Many satellites are in space to take photos. But a vibrating satellite, like a camera in shaky hands, can’t get a sharp image. Pointing it at a precise location to take a photo or perform another task is an important function that requires accuracy. Researchers have developed a way to cancel out the vibrations of a satellite by vibrating the solar panels in the opposite direction — called active noise cancellation.
After developing a mathematical model and using random inputs, it was found that the satellite could be made to move away from the original resting point. In addition to vibration isolation, it can rotate the satellite in space arbitrarily.
In space, only the satellite’s internal forces can be used to move it. The controlled movements of the satellite’s solar panels can be likened to the movements a cat makes when falling to land on its feet — twisting its body by stretching out its legs, then pulling them in tightly. The solar panels are long and flexible, so if one swings down, it rotates the spacecraft by a small amount of angle. When the length of the solar panel is changed, it changes the moment of inertia, which moves it back a slightly different amount.
The multifunctional structures for attitude control can be used by companies that design, build, and launch satellites. Future work involves making the structure more realistic to fly in space including integrating the electronics into the solar panels to save on volume and weight.