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Technology Factsheet


Category: Robotics > Other > Sensor
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The purpose of the project is to develop technologies for the construction of what are known as servicing robots – spacecraft capable of capturing end-of-life satellites and large pieces of space debris. Once they have been captured, the satellites can either be repaired or guided into a controlled re-entry trajectory.

The particular focus is on multimodal sensor data processing which is required to read, process and merge the complex data delivered by diverse sensor systems and correlate this information in a functional context, including 3D image data. There is no single sensor that we can use to manage all of the necessary operations, from locating the satellite to defining the approach path,. This is a task that requires the use of several camera systems, supplemented by a LIDAR laser detection and radar scanner, and possibly a radar system.

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INVERITAS (innovative technologies for relative navigation and capture of mobile autonomous systems) is a collaborative research project involving Astrium in Bremen, Jena-Optronik and the Robotics Innovation Centre of the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence in Bremen (RIC DFKI). These partners have set themselves the task of developing a prototype multi-mission-capable rendezvous and capture system and the associated core technologies up to technology readiness level 4 (TRL 4) – in other words creating a ground demonstration model.

The development of robotic space technologies calls for a high level of engineering skills in a diverse range of disciplines including artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, virtual reality, miniaturisation, materials science, mechatronics, and information and communication technology. In many of these areas, previous experience in related projects such as the development of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) can serve as a useful starting point. The ATV carries out rendezvous and docking manoeuvres with a ‘cooperative’ target, namely the International Space Station (ISS). The next logical stage is to build on this expertise to enable spacecraft to dock with non-cooperative targets.

A cooperative target is capable of identifying itself, is equipped with attitude control systems and visual markers, and is normally able to receive and send radio signals. By contrast, uncooperative targets, such as an inoperative satellite, are passive objects. They emit no signals enabling them to be located, have no identification markers, and in most cases spin around at random because they have no attitude control system to stabilise their orbit.

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