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The motion of a free-floating space robot is characterized by the principle of conservation of angular momentum. It is well known that these angular momentum equations are nonholonomic, i.e., are nonintegrable rate equations. If the base of the free-floating robot is partially actuated, it is difficult to determine joint trajectories that will result in point-to-point motion of the entire robot system in its configuration space. However, if the drift-less system associated with the angular momentum conservation equations is differentially flat, point-to-point maneuvers of the free-floating robot in its configuration space can be constructed by properly choosing trajectories in the differentially flat space. The primary advantages of this approach is that it avoids the use of nonlinear programming (NLP) to solve the nonintegrable rate equations, which at best can provide only approximate solutions. A currently open research problem is how to design a differentially flat space robot with under-actuated base. The contributions of this technical note are as follows: i) study systematically the structure of the nonholonomic rate constraint equations of a free-floating open-chain space robot with two momentum wheels at the base and arbitrarily oriented joint axes; ii) identify a set of sufficient conditions on the inertia distribution under which the system exhibits differential flatness; iii) exploit these design conditions for point-to-point trajectory planning and control of the space robot.
Date of Publication: Sept. 2009