NASA SBIR 2003 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 03- II F5.03-8890
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Structural Concepts, Materials, and Assembly for Modular Systems
PROPOSAL TITLE: On-Orbit Assembly of a Universally Interlocking Modular Spacecraft (7225-020)

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Prakash B. Joshi
20 New England Business Center
Andover, MA 01810-1077
U.S. Citizen or Legal Resident: Yes

Physical Sciences Inc. and Advanced Solutions, Inc. propose a novel approach for on-orbit assembly of a modular spacecraft using a unique universal, intelligent, electromechanical interface (AUTOCONNECT) on surfaces of individual modules. AUTOCONNECT not only provides mechanical fastening between modules (irrespective of precise alignments and orientations), but also automatically configures electrical connections among modules. Mechanical attachment occurs due to docking and physical contact between modules with sufficient initial momenta. The mass properties of the assembly are determined on orbit and the entire assembly functions as a spacecraft unit. In Phase I we simulated spacecraft assembly in two dimensions using instrumented hexagonal modules supported on air bearings with yaw control provided by a reaction wheel on each module. We demonstrated the feasibility of attachment via AUTOCONNECT, power and data transfer across the interface, and angular orientation control of the assembly. In Phase II, we propose to simulate orbital assembly of a spacecraft configuration as an AUTOCONNECTed assembly of multiple instrumented modules, where each module functions as a spacecraft subsystem or payload, and demonstrate command and control of the entire assembly. Additionally, we will address the system level design issues for AUTOCONNECT-equipped spacecraft modules and the concept of operations for their on-orbit assembly.

Military applications of AUTOCONNECT include on-orbit assembly of spacecraft from subsystems needed for a particular mission, creation of new spacecraft configurations, or reconfiguration of existing spacecraft. Other embodiments of AUTOCONNECT will enable rapid ground assembly of spacecraft for quick launch, responsive space missions envisioned by the Air Force. Non-space military applications of AUTOCONNECT include soldiers' clothing and ground vehicles, where sensors, communications equipment, instruments, etc, can be quickly attached as needed for the battlefield environment. AUTOCONNECT allows assembly of systems without connectors and cables, e.g., computer and home electronic systems, "smart" walls in buildings, where sensors/monitors can be attached anywhere.

The proposed technology will enable NASA to build large systems in space using smaller, modular subsystems, refurbish spacecraft in orbit with new technology subsystems/payloads, and service/repair existing subsystems. This modular, on-orbit assembly approach is especially suited for low-cost Lunar and Mars missions and for NASA's vision of fleets of formation flying spacecraft on distributed science missions. Reduction in cost is achieved by manufacturing large quantities of identical modules with standardized AUTOCONNECT interfaces. Our approach also allows the selection of desired modules to assemble a customized spacecraft using AUTOCONNECT, and on-orbit operations using the advanced control algorithms we propose to develop.