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Three-Body Tethered Satellite System Deploys Successfully in Simulations
Model of 3-body chain-type tethered satellite system.
Three-Body Tethered Satellite System Deploys Successfully in Simulations
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Nov 03, 2023

In a groundbreaking study conducted by Zhongjie Meng and his team at Northwestern Polytechnical University, a new deployment strategy for tethered satellite systems (TSS) has been developed, addressing the complexity of operating a three-body chain in space. The detailed research has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Space: Science and Technology.

The research focuses on a tomographic synthetic aperture radar (TSAR) system, a constellation of tethered SAR satellites. These satellites hold significant promise for rapid deployment, which is crucial for their ability to provide stable baselines necessary for 3-dimensional topographic mapping and tracking moving targets.

Meng's team has laid down a robust motion model for this three-body system, initially simplifying the tether as massless and considering only planar motions. This model encapsulates the interactions between three point masses connected by two tethers, governed by a set of dynamic equations derived from the Lagrangian formulation, thus capturing the highly nonlinear nature of such systems.

The newly introduced deployment scheme is a sequential strategy, designed to sidestep the potential for collisions by releasing the satellites one after another. This novel approach, an evolution of methods used for two-body systems, employs advanced mathematical concepts such as Poincare's recurrence theorem and the Lie algebra rank condition to assure control over the underactuated TSS system. The scheme aims for a gradual and uniform extension of the tethers, which must maintain a tension within certain limits to prevent rupture.

A key innovation in Meng's strategy is the hierarchical sliding mode controller (HSMC). This controller has been crafted to manage the satellite's trajectory accurately. It incorporates an auxiliary system to help manage the constraints on input due to the tether's tension limits. Additionally, a three-layer sliding surface is developed for the entire TSS, with a disturbance observer included to gauge the required second derivative signal. The robust differentiator included estimates uncertainties in orbit motion, enhancing the control system's precision.

The numerical simulations performed are telling. To evaluate their new scheme, Meng's team compared it against two other strategies from existing literature. Their results were striking: where previous schemes demonstrated significant errors, Meng's Scheme 3 brought both tether deployment error and libration angle to a near zero within just over one orbital period - approximately three hours.

Furthermore, the comparison based on the integration of tracking error and tether tension between their proposed scheme and an earlier one showed a distinct improvement. Meng's HSMC explicitly accounted for the interaction between the three-body TSS, leading to a more precise and quicker deployment.

This research stands as a significant step forward in the field of space engineering, presenting a more reliable and effective method for deploying complex multi-satellite systems with tethered configurations. The potential applications of such systems are vast and could fundamentally change the way we approach Earth observations and space-based radar mapping.

The findings not only showcase a superior deployment process but also pave the way for future studies to further refine and possibly automate the deployment of satellite tethers in space, enhancing the capabilities and safety of space missions. With continued advancements such as these, the deployment of tethered satellite formations promises to become a mainstay of modern space exploration and surveillance.

Research Report:Deployment of Three-Body Chain-Type Tethered Satellites in Low-Eccentricity Orbits Using Only Tether

Related Links
Beijing Institute of Technology
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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