Missions to small bodies, such as comets or asteroids, require autonomous guidance for descent to these small bodies. Such guidance is made challenging by uncertainty in the position and velocity of the spacecraft, as well as the uncertainty in the gravitational field around the small body. In addition, the requirement to avoid collision with the asteroid represents a non-convex constraint that means finding the optimal guidance trajectory, in general, is intractable.

In this innovation, a new approach is proposed for chance-constrained optimal guidance with non-convex constraints. Chance-constrained guidance takes into account uncertainty so that the probability of collision is below a specified threshold. In this approach, a new bounding method has been developed to obtain a set of decomposed chance constraints that is a sufficient condition of the original chance constraint. The decomposition of the chance constraint enables its efficient evaluation, as well as the application of the branch and bound method. Branch and bound enables non-convex problems to be solved efficiently to global optimality.

Considering the problem of finite-horizon robust optimal control of dynamic systems under Gaussian-distributed stochastic uncertainty, with state and control constraints, a discrete-time, continuous-state linear dynamics model is assumed. Gaussian-distributed stochastic uncertainty is a more natural model for exogenous disturbances such as wind gusts and turbulence than the previously studied set-bounded models. However, with stochastic uncertainty, it is often impossible to guarantee that state constraints are satisfied, because there is typically a non-zero probability of having

a disturbance that is large enough to push the state out of the feasible region.

An effective framework to address robustness with stochastic uncertainty is optimization with chance constraints. These require that the probability of violating the state constraints (i.e., the probability of failure) is below a user-specified bound known as the risk bound. An example problem is to drive a car to a destination as fast as possible while limiting the probability of an accident to 10–7. This framework allows users to trade conservatism against performance by choosing the risk bound. The more risk the user accepts, the bet-

ter performance they can expect.

This work was done by Lars James Blackmore of Caltech and Masahiro Ono and Brian Williams of MIT for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-47305

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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