DFKI: Simulated Satellite Rendezvous

Published: February 15, 2011

Realistic Satellite Motion Tests on the Ground

DFKI researchers are using the 288-square-meter Space Exploration Hall to test robot systems that will perform complex tasks later in space.

In their new Space Exploration Hall, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) can now carry out projects such as testing flight systems and studying the interactions between satellites and robots. The hall was opened at the DFKI Robotics Innovation Center (RIC) in Bremen, Germany, in November 2010. One current project is called Innovative Technologies for the Relative Navigation (Motion) and Capture of Mobile Autonomous Systems (INVERITAS for short), in which DFKI researchers are simulating the relative navigation of two satellites. The behavior of the satellites is first simulated by software and then performed by two motion systems with 1:1 models in the 10-meter-high hall. The two satellite models move in relation to one another exactly as they would under real conditions in space. The satellites' real sensors are integrated in the system. One satellite is attached to a cable-guided system so that it can approach the other satellite autonomously, while the second satellite is mounted on a KUKA robot arm. Both motion systems have 9 restricted degrees of freedom – after upgrading, there will be 10 – with which they represent the satellites' 12 unrestricted degrees of freedom.
The dSPACE system is the core of the hardware-in-the-loop simulation system. It performs the software simulation of the satellites' behavior and also converts their 12 degrees of freedom into the 9 - 10 restricted degrees of freedom. In addition, it controls the hardware of the two motion systems.
This research work is majorly important for tasks such as capturing disused or out-of-control satellites – the "space junk" that is increasingly endangering other satellites.
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