Robots Repairing Satellites: High School Robotics

Students in the USA are working with students in “The Republic of Cabo Verde” on robots repairing satellites.  This is accomplished through a fellowship program designed to train high school students in a simulated space company. The Barboza Space Center is lead by astrosociologist, Bob Barboza in Long Beach, California.  He builds tiger teams to prototype space science solutions. The article below will give you a general idea of what we are planning to prototype.,
Faulty satellite? Robot geek squad is on the horizon

Firms are building automated spacecraft for on-orbit repairs.

By Samantha Masunaga

Hundreds of millions of dollars can go into the school bus-sized satellites that blast into orbit above Earth and provide services including broadband internet, broadcasting and military surveillance.

But if a part breaks or a satellite runs out of fuel, there’s no way to send help.

Commercial industry and government agencies believe they’re getting close to having an answer: robot repairs.

The idea is to extend the lives of satellites through on-orbit satellite servicing, in which robotic spacecraft essentially act as the AAA roadside service trucks of space, traveling from satellite to satellite to refuel them and fix problems.

On a spring day earlier this year in Greenbelt, Md., 30 companies gathered at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to learn about the technology and view hardware for on-orbit satellite servicing. They ranged from spacecraft makers to purveyors of robot arms and even insurance brokers. A second event is planned for January.

Industry watchers see the heightened activity as commercial validation for a 30-year-old idea that, until recently, attracted only government dollars.

“I think it could be a sustainable market,” said Carissa Christensen, chief executive of space analytic consulting firm Bryce Space and Technology.

One of the first such commercial robot technicians is set to launch next year, but analysts say a mature market is still at least 10 years away. Not only do the spacecraft and capabilities still need to be fine-tuned, but the space industry, which is relatively conservative, will want to see several demonstrations before signing on.

“It’s an environment where you can’t make mistakes,” said Steve Oldham, senior vice president of strategic business development at SSL, a division of San Francisco-based Maxar Technologies that has such a project in the works.

Technology still needs to advance to the point where robots become capable service workers. But the number of satellites that will need servicing is rising rapidly.

In 2016, there were more than 1,400 operational satellites in orbit, compared with 994 in 2012, according to a June report commissioned by the Satellite Industry Assn. and written by Bryce Space and Technology. Many are programmable, meaning their software can be updated throughout their lifespan, which can stretch to 10 or 15 years.

NASA has started to develop some of the necessary technology. In February, the agency launched a sensor called Raven during a cargo resupply launch for the International Space Station. Raven can track vehicles approaching the space station, much like a baseball catcher keeps tabs on an incoming ball long before stretching out an arm to grab it.

“Satellites in low-Earth orbit are traveling anywhere between 15,000 and 18,000 mph,” said Ben Reed, deputy division director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s satellite servicing projects division, which developed Raven. “We need to put our servicer underneath it with a robotic catcher’s mitt in the right place.”

That division was born out of previous missions to maintain and service the Hubble Space Telescope.

Astronauts aboard the space shuttle serviced the telescope five times, with the last mission in 2009 focused on replacing circuit boards and adding new sensors. When the shuttle program ended, NASA’s ability to access and service space assets disappeared, Reed said.

The division is also developing refueling technologies and is working to eventually launch a fully robotic spacecraft that will go to a satellite in orbit and autonomously capture and refuel it.

The autonomous-capture aspect is important, Reed said, because waiting for a video signal to reach human operators on Earth would be too slow. The round-trip delay between moving that spacecraft’s robotic arm and seeing the result on video can take about three seconds.

“We need rapid, rapid, rapid,” he said, snapping his fingers. “You don’t think when you reach out your hand to catch a set of car keys.”

Less time-sensitive tasks, such as cutting wires, will be done telerobotically via human operators.

NASA’s satellite servicing project division is not intended to compete with industry but rather transfer the technology it develops to interested parties, Reed said.

Rocket and satellite maker Orbital ATK Inc., which was recently acquired by defense giant Northrop Grumman Corp., has begun assembling a service spacecraft known as the Mission Extension Vehicle-1. The craft is set for launch next year with service starting as soon as 2019.

Orbital ATK has snagged satellite operator Intelsat as its first customer. The spacecraft’s structures, solar arrays and propellant tanks are being made in San Diego and Goleta.

In June, satellite and spacecraft manufacturer SSL announced a new business venture focused specifically on on-orbit satellite servicing. SSL was selected in February by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to be its commercial partner in a program to service satellites in geosynchronous orbit. SSL will build the spacecraft and the refueling capability while DARPA provides robotic tools and software.

The spacecraft will be test-launched in 2021. SSL is developing it at a facility in Palo Alto; two robotic arms are being built at a subdivision in Pasadena. SSL has signed its first commercial customer, Luxembourg satellite operator SES.

