Simulation of a tethered microgravity robot pair and validation on a planar air bearing

Acta Astronautica(2017)

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A software model has been developed to simulate the on-orbit dynamics of a dual-mass tethered system where one or both of the tethered spacecraft are able to produce propulsive thrust. The software simulates translations and rotations of both spacecraft, with the visco-elastic tether being simulated as a lumped-mass model. Thanks to this last feature, tether longitudinal and lateral modes of vibration and tether tension can be accurately assessed. Also, the way the spacecraft motion responds to sudden tether tension spikes can be studied in detail. The code enables the simulation of different scenarios, including space tug missions for deorbit maneuvers in a debris mitigation context and general-purpose tethered formation flight missions. This study aims to validate the software through a representative test campaign performed with the MIT Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) planar air bearing system. Results obtained with the numerical simulator are compared with data from direct measurements in different testing setups. The studied cases take into account different initial conditions of the spacecraft velocities and relative attitudes, and thrust forces. Data analysis is presented comparing the results of the simulations with direct measurements of acceleration and Azimuth rate of the two bodies in the planar air bearing test facility using a Nylon tether. Plans for conducting a microgravity test campaign using the SPHERES satellites aboard the International Space Station are also being scheduled in the near future in order to further validate the simulation using data from the relevant operational environment of extended microgravity with full six degree of freedom (per body) motion.
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