Image credit NASA

On Monday, May 21 2018 an Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with a Cygnus spacecraft on board launched at 4:44 am from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This was Orbital ATK’s ninth (OA-9) cargo mission under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract . The spacecraft carried approximately 7,400 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

Installed on Cygnus were two of Neptec’s TriDAR rendezvous and docking laser systems. TriDAR provides automated, real-time visual guidance for navigation, rendezvous and docking procedures. Using a laser-based 3D sensor TriDAR collects 3D data of its target that is then compared by software to the known shape of the target spacecraft in order to calculate relative range, rates and 6 degrees of freedom relative position between the spacecraft and the ISS. This information is used by the vehicles automated systems to allow the Cygnus Spacecraft to approach the station and position itself for capture by the station’s robotic arm. Cygnus successfully completed its rendezvous and docking procedures early in the morning on Thursday, May 24, 2018 with final installation to the International Space Station occurring at 8:13 am.

TriDAR has flown a number of operational resupply missions to the International Space Station as a manifest item on Orbital ATK’s cargo resupply spacecraft. The units installed on Cygnus for the OA-9 mission were the last two of the original 13 TriDAR systems developed for Orbital ATK. Neptec is currently under contract to provide additional TriDAR units for the next program phase (CRS2); these units will feature a new and updated design.