A Descent Rate Control Approach to Developing an Autonomous Descent Vehicle
AuthorFields, Travis Duane
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Circular parachutes have been used for aerial payload/personnel deliveries for over 100 years. In the past two decades, significant work has been done to improve the landing accuracies of cargo deliveries for humanitarian and military applications. This dissertation discusses the approach developed in which a circular parachute is used in conjunction with an electro-mechanical reefing system to manipulate the landing location. Rather than attempt to steer the autonomous descent vehicle directly, control of the landing location is accomplished by modifying the amount of time spent in a particular wind layer. Descent rate control is performed by reversibly reefing the parachute canopy.The first stage of the research investigated the use of a single actuation during descent (with periodic updates), in conjunction with a curvilinear target. Simulation results using real-world wind data are presented, illustrating the utility of the methodology developed. Additionally, hardware development and flight-testing of the single actuation autonomous descent vehicle are presented.The next phase of the research focuses on expanding the single actuation descent rate control methodology to incorporate a multi-actuation path-planning system. By modifying the parachute size throughout the descent, the controllability of the system greatly increases. The trajectory planning methodology developed provides a robust approach to accurately manipulate the landing location of the vehicle. The primary benefits of this system are the inherent robustness to release location errors and the ability to overcome vehicle uncertainties (mass, parachute size, etc.).A separate application of the path-planning methodology is also presented. An in-flight path-prediction system was developed for use in high-altitude ballooning by utilizing the path-planning methodology developed for descent vehicles. The developed onboard system improves landing location predictions in-flight using collected flight information during the ascent and descent. Simulation and real-world flight tests (using the developed low-cost hardware) demonstrate the significance of the improvements achievable when flying the developed system.