Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Luis Duffaut Espinosa


Aerial autonomous vehicles have played a crucial role in assisting humans with safety-critical operations on Earth. Applications include natural disaster response, environment surveillance, and infrastructure inspection. As humans hope to return to the Moon, as per NASA's latest initiatives, autonomous vehicles could serve as a key component in keeping humans out of harm's way. However, many celestial objects lack an atmosphere, making propeller-powered drones inadequate. To address this problem, this thesis presents an optimal control methodology to demonstrate how systems actuated using cold gas thrusters may play the role of drones in space. In place of cold gas thrusters, this thesis has developed two pneumatically actuated test beds supplied with compressed air by a standard compressor. One test bed focuses on translation and the other on attitude control. These test beds were designed, implemented, built, and tested in-house at the University of Vermont. Additionally, bang-bang control algorithms were developed for controlling translation and attitude in the test beds using Pontryagin's maximum principle. The methodology was compared against simple hysteresis control and pulse-width modulated PID controllers. As a result, these tests showed, as expected, that controllers taking into consideration the dynamics of the system outperformed those that do not. Several numerical simulations were also performed and compared against the test beds to validate the physics of the system emulating a pneumatically actuated drone in an atmosphere-lacking environment.



Number of Pages

80 p.