Researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) have developed a prototype miniaturized docking system for micro- and nano-class satellites. The invention uses a combination of magnetic and mechanical elements to facilitate alignment and capture, even with a gross alignment error of 40-50 percent of the vehicle size. The docking system would provide for repeated deployment and retrieval of small satellites and would enable a variety of tasks, such as performing inspections and transferring fluids and power. The innovative aspect of the technology is that it uses the interaction of magnetic fields to provide a self-centering attractive force for axial alignment of the mating halves well beyond the range of the final mechanical guides. A typical application would allow a small free-flying inspection satellite carried aboard a larger host vehicle, such as a telecommunications satellite or the International Space Station, to perform routine inspections of the host vehicle. JSC has applied for patent protection for this technology.
- Low maintenance: Contains few moving parts
- Effective: Enables docking even when spacecrafts are grossly misaligned; rotational alignment and precise visual targets are not necessary
- Versatile: Provides for the transfer of fluids and power between docked vehicles
- Telecommunication satellites
JSC has applied for patent protection for this technology.
This technology is being made available through JSC's Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office, which seeks to transfer technology into and out of NASA to benefit the space program and U.S. industry. NASA invites companies to consider licensing this technology for commercial applications.
If you would like more information about this technology or about NASA's technology transfer program, please contact:
Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office
NASA's Johnson Space Center