Evaluation of Tensegrity Telescopes for Small Satellites on Asteroid Recon Missions

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Tensegrity structures have the potential to be simple, low-mass, and stiff. These are desirable features of space components, given the high cost of getting them into space. One potential application for tensegrity telescopes is for performing reconnaissance of Near-Earth Asteroids. High-power telescopes mounted onto spacecraft are potentially needed to identify NEAs with very low albedo. Another factor that makes the tensegrity telescope structure attractive is that it could be stored in a compact configuration for launch and deployment in space. Given the complexities of tensegrity deployment, the telescope may incorporate some adjustment after assembly, or the assembly procedure includes flexibility to achieve the desired optical prescription.

This project will develop a low-mass tensegrity X mirror telescope, where X might be two or three. The number of mirrors and the size of the structure will result from discussions with interested personnel at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. The Lunar and Planetary Laboratory requirements include a mass and stiffness goal for the structure and a minimum fundamental natural frequency (or maximum deflection under a specified load).

One option would be to use existing mirrors at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. If mirrors are available, these would be incorporated into the tensegrity structural design. If not, aluminum could be machined to the correct gross size and shape, or mirrors would be excluded from the project.

Once the number of mirrors and the telescope size has been set, the next step will be to choose materials for the primary structural components, the bars, the rings, and the strings. Composites are inherently lightweight with a low thermal expansion coefficient (near zero), ensuring optimal stability. The main issue with composites is outgassing contamination of the mirrors, which must be addressed in the project as a risk factor.

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