Skip Navigation
Space Technology Research Grants

Electrostatic Detumble of Space Objects

Active Technology Project

Project Introduction

Electrostatic Detumble of Space Objects
Electrostatic Tractor Technology research explores the harmony of physics and engineering to develop and test electrostatic actuation methods for touchless detumble of space objects. Future spacecraft armed with this technology can perform orbital servicing, debris removal, and novel small satellite rendezvous and docking. The research will accomplish three central objectives. First, this research develops modeling techniques for the complex physical phenomena of electrostatic charging of a three-dimensional spacecraft in the space environment. Second, this research develops autonomous control algorithms to capitalize on and influence spacecraft charging to touchlessly actuate space objects. Third, this research experimentally tests and validates the models and control algorithms in terrestrial experiments to deliver a new core technology. Electrostatic tractor research will utilize computer simulation environments to develop the electrostatic charging models and the control algorithms for a commanding spacecraft. In contrast to earlier work, I want to focus on the force and torque fields about spacecraft with general three-dimensional shapes. This poses new technical challenges in the modeling of the torque response, the stability analysis of attitude equilibrium surfaces, and the complex experimentation setup to test such a system in a terrestrial testbed. Currently in development is the Multi-Sphere Method that will allow fast and accurate spacecraft charging models. The complexity of the dynamics will benefit from an energy based approach to the non-linear control algorithms. Validation of the simulations requires vacuum chamber experiments and unique rigging apparatuses that enable terrestrial approximation of the space environment. The development of touchless actuation technologies supports my strong interests in advanced space technology development, and blending physics and engineering. The yearly NASA internship will allow me to learn more about orbital servicing developments, and become familiar with the NASA research groups and organizations investigating space technology development. Electrostatic actuation research addresses NASA's strategic goals. Strategic Goal 3 seeks the development and demonstration of "critical technologies that will make NASA's exploration, science, and discovery missions more affordable and more capable". Electrostatic detumble and docking methods are more capable and more cross-cutting then current in-development methods. The development electrostatic tractor and actuation will deliver the fundamental models, control theories, and demonstrate the application in terrestrial experiments. In addition, the research addresses part of Strategic Goal 2 in obtaining a more complete understanding of physical phenomena. To achieve these strategic goals, key technology development areas have been identified. Electrostatic actuation research aligns heavily with Technology Area 4: Robotics, Tele-Robotics and Autonomous Systems. NASA details the need for methods like electrostatic detumble that mitigate docking impact loads and are versatile in mission applications. The touchless method of electrostatic detumble addresses both of these needs. Additional implications of the research align with Technology Area 11: Modeling, Simulation, Information Technology and Processing as well as the relevant crossovers. NASA identifies high-fidelity science and aerospace engineering modeling is a core technology required for the planning of future missions. This need is directly served by the validated electrostatic charging models on complex spacecraft geometries provided. More »

Anticipated Benefits

Primary U.S. Work Locations and Key Partners

Project Library

Share this Project

Organizational Responsibility

Project Management

Project Duration

Technology Maturity (TRL)

Technology Areas

Target Destination