Astronaut's Eye | Design by Nature

The Challenge | Design by Nature

Design an autonomous free-flyer to inspect a spacecraft for damage from Micro-Meteoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD).

Astronaut's Eye

We throw the camera in the space (relative speed is 0), rotate the space ship using gyros, and send photos to an AI on-board to detect fractures! NO FUEL!!

Astronaut's Eye



The astronaut's eye project is created as a future safety platform to inspect the whole outside surface body of the spacecraft particularly designed for long space journey to other planets like Mars. The project is to build a reliable system to design, operate and control an autonomous free-flyer working as a surveyor small vehicle to inspect a spacecraft any time during the long journey for damages from Micro-Meteoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD). The idea of maintaining (FFAS) the Free-Flyer Autonomous Surveyor in a closed proximity adjacent all the time and with equal speed to inspected spacecraft is inspired from the nature from mammals motion attitude of mother and her baby, as example, the whale mother and her baby noticed all the time swimming and traveling beside each other.

The Background

Like other industry, the space scientists and aerospace engineers shall review the lessons learned from the previous space incidents like: Apollo 13 – couldn’t see the damages, MIR space station damaged by Progress – 24 minutes to find/plug leak before having to shut the hatch. Columbia – suspected impact to Wing Leading Edge, no sensors or good inspection options. All these because of non availability of enough cameras and reliable surveying technologies to assist and acknowledge the spacecraft crews about the condition of spacecraft outside surfaces. As a result, there are many initiatives have been proposed as solutions to solve this problem by free-flying satellite inspectors like: AERCam –MEPSI –COSA, AeroCube-4, AeroCube-6, AeroCube-7, Cumulos, etc.

The Problem

In the near future, the manned space missions are expected to start because many space agencies either governmental or private companies have already plans to send their crews not only back to the earth Moon but even to the Mars planet. Therefore, the challenge is to keep the spacecraft and the its crews safe all the time while travelling long term missions by several provisions and safety precautions such as inspecting the outside surface of the spacecraft for potential damages from Micrometeoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD). In addition, it is risky to use the astronauts every time in case there is a doubt of damages on outside vehicle body not only because of limited mobility of the astronauts to access and see physically all outside surfaces in short time but also it is not acceptable to expose them to surrounding possible cosmic radiation during the journey.

The proposed solution

We propose " ASTRONAUT'S EYE " a robust and more reliable system of safety inspection and damage detection to function as a new technology platform project in order to overcome the above mentioned problems. The system consists of the following components:

1- The (FFAS) the Free-Flyer Autonomous Surveyor which:
  • Has the required surveying and imaging hardware parts such as: LIDAR, Visual Cameras, and wireless (Wi-Fi) connections;
  • a 3D sensors and (3-axis) Reaction wheels to keep and control its flight position attitude;
  • a rechargeable Battery to supply the power to the parts;
  • Dampers to absorb the possible vibrations during the dynamic operations;
  • The (FFAS) frame body materials to be from (CFRP) carbon fiber reinforced plastics;
  • The (FFAS) unlike other competition projects, it does not contain solar cells because it is designed to be in a close proximity to the spacecraft and to function on a short period while the surveying process (less than 10 minutes); and
  • The (FFAS) unlike other competition projects, it does not need a thruster or additional cold propulsion nozzles because it is anchored firmly by a connected string in its operating position and therefore its attitude is maintained
2- The (THRESHOLD-BAY) located at the middle of spacecraft and contains the following parts:
  • a (STRING) used to connect between the (FFAS) surveyor vehicle and the (THRESHOLD-BAY);
  • a (SHOOTER) mechanism to shoot and release the (STRING) out board from the (THRESHOLD-BAY). The STRING length is proposed to be between (50 m - 70 m);
  • a (GRABBER) mechanism to grab and hold the (FFAS) surveyor vehicle during the deployment operation;
  • a (DAMPER) set to be placed between the (STRING) and (FFAS) surveyor vehicle, and between the (STRING) and (THRESHOLD-BAY); and
  • an Electric connecting mechanism to recharge the battery of the (FFAS) surveyor vehicle
3- An interface screen and application

to acknowledge the astronauts on real-time about the surveying status and any detected damages on the outside surfaces of the spacecraft. The system processor shall include an artificial intelligence (AI) capability to do images processing and analyzing the data collected such as damages type, location, size, autonomous surveying modes to be selected by the system depending of the many factors: for example, light sources/shadows, surface reflections, view angles, and other cosmic conditions. The astronauts can schedule the frequency of the surveying and times where the system shall complete the task and provide the feedback.

4- As part of quality assurance

in operating the (astronaut's eye System), it is highly important to train the astronauts about the system processes and the sequence of processes in accordance with (SOP's) standard operation procedures. There are two basic processes shall be executed about the spacecraft attitude and control which are:

  • Shutting down the spacecraft rocket engine before releasing the (FFAS) surveyor vehicle. The reason, is to prevent the acceleration of the spacecraft, thus, to maintain an equal speed of the spacecraft and the (FFAS) surveyor vehicle; and
  • Control Moment Gyroscope (CMG) located in the spacecraft body shall be used to change the orientation and the attitude of the spacecraft to enable the(FFAS) surveyor vehicle for screening and imaging

Potential users

All space agencies either governmental or private companies who will plan for future manned long journey cosmic missions, for example, from earth to the earth moon, from earth to Mars Planet, and from any planet to another planet. As a new emerging safety reliable system, it will support the future space industry by building-up a more safe missions.

The obstacles & challenges

Like every emerging new technology, and because the project in the first phase, there are some obstacles and challenges should be consider in the near future to leverage the project into a more reliable product. These obstacles are briefly listed below:

  • The "STRING" representing the core important member of the system and its mechanical characteristics like tensile strength shall be experimentally tested using the best reliable materials.
  • The "DAMPER" mechanism shall be experimentally tested for different conditions to confirm the optimum design. The dampening of potential vibrations under several loads shall be tested as well.
  • The "GRABBER" mechanism shall be tested by a simulation software to understand its function under several cases. Particularly, effectiveness of the GRABBER arms shall be evaluated to accept high tolerance of errors in case the "FFAS" shifted from its original position. The GRABBER shall include attached sensors to correct its shape, for example, by expanding its size to be suitable for such cases.


We are very confident that our project The "astronaut's eye" will satisfy the expectations of space agencies to solve the safety problems to inspect the whole outside surface body of the spacecraft against damages from Micro-Meteoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD). It is especially created for long cosmic journey not only to earth moon but even perfect to satisfy the astronauts inspecting needs to other planets like Mars. We are very exciting of this innovative project as a reliable system to design, operate and control an autonomous free-flyer working as a surveyor small vehicle to inspect a spacecraft. Finally, the solution is proposed from the beginning for specific goals: low cost, reliability, adaptability, and versatility.



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