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Closed-Loop Software Architecture for Spacecraft Optical Navigation and Control Development

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A software architecture is discussed to develop, run, and test novel autonomous visual spacecraft navigation and control methods in a realistic simulation. This architecture harnesses two main components: a high-fidelity, faster-than-real-time, astrodynamics simulation framework; and a sister software package to dynamically visualize the simulation environment. Maneuvers such as fly-bys and orbit insertions occur over short periods of time and must occur autonomously. Yet, there are no open-source software packages that provide fully coupled spacecraft environments and Flight Software (FSW) enabling Optical Navigation (OpNav) mission scenarios. The presented tool consists of the Basilisk astrodynamics framework interfacing with a Unity-based visualization Vizard that provides a synthetic image stream of a camera sensor. This modular and extensible setup allows optical guidance, navigation and control (GNC) algorithms to be run in a closed-loop format purely in software. The optical measurements are generated in the visualization and passed to the simulation, allowing for real-time control and decision making. This Vizard software has the ability to import shape-models, planet maps, and move into an instrument point-of-view. Paired with open-source image processing libraries, these combined components provide all the necessary pieces to fully simulate autonomous, closed-loop, OpNav scenarios in a faster-than-real-time configuration. This allows for progress in the autonomy sector, as full-fledged FSW can be tested in a real flight environment. Furthermore, this enables more realistic and extensive testing of the software, which in turn increases reliability of the GNC methods as they are refined. This paper presents the Basilisk and Vizard interface architecture, its performance, and develops a example scenario. The image processing methods are displayed and the visualization scenes are validated for pointing purposes, which in turns allows to develop an autonomous pointing algorithm developed in this software environment.

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The authors would like to acknowledge Mar Cols Margenet, Patrick Kenneally, Scott Piggott and Jennifer Wood for Black Lion and Vizard development.

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Correspondence to Thibaud Teil.

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Teil, T., Bateman, S. & Schaub, H. Closed-Loop Software Architecture for Spacecraft Optical Navigation and Control Development. J Astronaut Sci 67, 1575–1599 (2020).

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