Some analysts question whether this robot geek squad will be needed at all. A coming boom in small, cheap satellites could replace more expensive, large satellites. Along with reduced launch costs, led by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and its reusable rockets, it could be cheaper to launch several new small satellites than fix or refuel old ones.

But Christensen of Bryce Space and Technology is confident there will be a need for a high-and-low mix of satellites. She adds that cheaper launch costs could drive more repairs.

“If you’ve got a quarter of a billion dollars of hardware on orbit, it seems like it would be useful to figure out an application for that,” Christensen said.

And industry officials believe orbiting robot service workers will be essential if and when humans begin assembling giant craft to explore the planets.

“Those far-reaching, species-changing discoveries [are] what gives us the passion to move forward every day with something that sounds mundane,” NASA’s Reed said.

What is a Marspedia?

Mars Society Partners with Marspedia Project to Help Build Mars Online Encyclopedia

Kids Talk Radio Science wants to help with this project.  We are located at the Barboza Space Center.


The Mars Society is pleased to announce that it has joined the online Marspedia project started by two other space advocacy groups – The Mars Foundation and The Moon Society – in an effort to build out a great resource for people of all ages to learn more about the planet Mars, promote the human and robotic exploration of the Red Planet and encourage STEM education.

The organization is striving to make Marspedia the one-stop shopfor all information related to Mars, including: articles describing past historical missions to the planet, current knowledge about Mars, technology related to ongoing exploration, future concepts such as terraforming and plans for human exploration and settlement of the Red Planet.

The Mars Society is taking a leading role in this effort and has formed a Governing Council comprised of representatives of the three organizations, led by Susan Holden Martin, a Steering Committee member and former Executive Director of the Mars Society, along with James Burk, current IT Director for the organization.

In an attempt to expand the Marspedia project, we are currently looking for interested and dedicated volunteers who are able to help us to improve and maintain the online Mars encyclopedia, which takes the form of a “wiki” that anybody can add to or edit once they set up a free user account.  We are also in the process of improving the overall design of the encyclopedia, including creating a new, modern logo for the project.

For the improvement of the encyclopedia’s content, an Editorial Subcommittee has been formed and is meeting weekly via teleconference.  We need folks to join this subcommittee that have experience with editing and reviewing content, particularly with a science background. In addition, we are always looking for new content that we can add to Marspedia, and can attribute that content with multiple options of content licensing including Creative Commons and public domain.

For technical maintenance and upgrades, a Technical Subcommittee has also been formed and is using the Slack tool for communication.  We already have an experienced group of technical experts that has set up and is maintaining the encyclopedia, but we are also on the lookout for experienced software developers and people that are familiar with the platform we are using: Mediawiki. The Mars Society is working to make Marspedia a cutting-edge and technologically advanced resource that has many tools available for our content writers and editors.

To join this important effort, please visit the main Marspedia web page at and access the information under “How You Can Help”, including links to the two subcommittees mentioned above.  If you have content to share, there is a Submission Form available as well, so you can submit your content and have others post it into the encyclopedia.

USA High School Students Want to Work With International Students on A New Mars Lander Project

Get Involved in Mars Society “Red Eagle” Student Contest to Design Mars Lander

Students and from the Barboza Space Center will support other teams that want to try for this new international competition.  Write your letter for possible collaboration and send it to Barboza Space Center (  Attention Bob Barboza.


What do I need to do to get started?

The Mars Society recently announced plans for an international student engineering contest to design a lander capable of delivering a ten metric ton payload safely to the surface of Mars. The competition is open to student teams from around the world. Participants are free to choose any technology to accomplish the proposed mission and need to submit design reports of no more than 50 pages by March 31, 2018.

These contest reports will be evaluated by a panel of judges and will serve as the basis for a down-select to ten finalists who will be invited to present their work in person at the next International Mars Society Convention in September 2018. The first place winning team will receive a trophy and a $10,000 cash prize. Second through fifth place winners will receive trophies and prizes of $5,000, 3,000, $2000, and $1,000 respectively. In honor of the first craft used to deliver astronauts to another world, the contest is being named “Red Eagle.”


The key missing capability required to send human expeditions to Mars is the ability to land large payloads on the Red Planet. The largest capacity demonstrated landing system is that used by Curiosity, which delivered 1 ton. That is not enough to support human expeditions, whose minimal requirement is a ten ton landing capacity. NASA has identified this as a key obstacle to human missions to Mars, but has no program to develop any such lander. SpaceX had a program, called Red Dragon, which might have created a comparable capability, but it was cancelled when NASA showed no interest in using such a system to soft land crews returning to Earth from the ISS or other near-term missions.

