Imaging the final frontier

A Missouri S&T aerospace engineering professor is developing a microsatellite imager that could be used to check satellites, do small repairs or refuel spacecraft — and keep astronauts from making risky exploratory missions when something goes wrong.

Hank Pernicka, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and his students won the final round of an Air Force competition to develop the spacecraft. Kyle DeMars, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Joshua Rovey, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Jonathan Kimball, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, also are working on the project at Missouri S&T.

Pernicka and his team are working off their winning model and will build the spacecraft next year. Delivery to the Air Force is in the spring of 2017. And if all goes well, from there it’s launched to rendezvous with the International Space Station.

The spacecraft is composed of two microsatellites, with one docked to the other during the launch to the space station. After a space station arm flicks the craft away from it, the first test begins. One satellite will push away from the other and use its 12 micro-thrusters to maintain a 10-meter distance between the two. If that’s successful, the first satellite then will begin to orbit the second, taking pictures of it with two stereoscopic lenses.

Aerospace engineering graduate students Yezad Anklesaria, AE’07, MS AE’09 (left), and Katelyn Boushon, AE’15 (center), are pictured in the lab with Hank Pernicka, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

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