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Autonomous Robotic Capture

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Autonomous Robotic Capture

The NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, in partnership with West Virginia University, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and Yaskawa America, Inc., proposes to conduct an autonomous robotic capture demonstration in a near-zero gravity environment on an airplane. A robotic system with a capture tool will be placed inside a cage on the airplane and commanded to autonomously capture a free-floating object. The ability of the sensors to extract the key features of the target and calculate their relative position and orientation will be tested during the flight. The dynamic response of objects of the sensors different masses will be measured. The proposed experiment will help answer some of the technical challenges identified in NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist Robotics, Tele- Robotics, and Autonomous Systems Roadmap. The data collected during the campaign will mature autonomous capture algorithms as well as help quantify a ground-based dynamics simulation platform. Such a platform can be used to support development and validation of technology required for future missions such as Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) capture and refuel of satellites, Hubble Space Telescope Deorbit, Near Earth Asteroid Robotic Precursor, and the Near Earth Asteroid Human Mission. The proposed demonstration has two objectives: evaluating two different autonomous capture algorithms in a relevant environment and characterizing the dynamic response of objects of different masses to be used to validate a ground-based contact dynamics simulation platform. Both have relevance to a variety of NASA missions, programs, and projects that were identified in the RTA roadmap as well as to DARPA programs. Specifically for NASA, two Space Operations Mission Directorate missions identified in the RTA roadmap—Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) Fuel and Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Deorbit—can take advantage of the autonomous capture tool and algorithms for the rendezvous and capture phase of their respective missions. In the case of the GEO Fuel mission, the servicer spacecraft will use robotic arms to autonomously grasp the non-cooperative customer it will be super-syncing or refueling. The grappling of HST upon approach requires a closed loop autonomous rendezvous and capture system. An accurate contact dynamics simulation platform will be crucial to both of these mission. Likewise, two Exploration Systems Mission Directorate missions mentioned in the RTA roadmap could utilize the same contact dynamics simulation platform. For the Near Earth Asteroid Robotic Precursor, the challenge of anchoring to the asteroid can be addressed by utilizing the NASA/Goddard platform to evaluate the response of various sensing, perception, manipulation, and autonomous systems as they come in contact with the asteroid. The Multi Mission Space Exploration Vehicle mission developers can use the same platform to investigate touching an asteroid or other body. Finally, the proximity operations, and grappling and anchoring phases of the Near Earth Asteroid Human Mission can be simulated on the NASA/Goddard platform. The data collected during the proposed flight will be used to validate the models used to command the simulation platform which can be used to test and mature the technologies required for these and other future missions.

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