NASA Astronaut Tests Microsatellite Aboard Space Station

NASA Astronaut Tests Microsatellite Aboard Space Station
NASA science officer and Expedition 13 flight engineer Jeffrey Williams experiments with a SPHERES microsatellite inside the International Space Station's Destiny laboratory. (Image credit: NASA/JSC.)

NASAastronaut Jeffrey Williams has put a small satellite through its initial pacesaboard the International Space Station (ISS), deploying the free-flying craftinside outpost's Destiny lab.

Williams,NASA science officer and ISS Expedition 13 flight engineer, piloted the SPHERESmicrosatellite in the first of a series of test aimed at demonstratingfundamental concepts for autonomous docking in small vehicles and formationflying. The tests could lay the groundwork for cooperative satellites andhelper robots to aid spacewalking astronauts, NASA officials said.

SPHERES -short for Synchronized Position Hold Engage Re-orient Satellite - is anexperiment designed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) to aid the development of future cooperative space robots.

Williamswatched over the single SPHERES satellite last week as it approached twobeacons - one handheld and one wall-mounted - during simulated rendezvous anddocking maneuvers. The satellite's first flight included up to 15 pre-plannedmaneuvers, each of which lasted 10 minutes, to check attitude control, stationkeeping, collision avoidance, target tracking and fuel balance performance,NASA officials said.

Theeight-inch (20-centimeter) wide, seven-pound (three-kilogram) SPHERES satelliteis the first of three to launch toward the ISS and arrived at the space stationaboard Progress21 on April 26. Two additional units are expected to launch toward thestation on future NASA shuttle visits.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.