Throughout the years, the Vanderbilt NASA University Student Launch Initiative teams have devoted significant energy and effort to developing innovative solutions to modern aerospace challenges within a fast-paced eight month design cycle. The team believes in exceeding the expectations required for success by pushing ourselves to implement novel technologies and concepts into applications that are extendable to real-world implementations.
The 2019-2020 proposes to design a mission sequence with three additional challenges: air-based sampling, autonomous navigation, and UAV recharging. The payload systems will deploy from sa ground-based, horizontally-oriented payload bay on the rocket. The payload bay will autonomously reorient until the UAV faces skyward to allow for successful UAV unfolding and deployment. A manual remote input will trigger UAV takeoff. The UAV will then autonomously detect the nearest sampling site and navigate the shortest path to the site.
The UAV will follow an autonomous sampling procedure when it arrives at the sampling site. The sampling tool will be capable of collecting samples from terrains that may be difficult to land on. Sampling will occur with the UAV hovering. After sample collection, the UAV will return to the rocket, where it will deposit the sample and recharge. With sufficient power, the UAV will launch from the rocket and collect a sample from a second sampling site. This will be a reliable and repeatable sequence for long-term space missions which may additionally carry long-term energy storage/conversion devices.
UAV air-based sampling
Autonomous navigation will be performed without the use of GPS or a magnetometer, since these devices would not be useful in a real-world space exploration mission. Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (V-SLAM) algorithms will be used to accurately localize the UAV as it flies to the sampling zone and to build a map so the UAV can retrace its path back to the rocket for docking. The system will be robust enough to relocalize in case of tracking failure and will have a manual override in case of a flight failure.