Autonomous In-Space Assembly with Arm-Augmented Cubesats

PIs: Dr. Heni Ben Amor, ASU; Dr. Renaud Detry, NASA/JPL

Students: Shubham Sonawani, ASU;  Siva Kailas, ASU


We have demonstrated autonomous assembly behaviors with a CubeSat-based robotic manipulator, a unique capability that has never been successfully produced by either NASA or the private sector. We developed a rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) software package that works within the avionics constraints of a CubeSat form factor. It leverages state-of-the-art machine vision, motion planning and motor control to guide the assembly of truss components whose configuration with respect to the robot is a-priori unknown. We also developed a full-stack CubeSat assembly testbed composed of JPL’s previously-developed CubeSat-mounted robotic arm integrated with our RPO package, and we delivered a video demonstrating autonomous assembly behaviors with truss components on our testbed.


Real-world Assembly Testbed

ROS-Gazebo Simulation Testbed

Monocular vision based tracking in simulation

Grasping in real-world

Demo of Assembly Task using Remora Arm and Monocular Vision Based Tracking


Below videos show assembly manuever perfromed by remora arm using visual servoing. left video with third person’s view and right one with first person’s view

Simulation + Realworld Hybrid Experiment

Here, we are performing vision based tracking in simulation to obtained the pose of Truss. 6D pose is fed to motion primitives for simulated and real remora arm. Demo shows well calibrated remora arm performing visual servoing.


The technology developed in this project enables CubeSats to perform simple autonomous manipulation actions, e.g., opening a solar panel, assembling modular structures such as mirrors or antennae, or interlocking with a second satellite. This ability increases the safety of Earth-guided low-orbit assembly, and enables assembly beyond Earth orbit where communication delays are prohibitive to teleoperation. This work puts JPL in a position of strength to formulate missions that involve autonomous rendezvous and docking, for instance in a Lunar platform, and enable sampling missions on asteroids via scooping/grappling functions carried out by the manipulator.


This project is funded JPL-NASA as part of Stratergic University Reaserch Partnership with ASU. The investigators thank 347 Technologist Spencer Backus for his assistance in upgrading the motor controllers of the Remora arm.