Multibody dynamics play a critical role in simulation testbeds for space missions. There has been a considerable interest in the development of efficient computational algorithms for solving the dynamics of multibody systems. Mass matrix factorization and inversion techniques and the O(N) class of forward dynamics algorithms developed using a spatial operator algebra stand out as important breakthrough on this front. Techniques such as these provide the efficient algorithms and methods for the application and implementation of such multibody dynamics models. However, these methods are limited only to tree-topology multibody systems.

Closed-chain topology systems require different techniques that are not as efficient or as broad as those for tree-topolgy systems. The closed-chain forward dynamics approach consists of treating the closed-chain topology as a tree-topology system subject to additional closure constraints. The resulting forward dynamics solution consists of: (a) ignoring the closure constraints and using the O(N) algorithm to solve for the “free” unconstrained accelerations for the system; (b) using the tree-topology solution to compute a correction force to enforce the closure constraints; and (c) correcting the unconstrained accelerations with correction accelerations resulting from the correction forces.

This constraint-embedding technique shows how to use direct embedding to eliminate local closure-loops in the system and effectively convert the system back to a tree-topology system. At this point, standard tree-topology techniques can be brought to bear on the problem. The approach uses a spatial operator algebra approach to formulating the equations of motion. The operators are block-partitioned around the local body subgroups to convert them into aggregate bodies. Mass matrix operator factorization and inversion techniques are applied to the reformulated tree-topology system. Thus in essence, the new technique allows conversion of a system with closure-constraints into an equivalent tree-topology system, and thus allows one to take advantage of the host of techniques available to the latter class of systems.

This technology is highly suitable for the class of multibody systems where the closure-constraints are local, i.e., where they are confined to small groupings of bodies within the system. Important examples of such local closure-constraints are constraints associated with four-bar linkages, geared motors, differential suspensions, etc. One can eliminate these closure-constraints and convert the system into a tree-topology system by embedding the constraints directly into the system dynamics and effectively replacing the body groupings with virtual aggregate bodies. Once eliminated, one can apply the well-known results and algorithms for tree-topology systems to solve the dynamics of such closed-chain system.

This work was done by Abhinandan Jain and Rudranarayan Mukherjee of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-46950

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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