It is of great significance to utilize a landing mechanism to explore an asteroid. A landing mechanism named ALISE (Asteroid Landing and In Situ Exploring) for asteroid with soft surface is presented. The landing dynamic in the first turning stage, which represents the landing performance of the landing mechanism, is built by a Lagrange equation. Three key parameters can be found influencing the landing performance: the retrorocket thrust T, damping element damping
c
_{1}
, and cardan element damping
c
_{2}
. In this paper, the retrorocket thrust T is solved with considering that the landing mechanism has no overturning in extreme landing conditions. The damping element damping
c
_{1}
is solved by a simplified dynamic model. After solving the parameters T and
c
_{1}
, the cardan element damping
c
_{2}
is calculated using the landing dynamic model, which is built by Lagrange equation. The validities of these three key parameters are tested by simulation. The results show a stable landing, when landing with the three estimated parameters T,
c
_{1}
, and
c
_{2}
. Therefore, the landing dynamic model and methods to estimate key parameters are reasonable, and are useful for guiding the design of the landing mechanism.
1. Introduction
There are enormous asteroids formed at the beginning of the solar system. Most of them are rich in minerals, and some of them are dangerous to the Earth
[1
,
2]
. Thus, exploring the asteroids is of great significance, with the purpose of obtaining great economic effectiveness, and protecting the Earth. Landing on an asteroid is a great step towards exploring these asteroids, and its merits include: 1) learning about asteroids
in situ
; 2) changing dangerous asteroid orbits; 3) using asteroids as platforms to observe other celestial bodies; 4) using asteroids as carrying devices; 5) establishing communication stations on asteroids, and 6) capturing asteroids with minerals and bringing them back to earth
[3
,
4]
. However, these merits can only be carried out after a lander is able to land safely on an asteroid. Landing safely or not is represented by the landing performance, and the landing performance is usually evaluated by both the overloading acceleration and stability time, which are included in the landing dynamic model. Thus, it is of great significance to estimate the key parameters that will induce a good landing performance, by building a landing dynamic model. Besides, the values of these key parameters can guide the design of the landing mechanism.
Presently, most of the landing dynamic models are designed for lunar landing mechanisms, but are not suited to small body landing mechanisms, because of different landing environments, with different landing strategies
[5

11]
. The Europe Space Agency (ESA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have developed small body landing mechanisms, but the landing dynamic model is rarely used to evaluate the landing performance, and to guide the design of the landing mechanism
[12

16]
. They just evaluate the landing performance by simulation with the given value of the parameters, but don’t show how these values are educed
[17]
.
In this paper, an Asteroid Landing and
In situ
Exploring (“ALISE”) landing mechanism for asteroid with soft surface is presented. The landing dynamic model in the first turning stage is built by Lagrange equation. It can be found that there are three key parameters (retrorocket thrust T, damping element damping
c
_{1}
and cardan element damping
c
_{2}
) that will influence the landing performance. Thus, the values of these three parameters must be estimated, to achieve excellent landing performance. The paper firstly estimates the value of T, by considering that the retrorocket will prevent the landing mechanism from overturning, by counteracting the turning energy. Secondly, the value of
c
_{2}
is estimated by a simplified dynamic model. Thirdly, after defining the values of T and
c
_{1}
, the value of
c
_{2}
is calculated by the landing dynamic model, with the objective function of having the shortest stability time, and the constraint condition that the overloading acceleration is less than 10g. Lastly, the validities of these three values are tested, by simulating the landing performance in Adams software.
2. The ALISE landing mechanism
The ALISE landing mechanism aims at asteroids with soft surface(especially C type asteroid), which are softer than other asteroids, because of containing organic materials and amino acids
[18
,
19]
, and the design is inspired by the Rosetta lander and the ST4/Champollion lander
[20

22]
. The ALISE landing mechanism includes a threeleg landing gear, and an anchoring system that is designed to avoid the flying away of the lander under low gravity. The landing gear contains landing foot, landing legs, cardan element, damping element, and equipment base. The damping element is realized by electromagnetic damping, which is a new technology in deep space exploration. This damping mode has the merits of high efficiency, easy control, adjustable damping, and so on, and has been used in the Rosetta landing mechanism
[20]
. The anchoring system contains anchoring element, propulsion element, rewinding element, and cushion element. The schematics and the performance parameters are shown
Schematic of the landing mechanism
Mechanical and landing performance parameters
Mechanical and landing performance parameters
separately in
Fig. 1
and
Table 1
. Besides, the retrorocket is fixed on the upper surface of the equipment base, to supply thrust towards the landing slope, to prevent the rebound of the landing mechanism, when landing. There is no sign of the retrorocket in the schematics, because it is a part of the control system, but not a part of the mechanical structure.
