Astronomy & Space

Examining our options for automated in-orbit assembly of large structures

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Examining our options for automated in-orbit assembly of large structures
Examples of on-orbit assembly: (a) the EASE/ACCESS assembly experiments [2], (b) the repairing to the Hubble Space Telescope [3], (c) the assembly of the S0 truss structure [4], (d) the US NRL’s plan to use robotic tools for assembly [5], and (e) the Dragonfly project for robots self-assembly of satellites [6]. Credit: Space: Science & Technology (2022). DOI: 10.34133/2022/9849170

The construction of large structures such as space stations, space solar power stations, and space telescopes is one of the main development trends for space exploration in the future. However, due to their large size, such structures cannot be carried directly into space by rockets or spacecraft.

Therefore, these large structures need to be broken down into multiple modular units, which are brought into space by a launch vehicle and then assembled. This is an important task of on-orbit servicing (OOS): on-orbit assembly. It is one of many important development avenues which aims to make full use of space robots to assemble space structures autonomously.

In a review paper recently published in Space: Science & Technology, Qirong Tang from Tongji University and Delun Li and other experts and engineers from China Academy of Space Technology summarized the development status of space robot technology and the relevant space robot on-orbit assembly technology in recent decades.

First of all, the author analyzed the research status of on-orbit assembly of space robots. The aerospace industry had been researching and practicing on-orbit service technology for decades. It was known that the space on-orbit assembly task could be completed by space robots and astronauts in collaboration. Although manual assembly by astronauts had proven to be an effective method for constructing space structures, this method had many limitations.

Therefore, it is necessary to use space robots to autonomously complete on-orbit assembly tasks. In general, space on-orbit assembly technology has gradually developed from manual operation to autonomous work. The way of working has shifted from simple assisted astronaut operations to autonomous assembly and maintenance. Mission scenes have also changed from a single small object to a large spatial structure.

However, in terms of the development of space-in-orbit assembly technology, it has not yet matured. Moreover, as the size of the object becomes larger, the flexible vibration becomes stronger, and the assembly accuracy becomes higher during the assembly process, so the research on multi robot cooperation to complete high-precision operations needs to be in-depth.

On-orbit assembly relies on space multirobot coordination and the support of intelligent interaction capabilities such as brain control, voice control, and eye control.

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