Sunday, August 15, 2010

Endeavour Braces for STORRM

A STORRM is brewing aboard space shuttle Endeavour.

The next generation in docking and rendezvous technology will make its debut early next year during the STS-134 mission, scheduled to be the final space shuttle flight. Officially called the Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation, the "STORRM" system was installed Aug. 10 inside Endeavour's payload bay, where it will fly as a Development Test Objective, or DTO -- in other words, an in-flight experiment.

Designed for use on the Orion capsule, STORRM includes the Visual Navigation Sensor, or VNS, along with an advanced docking camera. The VNS relies on a light-based remote sensing technology called lidar to provide extremely accurate data while the docking camera offers high-resolution docking imagery.

When the STORRM's two hardware components -- the Sensor Enclosure Assembly (SEA) and Avionics Enclosure Assembly (AEA) -- were lowered into place in Endeavour's payload bay, an unusually large crowd of enthusiastic agency and contractor representatives were on hand to observe and celebrate the milestone.

"I'd have to say this is the most people I've ever seen come for a payload installation," said NASA's Vehicle Manager for Endeavour, Shelley Ford, as she surveyed a crowd of about 30 people vying for the best views among the myriad of access platforms surrounding the orbiter. "It's exciting that Endeavour will be contributing to the technology development for our future space program."

STORRM was developed at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, which is responsible for program management, technology evaluation, flight test objectives, operational concepts, contract management and data post-processing. Engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia were in charge of engineering management, design and build of the avionics, STORRM software application and reflective elements. They are also responsible for the integration, testing and certification of these components. Industry partners Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Ball Aerospace Technologies Corp. handled the design, build and testing of the VNS and docking camera.

Installation began with the Sensor Enclosure Assembly, a 52-pound box about the size of a microwave oven. United Space Alliance Lead Mechanical Technician Tim Keyser, serving as move director, oversaw the installation as technicians using a jib hoist carefully lifted the SEA over several levels of platforms, then lowered it into the forward end of Endeavour's payload bay.

The SEA was mounted in place in front of the shuttle's airlock, alongside the existing Trajectory Control System. The location of the docking camera offers an accurate snapshot of how the system would handle on the Orion capsule, and provide precise visual cues to the crew.

"This works great for us," said Scott Cryan, Orion relative navigation hardware subsystem manager at Johnson. "The docking camera in the SEA is right in line with the orbiter's center line."

Next, the team picked up the 82-pound Avionics Enclosure Assembly, which provides power distribution, data recording and memory for the camera and navigation system. The AEA is mounted in bay 3 on the port side of the payload bay.

According to Deputy Project Manager Rick Walker, visiting from Langley, the assembly's location in the payload bay is due to the large volumes of high-speed data the hardware will have to digest. But placing it in the bay resulted in the need for radiation-tolerant memory. The team succeeded by using a blend of commercial and Langley-developed technologies, completing the work in nearly half the time it would normally take.

"This was done in 14 months -- a pretty quick turnaround," Walker said after the AEA was bolted into place. "Now, this is the exciting part. You see the hard work, long hours and travel away from home come together. This is what it's all about."

Electrical connections were completed the next day, followed by a round of functional testing that verified the STORRM hardware is ready to fly.

"The team successfully completed the test and checkout of the STORRM payload yesterday, so after the test cables are demated and some final inspections are accomplished, it will be ready for flight," Ford said after the testing wrapped up. "We'll be cheering the STORRM folks on and wishing for their success when Endeavour docks to the ISS early next year."

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