There are awls beneath the landing feet to preventing sliding, and contact switches inside the landing feet, to generate landing signals. The cardan element has the functions of both absorbing the horizontal impact when landing, and adjusting the attitude of the equipment base after landing, while the damping element is just used to absorb the vertical impact. The anchoring element, which connects to the rewinding element via a thread, will be pushed rapidly into the asteroid by the propulsion element. At the time of penetration of the anchoring element, the rewinding element will quickly rewind the thread. When the thread is instantaneously tense, the cushion element, which is composed of a compression spring, will absorb the impact, to protect the rewinding motor. The retrorocket will be activated at the time of landing, and supply a constant force lasting about 5 seconds toward the equipment base, to prevent the landing mechanism from rebounding.
3. Landing dynamic model
The surface of the asteroid with soft surface is soft. When landing, the awls will penetrate the asteroid some depth, to prevent sliding of the landing mechanism, and the retrorocket would be activated, to counteract the rebound of the landing mechanism. Then, the landing mechanism will turn clockwise or counterclockwise around the feet’s anchoring points. The interaction between the awls and the surface is threedimensional and very complicated, and few reasonable models can express this interaction accurately. Furthermore, the dynamic parameters in the first turning stage are enough to express the landing performance. Thus, the paper only develops the landing dynamic of the first turning stage. There are twodimensional and threedimensional landing dynamic models. But considering that the twodimensional model is successfully adopted by the lunar lander, and that it is simpler than the threedimensional model, a twodimensional landing dynamic is built for the ALISE landing mechanism.
Some hypotheses are made in building the landing dynamic model: 1) the gravity on the asteroid is of the order of magnitude about 10
^{4}
m/s
^{2}
, therefore the gravity is ignored; 2) the friction between the landing feet and landing legs is ignored; 3) The stiffness of the landing gear is far greater than that of the damping element vertically, and of the cardan element horizontally. So the flexibility of the landing gear is ignored; 4) the impulse acting on the landing mechanism when shooting the anchoring system is ignored; 5) the overturning of the landing mechanism is over, before the anchoring system tenses the thread.
As shown in the right part of
Fig. 2
, the landing mechanism will turn around the point O when landing. The whole system has three degrees of freedom: rotational DOF of m
_{1}
; rotational DOF of m
_{2}
; and translational DOF of m
_{2}
. The Lagrange equation is introduced, to buildng dynamic model. The kinetic energy
T
, potential energy
V
, and Rayleigh’s Dissipation Function
ψ_{q}
are shown in equations (1) and (2) respectively. The meanings and values of the parameters in equations are shown in
Fig. 2
and
Table 2
.
2 Schematics of the landing mechanism impact and turning
Then, the Lagrange dynamic equations are deduced, as shown in equations (3), (4) and (5).
The parameters
of landing dynamic characteristics can be solved by equations (3), (4) and (5) with the initial values. However, in a complicated landing impact, the initial values are difficult, or impossible to solve accurately  they can only be estimated. A schematic of the impact is shown in the left part of
Fig. 2
. Firstly, the impacting force acting on m1 at point O is far larger than the other external force, thus the impulse of m
_{2}
acting on m
_{1}
can be ignored. So the angular momentum of m1 around O is conservational. Secondly, ignoring the retrorocket thrust T, the angular momentum of the system composed of m
_{1}
and m
_{2}
is conservational. Thirdly, there is a damping element between the m
_{1}
and m
_{2}
vertically, therefore the vertical velocity of the m
_{2}
changes continuously. Therefore the following equation (6) can be deduced. Meanings and values of the parameters in equation (6) are shown in
Table 2
.
where,
ω
_{1}
,
ω
_{2}
and
V
_{21y}
can be calculated from equations (6). Thus, the initial values to solve the equations (3), (4) and (5) are obtained, as shown in equation (7).
