LIRIS on ATV
Science & Exploration

ATV views Space Station as never before

09/12/2014 14393 views 111 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / ATV

ESA’s fifth and last Automated Transfer Vehicle tested a new technique before docking with the International Space Station in August, at the same time revealing the orbital complex in a new light.  

ATV Georges Lemaître demonstrated a set of European sensors that offers future improvements on the autonomous rendezvous and docking that these ferries have completed five times since 2008. ESA’s goal is to perform an automated rendezvous further from home – perhaps near Mars or with an ‘uncooperative’ target such as an inert object.

Seeing through an eclipse

During Georges Lemaître’s rendezvous using its proven system, the Laser Infrared Imaging Sensors, or LIRIS, experiment was turned on some two and a half hours and 3500 m from the Space Station. All of the sensors worked as expected and a large amount of data was recorded and stored on hard disks in ATV’s cargo hold.

The disks were retrieved by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on 29 August and returned to Earth in Soyuz TMA-12M in September. The information is now being compared against the results from ATV’s normal navigation sensors.

With ATV-5 pointing directly at the Station, the LIRIS infrared cameras tracked the weightless research centre perfectly despite several 30-minute periods in darkness when the Sun was eclipsed by Earth and traditional cameras would have gone blind.

Infrared Space Station
Infrared Space Station

The image above was taken 70 m from the Station – the first showing the complex in this configuration. Ahead of an ATV docking, the Station turns its solar wings to avoid GPS navigation signals bouncing off the structure and confusing the incoming craft.

Four days before docking, ATV flew 7 km below the Station to check the long-range capability of the infrared cameras. A first look at the readings confirms LIRIS’ ability to track targets from a distance.

Laser Radar

LIRIS includes a lidar – like a radar but using light – that pulses laser beams over a mirror to collect 3D data at high resolution. The lidar also registers the amount of reflected light, which can provide clues on the type of material it is scanning.

Station painted by laser radar
Station painted by laser radar

The image on the left shows how far each element of the Space Station is from ATV-5, with arbitrarily chosen colours corresponding to their distance from LIRIS.

Russia’s Zvezda module, where Georges Lemaître now sits, shows up in green from 30 m, while the Soyuz was 15 m further away (yellow). The Station’s main truss is in purple, 40 m from Zvezda.

The image on the right was created from the same data but shows how much light was reflected from each point. The Station’s retroreflector used for ATV’s normal laser docking sensors shows up brightly, just as the designers intended.

Spacecraft docking on their own

The advantage of the LIRIS approach is that it scans objects and gathers information about them without a dedicated communications link or hardware installed on the targets.

The sensors can track targets equally well during darkness and provide detailed 3D maps of an object, increasing the autonomy of a craft and allowing it to navigate around a target. LIRIS-type systems are needed for future ventures deeper into space and to help remove large pieces of debris from Earth orbit.

LIRIS was developed by Airbus Defence and Space, with German company Jena Optronik providing the lidar and France’s Sodern the infrared cameras.

Related Articles

ATV-5 during ISS flyunder
Science & Exploration

ATV to bid farewell to Space Station for last time

10/02/2015 11156 views 76 likes
Read
ATV-5
Enabling & Support

Camera to record doomed ATV’s disintegration – from inside

06/02/2015 24589 views 135 likes
Read
LIRIS on ATV
Science & Exploration

ATV views Space Station as never before

09/12/2014 14393 views 111 likes
Read
Exploration Flight Test-1
Science & Exploration

Orion test sets stage for ESA service module

05/12/2014 14593 views 126 likes
Read
International Space Station with ATV-5
Science & Exploration

ESA space ferry moves Space Station to avoid debris

04/11/2014 12847 views 123 likes
Read
Enabling & Support

Hard work behind ATV’s good, clean cargo delivery

22/08/2014 2567 views 32 likes
Read
ATV-5 docks
Science & Exploration

ATV completes final automated docking

12/08/2014 9864 views 63 likes
Read
Science & Exploration

ESA’s cargo vessel ready for space delivery

11/08/2014 5556 views 49 likes
Read
Science & Exploration

Last ATV lifts off to supply the Space Station

29/07/2014 10777 views 57 likes
Read
Campo del Cielo, Field of the Sky
Science & Exploration

Meteorite science meets an artist’s dream of spaceflight

28/06/2013 6319 views 34 likes
Read
Docking simulation
Science & Exploration

School's out for ATV training

13/01/2014 3965 views 44 likes
Read
Body-mounted astronaut joystick
Enabling & Support

Touchy-feely joystick heading to Space Station

26/02/2014 8797 views 78 likes
Read
ATV-4 undocking
Science & Exploration

ATV-5 set to test new rendezvous sensors

18/03/2014 8607 views 65 likes
Read
Artist’s view of ATV-5 reentry
Enabling & Support

ATV’s fiery break-up to be seen from inside

17/07/2014 22282 views 113 likes
Read
ATV-5 on Ariane 5 before encapsulation
Science & Exploration

ATV-5: loaded and locked

23/07/2014 7503 views 67 likes
Read

Related Links