Chung working on NASA Asteroid Redirect Mission


Chung Joins JPL Mission to Capture and Redirect Asteroids

AE Assistant Prof. Soon-Jo Chung

Aerospace Engineering at Illinois Assistant Prof. Soon-Jo Chung is collaborating with Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) experts of NASA/CalTech Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in developing control strategies to capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid to a stable obit around the moon.Purposes of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) are for astronauts to be able to explore the asteroid in the 2020s, and to advance the new technologies and spaceflight experience needed for humans to pioneer Mars in the 2030s.

Among JPL’s technologists working with Chung on this NASA Center Innovation Fund (CIF) project are the project’s principal investigator, A. Miguel San Martin, JPL Fellow and Chief Engineer of the Guidance and Control Section; and Dr. Fred Y. Hadaegh, JPL Associate Chief Technologist and JPL Fellow.

The College of Engineering at Illinois hosted San Martin earlier in February to deliver a talk and invite Illinois students to take part in a contest for designing algorithms to land a vehicle on a planet. Dr. Hadaegh and Chung have been collaborating for a number of years on spacecraft swarms and CubeSats.

The ARM project is expected to produce the first in-depth results and first-of-a-kind tools for attitude stabilization and control of an asteroid in the 3 to 10 meter range. Chung said the NASA scientists are investigating multiple concepts of capture mechanisms, one of which is an inflatable system, similar to a bag. The inflatable bag captures the selected asteroid, tightens around it, and pulls it to another orbit.

Chung will contribute to attitude control designs for de-spinning and stabilizing the asteroid-spacecraft combination. The problem poses many technical challenges and calculations because of large dynamics uncertainty ranging from uncertain mass and inertia properties to a large range of capture mechanism characteristics.

“The asteroid is tumbling and spinning, and the spacecraft used for capturing is tumbling with the asteroid,” Chung said. “We will try to stabilize the asteroid and gain attitude control.”

Chung is also collaborating with Prof. James Allison in Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering on another JPL-funded research project to develop a novel space system using distributed actuator arrays. An additional JPL research project of Chung’s is the development of formation flying Cubesats.