|Abstract:||Satellite design has been harshly constrained by surviving entry into space though the majority of the satellite's lifetime exists in much calmer conditions. Significant study has recently gone into assembling satellites and space structures in-orbit. Several methods have been proposed involving an assembler robot or astronaut which puts the parts together, but in the interest of saving resources we believe that it is advantageous to make this process autonomous and robust by leveraging existing optimal guidance and control schemes for a self-assembling swarm. This approach avoids single-point failures, requires significantly less ground support, provides increased reliability due to redundancy, increased flexibility, the ability to reconfigure for future missions, and the ability to self-repair. Since the satellites required could be mass-produced from a small set of different component types, the benefit from economy of scale would reduce the overall mission cost when compared to monolithic satellites. This dissertation details an optimal guidance and control scheme to enable in-orbit self-assembly of a large structure from a heterogeneous swarm of satellites. In the proposed scheme, the component satellites for the heterogeneous swarm are chosen to promote flexibility in final shape inspired by crystal structures and Islamic tile art. After the ideal fundamental building blocks are selected, basic nanosatellite-class satellite designs are presented to enable accurate attitude control simulations. The Swarm Orbital Construction Algorithm (SOCA) is a guidance and control algorithm that allows for the limited type heterogeneity and docking ability required for in-orbit assembly. The algorithm was tested in a simulated perturbed 6-DOF spacecraft dynamic environment for planar and out-of-plane final structures. The algorithm is then experimentally validated coarsely on omnidirectional wheeled robots and precisely on-board the M-STAR robots in the precision flat floor facility in the Caltech Aerospace Robotics and Control lab, the largest of its kind at any university.
In support of this effort, a better way of handling nonlinear dynamics constraints within sequential convex programs was developed. SCP is a useful tool in obtaining real-time solutions to direct optimal control, but it is unable to adequately model nonlinear dynamics due to the linearization and discretization required. As nonlinear program solvers are not yet functioning in real-time, a tool is needed to bridge the gap between satisfying the nonlinear dynamics and completing execution fast enough to be useful. Two methods are proposed, sequential convex programming with nonlinear dynamics correction (SCPn) and modified SCPn (M-SCPn), which mixes SCP and SCPn to reduce runtime and improve algorithmic robustness. Both methods are proven to generate optimal state and control trajectories that satisfy the nonlinear dynamics. Simulations are presented to validate the efficacy of the methods as compared to SCP.
In addition, several autonomous rendezvous and docking (AR&D) technologies were studied because in-orbit self-assembly requires repeated, reliable autonomous docking to ensure success. Docking small satellites in space is a high-risk operation due to the uncertainty in relative position and orientation and the lack of mature docking technologies. This is particularly true for missions that involve multiple docking and undocking procedures like swarm-based construction and reconfiguration. A tether-based docking system was evaluated in simulation as compared to traditional propulsive methods. The tether-based method provides a way to reduce the risk of the dock, since the docking maneuver is performed with a much smaller satellite and the reeling maneuver can be done gently. Tether-based methods still require some actuation on the docking end of the tether, and propulsion on such small systems is inexact. An electromagnetic docking system was investigated to address these issues. Designed with reconfigurable self-assembly in mind, the gripping mechanism is androgynous, able to dock at a variety of relative orientations, and tolerant of small misalignments. The electromagnetic system can be used either on the end of a tether or on the main spacecraft itself since the electromagnet is well controlled and the measurement of the ambient electromagnetic field can be used as to improve the intersatellite distance estimate enough to reduce the risk of docking to the main spacecraft. The performance of this system was validated experimentally on-board the M-STARs. The performance of the electromagnetic docking system on-board the simulators is then compared against a propulsive docking system tested in the same way. Overall, this dissertation provides optimal guidance and control algorithms for nonlinear systems to enable in-orbit self-assembly of heterogeneous swarms.