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Space Rescue Operation

Space Rescue Operation: Resolving SSPD-1 Satellite’s Deployment Snag


The realm of space exploration and satellite technology recently witnessed a monumental event, a ‘space rescue’ operation that captured the attention of the world. The California Institute of Technology’s Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1) satellite, particularly its module, the Deployable On-Orbit Ultralight Composite Experiment (DOLCE), faced a critical challenge post-launch. This incident underscores the complexities and unforeseen challenges in space missions, emphasizing the importance of innovative solutions and resilience in space technology.

The Onset of the Space Rescue Mission

After its launch into orbit, the SSPD-1 satellite, a beacon of modern space engineering, encountered an unexpected snag. The wire snag, occurring during the deployment of DOLCE, posed a significant risk to the mission’s success. This marked the beginning of a critical space rescue operation, a scenario that tested the limits of current space engineering capabilities.

The California Institute of Technology’s Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1) in orbit in 2023. (Image credit: California Institute of Technology)

Tackling the Unexpected: The Wire Snag

The snag happened during a crucial phase of the mission – the deployment of the satellite’s components. This process, designed to be slow and controlled, was abruptly halted by a snagged wire, leading to a jam in the satellite’s structure. The initial response involved using sunlight to warm the satellite, a method that partially succeeded in moving the snag but did not resolve the issue entirely.

Strategic Problem Solving in Space Rescue

The engineering team at Caltech quickly adapted to this unforeseen challenge. They replicated the jam in a laboratory setting, allowing them to devise a precise strategy to address the snag. The innovative solution involved utilizing the satellite’s actuators to induce vibrations within the satellite’s structure, a novel approach in space rescue operations.

The Successful Deployment of DOLCE

The implementation of this unique vibration method led to the successful unfurling of the jammed component of DOLCE, marking a significant milestone in space rescue. This success not only salvaged the mission but also provided invaluable insights into the behavior of ultralight deployable structures in space. The experience highlighted the criticality of robust design and testing for space missions, especially in dealing with the unpredictable nature of the space environment.

How would space based solar power work?

Space-based solar power (SBSP) is a still-developing technology that aims to capture the sun’s energy in space and transmit it wirelessly to Earth for our energy needs. It holds the potential to provide a clean, reliable, and abundant source of power, overcoming the limitations of ground-based solar panels.

SSPD-1: A Pioneering Project in Space-Based Solar Power

Caltech’s Space Solar Power Project (SSPP) designed the SSPD-1 to test key technologies for harvesting solar power in space and beaming it back to Earth. A central component of SSPD-1 was the Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment (MAPLE), which successfully demonstrated the ability to wirelessly transmit power in space and beam detectable power back to Earth. This achievement marked a first in the field of space-based solar power.

What is the world’s first solar powered satellite?

The world’s first solar-powered satellite is Vanguard 1, launched on March 17, 1958, by the United States during the Space Race. This tiny satellite, only 6.4 inches in diameter and weighing just 3.5 pounds, was a major innovation in its time. It was the fourth artificial satellite to be successfully launched, following Sputnik 1 and 2 (USSR) and Explorer 1 (USA). However, Vanguard 1 set itself apart by being the first to harness the power of the sun.

What is the microwave array for power transfer low orbit?

The Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment (MAPLE) is not a separate satellite, but rather a key component of the Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1), a satellite launched in January 2023 by Caltech.


MAPLE’s primary objective is to demonstrate the feasibility of wirelessly transmitting solar power from space to Earth using microwaves.

Current Status:

MAPLE is still operational onboard the SSPD-1 satellite and continues to conduct experiments on wireless power transmission, paving the way for future development of SBSP technology.

Philanthropic and Corporate Support

The mission was significantly supported by philanthropic contributions from Donald Bren, chairman of Irvine Company, and his wife, Brigitte Bren, through the Donald Bren Foundation. Additional support came from Northrop Grumman Corporation, aiding technological development and advancing the scientific objectives of the project.

The Mission’s Conclusion and Legacy

Following its achievements, the SSPD-1 mission concluded, but the host vehicle, Vigoride-5, remains in orbit for further testing. The lessons learned from this mission are invaluable for future advancements in space solar power technology, with the SSPP team analyzing feedback to identify and address new research challenges.

Broader Implications of the Space Rescue Operation

The SSPD-1’s successful deployment has far-reaching implications in the field of space technology and exploration. This mission was a stepping stone toward harnessing solar power in space, a frontier that holds great promise for Earth’s energy needs. The SSPD-1 satellite, during its mission, tested three types of solar cells previously untested in space, potentially revolutionizing the economics of solar power.

Which solar panel used in satellite?

The type of solar panel used in satellites depends on several factors, including the satellite’s mission, orbit, and power requirements. However, two main types of solar cells are commonly used:

  1. Silicon Solar Cells:
  • Traditional and widely used: These were the primary types used in early satellites like Vanguard 1.
  • Advantages: Relatively low cost, mature technology, high radiation resistance.
  • Disadvantages: Lower efficiency compared to other options, heavier.
  1. Multi-Junction Solar Cells:
  • Higher efficiency: Made from materials like gallium arsenide, they convert more sunlight into electricity.
  • Advantages: Lighter weight, higher power output for smaller panels.
  • Disadvantages: More expensive, more susceptible to radiation damage.

The Future of Space Rescue Missions

The SSPD-1 space rescue operation represents a significant achievement in space engineering. It demonstrates the necessity for continuous innovation and adaptability in the face of space-related challenges. The lessons learned from this mission will be instrumental in shaping future space rescue operations and satellite deployments, ensuring better preparedness and resilience in the ever-evolving arena of space exploration.


The space rescue of the SSPD-1 satellite is a triumph of human ingenuity and a leap forward in space technology. It wasn’t just about fixing a problem; it paved the way for further exploration and harnessing the potential of space. As we venture deeper into the unknown, the lessons learned from this mission will be invaluable, guiding us to overcome future challenges and conquer the mysteries of space.

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