We are amid a time of monumental importance for space technology and exploration. In the past few years alone, we’ve seen remarkable first-time accomplishments by both commercial and government space organizations, witnessing the first successful launch and landing of reusable rockets, the very first up-close images of Pluto, and the first launch of an asteroid mining mission. Additionally, vital human health and environmental issues are explored and improved regularly, thanks to the work aboard the International Space Station. At VPT, these developments are especially exciting as our high-reliability products are part of the critical power systems on many of these astounding space programs.
Mission #1: Decrease space mission cost with system reusability
Soon after, SpaceX accomplished a similar feat with its Falcon 9 rocket, successfully completing the first-ever orbital launch and landing. Prior to this, no orbital class booster had ever landed intact. Additionally, both vertical take-off/vertical-launch (VTVL) vehicles continued to make additional launches and landings.
Most recently, SpaceX launched its Dragon capsule from its Falcon 9 rocket for a resupply mission to the International Space Station. Not only did the rocket land safely after launch, the Dragon capsule arrived at the International Space Station two days later. This marks the Dragon spacecraft’s second delivery to the space station, making it the first reusable and commercially built spacecraft to make repeat deliveries to the ISS. Both the launch vehicle and the cargo capsule had VPT parts onboard for this mission.
Mission #2: Uncover the origins of the solar system
Another significant mission for NASA is OSIRIS-REx, their first asteroid study and sample return mission. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will rendezvous with, and take samples from asteroid Bennu. This is the first mission designed to inform scientists about the solar system’s development by bringing actual samples from an asteroid back to Earth. In 2018 OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to make contact with the mountain-sized Bennu, studying it as it prepares for sample collection in 2020. The spacecraft will return to Earth in September 2023. Since its launch, OSIRIS-Rex has performed flawlessly and remains on schedule, having also completed a successful deep space maneuver in December 2016, as well as capturing an image of Jupiter and three of its moons during a search for Earth-Trojan asteroids. While the Earth-Trojan survey did not yield any discoveries, it provided the mission team practice with hazard maneuvers that will help the spacecraft avoid collision with satellites as it approaches asteroid Bennu. NASA has included VPT parts on the vehicles used in both above-mentioned historic missions.
Mission #3: Help Earth and humankind through science
While much of modern space news surrounds more recent space developments, we owe honorable mention to an impressive technological mainstay: The International Space Station (ISS), which is the largest man-made object in low Earth orbit. The ISS launched in 1998 and was largely assembled in orbit. It is currently the longest continuously-occupied space station, hosting astronauts onboard since November 2, 2000. With VPT parts vital to its space power operation, the ISS serves as a premier research facility for hundreds of important studies designed to help humankind and the environmental health of Earth. The U.S. segment of the space station is designated as a national laboratory, producing scientific research that has advanced several medical technologies including an eye-tracking device used in laser surgery, as well as a robotic arm based on space robot technology which can be used to perform delicate surgeries. Ongoing medical studies also include a look into loss of bone density, improvements in ultrasound technology, and vaccine development.
Advancements in space technology and exploration is on a steep and thrilling trajectory. The repeated success of reusable equipment is a testament to the quality and longevity of the components of which they are made, as well as the many brilliant people that have contributed to space system reusability. All space endeavors, whether they are relatively brief resupply missions or two-decade long research missions, require an unfailing foundation. Considering the knowledge gained from each space mission, reliability is imperative whether the mission is manned or unmanned. VPT’s space heritage is built on our longstanding commitment to providing high reliability power conversion solutions for space applications of every kind, and we will continue to support these programs to ensure there are many more “firsts” in the future.