Rollable Multisegment Dielectric Elastomer Minimum Energy Structures for a Deployable Microsatellite Gripper
Debris in space presents an ever-increasing problem for spacecraft in Earth orbit. As a step in the mitigation of this issue, the CleanSpace One (CSO) microsatellite has been proposed. Its mission is to perform active debris removal of a decommissioned nanosatellite (the CubeSat SwissCube). An important aspect of this project is the development of the gripper system that will entrap the capture target. We present the development of rollable dielectric elastomer minimum energy structures (DEMES) as the main component of CSO's deployable gripper. DEMES consist of a prestretched dielectric elastomer actuator membrane bonded to a flexible frame. The actuator finds equilibrium in bending when the prestretch is released and the bending angle can be changed by the application of a voltage bias. The inherent flexibility and lightweight nature of the DEMES enables the gripper to be stored in a rolled-up state prior to deployment. We fabricated proof-of-concept actuators of three different geometries using a robust and repeatable fabrication methodology. The resulting actuators were mechanically resilient to external deformation, and display conformability to objects of varying shapes and sizes. Actuator mass is less than 0.65 g and all the actuators presented survived the rolling-up and subsequent deployment process. Our devices demonstrate a maximum change of bending angle of more than 60° and a maximum gripping (reaction) force of 2.2 mN for a single actuator.