Date of Award

Spring 2024

Access Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering

Committee Chair

Daewon Kim

First Committee Member

Riccardo Bevilacqua

Second Committee Member

Troy Henderson

College Dean

James W. Gregory


This thesis aims to turn the tides on the orbital debris issue through the fabrication and demonstration of a compact, biomimetic, and adaptive shape memory alloy actuated orbital debris remover. The design, referred to as Starfish, is discussed in detail along with its fabrication process and object capture ability. A hard skeleton crafted from PETG was combined with shape memory alloy wires and extension springs to create a biomimetic structure that operates similar to the human hand, capable of gripping a wide range of objects. Relevant simulations were performed and discussed, the iterative fabrication process used to create each component of Starfish is reviewed in detail, and finally, Starfish’s ability to securely grasp objects that closely mimic those seen by actual orbital debris in the space environment is tested along with Starfish’s grip strength on various objects. Starfish demonstrated the ability to passively adjust its grip around target objects due to its extension spring actuated joints, resulting in only a momentary loss of grip strength when a single finger detached from an object before strengthening again. It was determined that Starfish requires 36-40 watts to operate nominally and can perform its capture cycle 45 times before deformation of the structure begins. It was capable of capturing a majority of the debris architypes that exist in the space environment, performing best at capturing flat plates which comprise 36% of the debris environment and preforming worst at capturing spherical objects which comprise 19% of the orbital debris environment.