On-Orbit Inspection of an Unknown, Tumbling Target Using NASA's Astrobee Robotic Free-Flyers
Autonomous spacecraft critically depend on on-orbit inspection (i.e., relative navigation and inertial properties estimation) to intercept tumbling debris objects or defunct satellites. This work presents a practical method for on-orbit inspection and demonstrates its performance in simulation using NASA's Astrobee robotic free-flyers. The problem is formulated as a simultaneous localization and mapping task, utilizing IMU data from an observing "chaser" spacecraft and point clouds of the observed "target" spacecraft obtained via a 3D time-of-flight camera. The relative navigation between the chaser and target is solved via a factor graph-based approach. The target's principal axes of inertia are then estimated via a conic fit optimization procedure using a polhode analysis. Simulation results indicate the accuracy of the proposed method in preparation for hardware experiments on the International Space Station.