The MIT Space Systems Laboratory (SSL) has developed a testbed for the testing of formation flight and autonomous docking algorithms in both 1-g and microgravity environments. The SPHERES testbed consists of multiple micro-satellites, or Spheres, which can autonomously control their position and attitude. The testbed can be operated on an air table in a 1-g laboratory environment, in NASA’s KC-135 reduced gravity research aircraft and inside the International Space Station (ISS). SPHERES launch to the ISS is currently manifested for May 19 2004 on Progress 14P. Various types of docking maneuvers, ranging from docking with a cooperative target to docking with a tumbling target, have been developed. The ultimate objective of this research is to integrate the different algorithms into one program that can assess the health status of the target vehicle, plan an optimal docking maneuver while accounting for the existing constraints and finally, execute that maneuver even in the presence of simulated failures. In this paper, results obtained to date on the ground based air table using the initial version of the program will be presented, as well as results obtained from microgravity experiments onboard the KC-135.
Air Force Research Laboratory’s space experiment XSS-10 was flown on the Air Force Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) mission IIR-8 launched on January 29, 2003. The mission objectives of XSS-10 were to demonstrate autonomous navigation, proximity operations, and inspection of a Resident Space Object (RSO). XSS-10 was a 28-kilogram micro-satellite was launched as a secondary mission on a Delta II expendable launch vehicle carrying a GPS satellite. XSS-10 was equipped with a visible camera, a star sensor, and mini SGLS system, all specially built for this program. In addition, a visible camera was attached to the second stage to observe the release of the micro-satellite and observe its maneuvers. Following the release of the GPS satellite, the Delta II initiated three depletion burns to reorient into an 800 KM circular orbit. The XSS-II was ejected from the Delta II second stage approximately 18 hours after launch. Operating autonomously on a preplanned course, XSS-10 performed its mission of navigating around the Delta II second stage at preplanned positions; the micro-satellite took images of the second stage and send them back to earth in real time. During these demonstrations the XSS-10 mission operations team accomplished responsive checkout of the micro-satellite and all of its subsystems, autonomous navigation on a preplanned course and a variety of algorithms and mission operations that pave the way for more ambitious missions in the future. This paper will discuss the results of the mission and post mission analysis of the XSS-10 space flight.
The Engineering Directorate of NASA Johnson Space Center has developed a nanosatellite-class free-flyer intended for future external inspection and remote viewing of human spacecraft. The Miniature Autonomous Extravehicular Robotic Camera (Mini AERCam) technology demonstration unit has been integrated into the approximate form and function of a flight system. The spherical Mini AERCam free flyer is 7.5 inches in diameter and weighs approximately 10 pounds, yet it incorporates significant additional capabilities compared to the 35 pound, 14 inch AERCam Sprint that flew as a Shuttle flight experiment in 1997. Mini AERCam hosts a full suite of miniaturized avionics, instrumentation, communications, navigation, imaging, power, and propulsion subsystems, including two digital video cameras and a high resolution still image camera. The vehicle is designed for either remotely piloted operations or supervised autonomous operations including automatic stationkeeping and point-to-point maneuvering. Free-flyer testing has been conducted on an air-bearing table and in a six degree-of-freedom closed-loop orbital simulation. This paper describes recent enhancements to the Mini AERCam system aimed at providing a more autonomous system for space inspection, including docking mechanisms and on-board docking navigation for autonomous deployment and retrieval of the free flyer.
SUMO, or Spacecraft for the Universal Modification of Orbits, is a risk reduction program for an advanced servicing spacecraft sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and executed by the Naval Center for Space Technology at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. The purpose of the program is to demonstrate the integration of machine vision, robotics, mechanisms, and autonomous control algorithms to accomplish autonomous rendezvous and grapple of a variety of interfaces traceable to future spacecraft servicing operations. The laboratory demonstration is being implemented in NRL’s Proximity Operations Test Facility, which provides precise six degree of freedom motion control for both the servicer and customer spacecraft platforms. This paper will describe the conceptual design of the SUMO advanced servicing spacecraft, a concept for a near term low-cost flight demonstration, as well as plans and status for the laboratory demonstration. In addition, component requirements for the various spacecraft subsystems will be discussed.
