Star Vision Technologies
1 April 2005 – 31 October 2005
Co-P.I.David W. Lund
Total award $30,000
This program is an experimental feasibility assessment of an innovative and robust Autonomous Aerial Refueling System (AARS). The system has been tailored to specific powered munitions and will provide significant battlefield enhancements by allowing persistent and sustained air operations. The AARS proposed is the result of several years of studies and feasibility assessments and includes a novel vision-based relative navigation sensor, an Intelligent Supervisory Control system and customized refueling hardware. Leveraging prior feasibility assessments, the proposed Phase I effort will include an innovative flight experiment including the critical components of the AARS, a Boeing Phantom Works donated vehicle, and ground support contributions from the Texas A&M University’s Flight Mechanics Lab. The proposed Phase I flight experiment will help benchmark a high fidelity simulation model of the AARS with a powered munition. The flight experiment will address key feasibility issues and mitigate risks of conducting a Phase II aircraft-to-aircraft demonstration of the AARS in a relevant environment.
Successful unmanned refueling operations require a control system to govern the receiver approach, fuel system prep, stand-off, proximity engagement and hook-up. There are also aborts, emergency separations and fuel system shutdown commands that will have to occur under the direction of the overall AARS supervisory controller. Texas A&M University has developed a unique intelligent supervisory control system for automated rendezvous and docking that is being licensed to StarVision Technologies and Sargent Fletcher Inc. The intelligent supervisory control system leverages decades of manned refueling experience from Sargent Fletcher in a rules-based finite state logic machine. An appropriate communication system is used to transfer navigation information from tanker to receiver. The intelligent supervisor resides as code within the tanker and receiver flight controllers.
For refueling powered munitions with strict volume and mass constraints a new type of fuel delivery, vehicle mating, and receiver probe mechanisms were required. Sargent Fletcher has developed a set of customized and unique refueling hardware assemblies that include the triangle boom, the flycatcher, and the microprobe.
Our team has devised an innovative technique to validate the feasibility of the AARS in a relevant flight environment by leveraging significant hardware and facility contributions from the team members. The experiment will include a receiver vehicle flying in proximity to a moving target mounted from a truck. The experiment will be conducted at the Texas A&M University Flight Mechanics Lab (FML). The receiver air vehicle will pursue and dock with a target mounted on a moving truck. A mast is mounted to the truck to locate the VisNav beacons above the wake of the moving truck. A cage is provided to allow for radio control (RC) piloting of the receiver vehicle for aborts and emergencies. This also allows the RC pilots to be within visual range of the receiver throughout the proximity operation.
This low-cost and innovative flight experiment approach coupled with high fidelity simulations will allow the AARS to advance to a higher technology readiness level and proceed along the roadmap to an aircraft to aircraft docking demonstration. The data obtained from this experiment will allow the AARS team to modify the high fidelity Maltab/Simulink models with actual flight data and use the simulations to then test the AARS in a greater set of possible mission scenarios.
Specific tasks and research objectives:
- Develop overall system architecture and coordinate the requirements and interfaces of the AARS. The main product is a coordinated set of tasks that efficiently produce the desired combination of simulation and flight experimentation.
- Tailor the Intelligent Supervisory Control architecture to the specific application of the AARS. The output of this task is the software code that is compatible with the demonstration vehicle and a potential tanker vehicle (for Phase I this is a moving truck).
- Develop a high fidelity simulation of the planned flight experiment that can be calibrated with actual flight data. This task will result in MATLAB/SIMULINK based simulation of the receiver vehicle and a model of the moving truck. This task includes development of models, controllers and anticipated flight trajectories, and evaluation of the simulated versus actual data.
- Prepare the ground vehicle and support equipment for the flight experiment.
- Integration of the AARS components into the receiver flight vehicle and conduct the flight experiments.
Working with me on this program are Graduate Research Assistants:
- Jeff Morris
- Tom Wagner
- James Doebbler