NASA Logo, External Link
Facebook icon, External Link to NASA STI page on Facebook Twitter icon, External Link to NASA STI on Twitter YouTube icon, External Link to NASA STI Channel on YouTube RSS icon, External Link to New NASA STI RSS Feed AddThis share icon

Record Details

Record 1 of 7397
Science Benefits of Onboard Spacecraft Navigation
External Online Source: hdl:2014/45001
Author and Affiliation:
Cangahuala, Al(Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech., Pasadena, CA, United States)
Bhaskaran, Shyam(Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech., Pasadena, CA, United States)
Owen, Bill(Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech., Pasadena, CA, United States)
Abstract: Primitive bodies (asteroids and comets), which have remained relatively unaltered since their formation, are important targets for scientific missions that seek to understand the evolution of the solar system. Often the first step is to fly by these bodies with robotic spacecraft. The key to maximizing data returns from these flybys is to determine the spacecraft trajectory relative to the target body-in short, navigate the spacecraft- with sufficient accuracy so that the target is guaranteed to be in the instruments' field of view. The most powerful navigation data in these scenarios are images taken by the spacecraft of the target against a known star field (onboard astrometry). Traditionally, the relative trajectory of the spacecraft must be estimated hours to days in advance using images collected by the spacecraft. This is because of (1)!the long round-trip light times between the spacecraft and the Earth and (2)!the time needed to downlink and process navigation data on the ground, make decisions based on the result, and build and uplink instrument pointing sequences from the results. The light time and processing time compromise navigation accuracy considerably, because there is not enough time to use more accurate data collected closer to the target-such data are more accurate because the angular capability of the onboard astrometry is essentially constant as the distance to the target decreases, resulting in better "plane-of- sky" knowledge of the target. Excellent examples of these timing limitations are high-speed comet encounters. Comets are difficult to observe up close; their orbits often limit scientists to brief, rapid flybys, and their coma further restricts viewers from seeing the nucleus in any detail, unless they can view the nucleus at close range. Comet nuclei details are typically discernable for much shorter durations than the roundtrip light time to Earth, so robotic spacecraft must be able to perform onboard navigation. This onboard navigation can be accomplished through a self- contained system that by eliminating light time restrictions dramatically improves the relative trajectory knowledge and control and subsequently increases the amount of quality data collected. Flybys are one-time events, so the system's underlying algorithms and software must be extremely robust. The autonomous software must also be able to cope with the unknown size, shape, and orientation of the previously unseen comet nucleus. Furthermore, algorithms must be reliable in the presence of imperfections and/or damage to onboard cameras accrued after many years of deep-space operations. The AutoNav operational flight software packages, developed by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) under contract with NASA, meet all these requirements. They have been directly responsible for the successful encounters on all of NASA's close-up comet-imaging missions (see Figure !1). AutoNav is the only system to date that has autonomously tracked comet nuclei during encounters and performed autonomous interplanetary navigation. AutoNav has enabled five cometary flyby missions (Table!1) residing on four NASA spacecraft provided by three different spacecraft builders. Using this software, missions were able to process a combined total of nearly 1000 images previously unseen by humans. By eliminating the need to navigate spacecraft from Earth, the accuracy gained by AutoNav during flybys compared to ground-based navigation is about 1!order of magnitude in targeting and 2!orders of magnitude in time of flight. These benefits ensure that pointing errors do not compromise data gathered during flybys. In addition, these benefits can be applied to flybys of other solar system objects, flybys at much slower relative velocities, mosaic imaging campaigns, and other proximity activities (e.g., orbiting, hovering, and descent/ascent).
Publication Date: Jan 01, 2012
Document ID:
(Acquired May 28, 2015)
Document Type: Technical Report
Financial Sponsor: Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech.; Pasadena, CA, United States
Description: 2p; In English
Distribution Limits: Unclassified; Publicly available; Unlimited
Rights: Copyright
Availability Source: Other Sources
› Back to Top
Find Similar Records
NASA Logo, External Link
NASA Official: Gerald Steeman
Site Curator: STI Program
Last Modified: May 28, 2015
Contact Us