Watch the video case study

Using motion capture to help clear space

New commercial and state operations are pushing the space industry into uncharted territory, and the UK is poised to become a key player in the growing sector. The British government hopes to have captured 10 percent of the market by 2030, and a facility in Oxfordshire that uses a Vicon system to help it simulate orbital operations is a key part of the strategy.

The Satellite Applications Catapult was established by the UK government to accelerate innovation in the space sector by facilitating collaboration between industry and academia. Jeremy Hadall is Robotics Development Lead at the Catapult, working in the In Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing Yard, a large darkroom facility created to simulate orbital environments. The facility uses robots to simulate how satellites will come together in order to carry out servicing, refueling, assembly and manufacturing operations.

“The operations we’re modeling are really important because they mean we can prolong the lives of satellites in orbit and start to build larger structures, like the next generation of space stations; space-based solar power stations; very large antennas and telescopes,” Hadall explains.

“It also means we can remove debris or end-of-life satellites from orbit, which is important because we’re starting to find that our orbital environment is very cluttered.”

The facility offers a critical capability for the UK, allowing other organizations the use of technologies that they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.

“The most important thing this facility is working on at the moment is close proximity operations, which is getting two objects operating close to each other and almost formation-flying in orbit,” says Hadall. “It sounds a bit daft—we’ve been doing that for decades, ever since the Apollo missions. But we’re talking about flying things that are much smaller and don’t necessarily have all of the capture mechanisms that an Apollo capsule or something going to the International Space Station would have.”

To simulate orbital maneuvers, the Catapult uses two robots to mimic propulsion systems and low gravity conditions.

“The robots we use are off-the-shelf industrial robots,” says Hadall. “You would never launch one of these robots into space. But the important thing for these robots is they give us a degree of stiffness and a degree of repeatability that we need for some of the operations that we do here in the yard. The best way to think about these robots is not as robots—these are stand-in satellite propulsion systems. What’s important is what’s on the end of those robots, whether that be a visionbased navigation system, a camera, some sensors, some grappling mechanisms or another robot.”

Take a look at the video below to explore the work taking place further.

Read the full case study

Continue reading and download the full case study.

View the full case study

Get in touch

    Would you like to receive relevant email marketing about Vicon’s products & services? (Opt out at any time.)