Introduction of Research

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Research on technology to rendezvous with space debris

Overview of research

The removal of space debris requires a safe and reliable rendezvous with the targeted debris. JAXA has matured rendezvous technology with a target flying in space through development of the H-II Transfer Vehicle ("Kounotori") to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). We applied the technology to rendezvous with space debris. Being equipped with several reflectors and communication devices, along with attitude control to maintain its attitude, Kounotori can gauge favorable conditions for rendezvous. As the major debris are dead satellites and the upper stages of rockets that have completed operation, the attitude control capability is lost and there is no reflector or communication device that can assist in the approach. Therefore, it is difficult to detect the precise position and attitude of a space debris, and the debris capturing spacecraft must rendezvous and capture rotating debris. We are now conducting research to solve these problems.

First of all, we are working on two approaches to research the problem of not being able to accurately obtain the position of a space debris. The first approach is to obtain the position and attitude of the targeted debris with high precision and stability, by combining image processing using optical cameras with the distance observed by laser sensors. As a second approach, we designed a trajectory that is less likely to collide with debris, even if trouble occurs in the capturing satellite, under the assumption of relative position not being accurately obtained. Figs. 1 and 2 show examples of safe trajectories.

Fig. 1. Spiral approach trajectory
Fig. 2. V-bar hopping trajectory

Next, as a countermeasure against rapidly rotating debris that make capture difficult, we are studying a method of decelerating rotation without contact. This approach uses the thruster plume discharged from the capturing satellite to push the debris in the desired direction, in order to slow down its rotation. Fig. 3 illustrates the concept of this approach. The force and torque generated by the plume are obtained using computer fluid dynamics calculation.

Fig. 3. Concept of damping rotational rate by thruster plume injection

Research achievements

  • Naomi Murakami, Toru Yamamoto, “Rendezvous Strategy for the Active Debris Removal Missions,” Space Debris Workshop, 2016.
  • Toru Yamamoto, Naomi Murakami, Yu Nakajima, Koji Yamanaka, “Navigation and Trajectory Design for Japanese Active Debris Removal Mission,” 24th International Symposium on Space Flight Dynamics (ISSFD), Laurel, Maryland, 2014.
  • I. Takahashi, H. Kato, T. Yamamoto, M. Hayashi, S. Kawamoto, and H. Takahashi, “Motion Estimation of Axial Symmetry Object for Active Debris Removal Mission,” i-SAIRAS2018.
  • D. Hirano, H. Kato, and T. Saito, “Deep Learning based Pose Estimation in Space,” i-SAIRAS2018.
  • Yu Nakajima, Shinji Mitani, Hiroumi Tani, Naomi Murakami, Toru Yamamoto, and Koji Yamanaka. “Detumbling Space Debris via Thruster Plume Impingement,” AIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Specialist Conference, AIAA SPACE Forum, AIAA 2016-5660, 2016.
  • Yu Nakajima, Hiroumi Tani, Toru Yamamoto, Naomi Murakami, Shinji Mitani, and Koji Yamanaka. “Contactless Space Debris Detumbling: A Database Approach Based on Computational Fluid Dynamics,” Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics, Vol.41, No.9 (2018), pp.1906-1918, June 26, 2018.