Dynamics and Control of a Tensegrity System in Low-Earth Orbit

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Virginia Tech

Tensegrity is the name given to a system of interconnected bars and tendons that can form a flexible self-standing structure. Its flexibility is due to the ability of the bars to move near-independent to each other, movement that can be caused by controlled tension forces in the tendons or external forces such as gravity. However, a balance of sorts must be maintained - if a tendon were to go slack, the entire structure could become unstable and collapse on itself.

This thesis looks at placing a tensegrity structure in orbit around the Earth. As a spacecraft's orbit is moved further away from the Earth, the strength of the Earth's gravity field lessens. Ideally, such a flexible structure would be placed far enough away from the Earth so that the gravity field would have too weak an impact on its individual elements to cause major distortions. However, the author recognizes that altitudes below 2,000 km, where the Earth's gravity field is still very prevalent, are the most common altitudes used by orbiting spacecraft today. The goal of this thesis is to analyze the distortions of the tensegrity structure at these lower altitudes, and also look at methods for controlling these distortions.

tensegrity, spacecraft dynamics, gravity gradient