Integrated GPS/INS navigation system design for autonomous spacecraft rendevous

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Gaylor, David Edward

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The goal of the NASA Space Launch Initiative (SLI) program is to advance the technologies for the next generation reusable launch vehicle (RLV). The SLI program has identified automated rendezvous and docking as an area requiring further research and development. Currently, the Space Shuttle uses a partially manual system for rendezvous, but a fully automated system could be safer and more reliable. Previous studies have shown that it is feasible to use the Global Positioning System (GPS) for spacecraft navigation during rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS). However, these studies have not accounted for the effects of GPS signal blockage and multipath in the vicinity of the ISS, which make a GPS-only navigation system less accurate and reliable. One possible solution is to combine GPS with an inertial navigation system (INS). The integration of GPS and INS can be achieved using a Kalman filter. GPS/INS systems have been used in aircraft for many years and have also been used in launch vehicles. However, the performance of GPS/INS systems in orbit and during spacecraft rendezvous has not been characterized. The primary objective of this research is to evaluate the ability of an integrated GPS/INS to provide accurate navigation solutions during a rendezvous scenario where the effects of ISS signal blockage, multipath and delta-v maneuvers degrade GPS-only navigation. In order to accomplish this, GPS-only and GPS/INS Kalman filters have been developed for both absolute and relative navigation, as well as a new statistical multipath model for spacecraft operating near the ISS. Several factors that affect relative navigation performance were studied, including: filter tuning, GPS constellation geometry, rendezvous approach direction, and inertial sensor performance. The results showed that each of these factors has a large impact on relative navigation performance. Finally, it has been demonstrated that a GPS/INS system based on medium accuracy aircraft avionics-grade inertial sensors does not provide adequate relative navigation performance for rendezvous with the ISS unless accelerometer thresholding is used. However, the use of state-of-the-art inertial navigation sensors provides relative position accuracy which is adequate for rendezvous with ISS if an additional rendezvous sensor is included.