Spacecraft torques and forces measurement system

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Measuring micro torques and forces is important for analyzing spacecraft components. Under the effect of Earth’s gravitational forces, micro torques and forces cause negligible reaction when applied to an object. However, while in space these same forces can cause large reactionary motions. This team developed a system to isolate, measure and analyze the effects of a known torque and force generator. Performing these tests in one Earth gravity, or the amount of gravity at Earth’s surface, predicts reactions of the system in space.

The design has three subsystems that use a combination of air-bearing components; an inertial measurement unit (IMU); linear actuators; and an electric motor to produce and measure the motion of the system. The team leveraged near frictionless air-bearing technology to levitate an onboard compressed air tank, a satellite bus to house measurement and data processing components, and the disturbance-generating payload.

The team designed a force generator that is driven by a microcontroller to output a known torque and force. This disturbance is measured by the IMU. IMU data is collected by a microcontroller and written to a removable data drive. The data is then transferred to an external computer, where software calculates the force and torque applied to the system.

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