Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

First Advisor

Richard G. Cobb, PhD


Many current and future spacecraft missions must conduct rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) with resident space objects (RSOs). An important subset of spacecraft RPO that is yet to be demonstrated on-orbit involves final approach maneuvers with respect to RSOs where no information (such as geometry, inertia, relative velocity, etc.) is known about the target a priori, and no information is actively provided by the target during maneuvering. Such operation with respect to ‘unknown’ targets represents an important possible mission set for Department of Defense spacecraft and is the subject of this research. Two visual servoing frameworks capable of autonomously controlling complex RPO maneuvers with respect moving unknown targets are proposed. Computer vision pipelines for each framework are developed and demonstrated. Both pipelines assume a stereo camera is the only sensor available for relative navigation during maneuvering and require only a single training image of the target to initiate maneuvering. A six degree of freedom simulation and the Air Force Institute of Technology’s robotic RPO simulator Control and Autonomy Space proximity Robot (CASpR) are used to demonstrate the methods during complex maneuvers with respect to moving unknown targets. It is shown that both frameworks are capable of being implemented in real time using low cost, size, weight, and power hardware and require minimal pre-maneuver inspection of the target. The methods presented in this work represent compelling alternatives to other proposed methods for RPO with unknown targets, as they do not require estimation of target inertia or rely on complex simultaneous localization and mapping algorithms to generate potentially brittle relative pose estimates.

AFIT Designator


DTIC Accession Number