Space shuttle/space station docking simulation

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 1 June 2000



(2000), "Space shuttle/space station docking simulation", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 72 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Space shuttle/space station docking simulation

Keywords The MathWorks, NASA, Simulation

The MathWorks, Inc. informs us that researchers at NASA Ames Smart Systems Group have developed a 3D interactive space shuttle/space station docking simulation by utilising solutions from both companies. NASA's simulation combines the power of EAI's WorldToolKit and The MathWorks' MATLAB. This docking simulation is a preliminary step of the design phase for a "smart controller", a computerised joystick control with various types of feedback that can potentially aid in safer and more efficient docking of the space shuttle to the international space station.

"WorldToolKit brings to life the precise mathematical and physics calculations solved by MATLAB. These computations are visualised in a realistic 3D simulation for navigating the shuttle and simulating the intricate movements that are vital to a successful space shuttle/space station docking," said Dr Robert Mah, senior scientist at NASA's Smart Systems Group. "With the technology we've developed, aided by these tools, we can avoid many of the challenges experienced in the 1997 Mir Space Station docking accident. Combining the strengths of MATLAB and WorldToolKit greatly accelerated the time it took to develop this cutting-edge simulation."

The scientists at NASA are developing this project to improve the safety, accuracy and efficiency of spacecraft docking. The Mir space station docking accident, which occurred in 1997, exemplifies the kind of disaster that can occur if docking is not performed optimally. The Smart Systems Group of NASA Ames is addressing the problem by applying neurocontrol technologies that can learn, in near real-time, changes in spacecraft properties and performance characteristics. Mathworks' MATLAB software tool is used for algorithm development and EAI's WorldToolKit tools are used for 3D simulation. The simulated docking of the space shuttle is guided by computerised joystick control. This controller can "learn" the behaviour of the space vehicle under different conditions - including a change in its mass properties - and utilise this knowledge to dock it safely and efficiently. By analysing the behaviour of the spacecraft and optimising trajectory, the controller is able to minimise fuel consumption and maximise safety.

"NASA's docking simulation exemplifies the power of the MATLAB and WorldToolKit combination, providing users a comprehensive solution to harness MATLAB's simulation and modeling capabilities," said John Binder, manager of aerospace/defense marketing at The MathWorks. "By providing advanced algorithm development, modeling, simulation and analysis tools. The MathWorks continues to support its third-party partners like EAI in developing cutting-edge technology."

Details available from: The MathWorks. Tel: +1 508 647 7417.