Nav: Home

NASA to launch Raven to develop autonomous rendezvous capability

February 14, 2017

Launching soon, aboard the 10th SpaceX commercial resupply mission, will be a technology module called Raven, which will bring NASA one step closer to having a relative navigation capability. When affixed outside the International Space Station, Raven will test foundational technologies that will enable autonomous rendezvous in space, meaning they will not necessitate any human involvement -- even from the ground.

To envision why autonomous rendezvous is important in space missions, imagine this scenario: one spacecraft following another satellite, steadily closing the gap -- with each vehicle traveling more than 16,000 miles per hour in the darkness of space. The satellite that is being serviced, the client, is a multi-ton craft that is running out of fuel. The fully robotic servicing satellite, the servicer, named Restore-L follows in pursuit, carrying life-extending propellant and tools.

The client, not designed to be serviced, does not have markings to making it easier for the servicer to find and secure it. The servicer has to do this on its own, using an advanced machine vision system, perfected using the data collected by Raven aboard the space station. Successful servicing first depends on the servicer's ability to accurately locate and match speed with the client satellite.

To further complicate this scenario, the servicer is far from Earth, creating a communications delay for command and data exchange to and from space. The delay prevents ground operators from quickly and accurately providing commands to the servicer in order to prevent a possible collision within the last few feet of the rendezvous.

Therefore, the servicer has to perform relative navigation with its client, and it needs to do so autonomously (by itself, with no human guidance), and in real time.

"Two spacecraft autonomously rendezvousing is crucial for many future NASA missions and Raven is maturing this never-before-attempted technology," said Ben Reed, deputy division director, for the Satellite Servicing Projects Division (SSPD) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland -- the office developing and managing this demonstration mission.

Raven will demonstrate the capability of a groundbreaking relative navigation system, housed within its carry-on luggage-sized frame, which will allow a spacecraft server to find, and if necessary, catch its intended target. Raven aims to lead to a fully developed, mature system available for future NASA missions.

Five days after launch, Raven will be removed from the unpressurized "trunk" of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft by the Dextre robotic arm, and attached on a payload platform outside the space station. From this perch, Raven will begin providing information for the development of a mature real-time relative navigation system.

During its stay aboard the space station, Raven's components will join forces to independently image and track incoming and outgoing visiting space station spacecraft. To do this, Raven's sensors will feed data they "see" to a processor, which will run sets of instructions (also known as special pose algorithms) to gauge the relative distance between Raven and the spacecraft it is tracking. Then, based on these calculations, the processor will autonomously send commands that swivel the Raven module on its gimbal, or pointing system, to keep the sensors trained on the vehicle, while continuing to tracking it. While these maneuvers take place, NASA operators on the ground will evaluate how Raven's technologies work together as a system, and will make adjustments to increase Raven's tracking performance.

Over its two-year lifespan, Raven will test these critical technologies that are expected to support future NASA missions for decades to come. One upcoming application for this technology is its use in the Restore-L servicing mission which will navigate to refuel Landsat 7, a U.S. government Earth-observing satellite already in orbit. An additional application is the potential use for systems on NASA's Journey to Mars. Raven is on track to advance and mature the sensors, machine vision algorithms, and processing necessary to implement a robust autonomous rendezvous and docking system for NASA. SSPD is developing and managing both the Raven and Restore-L demonstration missions.
-end-
For more information about Raven, visit:

https://sspd.gsfc.nasa.gov/Relative_Navigation_System.html

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Related International Space Station Articles:

Experiment aboard space station studies 'space weather'
To study conditions in the ionosphere, Cornell University research engineer Steven Powell and others in the College of Engineering have developed the FOTON (Fast Orbital TEC for Orbit and Navigation) GPS receiver.
Earth science on the Space Station continues to grow
Two new Earth science instruments are scheduled to make their way to the station Feb.
For space station astronauts, spinal muscles shrink after months in space
While astronauts on long space missions do not experience a change in spinal disc height, the muscles supporting the spine weaken, find researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
Swarm of satellites to explore Earth's shield from International Space Station
A swarm of 50 small satellites -- known as cubesats and weighing an average of 2 kg each -- will be launched from the International Space Station in the European-led as QB50 mission to explore the little-understood region above Earth known as the thermosphere.
Pitt researcher's work headed to International Space Station
Rocky S. Tuan, Ph.D., has received a research grant from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space to continue his work on a 3-D microphysiological system to be conducted on board the International Space Station to evaluate the accelerated aging and degeneration process of bones that occurs in space.
Antarctic fungi survive Martian conditions on the International Space Station
European scientists have gathered tiny fungi that take shelter in Antarctic rocks and sent them to the International Space Station.
How mold on space station flowers is helping get us to Mars
When Scott Kelly tweeted a picture of moldy leaves on the current crop of zinnia flowers aboard the International Space Station, it could have looked like the science was doomed.
Getting into the flow on the International Space Station
The Packed Bed Reactor Experiment (PBRE) is a basic science investigation designed to fill in the missing information as to how two-phase mixtures flow through porous media in microgravity.
Waterloo to lead new experiment aboard International Space Station
A spacecraft carrying supplies for a new physiology experiment led by a University of Waterloo researcher will launch to the International Space Station on Thursday, the Canadian Space Agency announced.
Space station investigation goes with the flow
The investigation's success could help scientists develop countermeasures that will influence the future of human spaceflight on long-duration missions.

Related International Space Station Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Setbacks
Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".