This paper presents a customized three-dimensional template matching technique for autonomous pose determination of uncooperative targets. This topic is relevant to advanced space applications, like active debris removal and on-orbit servicing. The proposed technique is model-based and produces estimates of the target pose without any prior pose information, by processing three-dimensional point clouds provided by a LIDAR. These estimates are then used to initialize a pose tracking algorithm. Peculiar features of the proposed approach are the use of a reduced number of templates and the idea of building the database of templates on-line, thus significantly reducing the amount of on-board stored data with respect to traditional techniques. An algorithm variant is also introduced aimed at further accelerating the pose acquisition time and reducing the computational cost. Technique performance is investigated within a realistic numerical simulation environment comprising a target model, LIDAR operation and various target-chaser relative dynamics scenarios, relevant to close-proximity flight operations. Specifically, the capability of the proposed techniques to provide a pose solution suitable to initialize the tracking algorithm is demonstrated, as well as their robustness against highly variable pose conditions determined by the relative dynamics. Finally, a criterion for autonomous failure detection of the presented techniques is presented.
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