With the emergence of a new space-to-space servicing sector, along with the return of manned missions beyond low earth orbit, there is an increased need for quick, efficient, and most of all, safe Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO). An additional next big step forward may be true manufacturing in space, which could take advantage of swarms of small satellites cooperating in close proximity to each other, all subjected to the same laws of orbital mechanics. Currently, there is a lack of knowledge about how to safely operate a swarm of spacecraft in close quarters in a dynamically changing environment (i.e., a “space construction site”), without creating a high risk of collision and/or potential debris creation.
Rahul Rughani is a PhD candidate in Astronautical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He is working on orbital optimization techniques for swarm rendezvous. The focus of his research is to enable in-orbit manufacturing, satellite aggregation, and close-quarters robotic inspection of satellites, using small and medium sized satellites in Earth orbit. His most recent work involves the use of Genetic Algorithms to generate and optimize trajectories for large swarms of spacecraft engaged in cooperative manufacturing in low-Earth orbit. He has also worked as a system engineer on Cubesat projects for the University of Southern California’s Space Engineering Research Center, led by Professor David Barnhart.