through the fibre coil as opposed to analog signals allows these manoeuvres to be performed with around 40 per cent more accuracy, Orr said.

“By measuring the digital signal on the other side and inferring some of the errors from that visual signal, you can remove errors from the output result,” he said. 

“This takes a lot of the risk out of some of the more delicate operations such as docking and orbital jumps.”

Redesign for space

Along with accuracy requirements, the extreme weather conditions in space also factored into the need for a robust navigation system.

“One of the biggest challenges in space is that there’s no atmosphere,” Orr said.

Should air be trapped in space infrastructure, this can lead to outgassing. 

“Any volatile compound can outgas, so there are unique engineering challenges associated with creating products designed to operate without any issues in a vacuum.” 

Advanced Navigation’s Boreas X90. Image credit: supplied

Another more difficult challenge to overcome is cosmic radiation, comprising high-energy subatomic particles.

“This creates a lot of problems with components such as central processing units and memory,” Orr said. “So specially radiation-hardened versions of a lot of the electronic components [were] needed.”

Redesigning the navigation system for space application therefore involved rigorous tests, including vibration, shocks and radiation exposure under extreme conditions.

“There’s a significant amount of testing that goes in before you have the confidence to launch into space,” he said. “So we’ve been lucky to have some really great testing houses work with us in Australia.”

Just launched

The Optimus vehicle launched on 5 March 2024 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as part of SpaceX’s Transporter-10 mission.

Optimus, which has successfully entered orbit, will now use its onboard tools and service arms to interact with the destination satellites’ electronics and hardware, performing a range of different operations.


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