Self-driving cars may be an up-and-coming trend here on earth, but the engineers at NASA are quickly finding ways to bring this technology to outer space. As Jolyn Russell, Mechanical Lead, and Ross Henry, Project Manager, explain, NASA’s Raven project aims to take autonomous steering into orbit.
Armed with a sensor suite, a computer, and mathematical algorithms, the Raven module was recently secured on the International Space Station. Its purpose? Track vehicles coming to the Space Station, and begin automating the docking procedure for their arrivals.
Taking into account the speed of each body in orbit independently, changes in velocity as they approach one another, and the time delays involved in even partially controlling a seemingly simple procedure from the ground, the challenge involved in the Raven project quickly becomes apparent. Raven’s visual, infrared, and LIDAR sensor suite enables it to anticipate the maneuvers of an approaching vessel, and its computer uses this data to follow it.
According to Russell and Henry, the Raven project “lay[s] the framework” for future missions hoping to implement autonomous technology. The Orion spacecraft and forthcoming voyages to Mars are two such endeavors.
ISS Video courtesy of: NASA