Tropospheric wind measurements are of great meteorological and tactical value, but are presently not available on a global basis. The primary obstacle to a space-based Doppler wind LIDAR mission capable of obtaining these measurements has been the cost and risk associated with flying high power lasers and large telescopes in low-earth orbit. This paper presents an alternative approach that would result in a low-cost, low-risk responsive approach to deploying a global tropospheric wind measurement system.
The goal of the Orbital Express Space Operations Architecture program is to validate the technical feasibility of robotic, autonomous on-orbit refueling and reconfiguration of satellites to support a broad range of future U.S. national security and commercial space programs. Refueling satellites will enable frequent maneuvers to improve coverage, change arrival times to counter denial and deception, and improve survivability, as well as extend satellite lifetime. Electronics upgrades on-orbit can provide performance improvements and dramatically reduce the time to deploy new technology. The Orbital Express advanced technology demonstration will design, develop, and test on orbit a prototype servicing satellite (ASTRO), a surrogate next generation serviceable satellite (NEXTSat). The elements of the Orbital Express demonstration will be tied together by non-proprietary satellite servicing interfaces (mechanical, electrical, etc.) that will facilitate the development of an industry wide on-orbit servicing infrastructure. NASA will apply the sensors and software developed for autonomous rendezvous and proximity operations to enable future commercial resupply of the International Space Station.
The long lead and cycle times currently associated with development and launch of satellite systems have established a prohibitive environment for responsive deployment of tactical capability to orbit. With the advent of the RASCAL program - poised to offer launch capability to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) within 24 hours - there is a clear motivation for a comparable, multi-mission, rapidly configurable microsatellite. The SCOUT program is developing the key enabling technologies that will enable this capability while also addressing the production and logistic challenges essential to its implementation. Intrinsic to the design will be a "Plug-and-Sense" capability, which will enable a vehicle to detect the presence and orientation of integrated subsystem modules, as well as ascertain their function, and communicate key performance parameters. The system will utilize a heuristic, self-interrogation approach to provide a robust means of performing configuration and diagnostics activities that transcend nominal housekeeping routines to include an enhanced degree of system autonomy. A minimally structured design, emphasizing a lightweight, interchangeable framework will enable quick integration and deployment, while preserving high on-orbit payload mass fraction. Similarly, the system will also feature a novel approach to assembly, integration, and test activities that spans ground through on-orbit operations.
The development of autonomous servicing of on-orbit spacecraft has been a sought after objective for many years. A critical component of on-orbit servicing involves the ability to successfully capture, institute mate, and perform electrical and fluid transfers autonomously. As part of a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, Starsys Research Corporation (SRC) began developing such a system. Phase I of the grant started in 1999, with initial work focusing on simultaneously defining the parameters associated with successful docking while designing to those parameters. Despite the challenge of working without specific requirements, SRC completed development of a prototype design in 2000. Throughout the following year, testing was conducted on the prototype to characterize its performance. Having successfully completed work on the prototype, SRC began a Phase II SBIR effort in mid-2001. The focus of the second phase was a commercialization effort designed to augment the prototype model into a more flight-like design. The technical requirements, however, still needed clear definition for the design to progress. The advent of the Orbital Express (OE) program provided much of that definition. While still in the proposal stages of the OE program, SRC began tailoring prototype redesign efforts to the OE program requirements. A primary challenge involved striking a balance between addressing the technical requirements of OE while designing within the scope of the SBIR. Upon award of the OE contract, the Phase II SBIR design has been fully developed. This new design, designated the Mechanical Docking System (MDS), successfully incorporated many of the requirements of the OE program. SRC is now completing dynamic testing on the MDS hardware, with a parallel effort of developing a flight design for OE. As testing on the MDS progresses, the design path that was once common to both SBIR effort and the OE program begins to diverge. The MDS will complete the scope of the Phase II SBIR work, while the new mechanism, the Orbital Express Capture System, will emerge as a flight-qualified design for the Orbital Express program.
