Estimation algorithm for autonomous aerial refueling using a vision based relative navigation system



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Texas A&M University


A new impetus to develop autonomous aerial refueling has arisen out of the growing demand to expand the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). With autonomous aerial refueling, UAVs can retain the advantages of being small, inexpensive, and expendable, while offering superior range and loiter-time capabilities. VisNav, a vision based sensor, offers the accuracy and reliability needed in order to provide relative navigation information for autonomous probe and drogue aerial refueling for UAVs. This thesis develops a Kalman filter to be used in combination with the VisNav sensor to improve the quality of the relative navigation solution during autonomous probe and drogue refueling. The performance of the Kalman filter is examined in a closed-loop autonomous aerial refueling simulation which includes models of the receiver aircraft, VisNav sensor, Reference Observer-based Tracking Controller (ROTC), and atmospheric turbulence. The Kalman filter is tuned and evaluated for four aerial refueling scenarios which simulate docking behavior in the absence of turbulence, and with light, moderate, and severe turbulence intensity. The docking scenarios demonstrate that, for a sample rate of 100 Hz, the tuning and performance of the filter do not depend on the intensity of the turbulence, and the Kalman filter improves the relative navigation solution from VisNav by as much as 50% during the early stages of the docking maneuver. For the aerial refueling scenarios modeledin this thesis, the addition of the Kalman filter to the VisNav/ROTC structure resulted in a small improvement in the docking accuracy and precision. The Kalman filter did not, however, significantly improve the probability of a successful docking in turbulence for the simulated aerial refueling scenarios.