In recent decades, NASA's interest in spacecraft rendezvous and proximity operations has grown. Additional instrumentation is needed to improve manned docking operations' safety, as well as to enable telerobotic operation of spacecraft or completely autonomous rendezvous and docking. To address this need, Advanced Optical Systems, Inc., Orbital Sciences Corporation, and Marshall Space Flight Center have developed the Advanced Video Guidance Sensor (AVGS) under the auspices of the Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) program. Given a cooperative target comprising several retro-reflectors, AVGS provides six-degree-of-freedom information at ranges of up to 300 meters for the DART target. It does so by imaging the target, then performing pattern recognition on the resulting image. Longer range operation is possible through different target geometries.
Now that AVGS is being readied for its test flight in 2004, the question is: what next? Modifications can be made to AVGS, including different pattern recognition algorithms and changes to the retro-reflector targets, to make it more robust and accurate. AVGS could be coupled with other space-qualified sensors, such as a laser range-and-bearing finder, that would operate at longer ranges. Different target configurations, including the use of active targets, could result in significant miniaturization over the current AVGS package. We will discuss these and other possibilities for a next-generation docking sensor or sensor suite that involve AVGS.