The past five years has witnessed a significant increase in the attention given to on-orbit satellite docking and servicing. Recent world events have proven how we have come to rely on our space assets, especially during times of crisis. It has become abundantly clear that the ability to autonomously rendezvous, dock, inspect and service both military and civilian assets is no longer a nicety, but a necessity. Reconnaissance and communications satellites, even the space shuttle and International Space Station, could benefit from this capability. Michigan Aerospace Corporation, with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), has been refining a compact, light, compliant soft-docking system. Earlier prototypes have been tested on the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) flat-floor as well as on the Johnson Space Flight Center (JSC) KC-135 micro-gravity aircraft. Over the past year, refinements have been made to the mechanism based on the lessons learned from these tests. This paper discusses the optimal design that has resulted.
During the development of an autonomous spacecraft docking mechanism, one of the primary areas of interest in the way the mechanism will behave in a micro-gravity environment. This issue is of particular interest when a flexible soft-dock cable is used to make initial capture, because ground-based testing does not adequately represent the environmental conditions that will be seen on orbit. To this end, Michigan Aerospace Corporation has recently conducted flight tests of its prototype autonomous satellite docking system in a micro-gravity environment on the KC-135 in conjunction with the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate and Microcosm, Inc. Though the first flight was primarily for the purpose of testing the core operating principles of the docking mechanism, several lessons were learned that will be applied toward developing a second, more advanced prototype and experimental setup intended for a second series of flights on the KC-135. Areas of improvement for the new flight test will be in the physical operation of the experimental apparatus and the data collection methods used. The use of redundant sensors as a means of eliminating noise will be explored, as will the merits of using a combination of coarse and fine sensors to collect data over a broader measurement range.
The high cost associated with spaceflight research often compels experimenters to scale back their research goals significantly purely for budgetary reasons; among experiment systems, control and data collection electronics are a major contributor to total project cost. ESF-X was developed as an architecture demonstration in response to this need: it is a highly capable, radiation-protected experiment support computer, designed to be configurable on demand to each investigator's particular experiment needs, and operational in LEO for missions lasting up to several years (e.g., ISS EXPRESS) without scheduled service or maintenance. ESF-X can accommodate up to 255 data channels (I/O, A/D, D/A, etc.), allocated per customer request, with data rates up to 40kHz. Additionally, ESF-X can be programmed using the graphical block-diagram based programming languages Simulink and MATLAB. This represents a major cost saving opportunity for future investigators, who can now obtain a customized, space-qualified experiment controller at steeply reduced cost compared to 'new' design, and without the performance compromises associated with using preexisting 'generic' systems. This paper documents the functional benchtop prototype, which utilizes a combination of COTS and space-qualified components, along with unit-gravity-specific provisions appropriate to laboratory environment evaluation of the ESF-X design concept and its physical implementation.
On-orbit spacecraft servicing has become a realistic and promising space mission. The Autonomous Docking and Spacecraft Servicing Simulator (AUDASS), introduced in this paper, is a research facility for on-the-ground testing of proximity navigation, docking and satellite servicing technologies and for the experimental verification of dynamics models and control laws. Moreover, the test-bed constitutes a valuable educational tool for the university students directly involved in its design and exploitation. This paper presents the current status of the on-going development of the AUDASS simulator and reports the results of some preliminary tests. The AUDASS system consists of two independent robotic vehicles, a chaser and a target. The vehicles float, via air pads, on a polished granite table providing a frictionless support for the simulation in 2-D of the micro-gravity dynamics. The introduction of the paper provides a wide overview of the on-going research efforts to make autonomous docking and servicing of spacecraft a reality.
NASA’s Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) mission will validate a number of different guidance technologies, including state-differenced GPS transfers and close-approach video guidance. The video guidance for DART will employ NASA/Marshall’s Advanced Video Guidance Sensor (AVGS). This paper focuses on the terminal phase of the DART mission that includes close-approach maneuvers under AVGS guidance. The closed-loop video guidance design for DART is driven by a number of competing requirements, including a need for maximizing tracking bandwidths while coping with measurement noise and the need to minimize RCS firings. A range of different strategies for attitude control and docking guidance have been considered for the DART mission, and design decisions are driven by a goal of minimizing both the design complexity and the effects of video guidance lags. The DART design employs an indirect docking approach, in which the guidance position targets are defined using relative attitude information. Flight simulation results have proven the effectiveness of the video guidance design.