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News: Successful Launch and Deployment of Starling

By Justin Kruger, July 18, 2023

Images Courtesy of Rocket Lab (2023)

The Space Rendezvous Laboratory’s first flight mission has passed two critical milestones: launch and deployment into low Earth orbit!

The NASA Starling mission lifted off from New Zealand on July 17 at 6:27PM PDT, aboard a Rocket Lab Electron vehicle. Approximately 50 minutes after launch, the four Starling CubeSats were successfully deployed into their target sun-synchronous orbit. 

The Starling spacecraft will act as a testbed for autonomous spacecraft swarm technologies and are a critical enabler for future multi-satellite missions. The Space Rendezvous Laboratory has developed the Starling Formation-Flying Optical Experiment, or StarFOX, which will provide autonomous swarm navigation capabilities via each CubeSat’s star tracker.

The star trackers provide measurements to SLAB’s state-of-the-art Absolute and Relative Trajectory System (ARTMS), a complete multi-observer multi-target angles-only navigation architecture which consists of three core tasks and related new algorithms: (1) target detection and tracking, (2) initial batch orbit determination, and (3) sequential filtering for orbit refinement. ARTMS is then able to perform absolute and relative orbit determination, attitude determination, and auxiliary state estimation using only the bearing angle measurements obtained from swarm cameras.

Next, the Starling spacecraft will power on and attempt initial contact with the ground. This milestone is expected to occur in the next several days. 

StarFOX flight experiments are expected to begin in August.

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Justin Kruger is a PhD candidate in the Stanford Space Rendezvous Lab

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