Lunar Laser Ranging for Autonomous Cislunar Spacecraft Navigation

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Virginia Tech


The number of objects occupying orbital regimes beyond Geosynchronous Earth Orbit and cislunar space are expected to grow in the coming years; Especially with the Moon reemerging as latest frontier in the race for space exploration and technological superiority. In order to support this growth, new methods of autonomously navigating in cislunar space are necessary to reduce demand and reliance on ground based tracking infrastructure. Periodic orbits about the first libration point offer favorable vantage points for scientific or military spacecraft missions involving the Earth or Moon. This thesis develops a new autonomous spacecraft navigation method for cislunar space and analyzes its performance applied to Lyapunov and halo orbits around L1. This method uses existing lunar ranging retroreflectors (LRRR) installed on the Moon's surface in the 1960s and 1970s. A spacecraft can make laser ranging measurements to the LRRR to estimate its orbit states. A simulation platform was created to test this concept in the circular restricted three body problem and evaluate its performance. This navigation method was found to be successful for a subset of Lyapunov and halo orbits when cycling the five measurement targets. Simulation data showed that sub-kilometer position estimation and sub 2 centimeter per second velocity accuracies are achievable without receiving any state updates from external sources.



Cislunar, xGEO, navigation, spacecraft, autonomous, halo, Lyapunov