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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/J016837/1
Title: 2010 Grant Balance - University of Surrey.
Principal Investigator: Kearney, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Saaj, Dr CM Underwood, Professor CI
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: DVC (Research and Innovation)
Organisation: University of Surrey
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 October 2011 Ends: 31 March 2012 Value (£): 83,809
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
The rapid development of space exploration and commercialisation places an increasing importance on semi-automated (or autonomous) space robotics for satellite servicing, extra-vehicular-activity (EVA) support, the construction of large space infrastructure (e.g. space stations, orbital solar power plants, space telescopes) and, not least, the active removal of the increasing amount of space debris present in Earth orbit.

To achieve these tasks in a cost-effective manner, full system autonomy is a requirement. However, at present, such systems are expensive to build and present numerous difficulties before they can be considered safe for launch. In orbit demonstrations of such technology have been carried out, but these have been limited in scope, and were designed with minimum fault tolerance. It is clear that significant effort will be needed to produce truly autonomous, adaptable, flexible and safe robotic systems to carry out such tasks routinely. To this end, ground based research is vital.

It has been found a 2-D (flat) air bearing table provides a practical, versatile and low-cost method of simulating the virtually friction free dynamics of spaceflight - albeit limited to a 2-D surface. Such a facility, when instrumented, will allow extensive periods of testing of robotic rendezvous and docking systems in a ground laboratory environment under controlled conditions. This allows for control algorithms to be tested and verified, dynamics to be analysed and rendezvous and construction techniques to be practiced before moving on to a full 3-D context such as a microgravity flight.

The system will be used to develop, test and evaluate rendezvous and docking control algorithms which make use of optical machine vision systems and inter-satellite communications for relative localisation and navigation, and which use an electro-magnetic docking system to provide the close-in (~30cm) approach manoeuvring and alignment and final docking/latching. The algorithms and electro-magnetic docking system will be practically tested and demonstrated using a 3U CubeSat type platform docking with a similar, passive, target vehicle.

To provide a suitable context, the requirements of the joint Surrey/CalTech "AAReST" Autonomous Assembly, Reconfigurable Space Telescope mission will be used to set the operational scenario.

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Organisation Website: http://www.surrey.ac.uk