An On-Orbit CubeSat Centrifuge for Asteroid Science and Exploration

Status Report From: e-Print archive
Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2019

Jekan Thangavelautham, Erik Asphaug, Stephen Schwartz

(Submitted on 31 Dec 2018)

There are thousands of asteroids in near-Earth space and millions expected in the Main Belt. They are diverse in their physical properties and compositions. They are also time capsules of the early Solar System making them valuable for planetary science, and are strategic for resource mining, planetary defense/security and as interplanetary depots. But we lack direct knowledge of the geophysical behavior of an asteroid surface under milligravity conditions, and therefore landing on an asteroid and manipulating its surface material remains a daunting challenge. 

Towards this goal we are putting forth plans for a 12U CubeSat that will be in Low Earth Orbit and that will operate as a spinning centrifuge on-orbit. In this paper, we will present an overview of the systems engineering and instrumentation design on the spacecraft. Parts of this 12U CubeSat will contain a laboratory that will recreate asteroid surface conditions by containing crushed meteorite. The laboratory will spin at 1 to 2 RPM during the primary mission to simulate surface conditions of asteroids 2 km and smaller, followed by an extended mission where the spacecraft will spin at even higher RPM. The result is a bed of realistic regolith, the environment that landers and diggers and maybe astronauts will interact with. The CubeSat is configured with cameras, lasers, actuators and small mechanical instruments to both observe and manipulate the regolith at low simulated gravity conditions. A series of experiments will measure the general behavior, internal friction, adhesion, dilatancy, coefficients of restitution and other parameters that can feed into asteroid surface dynamics simulations. Effective gravity can be varied, and external mechanical forces can be applied.

Comments: 10 pages, 8 figures, IEEE Aerospace Conference 2019

Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM)

Cite as: arXiv:1812.11663 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:1812.11663v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)

Submission history

From: Jekan Thangavelautham 

[v1] Mon, 31 Dec 2018 02:04:16 UTC (1,364 KB)

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