NASA's Raven technology module is heading to space on SpaceX's next Falcon 9 rocket launch, currently scheduled for Saturday. Once there, it will perch outside the International Space Station to track vehicles docking with the station, collecting data for future autonomous rendezvous with orbiting spacecraft. The technology could allow researchers to repair, refuel and relocate aging satellites.
Starting with NASA's pre-Apollo Gemini spacecraft, two of which rendezvoused together in orbit, many spacecraft have successfully rendezvoused and docked while on the move in space — but almost always with a human in the loop, orchestrating the movements. In contrast, the Satellite Servicing Projects Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center hopes to automate this process, allowing for spacecraft to autonomously "catch up" to others and dock — even with satellites that are not designed to be approached.