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Flash Optical Sensor for Terrain Relative Robotic Navigation

Final Report Summary - FOSTERNAV (Flash Optical Sensor for Terrain Relative Robotic Navigation)

The smooth landing of Curiosity on Mars ground in August 2012 with a precision never achieved is a remarkable example of what can be accomplished by autonomous exploration spacecrafts.   In a close future several planned European or international exploration missions (Phootprint, Mars Precision lander) also include a phase of controlled descent and soft-landing with an even higher precision required. Their success stands largely in the ability to perform Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) and surface Hazard Detection (HD) as these missions will land in areas crowded by craters, crevasses, boulders, etc.
The project “Flash Optical Sensor for Terrain Relative Navigation” FOSTERNAV is a contribution to maintain the autonomy of Europe for space exploration. It targeted the development and the test in realistic conditions of a vision sensor based on light detection and ranging techniques (LiDAR). The targeted space applications for this type of sensor are not only the controlled descent and landing applications but as well applications such as in-orbit rendezvous, rover navigation, and the autonomous removal of space debris orbiting the Earth. This last application represents a critical environmental challenge for the international community in the future.
In Europe, FOSTERNAV was a pioneer activity allowing European actors (CSEM, VTT, DLR, Modulight and Airbus D+S) to collaborate in the development and assessment of the flash imaging LiDAR technology. This technology has a high potential for space but as well for terrestrial applications. This vision sensor architecture generating three-dimensional snapshot images of the scene of interest will have a strong impact on the autonomy of various types of vehicle. The use of such sensors is foreseen for example for the surveillance - due to its unique capability of seeing through foliage or camouflage - of national border where the sensor may be embarked on unmanned aerial vehicles. Its capabilities are also investigated for the autonomous driving in urban environments of cars and trucks.
The eleven milestones of FOSTERNAV have all been achieved with success. The main project outcomes are:
1. A fully functional Flash LiDAR prototype of TRL4 available for further testing,
2. A patent about the prototype transmitter design and manufacturing,
3. The increase of European expertise in design, fabrication and testing of sensors for space,
4. Settled and verified processes amongst several partners to build and test in representative operational conditions flash imaging LiDAR for space applications.
5. Competences in optical systems with high-power diode laser modulation and fibre-optic,
6. Establishment of test facilities and test procedures constituting a standard environment to test navigation sensors.

Project coordinator
Alexandre Pollini
1 Rue Jaquet-Droz
2002 Neuchâtel

tel,: +41 32 720 5111