Darpa's Orbital Express program resumed its demonstration activities last last week after nearly three weeks on hold. The program is conducting a three-month, on-orbit demonstration of a Next-Generation Satellite (NextSat) and a servicing vehicle known as ASTRO to prove that spacecraft can be refueled and upgraded in space.
Program officials have been trying to figure out what caused a critical failure in the ASTRO's flight sensor computer known as AC-2 and the subsequent loss of navigation. The spacecraft had been in the middle of a separation demonstration to 10 meters when the failure occurred, causing the ASTRO to move into an abort trajectory that carried it 120 meters from NextSat. The spacecraft were remated on May 19.
Since remating and resumption of the demonstration, NextSat replaced a battery on ASTRO and ASTRO transferred fuel to NextSat. Program officials plan to begin separation activities once questions about the flight computer have been resolved.
--Catherine MacRae Hockmuth