Space situational awareness (SSA) and spacecraft rendezvous are two important and related technologies. APL is building a proximity-operations (ProxOps) simulator to develop and test rendezvous, proximity operation, reconnaissance, surveillance, and SSA algorithms and concepts for near operations on planetary surfaces.
APL's ProxOps simulator benefits mission concept development through added realism and engineering insight. A full-scale simulator and laboratory with realistic motion stages, cameras, sensors, stimulators, and lighting, however, is often prohibitively expensive. Nevertheless, significant progress can be achieved with a system consisting of processors and algorithms, along with provisions to link in specialized hardware such as single-board computers or optical sensors and motion stages in order to emulate realistic motion.
APL's ProxOps simulator can be configured for testing sensor-based detection, tracking, typing, and discrimination algorithms as well as guidance, navigation, and obstacle avoidance algorithms. The basic infrastructure of the ProxOps simulator has begun to take shape, and APL is now using that capability to explore and expand into several areas: hardware implementation of the flight software portion of the simulation, development of candidate autonomous navigation and rendezvous algorithms, and exploration of several SSA sensors and algorithms.
The ProxOps simulator evolved from an initial concept, in which APL focused on the architecture and initial operating capability of the simulator, to a system that includes
- faster than real-time operation
- flight-like algorithms
- displays for telemetry and commanding, as well as AGI's Satellilte Tool Kit (STK) software for visualization
- platform for algorithm development for rendezvous and proximity operations
- enabled linkage to other, adjunct resources and capabilities such as individual processors
- enabled interconnections to sensor simulations to provide additional capability and realism.
Our objectives extend this concept but also expand it to include SSA and other sensors and algorithms linked to the simulator.
In future years, the ProxOps simulator can be used to test APL-developed enhanced rendezvous algorithms and/or sensors in a more realistic environment than can be done on workstations alone or with simple test lab configurations. Demonstrations will better position APL for responding to proposals and for demonstrating our capability to sponsors. Sponsors' needs may be accommodated by reconfiguring the system by loading different versions of software algorithms into the various computers and connecting different ProxOps sensors to the assembly.