As human exploration into our solar system expands, the necessity for robotic assistance increases. A free-flying robotic apparatus would be beneficial for space exploration missions to aid humans in small programmed tasks as well as remote planetary or asteroid exploration. The design of these drones would need to account for the fact that much of their time would be spent in a microgravity environment. As this complicates the design, a method for simulating exposure to microgravity was developed by NASA Johnson Space Center: the Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS). ARGOS has been confirmed as accurate for gravity compensation of large payloads, but its reliability is less certain for small-scale loads. To test the accuracy of ARGOS on small-scale devices, a free-flying octocopter was developed and flown both on ARGOS and in a reduced-gravity aircraft to compare the reduced gravity effects. This testing helped identify the need for an improved control system and a release mechanism to provide consistent initial conditions, which were subsequently added to the system. This paper describes the robotic flyer design, control, and release mechanism, along with results of reduced-gravity testing.

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