2011

Surface Modeling to Support Small-Body Spacecraft Exploration and Proximity Operations

In order to simulate physically plausible surfaces that represent geologically evolved surfaces, demonstrating demanding surface-relative guidance navigation and control (GN&C) actions, such surfaces must be made to mimic the geological processes themselves. A report describes how, using software and algorithms to model body surfaces as a series of digital terrain maps, a series of processes was put in place that evolve the surface from some assumed nominal starting condition.

The physical processes modeled in this algorithmic technique include fractal regolith substrate texturing, fractally textured rocks (of empirically derived size and distribution power laws), cratering, and regolith migration under potential energy gradient. Starting with a global model that may be determined observationally or created ad hoc, the surface evolution is begun. First, material of some assumed strength is layered on the global model in a fractally random pattern. Then, rocks are distributed according to power laws measured on the Moon. Cratering then takes place in a temporal fashion, including modeling of ejecta blankets and taking into account the gravity of the object (which determines how much of the ejecta blanket falls back to the surface), and causing the observed phenomena of older craters being progressively buried by the ejecta of earlier impacts. Finally, regolith migration occurs which stratifies finer materials from coarser, as the fine material progressively migrates to regions of lower potential energy.

This work was done by Joseph E. Riedel and Nickolaos Mastrodemos of Caltech and Robert W. Gaskell of the Planetary Science Institute for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-47233

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Surface Modeling to Support Small-Body Spacecraft Exploration and Proximity Operations (reference NPO-47233) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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