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Design Innovation Paper

A Multimodule Planar Air Bearing Testbed for CubeSat-Scale Spacecraft

[+] Author and Article Information
William R. Wilson

e-mail: wrw47@cornell.edu

Laura L. Jones

e-mail: llj7@cornell.edu

Mason A. Peck

e-mail: mp336@cornell.edu
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering,
Cornell University,
Ithaca, NY 14853

Contributed by the Dynamic Systems Division of ASME for publication in the Journal of Dynamic Systems, Measurement, and Control. Manuscript received June 8, 2012; final manuscript received February 17, 2013; published online May 17, 2013. Assoc. Editor: Won-jong Kim.

J. Dyn. Sys., Meas., Control 135(4), 045001 (May 17, 2013) (10 pages) Paper No: DS-12-1183; doi: 10.1115/1.4023767 History: Received June 08, 2012; Revised February 17, 2013

In the past several years, small satellites have taken on an increasingly important role as affordable technology demonstrators and are now being viewed as viable low-cost platforms for traditional spacecraft mission objectives. As such, the CubeSat standard (1 kg in a 10 cm cube) has been widely adopted for university-led development efforts even as it is embraced by traditional spacecraft developers, such as NASA. As CubeSats begin to take on roles traditionally filled by much larger spacecraft, the infrastructure for dynamics and controls testing must also transition to accommodate the different size and cost scaling associated with CubeSats. While air-bearing-based testbeds are commonly used to enable a variety of traditional ground testing and development for spacecraft, few existing designs are suitable for development of CubeSat-scale technologies, particularly involving multibody dynamics. This work describes Cornell University's FloatCube testbed, which provides a planar reduced-friction environment for multibody dynamics and controls technology development for spacecraft less than 6 kg and a 15 cm cube. The multimodule testbed consists of four free-floating air-bearing platforms with on-board gas supplies that allow the platforms to float over a glass surface without external attachments. Each of these platforms, or FloatCubes, can host CubeSat-sized payloads at widely ranging levels of development, from prototype components to full-scale systems. The FloatCube testbed has already hosted several successful experiments, proving its ability to provide an affordable reduced-friction environment to CubeSat-scale projects. This paper provides information on the system design, cost, performance, operating procedures, and applications of this unique, and increasingly relevant, testbed.

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Figures

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Fig. 1

FloatCube testbed in use with one vehicle

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Fig. 2

Overlay of IMU and vision system data for angle and rate of a payload slew maneuver

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Fig. 3

FloatCube platform rendered model

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Fig. 4

FloatCube spherical joint

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Fig. 5

Air bearing operation details

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Fig. 6

Pressure system layout

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Fig. 7

Rendering of regulator, CO2 cartridge, and collar

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Fig. 8

Aluminum (left) and rapid-prototyped plastic (right) FloatCube base

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Fig. 9

Card and shell structure used for component testing

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Fig. 10

Fitting a linear model of friction to data from IMU and vision system

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Fig. 11

Multibody system during testing on FloatCube platforms

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