Over the last decade a renewed emphasis has been placed on developing new classes of autonomous, unmanned vehicles. For example, autonomous free-flying robotic assistants are envisioned that could assist astronauts in space or perform routine monitoring tasks. Or, nano- and pico-satellites are being developed to provide clusters of information sensors.
The Autonomous Vehicle Systems (AVS) laboratory aims to develop hardware and software simulation environments to design, develop and test relative motion sensing technologies and control solutions. Among these projects, we are currently working on advanced Attitude Dynamics and Control (ADCS) systems. Using an in-house C-Code simulation environment that is capable of simulating the high-fidelity dynamics of dynamic actuation systems, has Monte-Carlo simulation capabilities, and can provide hardware-in-the-loop simulation capabilities. Further, the AVS lab is engaged in relative motion actuation research using electrostatic force fields. This work is studying the complex nonlinear relative motion dynamics of free-flying charged spacecraft, and is seeking elegant methods to stabilize the resulting spacecraft clusters. Other projects are investigating visual relative motion control, or deployable flexible structures such as the electrostatic sail concept. Several research efforts are considering aspects of the space debris challenge such as investigating the macro-level motion of GEO debris, as well as touchless debris mitigation systems using an Electrostatic Tractor concept.