By Simone D'Amico September 12, 2018
The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) and the NASA's Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SSTP) have awarded Prof. D'Amico's Space Rendezvous Lab (SLAB) with contracts of more than $1M for advanced research on spaceborne vision-based navigation. The awards come in response to two complementary project proposals titled:"Starling Formation-Flying Optical Experiment (StarFOX)" submitted to NASA SSTP and "High-Fidelity Verification and Validation of Spaceborne Vision-Based Navigation" submitted to AFOSR.
The proposed research aims at increasing the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of key formation-flying and swarm capabilities for future deep space exploration and demonstrate the viability of new algorithms for space navigation. In particular, the NASA's Starling mission consists of four nearly identical nanosatellites deployed in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) which will fly in a loosely held formation with adjustable baseline separations. Under the awarded NASA contract, SLAB is responsible for the Starling Formation-Flying Optical eXperiment (StarFOX) onboard the Starling satellites which enables autonomous non-cooperative angles-only relative navigation between the constituents of the formation. The objective of StarFOX is to demonstrate the feasibility of using vision-based sensors as the primary metrology for robust and accurate formation navigation at high dynamic-range with minimal ground interaction. Before integration and deployment on the Starling mission, the proposed algorithms and prototype flight software/hardware will be verified at SLAB using an advanced optical stimulator and robotic testbed that will be upgraded as part of the contract with AFOSR.