ESA GNC Conference Papers Repository
Recent Trends in Computational Guidance and Control for Space Applications
This paper presents a survey of the most recent literature developments in the field of computational guidance and control for space applications. In recent years, the space sector has changed significantly, shifting towards solutions requiring increased performance and autonomy. This change has also been accelerated by the technical and economic needs of the new space approach. However, traditional guidance and control techniques cannot always meet the increasing requirements of autonomy and performance. For this reason, computational guidance and control has become of increasing interest to the aerospace sector. In contrast to traditional guidance and control, computational guidance and control generates commands in real time by using on-board numerical computation. It represents, therefore, a fundamental step on the way to system autonomy and autonomous operations, with the potential to increase system capabilities and reduce operational costs. On-board computation introduces, however, a series of challenges, including the need to develop algorithms which are computationally efficient, reliable and robust. The literature has classified computational guidance and control techniques into two major categories, namely model-based and data-based. The model-based category encompasses all techniques in which the guidance and control laws are explicitly related to the system dynamic and kinematic models. On the contrary, data-based techniques infer guidance and control laws from a set of data, derived from the models, but do not explicitly use such models in the algorithm itself. Model-based guidance and control includes optimal control, model predictive control and convex optimisation. For the specific case of space attitude re-orientation manoeuvres, additional techniques are path planning and artificial potential functions. The general concept behind the Model Predictive Control (MPC) framework is to solve an optimal control problem repeatedly, for example whenever new measurements are available. The MPC implements only the first element of the returned solution, and the process is then repeated. By doing so, the system is better able to cope autonomously with model uncertainties, failures, or errors. For spacecraft with limited on-board capability, having to repeatedly solve an optimisation problem on-board could represent a challenge. In this case, explicit implementations of the MPC have been proposed, in which the guidance and control laws are precomputed offline and implemented on-board using look-up tables or simple functions. If the optimal control problem of the MPC is convex, or if it can be convexified, convex optimisation can be used directly. If the problem cannot be convexified, the solution can be found by sequentially solving a convex approximation of the original non-convex problem. Convex optimisation can be used either repeatedly in the context of an MPC framework, or as a single function call to generate guidance and control laws, e.g. at the beginning of an attitude re-orientation manoeuvre. Convex optimisation has received increased attention in recent years, also due to its suitability to on-board implementation. In fact, if the optimal control problem is convex, it can be solved reliably and efficiently on-board. Convex optimisation has been successfully applied to the space sector with the notable examples of the SpaceX rocket booster landing and of the Mars pinpoint landing demonstration aboard the Masten Xombie sounding rocket. Model-based guidance techniques, not based on optimisation, have been increasingly explored in recent years, as guidance strategies employed in other engineering fields, such as robotics, are being applied to spacecraft. Among these strategies, of particular importance are path planning and artificial potential field methods, due to their applicability to spacecraft autonomous attitude manoeuvres. Path planning algorithms have been applied for decades to ground vehicles and robotic manipulators. These algorithms consist of techniques to find the best route between two points of a graph representing the search space of a problem. For spacecraft re-orientation applications, the literature has proposed different attitude representation conventions and various cost functions associated to the graph search algorithm. Each approach comes with advantages and disadvantages, which will be analysed in the paper. Along with path planning, Artificial Potential Function (APF) techniques have been developed in the field of robotics, and are now also considered for space applications, to track or maintain a specific reference under a set of constraints. The main idea behind these methods is to synthetise the controller using a potential function. This function is specifically built to grant asymptotic stability to the system, according to Lyapunovs second stability theorem. This formulation grants flexibility to accommodate system constraints, in a computationally light-weight and efficient manner. Data-based guidance and control laws are mainly based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, and generate guidance commands after training an algorithm with a large set of data. The interest of the space sector towards AI has accelerated in the last years due to the greater maturity of the technology. Some of the most powerful examples lie in the area of machine learning, like reinforcement learning, supervised learning and deep learning. These algorithms are used to extract patterns from large amounts of data derived from complex nonlinear dynamical and kinematical models. Examples of such data can be numerical solutions of an optimal control problem. The patterns extracted from the data allow the system to identify, in a short computational time, the critical parameters needed to relate the state and control variables. Creating a sufficiently large dataset for training the algorithm requires a considerable computational effort, though, and for certain methods optimality cannot be guaranteed due to the lack of theoretical support derived from the optimality conditions. Advancements made in the last years span several research directions and open a wide variety of opportunities and challenges, which need to be examined to guide further exploration. In this paper, both model-based and data-based techniques and applications are presented. The considered techniques include model predictive control, convex optimisation and machine learning. In addition, for the implementation of autonomous attitude manoeuvres, path planning methods and artificial potential function methods are analysed. These techniques have been applied, in the literature, to a range of different applications. The applications discussed in this paper include, in addition to attitude manoeuvres, powered descent landing guidance, low-thrust orbital transfers, proximity operations and station keeping.