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'Game of Thrones' Inspired 'Three-Eyed' Raven Set to Conquer Space

Feb 16, 2017 10:25 AM EST
Endeavour Orbits Earth Docked To International Space Station
NASA envisions autonomous rendezvous in the future, making refuelling and servicing satellites possible even without human participation.
(Photo : Paolo Nespoli - ESA/NASA via Getty Images)

"Game of Thrones" is so popular, it's actually about to make its way to space. NASA announced in an official release that it will be launching a "three-eyed Raven" technology module headed to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday, Feb. 18.

The television-inspired Raven will be observing vehicles docked at the ISS for data to be used in future autonomous rendezvous with orbiting spacecraft. Autonomous rendezvous means that the contact between two spacecraft will no longer need actual human intervention, even from the ground. This groundbreaking technology will allow satellites to be refueled and serviced with another. It's also much faster and easier.

"Two spacecraft autonomously rendezvousing is crucial for many future NASA missions and Raven is maturing this never-before-attempted technology," Ben Reed, deputy division director, for the Satellite Servicing Projects Division (SSPD) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, explained. His division is currently developing and managing this demonstration mission.

Aging satellites -- or "clients" -- are not equipped with technology for rendezvous, so the servicer has to do it on its own. Thus, the data the Raven will be collecting is crucial to perfect the advanced machine vision system that this servicing spacecraft will be using.

Reed added in a report from Space, "Of the 5,000 or so spacecraft that have launched since the dawn of time, the vast, vast majority were not designed to be rendezvoused with or docked to in orbit. Those are the satellites that we are developing technologies for."

The "three-eyed" Raven -- named after Game of Thrones' three-eyed crow -- has three different sensors for getting its data: visible, infrared and lidar.

The Raven is expected to be in the ISS for only two years, but the data it collects will be supporting NASA missions for decades. Specifically, it will be used in the upcoming Restore-L servicing mission, which is tasked to refuel the orbiting satellite Landsat 7. Scientists are also hoping that the technology can benefit the systems in the planned Mars missions.

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