Material studies of Asteroid regolith and accretion using a low-cost cubesat laboratory

Viranga Perera, Naor Movshovitz, Erik Asphaug, Jekanthan Thangavelautham

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

2 Scopus citations


The study of particles in close to zero gravity is vital to the study of asteroids and the science of planet formation. Laboratory studies of dust coagulation in microgravity are limited to less than ten seconds on drop tower experiments, and tens of seconds on parabolic flights, much shorter than the onset of gravitational effects. Longer duration experiments have been conducted on the International Space Station; however, the experimental methodology is restrictive due to astronaut safety concerns. We are developing a low cost CubeSat laboratory that we call the Asteroid Origins Satellite (AOSAT), which will help us to study how asteroids formed and to obtain a greater understanding of their surface properties. The central chamber of AOSAT will house the spacecraft electronics (computer system, attitude control system, communications system, etc.). The outer experimental chambers will be equipped using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components to measure fundamental regolith and coagulation properties, including stereo cameras, accelerometers, and gyros. In order to make the experimental environment as representative of the early solar system as possible, AOSAT will carry fine fragments of native asteroid material (i.e. pulverized meteorite regolith) into orbit. In the zero-spin state the particles will act similar to the particles in the early solar system allowing us to study the accretion process over months in orbit. In the spun-up state, the CubeSat will serve as a centrifuge and will create two 'patches' with similar microgravity as the surface of asteroids. By mimicking the native asteroid environments in sufficient detail, AOSAT will be a laboratory for direct research into primary accretion and asteroid surface properties. The microgravity environment inside the CubeSat (0 to 10-4 g) will enable scaled down versions of future experiments that will help validate engineering approaches for next-generation asteroid landers and robotic systems. We will compare in-orbit particle behavior to numerical granular media simulations, using our Astrophysical Rubble-piles Simulation Software (ARSS) in order to better understand the physics involved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication65th International Astronautical Congress 2014, IAC 2014
Subtitle of host publicationOur World Needs Space
PublisherInternational Astronautical Federation, IAF
Number of pages4
ISBN (Electronic)9781634399869
StatePublished - 2014
Event65th International Astronautical Congress 2014: Our World Needs Space, IAC 2014 - Toronto, Canada
Duration: Sep 29 2014Oct 3 2014

Publication series

NameProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
ISSN (Print)0074-1795


Other65th International Astronautical Congress 2014: Our World Needs Space, IAC 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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