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Control of spacecraft:

With the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik 1 in 1957, the development of control theory was spurred by the resulting space race, with the need to control the flight of spacecraft and the positioning of satellites.

The Apollo program, which led to men first landing on the moon in 1969, the International Space Station (ISS) and the current generation of space probes, all rely on control theory for flight guidance.

Sputnik 1 Model

Sputnik 1 model

Moon walk

Man on the moon


The CANADARM is the robotic arm that is attached to the Space Shuttle. It is used to support astronauts during spacewalks, to unload cargo from the Space Shuttle and to perform visual inspections of its heat tiles. Because it is a long and flexible structure (15 metres long, with six degrees of freedom) it has a tendency to oscillate when its configuration is changed. A controller is needed to suppress these unwanted oscillations.

Canadarm 2



Hand off

Robot technology:

Robotic automationNowadays robots are used extensively to achieve industrial automation, thereby increasing quality in manufacturing processes, and making manufacturing more flexible (robots can be reprogrammed). Robots are also being used in hazardous situations, e.g. disarming bombs and investigating contaminated sites.A robot is a mechanical movable structure that can be controlled to perform specific actions that a human can perform. Most robots, however, are not of the humanoid type. Robotics, the science of designing robots, relies heavily on control theory to process information from sensors and send appropriate signals to the actuators (motors) that drive the robot.

Anti-lock braking system (ABS):

Anti-lock braking systemAn anti-lock braking system is a control system on motor vehicles that prevents the wheels from locking while braking. The first completely electronic 4-wheel ABS system was introduced by Mercedes Benz in 1978.

Smart fluid technology:

Smart fluidMagneto-Rheological (MR) technology is an emerging technology that combines continuum mechanics and control theory to create suspension systems that provide increased shock and vibration control.

A Magneto-Rheological fluid is an example of a so-called smart fluid. It has the remarkable property that when it is subjected to a magnetic field its viscosity increases significantly to the extent that it becomes a viscoelastic solid. As a result, the fluid's ability to transmit force can be controlled with an electromagnet, leading to various control-based applications, for example, MR fluid-based shock absorbers and prosthetic limbs.