Company to Develop SPHERES-derived Mars Orbiting Sample Retrieval Testbed for Use Aboard the International Space Station

Payload Systems Inc., a Cambridge-based provider of specialized science and engineering services for spaceflight and research programs across the globe, this week announced that it has been awarded a two-year, $600,000 contract through the NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to develop a Mars Orbiting Sample Retrieval Testbed based on the SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) testbed. Under the contract, Payload Systems, and its research partner, the MIT Space Systems Laboratory will develop new SPHERES components which will emulate an orbiting Mars sample and potential capture mechanisms. The SPHERES project, currently scheduled to be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) via an unmanned rocket in November 2003, was designed from its original concept to accommodate adaptations and additional components.

“This project represents an outstanding opportunity to extend the already capable SPHERES testbed and utilize the ISS as a practical and accessible proving ground for advanced spaceflight exploration technologies,”said Payload Systems President Joe Parrish. “We are thrilled to support the Mars Exploration Program and are looking at this not only as an opportunity to participate in planetary exploration, but to also prove the creative and technological capabilities of Payload Systems when it comes to unique and challenging projects.”

The SPHERES project, which began in 1998 as part of an undergraduate class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, consists of multiple self-contained satellites, each with battery power, a cold gas propulsion system, and onboard communications and navigation equipment. The satellites can autonomously navigate within a designated area by individually measuring their respective positions and attitudes in relation to one another and to the defined volume. As part of the Mars Orbital Sample Return (MOSR) testbed program, the satellites will interact with prototype “catcher’s mitt” mechanisms designed to capture and secure simulated Mars surface sample capsules. Data from the MOSR testbed will be used to develop capture mechanisms and techniques to return samples collected from the red planet for study here on Earth.

“We are hoping to leverage this work for Mars Sample Return technology as much as possible,”said Samad Hayati, Manager of the Mars Technology Program for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We feel that the SPHERES Mars Orbital Sample Retrieval Testbed will help reduce risk for a future MSR mission and is an excellent use of the ISS as a research and development laboratory.”

About Payload Systems
Based in Cambridge, MA, Payload Systems provides unparalleled science and engineering services for American and international spaceflight programs and for research programs ranging from human performance and cellular biology to materials science and fluid and structural dynamics. The company also provides payload development and testing, crew training and mission support services.

Payload Systems has spent nearly 20 years developing a consistent reputation for quality, speed, talent and creativity in solving unique and difficult engineering problems. It has worked with government agencies such as NASA, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as private industry entities such as Boeing, General Electric, and Lockheed Martin, and has received numerous awards from NASA and international partner organizations. For more information, visit the website at