Journal article Open Access
Recent studies of the space debris population in low Earth orbit (LEO) have concluded that certain regions have already reached a critical density of objects. This will eventually lead to a cascading process called the Kessler syndrome. The time may have come to seriously consider active debris removal (ADR) missions as the only viable way of preserving the space environment for future generations. Among all objects in the current environment, the SL-8 (Kosmos 3M second stages) rocket bodies (R/Bs) are some of the most suitable targets for future robotic ADR missions. However, to date, an autonomous relative navigation to and capture of an non-cooperative target has never been performed. Therefore, there is a need for more advanced, autonomous and modular systems that can cope with uncontrolled, tumbling objects. The guidance, navigation and control (GNC) system is one of the most critical ones. The main objective of this paper is to present a preliminary concept of a modular GNC architecture that should enable a safe and fuel-efficient capture of a known but uncooperative target, such as Kosmos 3M R/B. In particular, the concept was developed having in mind the most critical part of an ADR mission, i.e. close range proximity operations, and state of the art algorithms in the field of autonomous rendezvous and docking. In the end, a brief description of the hardware in the loop (HIL) testing facility is made, foreseen for the practical evaluation of the developed architecture.