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Laboratory Facilities

A new laboratory is being constructed at McGill to support research in dynamics and control of space robotic systems. Detailed description of the laboratory, including experiments carried out to date and future research projects is available at Aerospace Mechatronics Lab.

One important function of space robotic systems is to grasp (or grapple) an object that is either passively floating or is under active attitude control. This operation is required to retrieve a satellite from orbit or for in-orbit maintenance and servicing of satellites or to collect space debris.

To conduct research on dynamics and control of these operations, Professor Sharf is building a unique experimental test-bed based on a novel concept for emulating gravity-free conditions, specifically for studying robotic grasping of objects in space. The key idea is to use a small (~5-7-ft) indoor helium balloon for laboratory emulation of a floating object. Being neutrally buoyant, the balloon together with a robot arm and a vision system will allow us to emulate the robot/object interactions that would occur in space.

Pictures of the main components of the facility, funded with NSERC Research Tools and Instruments Grant, are shown and described below.

Airship and Robots

Robot CRS 465 six-degree-of-freedom (6-dof) robot under open architecture control on a 3-m linear track. The robot and track have been purchased from Quanser and are presently being installed;

Balloon A spherical helium balloon, 5-ft in diameter is being assembled. The balloon will be equipped with six motors and it will carry a specially designed grapple fixture;

Vision system A two-tier vision system is planned for the facility: one part of the system will serve for the global localization of the balloon, while the second camera system, mounted on the robot end-effector will be used for fine servoing of the gripper to the grapple fixture;

Real-time distributed hardware and software system This is the computational and control platform that will be used to develop and execute controllers for the robot and the balloon. The system will be procured from Opal-RT, the developer of real-time, distributed computing and control systems.
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