In the absence of such a capability, NASA has been reduced to proposing irrelevant projects, such as building a space station in lunar orbit (not needed for either lunar or Mars expeditions), or claim that it is working on the technology for large visionary interplanetary spaceships which will someday sail from lunar orbit to Mars orbit and back, accomplishing nothing.

For full details about the Red Eagle student engineering contest, including team rules, guidelines and requirements, please click here.



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International High School Students Working Together To Build A Great Experiment for the International Space Station

Who wants to launch a satellite?  Student at the Barboza Space Center are designing, building and repairing satellite prototypes in the hopes of one day carrying their experiments to the International Space Station.  Nanoracks is a company that makes that all possible.


NanoRacks Launches Full External Cygnus Deployer, New Customers, and More to Space Station on OA-8

With the launch of the OA-8 mission, NanoRacks has now brought over 600 payloads to space, and introduced numerous new customers to the commercial ISS marketplace.

Wallops Island, VA, November 12, 2017 – Early this morning, the Orbital ATK CRS-8 (OA-8) launch carried another historic NanoRacks mission to the International Space Station (ISS). With a completely full NanoRacks External Cygnus Deployer (ENRCSD), a virtual reality camera, and educational research, this mission marks over 600 NanoRacks payloads delivered to the ISS since 2009.

This mission is enabling a unique virtual reality opportunity with National Geographic’s VUZE camera. Integrated and launched via NanoRacks, VUZE will allow for the recording of the new National Geographic series “One Strange Rock,” in which the astronaut crew will record a series of virtual reality pieces for incorporation into a larger documentary about natural history and the solar system. This is National Geographic’s first time launching with NanoRacks.

NanoRacks is also pleased to have launched the “Microbes in Space” educational experiment. Microbes in Space is one of two experiments launching to the ISS via a partnership with NanoRacks, DreamUp, and Xtronaut as a part of a Kickstarter campaign to build on-the-ground kits that will compare science at home and in the classroom to real science in space. The Kickstarter is now live, with kits beginning at just a $25 donation.

Additionally, OA-8 is the fourth mission in which NanoRacks is providing opportunities for CubeSat deployment from Cygnus after the vehicle departs from the station. The NanoRacks ENRCSD is installed on the exterior of the Cygnus service module with the capability to deploy satellites after Cygnus’ completion of its primary ISS resupply mission.

On this ENRCSD mission, NanoRacks has 14 satellites ready to be deployed with customers including the NRO Office of Space Launch, Asgardia, Spire, Tyvak, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Included in this External Cygnus manifest are also The Aerospace Corporation’s AeroCube B/C satellites, water-based propulsion CubeSats.

“OA-8 is yet another unique mission for NanoRacks,” says Senior Mission Manager Henry Martin. “We’re thrilled to have a full External Cygnus Deployer, displaying its maximum capability. This mission also brings new customers from outside the industry into space while continuing partnerships with existing customers like Spire for their ongoing satellite constellation. Notably, this mission will also deploy our first-ever propulsive satellite from the Cygnus spacecraft.”

The ENRCSD satellites are scheduled to be deployed from the Cygnus vehicle early December at an altitude above the ISS orbit, pending all nominal spacecraft operations.

The External Cygnus Deployer includes in the following satellites:
  • Lemur-2 (8 CubeSats)
  • Aerocube B/C (2 CubeSats)
  • Asgardia-1
  • CHEFSat
ISARA and Aerocube B/C are funded through NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SSTP), which is chartered to develop and mature technologies to enhance and expand the capabilities of small spacecraft with a particular focus on communications, propulsion, pointing, power, and autonomous operations.

Also on board the OA-8 mission are two CubeSats that will be deployed via the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer onboard the ISS. The satellites, EcAMSat and TechEdSat-6 each come from NASA Ames Research Center.

EcAMSat is a biological CubeSat that will investigate the effects of microgravity on the antibiotic resistance of E. coli, a bacterial pathogen responsible for urinary tract infections.  The EcAMSat flight opportunity is offered by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) as part of the thirteenth installment of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission, and sponsored by the NASA Launch Services Program (LSP).

By the time the OA-8 External Cygnus mission is complete, NanoRacks will have deployed over 200 satellites into low-Earth orbit.

NanoRacks would like to thank Orbital ATK and the NASA International Space Station Program for their continued support of NanoRacks operations on the ISS.

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Calculus Teachers We Need Your Help

The teachers at the Barboza Space Center are looking for fun space math projects using calculus.  We are teaching teams of high school students that are training to become Jr. astronauts, scientists and engineers.   Our students have labtop computers and scientific calculators.   Some of our students will be using slide rulers.  Here is a sample of a project on one sheet of paper.

We welcome you email:

Bob Barboza, Founder/Director

Barboza Space Center