4. Estimations of the key parameters T, c1and c2
From the landing dynamic model, as shown in equations (3), (4) and (5), it can be found that the landing performance parameters
are determined by
T
,
c
_{1}
and
c
_{2}
. So to have a superior landing performance, it is necessary to determine the proper values of
T
,
c
_{1}
, and
c
_{2}
.
 4.1 Estimation of retrorocket thrust T
The retrorocket supplies constant force T towards the upper surface of the equipment base, to prevent the landing mechanism from rebounding and overturning. In order to find the safe thrust, it is assumed that the landing mechanism is a rigid body, and its initial kinetic energy is
2 Meanings and values of the parameters
2 Meanings and values of the parameters
counteracted entirely by the retrorocket thrust. There are counterclockwise overturning, and clockwise overturning. They need different values of thrust, to prevent overturning. Thus, it is necessary to estimate the thrust separately for the two types of overturning, and then the largest value is taken as the retrorocket thrust value.
 4.1.1 Counterclockwise overturning
When landing with the initial velocity
V_{x}
=0.5m/s and
V_{y}
=0m/s in 21 mode, the landing mechanism will turn counterclockwise, and have the most possibility to overturn counterclockwise. This schematic is shown in the left part of the
Fig. 3
. The meanings and values of the parameters in the schematic are shown in
Table 3
.
The landing mechanism turns around the O point counterclockwise after impact, and the initial overturn angular velocity
ω_{L}
can be estimated from the angular momentum conservation of m around O. Thus, the following equation is obtained:
The solution of equation (8) is:
The largest allowable turning range of the landing mechanism without overturning is from P
_{1}
to P
_{2}
. So the initial kinetic energy of the landing mechanism after impact should be counteracted totally by the retrorocket thrust T
_{1}
during the angle ∠P
_{1}
OP
_{2}
, which equals π/2. Therefore, the following equation is obtained:
Obtaining:
where, T
_{1}
is the retrorocket thrust preventing the landing mechanism from counterclockwise overturning.
 4.1.2 Clockwise overturning
When landing with the initial velocity
V_{x}
=0.5m/s and
V_{y}
=1.5m/s in 12 mode, the landing mechanism will turn clockwise, and have the most possibility to overturn clockwise. This schematic is shown in the right part of
Fig. 3
. The meanings and values of the parameters in the schematic are shown in
Table 2
and
Table 3
.
The landing mechanism turns around the O point clockwise after impact, and the initial turning angular velocity
ω_{R}
_{1}
can be estimated from the angular momentum conservation of m around O. Thus, the following equation is obtained:
Obtaining:
When the landing mechanism turns to the P
_{2}
position with the retrorocket thrust T
_{2}
, the angular velocity
ω_{R}
_{2}
can
Turning schematics of the landing mechanism
be calculated by the energy conversion.
The tangential velocity of m in the P
_{2}
position is:
Then the landing mechanism will turn continuously around point B. It is assumed that the recovery coefficient
e
equals 0.6 between the landing mechanism and the landing surface (
e
equals 0.5 between wood and wood;
e
equals 0.56 between steel and steel). Thus, the rebound velocity
V
_{23}
can be expressed as:
Then the initial angular velocity
ω_{R}
_{3}
around the point B is obtained:
The largest allowable turning range of the landing mechanism, without overturning, is from P
_{2}
to P
_{3}
. So the kinetic energy of the landing mechanism after P
_{2}
position should be counteracted totally by the retrorocket T
_{2}
during the angle ∠P
_{2}
BP
_{3}
, which equals π/2
θ
. Thus, the following equation is obtained:
Meanings and values of the parameters
Meanings and values of the parameters
Combining equations (1318) yields the retrorocket thrust T
_{2}
:
Substituting e with 0.6, we obtain:
The final retrorocket thrust T should be no less than T
_{1}
or T
_{2}
. In the paper, the retrorocket thrust T is set to 65 N.
