Investigating asteroid surface geophysics with an ultra-low-gravity centrifuge in low-earth orbit

Stephen R. Schwartz, Jekan Thangavelauthum, Erik Asphaug, Aman Chandra, Ravi teja Nallapu, Leonard Vance

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Near-Earth small-body mission targets 162173 Ryugu, 101955 Bennu, and 25143 Itokawa produce gravity fields around 4 orders of magnitude below that of Earth and their irregular shapes, combined with rotational effects produce varying surface potentials. Still, we observe familiar geologic textures and landforms that are the result of the granular physical processes that take place on their surfaces. The nature of these landforms, however, their origins, and how these surfaces react to interrogation by probes, landers, rovers, and penetrators, remain largely unknown, and therefore landing on an asteroid and manipulating its surface material remains a daunting challenge. The AOSAT+ design is a 12U CubeSat that will be in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and that will operate as a spinning on-orbit centrifuge. Part of this 12U CubeSat will contain a laboratory that will recreate asteroid surface conditions using crushed meteorite as a regolith proxy. The spinning of the laboratory will simulate the surface gravity of asteroids 2 km and smaller. The result is a bed of realistic regolith, the environment that landers and diggers and maybe astronauts will interact with. A crucial component of this mission involves the reproduction of the experimental results in numerical simulation in order to extract the material parameters of the regolith and its behavior in a sustained, very low-but nonzero-gravity environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberIAC-19_A2_5_2_x54907
JournalProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
StatePublished - 2019
Event70th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2019 - Washington, United States
Duration: Oct 21 2019Oct 25 2019


  • Asteroids
  • Cubesat
  • DEM
  • Granular
  • ISRU
  • Regoliths

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Investigating asteroid surface geophysics with an ultra-low-gravity centrifuge in low-earth orbit'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this