Robotic Systems for Active Debris Removal: Equipments, State-of-the-Art, and Concept Architecture of the Rendez Vous and Capture (RVC) Control System
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AbstractRecent studies of the space debris population in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) have concluded that certain regions have likely reached a critical density of objects, which could eventually lead to a cascading process known as the Kessler syndrome. Thus, the growing perception is that we need to consider Active Debris Removal missions (ADR) as an essential element to preserve the space environment for future generations. Among all objects in the current LEO environment, Ariane rocket bodies (R/Bs) are some of the most suitable targets for future robotic ADR missions, given their number, mass properties and spatial distribution. ADR techniques involving orbital robotics are considered relatively well-understood options, since technologies and theories for automated robotic capture and servicing of spacecraft already exist and have undergone successful in-orbit testing. However, rendezvous and capture of large, noncooperative objects is a highly challenging task, especially with a robotic system. In fact, at present, the technologies necessary for proximity operations and capture, even of controlled targets, lack in maturity. Therefore, to enable future robotic ADR missions there is a pressing need for more advanced and modular systems that can cope with non-controlled, tumbling objects. The rendezvous and capture (RVC) control system is one of the most critical subsystems of future robotic ADR missions. Within that context, we present a concept of a robotic spacecraft capable of approaching, capturing and manipulating R/Bs. Moreover, we provide a more detailed overview of the envisioned control architecture, bearing in mind the requirements for the most critical phases of an ADR mission, which are the close-range rendezvous and final approach. The modules of the RVC control architecture covered by our work include the: navigation module, guidance module, control module, de-tumbling module and robotics module. Each module is responsible for particular functions within the overall system, which are illustrated in this paper. The target is assumed to be non-cooperative, although its shape is well-characterized a priori. We provide a synopsis of the challenges that proximity operations pose for the design of a robotic RVC control system for ADR.