Robotic Space Construction: Step to Solar Power Satellites?

In the summer of 2004 I had the opportunity to attend "SPS 04", a European Space Agency conference on solar power from space held in Granada, Spain. I'll have to post a lengthier report on the meeting here when I get a chance - it was very interesting. But one interesting highlight was Nobuyuki Kaya of JAXA, who talked about a proposed experiment to test ideas for robotic construction; it looks like they're actually going ahead with it

Kaya's idea was to use a suborbital rocket launch to take advantage of a few minutes of zero gravity to run the test. Well, they'd like to do a longer test, but didn't have the budget. From the New Scientist article, Leopold Summerer of ESA is also involved, as is the Vienna robotics team that had an impressive demonstration at the conference.

The idea is to first deploy a thin triangular web of material, and then demonstrate that gripping robots can move around on it with the necessary freedom, under zero-gravity free-space conditions. This sort of robotic flexibility will be key to building large distributed structures in space, using the least amount of uplifted mass.

Japan's NASDA has a page explaining the "Furoshiki" concept. Normal space structures built up to now contain structural members that provide rigidity, but which add greatly to the structural mass. But there is no physical need for structural supports of that sort under zero-gravity conditions. The Furoshiki proposal would deploy a thin membrane, held taut by small satellites attached to the corners. A very interesting and important experiment.

Launch date is set for January 18th - here's wishing them well!

Created: 2006-01-05 06:51:03 by Arthur Smith