Academic and research departmentsCentre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP), Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences.
Small space robots have the potential to revolutionise space exploration by facilitating the on-orbit assembly of infrastructure, in shorter time scales, at reduced costs. Their commercial appeal will be further improved if such a system is also capable of performing on-orbit servicing missions, in line with the current drive to limit space debris and prolong the lifetime of satellites already in orbit. Whilst there have been a limited number of successful demonstrations of technologies capable of these on-orbit operations, the systems remain large and bespoke. The recent surge in small satellite technologies is changing the economics of space and in the near future, downsizing a space robot might become be a viable option with a host of benets. This industry wide shift means some of the technologies for use with a downsized space robot, such as power and communication subsystems, now exist. However, there are still dynamic and control issues that need to be overcome before a downsized space robot can be capable of undertaking useful missions. This paper rst outlines these issues, before analyzing the effect of downsizing a system on its operational capability. Therefore presenting the smallest controllable system such that the benefits of a small space robot can be achieved with current technologies. The sizing of the base spacecraft and manipulator are addressed here. The design presented consists of a 3 link, 6 degrees of freedom robotic manipulator mounted on a 12U form factor satellite. The feasibility of this 12U space robot was evaluated in simulation and the in-depth results presented here support the hypothesis that a small space robot is a viable solution for in-orbit operations. Keywords: Small Satellite; Space Robot; In-orbit Assembly and Servicing; In-orbit operations; Free-Flying; Free-Floating.