Experimental Satellite Testbed Slated for Shuttle Launch in 2004

Payload Systems,
Inc., a Cambridge-based provider of specialized science and
engineering services for spaceflight and research programs across the
globe, this week delivered the first installment of parts for the
much-anticipated SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage and
Reorient Experimental Satellites) testbed to NASA. The delivery marks
the culmination of five years of research, design and development and
will be followed by a subsequent delivery of additional hardware and
software in the fall of 2003. SPHERES is projected to be delivered to
the International Space Station (ISS) by the space shuttle in 2004.

“This delivery is a very significant milestone for Payload Systems
and the entire team,” said SPHERES Project Manager, Steve Sell. “It is
extremely exciting to begin to see the results of years of excellent
collaboration between Payload Systems and the MIT Space Systems
Laboratory students and staff. This also marks the SPHERES testbed’s
transition from ground development to spaceflight operations.”

The SPHERES project began in 1998 as a challenge assignment in an
experimental three-semester undergraduate design course at MIT
entitled “Conceive, Design, Implement, and Operate” (CDIO), in which
students were asked to design, build and test their own prototype
satellite research system. Payload Systems provided students with
instruction and technical support, and also gave operational guidance
when the students tested their prototypes on the NASA KC-135 reduced
gravity simulation aircraft. This proof of concept stage was so
successful that MIT made CDIO a regular course offering and DARPA
(Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) provided funding to
develop the SPHERES concept into a spaceflight system. Additional
funding has been provided by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and MIT. For the spaceflight version
of SPHERES, Payload Systems took over all systems design, development,
testing, and certification responsibilities.

CDIO student Stephanie Chen joined Payload Systems after
graduating from MIT, and continues to work on the SPHERES project. “I
am very excited to be working on a project that will enable research
for such a broad range of future applications,” she said. “There is no
way to foresee today all of the significant discoveries that SPHERES
will enable to happen.”

Specifically, SPHERES is designed to support breakthrough research
on complicated multiple-satellite operations, such as service and
repair, formation flight, and distributed functionality, and for
applications that include high-precision earth observation, deep space
astronomy, and telecommunications.

The SPHERES testbed consists of three self-contained satellites,
each with battery power, a cold gas propulsion system, and onboard
communications and navigation equipment. The satellites autonomously
navigate within a designated work area inside ISS by individually
measuring their respective positions and attitudes in relation to one
another and to the defined volume. SPHERES provides a unique
opportunity for researchers on the ground to test control algorithms
on ISS, receive testing data, then refine and uplink new algorithms in
a relatively short period of time, thus contributing to an accelerated
iterative research process unavailable in other testing environments.

“MIT has worked closely with Payload Systems on several ambitious
projects, and every time the results have exceeded my expectations,”
said Dr. David Miller, Director of the MIT Space Systems Laboratory.
“As an educational project, SPHERES has already been an enormous
success, and as an operational spaceflight system, we expect it will
encourage an entirely new class of research programs.”

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 www.payload.com.

Payload Systems
Julianne Zimmerman, 617/868-8086, ext. 23
Duende Communications
Efrain Viscarolasaga, 617/983-0561