High-fidelity relative navigation and three-dimensional mapping are key competencies to achieve a variety of mission objectives in Earth, Lunar, and eventually Martian Orbit. Developing autonomous and reliable Rendezvous, Proximity Operations, and Docking (RPOD) technologies will play a key role in the ability to build infrastructure in orbit by providing autonomous satellite inspection and servicing capabilities, among many other applications. Astrobotic, a Pittsburgh, PA-based space robotics company, proposes to further develop existing in-house technology to create the Astrobotic LiDAR-Inertial Navigation (ALIN) software package. This modular and versatile software leverages LiDAR Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) to provide navigation and mapping capabilities. ALIN will specifically target applications requiring high fidelity relative navigation solutions to non-cooperative dynamic spacecraft, such as the inspection and servicing of satellites. Phase I will yield a prototype system featuring a space-relevant compute platform capable of real time data collection from a terrestrial grade scanning LiDAR and analysis of the system to provide a clear path forward for achieving real time mapping and relative navigation on space hardware. Phase II, if awarded, would focus on optimizing algorithmic localization, mapping performance, and timing to meet RPOD-specific mission requirements. Specifically, development would focus on improving localization and mapping under the challenging circumstances of a very sparse scene with a single dynamic LiDAR-observable object being observed from a non-inertial reference frame, as is the case in most RPOD missions. The results of a Phase II will demonstrate the viability of the ALIN software package in simulation, and with follow-on investment the system could be infused into a flight program.
The proposed Phase I work will lead to a prototype LiDAR-based navigation and mapping solution geared toward the satellite servicing and inspection industry. Phase II will begin working towards the development of the sensor as a flight-ready module and conducting extensive testing on flight-ready hardware. The resulting technology could become flight ready in a Phase III, providing the opportunity for early mission infusion and to perform testing and data collection on smaller cubesat style missions or on the ISS.
Robust GPS-denied localization and mapping capabilities have strong potential in the private sector filling the need to inspect and understand the severity of damage in hard-to-access locations. A navigation system that can safely operate in dark, unmapped locations could advance understanding of the types of necessary maintenance in facilities where GPS is not available.