ATON (Autonomous Terrain-based Optical Navigation) is a project to develop an optical navigation system for autonomous landings on celestial bodies.
The goals of future exploration missions include installing and supplying human outposts and exploring local phenomena on moons, planets and asteroids. An important pre-condition for the success of those missions is the capability to land autonomously, precisely and safely on celestial bodies.
To achieve that requirement future landing missions will be equipped with adept navigation technology. One important component will be optical imaging systems, which allow low-latency measurements to be taken independently from Earth, enabling autonomy. Integrating optical measurements into the navigation system provides position and attitude determination with respect to the target body allowing a precise autonomous landing. The optical sensor data can also be used to analyze and select a safe landing site.
ATON is a significant step towards autonomous landing systems. It will concentrate on developing breadboard hardware for optical navigation systems to safely and precisely land on the Moon. The aim of the project is to develop and demonstrate an optical navigation system applicable to all phases of lunar landing. The system will combine optical measurements with data from other onboard sensors (inertial measurement unit, star tracker and Lidar) provide an integrated and robust navigation solution and evaluate the landing site.
Fig.: Closed-loop test of the ATON software in DLR's TRON laboratory in Bremen
To test the navigation result in the laboratory TRON (Testbed for Robotic Optical Navigation), the sensors are installed on a robot and moved over different terrain models, which represent the mission phases in steps.This enables the generation of images of the Moon’s surface under realistic illumination conditions.
Fig.: First ATON flight campaign to gather flight data for further software development
To demonstrate the functionality, robustness and accuracy of the system in dynamic operation, flight tests with uncrewed helicopters are performed. In order to simulate the surface of the moon, three-dimensional features and covers with imprinted craters are used.
DLR Simulation and Software Technology Tasks
The contributions of the DLR Simulation and Software Technology include analysis, system definition, and development of a simulation environment. Furthermore, integration of system components into the realtime flight software and the development of a testing infrastructure also belong to the area of responsibility.
01.01.2010 – 31.12.2016