Grabbing objects in space has always been a challenge and has generally relied on mechanical claws to do the gripping. The problem is that these claws are limited in what they can grapple. That’s why Altius Space Machines’ gripper uses electroadhesion.
The Sticky Boom’s electroadhesion technology uses static electricity to clamp onto any object by exploiting the difference in charges between the boom and object. And while electroadhesion is more effective with certain materials, it is capable of gripping virtually anything in space — metal, ceramic, asteroids and whathaveyou. The shape, conductivity and surface texture of the item don’t affect the boom’s adhesion either.
In addition to the 30m extendible Sticky Boom, Altius hopes to integrate this technology into rendezvous systems, potentially allowing satellites to deliver cargo to the ISS — something not currently possible due to incompatible docking equipment. [Altius via MIT Technology Review]