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Efficient Auto-Tracking of Objects during Spaceflights

Activity Type
Implementation progress
05 May 2022

Duration: 6 months


Autonomous tracking of space objects using low-profile hardware is of interest in the context of deep space motion imaging [1] with applications like active debris removal (ADR) [2]. One important aspect of such tasks is the precise position and orientation estimation of objects in space, which has been addressed within two ESA challenges using individual images only [3]. However, for ADR a complete tracking approach has to be realized i.e., information of subsequent detections must be merged to obtain a robust target localization estimation across the different phases of the chasing manoeuvrer. During these phases the target appears in very different distances and positions as well as with time-varying orientation as seen from the chaser. Changing image backgrounds and a wide range of illumination conditions must be tolerated in this process. An autonomous tracking system (auto-tracker) should adapt in real-time to these changing conditions and thereby optimize the image quality for the subsequent detection process. This can only be achieved with a processing unit being closely coupled to the image capturing device or, in other words, with an “intelligent camera”. Therefore, the main objective of this Study is to proof [or disproof] the concept of an "auto-tracker using a field-programmable gate-array (FPGA)-based digital-zoom camera", which fulfils requirements of spaceflight applications with respect to real-time operation and computational resources. The following challenges associated with such auto-tracker shall be addressed in this Study: (1) hardware-aware optimization and quantization of machine learning algorithms suitable for the task addressed in [3] and their efficient implementation in a spaceflight-qualified FPGA; (2) development of a real-time closed-loop algorithm between the processing unit and the image sensor; and (3) use of an animation rendering engine to mitigate the domain gap problem associated with synthetic images.

Contract number
OSIP Idea Id
Related OSIP Campaign
Open Channel
Main application area
Space Safety
Topical cluster
Efficient Auto-Tracking of Objects during Spaceflights