Advanced Optical Systems, Inc. (AOS) developed a low-cost Rendezvous, Proximity Operations, and Docking (RPOD) system that has applications for the future NASA Orion vehicle. Docking operations between the space shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS) required the coordination of real-time sensor data analysis and manual measurements. AOS developed a family of algorithms that processes the centerline docking camera data for navigational information that is currently derived from multiple sensors and manual estimation.

Shuttle docking with the ISS was one of the most dangerous operations encountered by shuttle astronauts. An astronaut/pilot navigated the shuttle to dock using imagery from a centerline (boresight) camera mounted along the velocity axis. The pilot took cues from structures on the ISS docking port and a visual docking target mounted within the docking port itself. The Orion vehicle will also be required to dock with the ISS using a similar visual docking target for the final docking phase.

Algorithms implemented by AOS measure pose and position by analyzing imagery from 2D cameras like the proposed Orion centerline camera. These algorithms are portable to Video Processing Unit (VPU) hardware currently baselined to interface to Orion AR&D sensors. These algorithms are called the ULTOR® Passive Pose and Position Engine or ULTOR® P3E.

As a backup to the primary AR&D sensor for Orion, the lidar-based Vision Navigation Sensor (VNS), the AOS ULTOR® P3E system processes the Orion centerline camera data to provide real-time navigational information such as range, bearing, and pose. This information can be used to provide symbology (graphic overlays) on the centerline camera video output to aid the Orion crew and pilot during rendezvous and docking operations. This approach is a zero-weight backup AR&D sensor supporting Orion RPOD operations. Integrating this technology into Orion systems provides an additional navigation sensor at very little additional cost.

For fixed or limited field-of-view cameras, ULTOR® P3E can be configured to operate on “progressive detail” of an object. As Orion approaches the station, ULTOR® P3E processes video data from the centerline camera utilizing ISS features that are in the camera field of view. As the range closes and other ISS features are resolvable, ULTOR® P3E transitions to processing these new features for navigational information.

This work was done by Joel Hannah and Michael Balch of Advanced Optical Systems, Inc. for Johnson Space Center. MSC-24682-1