New Robotics System Recreates In-Orbit Satellite Movement

Comau and Argotec team to produce ATENA, a system to test, validate and visually track satellite movement.

As robotics are increasingly being developed to help humans on Earth in an array of arenas beyond manufacturing—including applications for fun, work and rescue—their usefulness in realms outside of this planet haven’t been overlooked.

Comau, an international leader in industrial automation, announced it has teamed with Argotec, an aerospace engineering firm, to bring to life the latter company’s innovative Advanced Testing Emulator for Nanosatellite Arm (ATENA) system. Its goal is to test and validate nanosatellites with the help of a robotic arm.

“Argotec is constantly looking for reliable technological solutions that can improve the quality of space systems and also allow possible Earth-related effects,” said David Avino, Argotec managing director. “The ATENA project, for which a patent application has been filed, represents our dynamic vision, our desire to innovate and, above all, the ability to collaborate with a multinational companies like Comau, pursuing a common goal: obtaining outstanding results of international relevance by exporting the excellence of Made-in-Italy technology in the world.”

ATENA aims to simplify simulations of satellite performance by using a robotic arm to recreate satellite movement in orbit. (Image courtesy of Comau.)

ATENA aims to simplify simulations of satellite performance by using a robotic arm to recreate satellite movement in orbit. (Image courtesy of Comau.)

Verifying satellite hardware, software, navigation and control algorithms while in orbit is no simple task. It requires complex simulation and analysis that can be difficult to fully understand. ATENA is designed to continuously monitor satellite parameters and provide instant verification.

Argotec’s system includes a portion of a satellite, an electronic control unit and a Comau Racer7 1.4 robot—considered one of the fastest in its class—as well as a reliable and precise robot for compact mechanisms. The nanosatellite section is fastened to the robot’s wrist. A closed-loop configuration allows the system to test communication protocols with the various subsystems and verify proper interaction among them. It can then obtain mechanical responses of in-orbit satellite movements throughout a mission.

ATENA has the potential to be a groundbreaking tool in aerospace. Besides its ability to provide clear and immediate test results, its versatility will allow it to be designed into a satellite. The use of robotics provides visual feedback of a satellite’s movement, which can further benefit future designs, as well as provide insight into satellite docking.

“We are proud to have contributed to the implementation of the innovative project developed by Argotec, in an extremely technological sector such as aerospace, where precision and reliability are essential components,” said Massimo Calvetto, Comau sales manager for GI Italy.”