Astrobotic Awarded Funding to Map Uncooperative Spacecraft in Real Time

The new ALIN system will enable satellite servicing and mapping of planetary bodies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ON AUGUST 11, 2021 at 9am EST – Pittsburgh, PA

Astrobotic wins a Phase I NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to further develop sensors that three-dimensionally map uncooperative spacecraft and planetary bodies in real time.

Astrobotic’s Laser Imaging, Detection, and Ranging (LiDAR)-Inertial Navigation (ALIN) software solution uses LiDAR Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) to provide navigation and mapping in a modular sensor for multiple uses in space. This allows for more affordable, faster data transfers on spacecraft. ALIN will specifically target applications requiring high-fidelity relative navigation and three-dimensional mapping to achieve a variety of mission objectives in Earth, lunar, and Martian orbit.

“Matching the exact orbital plane, altitude, and speed of another object in space will play a key role in the construction of orbital infrastructure. With ALIN, any type of uncooperative satellite, planetary body, or asteroid, can be autonomously serviced or mapped,” says Jeremy Hardy, Senior Robotics Engineer at Astrobotic. “Our system will be more affordable and modular in design, targeting more diverse applications than what currently exists in the market.”

The technology provides a solution that is not reliant on traditional dependencies like visual markers and retroreflectors or prior knowledge of the target. This enables ALIN to build three-dimensional models of uncooperative targets, even in the presence of inconvenient shadowing, or total darkness. Additionally, techniques like LiDAR Odometry and Mapping (LOAM) will also provide maps of the observed area that are particularly valuable to missions where the target body has unknown shape, like in planetary or asteroid exploration or satellite servicing.

Work on Phase I is already underway and will lead to a prototype LiDAR-based navigation and mapping solution capable of real time data collection geared toward satellite servicing and inspection.

Phase II, if awarded, would focus on optimizing the localization algorithms, mapping performance, and timing to meet Rendezvous Proximity Operations and Docking (RPOD) mission requirements. Phase III could yield a flight-ready system, providing an opportunity for early mission infusion and data collection on smaller CubeSat-style missions or aboard the International Space Station.