Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical and Civil Engineering

First Advisor

Markus Wilde

Second Advisor

Tiauw Hiong Go

Third Advisor

Marius Silaghi

Fourth Advisor

Pierre Larochelle


As more satellites are launched into orbit, the amount of space debris objects and defunct satellites in orbit that pose a risk to existing operational space systems is expected to grow. In addition, the risk of collision with defunct systems and space debris increase operational fuel cost for active satellites that have to perform avoidance maneuvers. When a satellite’s propulsion or attitude navigation system malfunction, this may cause the satellite to become defunct, potentially becoming a risk to other active space systems. A way to counter defunct satellite systems, is through robotic on-orbit servicing and active space debris removal as critical technologies for the continued growth and development of space flight. To this effect, the development and implementation of a hardware-in-the-loop testbed is necessary in order to perform experimental research in on-orbit maneuvers that include spacecraft formation flight, rendezvous and capture. The testbed under consideration consists of two air-bearing vehicles that operate on top of a high precision flat table, and enables the study of planar on-orbit maneuvers during the close proximity operations of the chaser and target system. Each air-bearing vehicle have three degrees-of-freedom motion, planar XY direction and rotation in the Z-axis. The chaser vehicle was designed to have a three-fingered gripper grasping tool used to interact with the target air-bearing vehicle, used in a case study of the experimental verification of a prototype rendezvous and capture controller. The hardware-in-the-loop testbed was fabricated, calibrated, and experimentally tested. As part of the process for calibration: the table surface was characterized, the performance of the gripper tool were measured, as well as that of the on-board cold gas thrusters. With End-to-End experimental validation experiments performed that demonstrated successful rendezvous and capture between the chaser and target vehicle.