July 18, 2012

Giant Piece Of Granite Helps Simulate Inertia In Space

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Spacecraft Engineering Department's space robotics research facility has gotten its hands on a tool to help emulate inertia in space.

The 75,000 pound Gravity Offset Table (GOT) is made from a single slab of solid granite, and will help emulate the mechanics of physics found in space.

The frictionless large surface area will allow researchers to replicate the effects of inertia on man-made objects in space, while staying amongst the confines of Earth's laws of physics.

"We accomplish this by floating models of spacecraft and other resident space objects on air bearings – similar to the dynamics of an upside-down air hockey table," Dr. Gregory P. Scott, space robotics scientist, said in a press release. "Based on the inertia of the 'floating' system, a realistic spacecraft response can be measured when testing thrusters, attitude control algorithms, and responses to contact with other objects."

Currently the grappling of spacecraft in orbit is accomplished by specifically engineered pre-configured couplers and mating mechanisms. To capture and service a "free-flying" orbiting spacecraft that has no conventional coupling mechanism, researchers must first be able to demonstrate minimal rates of error in a cost effective and efficient way.

The 20 feet by 15 feet, 1.5-feet thick single piece of granite will allow researchers to precisely simulate the frictionless motion of objects in space and understand the dynamics of docking and servicing satellites that are in orbit.

The tricked-out granite slab is thought to be the largest, single slab, precision granite table in the world with tolerances capable of allowing engineers to simulate service of full-scale satellite spacecraft with significant structural flexibility.

The accuracy at which GOT will perform is thought to be unmatched by any other space robotics facility, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory said.