Reconfigurable Spacecraft

This describes a concept of building spacecraft using “flux pinned interfaces” (FPI) that make the spacecraft easily reconfigurable. Flux pinning is the process of maintaining structural integrity by using superconductors and magnetic fields to create “non-contacting virtual structures”.

Flux-Pinned Spacecraft – [ spacecraftresearch.com] (at Cornell Univ.)

The effective stiffness and damping of a flux-pinned connection increases approximately exponentially as the separation between components decreases, making it particularly well-suited to close-proximity operations. Environmental differences are also typically minimized with small separation distances, creating an effective range for relative motion stabilization. Our research focuses on creating an accurate model for macroscopic flux-pinning behaviors and using that description to design and analyze new spacecraft architectures.

Reconfigurable Spacecraft as Kinematic Mechanisms Based on Flux-Pinning Interactions – [ spacecraftresearch.com]

THE challenges of the space environment require that spacecraft exhibit a high degree of mission assurance, which often takes the form of autonomous fault tolerance [1,2]. However, the technology for spacecraft repair and reconfiguration missions has not yet matured to the point where autonomous operations are also robust. Many completed and envisioned spacecraft reconfiguration or repair techniques involve substantial human-in-the-loop activity, including Advanced X-Ray Astrophysics Facility servicing activities and Hubble Space Telescope repair and expansion missions [3]. Another example is the construction of the International Space Station, which astronauts have assembled and reconfigured piecemeal during many hours of extravehicular activity. Fully autonomous repair and reconfiguration tasks have been achieved only recently, such as on the Orbital Express mission [4], with extensive sensing and active control solutions [5]. We propose to depart significantly from traditional approaches to reconfiguration by treating modular, reconfigurable spacecraft as kinematic mechanisms.

This proposal addresses the need for robust reconfiguration techniques in space without treating the problem of reconfiguration as one of docking or formation flight. In so doing, its approach incorporates passively stable physics, involving little to no active control at the level of the interface between modules and focusing on architectural control of the system start and end states.

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