Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Hanspeter Schaub

Second Advisor

Webster Cash

Third Advisor

Brandon Jones

Fourth Advisor

Daniel Moorer

Fifth Advisor

Zoltan Sternovsky


The possibility of inter-spacecraft collisions is a serious concern at Geosynchronous altitudes, where many high-value assets operate in proximity to countless debris objects whose orbits experience no natural means of decay. The ability to rendezvous with these derelict satellites would enable active debris removal by servicing or repositioning missions, but docking procedures are generally inhibited by the large rotational momenta of uncontrolled satellites. Therefore, a contactless means of reducing the rotation rate of objects in the space environment is desired. This dissertation investigates the viability of Coulomb charging to achieve such remote spacecraft attitude control. If a servicing craft imposes absolute electric potentials on a nearby nonspherical debris object, it will impart electrostatic torques that can be used to gradually arrest the object's rotation.

In order to simulate the relative motion of charged spacecraft with complex geometries, accurate but rapid knowledge of the Coulomb interactions is required. To this end, a new electrostatic force model called the Multi-Sphere Method (MSM) is developed. All aspects of the Coulomb de-spin concept are extensively analyzed and simulated using a system with simplified geometries and one dimensional rotation. First, appropriate control algorithms are developed to ensure that the nonlinear Coulomb torques arrest the rotation with guaranteed stability. Moreover, the complex interaction of the spacecraft with the plasma environment and charge control beams is modeled to determine what hardware requirements are necessary to achieve the desired electric potential levels. Lastly, the attitude dynamics and feedback control development is validated experimentally using a scaled down terrestrial testbed. High voltage power supplies control the potential on two nearby conductors, a stationary sphere and a freely rotating cylinder. The nonlinear feedback control algorithms developed above are implemented to achieve rotation rate and absolute attitude control. Collectively, these studies decisively validate the feasibility of Coulomb charging for remote spacecraft attitude control.