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Center Independent Research & Development: GSFC IRAD

Maturation of Optical Navigation Tools Using Mission Data

Completed Technology Project
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Project Description

Artist depiction of the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around Mercury (public domain)

This IRAD proposes to mature GSFC’s current capabilities in both ground-based and autonomous optical navigation (OpNav) and Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) using a collaboration with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (APL). Sensor data from APL’s New Horizons and MESSENGER missions will be processed in a similar ground navigation pipeline as was used for the independent validation and verification (IV&V) on the OSIRIS-REx mission, and compared with APL’s operational navigation for those missions. The main objectives of this project are twofold, (1) the technology maturation and risk reduction of GSFC’s state-of-the-art tool for performing OpNav and TRN: Goddard Image Analysis and Navigation Tool (GIANT), and (2) to provide a set of baseline planetary navigation results for future validation of onboard autonomous navigation technologies. OpNav is the process of capturing images of celestial targets (planets, small bodies, natural satellites) against a star background, while the targets are distant and only occupy a small number of pixels in an image. Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) uses images of terrain on the surface of celestial targets, where the target fills a significant fraction of the FOV. Surface features in the images are correlated with a priori maps (e.g. previously collected images or derived digital terrain models (DTMs)), resulting in line-of-sight measurements. This IRAD is funding software development and ground system simulations taking place at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD.

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