 4.2 Estimation of the damping element damping c1
The dynamic model of the landing mechanism in the vertical direction could be simply expressed as
Fig. 4
and equation (21), in which k is the stiffness of the landing mechanism.
The initial conditions of equation (21) can be written as follows:
The overloading accelerations of m
_{2}
are different, on account of different
c
_{1}
. When the damping
c
_{1}
equals 900Ns/m, the numerical solution of the equation (21) is shown in
Fig. 5
.
Dynamic model in the vertical direction
Numerical solutions of the dy namic model
It can be found that the overloading acceleration of m
_{2}
is 30m/s
^{2}
, and the stroke of the damping is 0.13m. These overloading acceleration and stroke are feasible for the landing mechanism. Thus, the parameters of the damping element are set to
c
_{1}
=900 Ns/m and S=0.13m, respectively.
 4.3 Calculation of cardan element damping c2
The
c
_{2}
is a rotational damping produced by two motors in the cardan element, and it is used to absorb the horizontal impact when landing. Therefore, the value of
c
_{2}
can be changed, by controlling the motors. The landing performance in changing
c
_{2}
that is varied depending on different initial landing velocities, will be better compared with that in constant
c
_{2}
.
The value of
c
_{2}
can be calculated through the landing dynamic model shown in equations (3), (4), (5) with proper objective function and constraint conditions, after determining the values of T and
c
_{1}
.
In the landing dynamic model, it can be found that during the turning,
c
_{2}
will influence the angular momentum of m
_{1}
. The smaller the angular momentum of m
_{1}
, the harder the landing mechanism is to overturn. Thus, the smaller angular momentum of m
_{1}
is set to be the objective function to solve
c
_{2}
. The constraint conditions to solve
c
_{2}
are: 1) the horizontal overloading acceleration of m
_{2}
is less than 10g; 2) the turning angle of m
_{2}
relative to m
_{1}
is less than 10°. The flow chart to calculate
c
_{2}
is shown in
Fig. 6
.
The values of
c
_{2}
solved with different landing velocities are shown in
Fig. 7
. The data in
Fig. 7
can be expressed as counter in
Fig. 8
. The landing mechanism will have a more stable landing when
c
_{2}
varies with
Vx
and
Vy
according to the
Flow chart of calculating the parameter c_{2}
relationship shown in
Fig. 7
or
Fig. 8
. The varying range of
c
_{2}
is between 17 Nm.s/rad and 111 Nm.s/rad.
5. Landing simulation
The validities of the landing dynamic model and the parameters T,
c
_{1}
,
c
_{2}
need to be verified, by testing the landing performance. In the paper, the famous Adams software is used to simulate the landing performance. The landing mechanism has three classic landing modes, called 12 mode, 21 mode and 111 mode, respectively. Thus, the landing performances are tested in these three landing modes. The simulation parameters are shown in
Table 4
.
Threedimension surface of c_{2} with different landing velocities
Counter of c_{2} with different landing velocities
Landing performance in the three classic landing modes Notes: Lines “mag_acc” represent the respective overloading accelerations of the equipment base. Lines “mag_ang_vel” represent the respective angular velocities of the landing legs.
 5.1 Verification of the key parameters
The landing performances in extreme landing conditions (
V_{x}
=0.5 m/s,
V_{y}
=1.5 m/s) are tested with the estimated parameters T,
c
_{1}
and
c
_{2}
. The overloading acceleration of the equipment base reflects the damping performance, and the angular velocity of the landing legs reflects the stability time. Their values in the three classic landing modes are shown in
Fig. 9
. The left graph shows that the largest overloading accelerations of the equipment base are: about 80 m/s
^{2}
in 12 mode; about 30 m/s
^{2}
in 21 mode, and about 90 m/s
^{2}
in 111 mode. The right graph shows that the stability times are: about 3.6 second in 12 mode; about 1.5 second in 21 mode and about 3.7 second in 111 mode. It can be found that the overloading accelerations are all less than 10g, and the landing stability times are all less than 4 second. Thus, the estimations of the parameters T,
c
_{1}
and
c
_{2}
are valid.
