This invention is a method and supporting apparatus for autonomously capturing, servicing and de-orbiting a free-flying spacecraft, such as a satellite, using robotics.
The capture of the spacecraft includes the steps of optically seeking and ranging the satellite using LIDAR; and matching tumble rates, rendezvousing and berthing with the satellite. Servicing of the spacecraft may be done using supervised autonomy, which is allowing a robot to execute a sequence of instructions without intervention from a remote human-occupied location. These instructions may be packaged at the remote station in a script and uplinked to the robot for execution upon remote command giving authority to proceed. Alternately, the instructions may be generated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) logic on-board the robot.
In either case, the remote operator maintains the ability to abort an instruction or script at any time, as well as the ability to intervene using manual override to teleoperate the robot.In one embodiment, a vehicle used for carrying out the method of this invention comprises an ejection module, which includes the robot, and a de-orbit module. Once servicing is completed by the robot, the ejection module separates from the de-orbit module, leaving the de-orbit module attached to the satellite for de-orbiting the same at a future time. Upon separation, the ejection module can either de-orbit itself or rendezvous with another satellite for servicing.
The ability to de-orbit a spacecraft further allows the opportunity to direct the landing of the spent satellite in a safe location away from population centers, such as the ocean.
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