Tuesday, July 31, 2018

2018-07-31: Autonomy Incubator Intern Chase Noren on In-Space Assembly

Charles Noren, also known as Chase, is a second time intern here at the Autonomy Incubator.  He first joined us in the fall of 2017, beginning his research in August and concluding in December.  He began his current internship in May and is furthering his research through mid August.  Chase will be graduating from Texas A&M in December with a Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering.

Chase is helping with RAMSES (Rule-Based Asset Management for Space Exploration Systems), which is part of the In-Space Assembly project.  Throughout his internship, he has been developing mobility solutions for the coarse alignment of different objects in space, such as trusses.

Chase Noren first joined the Ai last fall.

"I'm working on the simulation aspect of it right now, using the rover to achieve that angle," Chase told me.  "I'm using internal capabilities in order to control and manipulate the rover."

Recognize the robot? Its Galgabot! High school volunteers built it last summer.

How exactly is he doing this, though?  Well, there are essentially two phases of it: coarse alignment and assembly.  Coarse alignment is taking objects that are simply floating and trying to get them close enough together in order to align them.  Assembly is the connection phase, where the parts come together as truly one structure.

"I'm taking a small rover, a robot effectively, and using it to maneuver our trusses to a specific environment so that a robotic arm can more finely place them," he explained.  These trusses are the same scale that they would be in space.  "I'm basically the first aspect of it.  I'm kind of like a tug boat and I'm going to grab the truss, bring it over to an arm, who is then going to take it from me, and then position it so that the fine assembly robots can do the last little bit of coming together to form a structure."

Chase is holding a small scale truss.

His research and overall project plans stand as a "technology demonstrator," as he said.  The In-Space Assembly project, as of right now, just shows the capabilities that they have and want to have.  His project demonstrates how they could go about constructing something autonomously that could then be sent into orbit or in space.

What makes In-Space Assembly so important? There are two major constraints.  There is the geometric constraint, which defines the size of an object  and the limits it has based on its launch vehicle.  If it is too large, you cannot simply take the whole object into space all at once.  One solution to this would be folding it in an "almost origami-like approach," as Chase described, "so it can unfold at its destination."  James Webb Space Telescope is an example of something that uses this approach.  "In other cases, such as the mass-constraint, you must be able to break up the payload and launch it in separate chunks." Then, it would be reassembled at the destination.

"The reason why we want to do it autonomously is because, there are a lot of safety constraints, and it could simply be too far way.  James Webb is around a million miles away, and it is not feasible to have a human being travel out there to wherever that location may be.  That's why autonomy and In-Space Assembly is such an important thing."

The robot has been armed with VICON balls and Velcro to place GoPros on.

The main end goal is for the rover to do everything autonomously, and Chase is doing this through Python, where he programs everything.  Using the Python language, he has built an architecture that allows for the vehicle to communicate with a separate flight computer, known as a Pixhawk.

"I just sit here and program all day... that's my job!"

Chase is planning on applying for grad school once applications open up in the fall.  Good luck to him, and congrats on everything he has done thus far!

No comments:

Post a Comment