Strategies for On-Orbit Assembly of Modular Spacecraft

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E. L. Gralla; O. L. de Weck (2007), JBIS, 60, 219-227

Refcode: 2007.60.219
Keywords: Assembly, modular spacecraft, space tugs, in-space refuelling

Next-generation space exploration will most likely require the on-orbit assembly of large spacecraft. In order for any such exploration program to be sustainable, it must avoid the difficulties encountered by past programs by focusing on affordability. The advent of modular spacecraft potentially enables a variety of new, more affordable assembly techniques. This paper explores a number of on-orbit assembly methods for modular spacecraft, in order to understand the potential value of a reusable assembly support infrastructure. Four separate assembly strategies involving module self-assembly, tug-based assembly, and in-space refuelling are modelled and compared in terms of mass-to-orbit requirements for various on-orbit assembly tasks. Results show that reusable space tugs with in-space refuelling can reduce the required launch mass for on- orbit assembly between 5% and 41% (compared to self-assembly) for certain types of assembly tasks.

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