There is a significant amount of dysfunctional or broken satellites that are currently orbiting the earth and are no longer useful. Researchers from UC introduce a new technology that involves the utilization of robotics to fix those satellites.
The scientific team is led by Dr. Ou Ma, Alan B. Shepard Chair Professor at the University of Cincinnati. According to Prof. Ma, a lot of issues may arise after a satellite is launched but for most of them, no action can be taken. During the past year, some satellites launched by SpaceX and a vast Intelsat satellite presented malfunctions.
A repair operation was conducted in 1993 when NASA carried out service missions to fix the mirror of Hubble Space Telescope that was found to be askew. The project included deploying astronauts and cost billions of dollars. Therefore, more efficient techniques need to be developed in order to make repair an efficient choice.
NASA is currently aiming in satellite repairs using automotive vehicles. In 2022, a new project, known as Restore-L will begin and will involve the usage of a satellite to refuel a United Stated government satellite in low Earth orbit. The satellite and the necessary robotic parts of the project are developed by Maxar, a space technology company based in Colorado.
According to John Lymer, chief roboticist for Maxar, most satellites stop operating as they run out of gas. Creating a method to refuel them will benefit both space and gas industry.
In the Intelligent Robotics and Autonomous Systems Lab of Cincinnati University, researchers focus on the navigation system that robots will utilize to perform repair works on satellites. According to Prof. Ma, the system must be flawless as a fault may lead to tumbling. “It’s easy to make it (the robot) tumble in space because nothing holds it. Then the satellite becomes even more difficult to grab. If it starts to tumble, it can tumble forever basically. It won’t stop on its own,” Ma explained. Scientists are also investigating the dynamic behavior of the deficient satellites when they are grabbed by the repair robot.
The technology developed by Prof. Ma team includes both independent and collaborate functioning of robots depending on the task. To put their achievements to the test, scientists developed a game that utilized string in order to move an object to a certain spot on a table. The procedure needed the cooperation of the robots which is based on fuzzy logic, a form of artificial intelligence. They found that the task could be completed with 5 robots even if one of them malfunctioned.
Source: University of Cincinnati