Design and Operation of Micro-Gravity Dynamics and Controls Laboratories
Miller, David W.
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The cost and complexity of maturing spacecraft dynamics and controls technology increases dramatically as the developer needs to demonstrate functionality in the space environment. Due to the high cost and infrequent opportunities to exercise such technology in space, dedicated free-flyers are developed which integrate a number of high risk technologies. As the budget expands and real or perceived risk is recognized, schedules extend and technologies are reduced or removed. Pushing advanced technology to its limits in an operational environment is fundamentally at odds with the risk-intolerant environment of space, leading to high costs and delayed testing. The MIT Space Systems Laboratory has taken an alternative approach by developing a family of dynamics and controls laboratories that have operated on Shuttle, Mir, and ISS. By designing the laboratories to not ensure safety through software design, as well as operating within the interior of these vehicles, the risk-tolerant and technically aggressive nature of a terrestrial laboratory has been emulated in the long duration micro-gravity of space. This paper will present the various laboratory design features that have led to the low cost of this technology maturation approach: including modularity; platforming; virtual presence; and facilitation of the iterative research process.