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Published June 2017 | Published
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Automated Rendezvous and Docking Using Tethered Formation Flight


This paper analyzes capture strategies for tether-based autonomous rendezvous and docking. Once both spacecrafts are connected by tethers, docking is achieved through the use of reaction wheels and tether motors without the use of propellant. Autonomous rendezvous and docking is crucial for many upcoming missions including on-orbit servicing and potential Mars missions. The tether-based capture strategies investigated are a spin-up tether deployment and a free-flying child spacecraft attaching the tether. These strategies are compared to a traditional two-agent propulsive docking strategy. The capture strategies are simulated from initial orbit through to completed dock, with the total fuel consumption and dock time compared, along with initial pointing/location requirements. In addition to having lower fuel cost, the tether-based strategies are also more reliable due to redundancy, since tethers can be reeled back in and multiple tethers can be stored for use in case of primary tether failure.

Additional Information

This work was supported by a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship. Government sponsorship is acknowledged. This research was carried out in part at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the NASA.

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Published - IWSCFF_paper_Tethered_Dynamics.pdf


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August 19, 2023
August 19, 2023