Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking of Robotic

AR&D is a capability requiring many vehicle subsystems to operate in concert. It is important to clarify that AR&D is not a system and cannot be purchased off the shelf. This strategy focuses on development of a certified, standardized capability suite of subsystems enabling AR&D for different mission classes and needs. This suite will be incrementally developed, tested and integrated over a span of several missions. This technology roadmap focuses on four specific subsystems required for any AR&D mission.
1. Relative Navigation Sensors – During the course of RPOD, varying accuracies of bearing, range, and relative attitude are needed for AR&D. Current implementations for optical, laser, and RF systems are mid-TRL (Technology Readiness Level) and require some development and flight experience to gain reliability and operational confidence. Inclusion of the ability for cooperating AR&D pairs to communicate directly can greatly improve the responsiveness and robustness of the system.
2. Robust AR&D GN&C Real-Time Flight Software (FSW) – AR&D GN&C algorithms are maturing, however, implementing these algorithms into FSW is an enormous challenge. A best practice based implementation of automated/autonomous GN&C algorithms into real-time FSW operating systems needs to be developed and tested.
3. Docking/Capture – NASA is planning for the imminent construction of a new low-impact docking mechanism built to an international standard for human spaceflight missions to ISS. A smaller common docking system for robotic spacecraft is also needed to enable robotic spacecraft AR&D within the capture envelopes of these systems. Assembly of the large vehicles and stages used for beyond LEO exploration missions will require new mechanisms with new capture envelopes beyond any docking system currently used or in development. Development and testing of autonomous robotic capture of non cooperative target vehicles in which the target does not have capture aids such as grapple fixtures or docking mechanisms is needed to support satellite servicing/rescue.
4. Mission/System Managers – A scalable spacecraft software executive that can be tailored for various mission applications, for the whole vehicle, and various levels of autonomy and automation is needed to ensure safety and operational confidence in AR&D software execution. Numerous spacecraft software executives have been developed, but the necessary piece that is missing is an Agencywide open standard which will minimize the costs of such architectures and its ability to evolve over time to help overcome general fears about autonomy/automation.

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