tech track papers

Categories: 2017, CubeSat Technology Developments

COTS 3D Camera for On-orbit Proximity Operations Demonstration

Space exploration and utilization trends demand efficient, reliable and autonomous on-orbit rendezvous and docking processes. Current rendezvous systems use heavy, power intensive scanning radar, or rely on transmitters/beacons from the host spacecraft. A possible alternative to these bulky legacy systems presents itself with the advent of highly efficient 3D cameras.

3D cameras, used as an input device for consumer electronics, provide an instantaneous 3D picture of a target without a complex mechanical scanning system. They are exceptionally compact and low power—ideal for space operations.

Researchers at the United States Naval Academy are utilizing a 3D Camera as an active ranging solution for on-orbit rendezvous and docking with targets that have not been embedded with retro-reflectors or similar visual aid devices. As the accuracy requirements of relative attitude knowledge do not change based on the size of the platform, tests can be completed using low-cost cube satellites.

The research has two stages: 1) terrestrial testing, involving systematic parameterization of camera performance; and 2) on-orbit demonstration, expected in Spring 2018. A representative commercial, off-the-shelf camera, the Intel R200 was selected to serve as a demonstration unit. In the first phase, the camera’s detection capability was tested on a variety of representative objects in a space like environment including eclipse, direct simulated sunlight, and in “off axis” sunlight.

Test results are being used to develop an on-orbit demonstration plan. Two CubeSats will launch together, connected by a variable length tether. To test in situ performance, the R200 will be installed on one spacecraft, looking at the other. Terrestrial simulations will be compared to the on-orbit data to validate the testing method for future sensors.

This paper will detail both the method and results from terrestrial testing and the concept of operations for the demonstration spacecraft launching in 2018.


Author: Edward A.S. Hanlon
Topic: CubeSat Technology Developments

  • COTS 3D Camera for On-orbit Proximity Operations Demonstration

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