November 4, 2013
Gravity And The Robot Satellite Attitude Problem
Using an in-orbit robot to capturing a malfunctioning satellite that is tumbling out of control is currently just a theoretical idea. However, research inspired by nature to be published in the forthcoming issue of International Journal of Mechanisms and Robotic Systems, could take us a small step towards making such science fiction science fact.
Angel Flores-Abad and Ou Ma of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, at New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces, explain that capturing a non-cooperative tumbling object in space, such as malfunctioning satellite for repairing, refueling or towing, is increasingly of interest to space agencies. Unfortunately, the nature of orbital motion and the effects of gravity obeying Newton's Laws of Motion mean that a robot attempting to reach and grab such a tumbling object will succumb to changes in its own inertia that could either damage the equipment or result in the servicing vehicle itself which is the base of the space robot going out of control.
The team has studied their newly proposed technology using computer simulations. They simulated a rescue mission and demonstrated how capture can occur with zero relative velocity between the robot hand and tumbling satellite with a minimal contact force. They are developing a robotics test bed to experimentally investigate the new technology. Once the technology is tested in the lab with simulated space conditions, it can be proposed for demonstration in a real space mission.
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