PULSAR aims to develop key-technologies to enable the autonomous assembly of large structures in space. Similar to industrial applications, the assembly process relies on the usage of robotic systems, building one overall structure out of modular parts. However, the in-space assembly provides exceptional challenges necessitating innovation in fields such as free-floating manipulation and high precision assembly under the influence of uncertainties.
Autonomous assembly of large structures in space is a key challenge to implement future missions that will necessitate structures too large to be self-deployed as a single piece. The James Webb Space Telescope has reached this limit and the next generation telescope expected by astronomers, like the High-Definition Space Telescope, will therefore require new assembly technologies, in particular autonomous robots. The need for large structures in space goes beyond telescopes and concerns also solar arrays for power plant, light sails to reach outermost regions of the solar system or heat shields to land on Mars.
PULSAR objective is to develop and demonstrate key technologies for in-space assembly of the primary mirror of a 12m diameter telescope. Previously developed building blocks, c.f. first call of the SRC Space Robotics Technology, will be integrated and enhanced for this specific mission, but also to serve future multi-mission applications. The project focuses on the assembly of a mirror but the developed technology will be applicable to other large structures. Indeed, assembling a mirror requires far more rigor and accuracy than other identified structures. PULSAR is organized in three demonstration tracks to address major challenges of in-space autonomous assembly of telescope: