A document describes a graph-based path-planning algorithm for balloons with vertical control authority and little or no horizontal control authority. The balloons are designed to explore celestial bodies with atmospheres, such as Titan, a moon of Saturn. The algorithm discussed enables the balloon to achieve horizontal motion using the local horizontal winds. The approach is novel because it enables the balloons to use arbitrary wind field models. This is in contrast to prior approaches that used highly simplified wind field models, such as linear, or binary, winds.

This new approach works by discretizing the space in which the balloon operates, and representing the possible states of the balloon as a graph whose arcs represent the time taken to move from one node to another. The approach works with arbitrary wind fields, by looking up the wind strength and direction at every node in the graph from an arbitrary wind model. Having generated the graph, search techniques such as Dijkstra’s algorithm are then used to find the set of vertical actuation commands that takes the balloon from the start to the goal in minimum time. In addition, the set of reachable locations on the moon or planet can be determined.

This work was done by Lars James Blackmore, Nanaz Fathpour, and Alberto Elfes of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Information Sciences category. NPO-46607

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Graph-Based Path-Planning for Titan Balloons

(reference NPO-46607) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

Don't have an account? Sign up here.