 5.2 Influence of c2on the landing performance
There are two modes of
c
_{2}
to select when landing: one is constant
c
_{2}
(
c
_{2}
remains constant at about 111 Nms/rad in all
Simulation parameters
landing velocities), the other is optimal
c
_{2}
(
c
_{2}
varies according to different initial landing velocities, as the rules shown in
Fig. 7
or
Fig. 8
). Constant
c
_{2}
has the merits of easy control, whereas optimal
c
_{2}
can induce a better landing performance. The landing performances between the two modes of
c
_{2}
are compared in three classic landing modes, in the conditions that
V_{x}
=0.1 m/s and
V_{y}
=0.5 m/s, respectively. The optimal
c
_{2}
in relation to
V_{x}
=0.1 m/s and
V_{y}
=0.5 m/s is 55 Nms/rad,
Landing performance in 12 mode with different cardan element damping c_{2} Notes: Real lines “12 con_mag_acc” and “12 con_mag_ang_vel” represent the overloading acceleration of the equipment base, and angular velocity of the landing legs, respectively, with constant c_{2} in 12 landing mode. Dashed lines “12 var_mag_acc” and “12 var_mag_ ang_vel” represent the overloading acceleration of the equipment base, and angular velocity of the landing legs, respectively, with optimal c_{2} in 12 landing mode.
Landing performance in 21 mode with different cardan element damping c_{2} Notes: Real lines “21 con_mag_acc” and “21 con_mag_ang_vel” represent the overloading acceleration of the equipment base, and angular velocity of the landing legs, respectively, with constant c_{2} in 21 landing mode. Dashed lines “12 var_mag_acc” and “12 var_mag_ ang_vel” represent the overloading acceleration of the equipment base, and angular velocity of the landing legs, respectively, with optimal c_{2} in 21 landing mode.
Landing performance in 111 mode with different cardan element damping c_{2} Notes: Real lines “111 con_mag_acc” and “111 con_mag_ang” represent the overloading acceleration of the equipment base, and angular velocity of the landing legs, respectively, with constant c_{2} in 111 landing mode. Dashed Lines “11 var_mag_acc” and “111 var_mag_ang” represent the overloading acceleration of the equipment base, and angular velocity of the landing legs, respectively, with optimal c_{2} in 111 landing mode.
which is shown in
Fig. 7
and
Fig. 8
. The landing performance simulation results are shown in
Fig. 10
,
Fig. 11
and
Fig. 12
, respectively, and the maximum overloading accelerations and stability times shown in these figures are summarized in
Table 5
. It can be found that both the maximum overloading accelerations and stability times with constant
c
_{2}
are all larger, than that with optimal
c
_{2}
. Thus, optimal
c
_{2}
would lead to better landing performance.
6 Conclusions
A landing mechanism for asteroid with soft surface is presented. Reasonable values of the three key parameters (retrorocket thrust T, damping element damping
c
_{1}
and cardan element
c
_{2}
) that influence the landing performance of the landing mechanism presented in the paper are: T=65N;
c
_{1}
=900Ns/m; and
c
_{2}
changes between 17 Nms/rad and 111Nms/rad, in relation to the initial landing velocities. The overloading accelerations of the equipment base are less than 10g, and the stability times are less than 5s, when landing with the estimated values of T,
c
_{1}
, and
c
_{2}
. Furthermore, optimal
c
_{2}
in relation to the landing velocities will lead to a good landing performance, with comparison to constant
c
_{2}
. The simulation results show that the landing dynamic model, and the methods to estimate key parameters, are reasonable. The estimations of key parameters can be used to guide the design of the landing mechanism.
In future, the landing mechanism will be manufactured, and then the validities of the landing mechanism and its parameters will be tested physically, under microgravity.
Landing performances with constant and optimal c2in three landing modes
Landing performances with constant and optimal c_{2} in three landing modes
Acknowledgements
This work was financially supported by the National High Technology Research and Development Program of China (863 Program) (No. 2008AA12A214), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 51105091), and the National Program on Key Research (No. 2013CB733103).
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