Note: Transfered from the news archive, originally posted Mar. 4th 2008
Tonight Tortuga participated in its first research project. Aerospace engineering student Madeline Kirk had us outfit Tortuga with a docking apparatus that she is designing for her honors research project. See tortuga docked below:
The first docking attempt had some hiccups. We accidentally plugged the vehicle's Ethernet tether into a 10 Mbit network switch instead of our usual 100 Mbit switch. This decreased the responsiveness of the joystick control and the quality of the video from onboard cameras. Next, the right thruster cut out. Fearing a blown motor, we hoisted Tortuga onto the deck and inspected the misbehaving thruster. We found strands of fine fiber wound about the impeller shaft, which we think came off of our webbing straps.
After several hours of meticulously disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling all four thrusters, we started our second attempt. With a few tweaks to the joystick controls, we were able to make several successful docking runs. The docking device has a unique self-aligning design that allows the vehicle to mate with the platform even when approaching from slightly oblique angles. You can see this in the video below: