Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Hanspeter Schaub

Second Advisor

John K. Bennett

Third Advisor

Brandon Jones

Fourth Advisor

Jeffrey Parker

Fifth Advisor

Daniel Scheeres

Abstract

Towing objects in space has become an increasingly researched mission concept. Active debris removal, satellite servicing, and asteroid retrieval concepts in many cases rely on a thrusting vehicle to redirect and steer a passive object. Focus is often placed on the method of attachment, considering techniques such as grappling or netting the passive object. However, the actual process of towing, once capture has occurred, has not yet received much attention. This research considers the process of towing in space with the tug and passive object attached by a tether. Tethers are not only an effective way of transmitting forces, but they are utilized on many of the towing concepts considered, especially in orbital debris removal.

Because the two end bodies are tethered, there is a potential for collision after any maneuver. To avoid collisions, the maneuver, and therefore thrust profile, must be designed in such a way as to limit separation distance reduction between the end bodies. Open-loop input shaping techniques are developed and employed in order to control the flexible system in both deep space and on-orbit environments. To study the behavior, an active debris removal system is proposed as a case study. This system, called the tethered-tug, considers using the reserve fuel from a recently launched upper stage rocket to rendezvous with, capture, and tow a near-by debris object.

The system’s performance is considered for five distinct open-loop thrust control profiles including on-off/step, frequency notched, discretized notch, Posicast, and bang-off-bang. Tether property variations are also considered along with off-axis towing, slack tethers, and debris with initial rotation rates. Input shaping is not only necessary but, it can be robust to unknown system properties while nearly zeroing relative motion between the end bodies. When considering on-orbit behavior specifically, the system settles into a tumbling or gravity gradient oscillation formation. This is highly advantageous because the orbital dynamics keep the end bodies separated. While the study focuses on the debris problem, conclusions from this dissertation are applicable to general tethered towing mission concepts.

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