Northrop Grumman has been granted a patent for spacecraft servicing devices or pods that can be deployed from a host spacecraft to perform servicing operations on a target spacecraft. The device includes a body, a boom arm, and a thruster assembly that can alter the orbit, velocity, or momentum of the target spacecraft. The boom arm is rotatably coupled to the device and can change the orientation of the thruster assembly. GlobalData’s report on Northrop Grumman gives a 360-degree view of the company including its patenting strategy. Buy the report here.

According to GlobalData’s company profile on Northrop Grumman, superconducting quantum circuits was a key innovation area identified from patents. Northrop Grumman's grant share as of June 2023 was 1%. Grant share is based on the ratio of number of grants to total number of patents.

Spacecraft servicing device with boom arm and thruster assembly

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Credit: Northrop Grumman Corp

A recently granted patent (Publication Number: US11685554B2) describes a spacecraft servicing device that includes a spacecraft body, a boom arm, and a thruster assembly. The thruster assembly is designed to alter the orbit, velocity, or momentum of a target spacecraft when the servicing device is engaged with it. The boom arm is rotatably coupled to the spacecraft body and can change the orientation of the thruster assembly as it rotates around the spacecraft body. The boom arm is connected to the spacecraft body through a rotatable coupling located near a docking feature, allowing the servicing device to be coupled to the target spacecraft.

The patent also mentions that the spacecraft servicing device can have only one single boom arm. Additionally, the device may include one or more transceiver antennas positioned on the boom arm, enabling communication capabilities. The boom arm itself consists of one or more joints with degrees of freedom, including a first joint in the center portion of the boom arm and a second joint adjacent to the thruster assembly. These joints allow for rotation of the thruster assembly, the distal portion of the boom arm, and the second joint about various degrees of freedom.

The patent further describes a spacecraft servicing system that includes a host spacecraft carrying multiple spacecraft servicing devices. One of these devices is the previously mentioned spacecraft servicing device, which can be deployed and separated from the host spacecraft near the target spacecraft. The boom arm of this device is rotatably coupled to the spacecraft servicing device on the same side as the docking feature. The system may also include additional joints on the boom arm to facilitate rotation of the thruster assembly in different planes.

Another aspect of the patent is a spacecraft maneuvering device that includes a boom arm, a thruster assembly, and one or more transceiver antennas. The boom arm is coupled to the body of a spacecraft through a first rotatable joint, and a second rotatable joint is positioned on the boom arm. This second joint allows for rotation of the thruster assembly relative to the body of the spacecraft and a portion of the boom arm. Additionally, a third joint may be present between the boom arm and the thruster assembly.

Overall, this patent presents various configurations of spacecraft servicing devices and systems that can alter the orbit, velocity, or momentum of target spacecraft. The inclusion of rotatable joints and transceiver antennas enhances the functionality and versatility of these devices.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData Patent Analytics tracks bibliographic data, legal events data, point in time patent ownerships, and backward and forward citations from global patenting offices. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.