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An unmanned, private spaceship will head to the International Space Station (ISS) tomorrow and on its way will test a new Canadian technology that will be quite critical for future missions.
Cygnus cargo spacecraft of the Orbital Sciences Corp is scheduled to launch from the Wallops Flight Facility of NASA in Virginia on Saturday at 1:14 p. m. ET. It is expected to arrive at the space station on Tuesday morning carrying 1,360 kilograms of spare parts, science experiments, food and other supplies.
As it approaches the space station, it will test a system which was built by Neptec Design Group Ltd. designed to guide it to dock at the space station.
It will be the primary guidance system for the later flights of Cygnus. Two of the systems have been installed on the next spacecraft already.
"It will be the guidance system, the eyes that will drive the thrusters, telling them where to go", said Mike Kearns who is the president of space systems for Neptec.
The Cygnus spacecraft will carry a single Neptec TriDAR on the mission which is automated rendezvous and docking sensor and mainly for testing. It will be a backup to another guidance system.
The TriDAR works in a way that is like a radar or sonar but rather than bouncing radio or sound waves off the objects to detect their shape and location, it bounces lasers. Then it compares the object that it detected with a computer model of the space station in its memory in order to direct the spacecraft to orient itself.
Each TriDAR unit undergoes rigorous testing including thermal testing at extremely hot and cold temperatures before it is installed on the Cygnus spacecraft.