Embotech kicks off project with ESA

ETH Spin-Off embotech announced the start of a development project for the Future Launchers Preparatory Program of the European Space Agency. The project will bring European space flight one step closer to automated, flexible launch mission planning and reusable launcher technology, enabling the autonomous return of launch vehicles to earth.

Established in 2013, embotech developed numerical optimization software which powers complex real-time decision making engines in a variety of applications. Last week, embotech commenced their software development project, “On-board real-time trajectory generation”, together with the Future Launchers Preparatory Program (FLPP) of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Currently, a significant amount of time and effort is spent on planning the path a spacecraft will take from launch until the end of the mission. Current guidance and control systems have to rely on these precomputed scenarios and have only very limited possibilities to react to unforeseen changes such as system failures or last-minute mission changes.

Embotech will use its automatic code-generation tool FORCES Pro to implement an online guidance and control tool that will make it possible to compute optimal spacecraft trajectories on-board in real-time for a variety of space flight scenarios. The technology, which is already used to optimize energy management in next-generation long-haul trucks and optimally control industrial robots, will be further improved to meet the demanding software standards that are necessary to ensure reliable and safe space flight.

Reducing time and cost Being able to change path during mission execution and re-compute an optimized trajectory on-board the vehicle can significantly reduce the time and cost for complex missions and is a necessary requirement for reusable launchers like the SpaceX Falcon 9. These launchers are exposed to highly variable conditions during re-entry and have to react in real-time to unforeseeable atmospheric effects to arrive at the landing site with pinpoint precision. Together with experts from ESA ESTEC and FLPP in Noordwijk and Paris, Embotech will work towards making Europe's launchers more flexible.

"We are excited and honoured to be given the chance to use our mathematical optimization technology to advance European aerospace capabilities", says embotech CEO Juan Jerez. "This project will also improve the performance and robustness of FORCES Pro, which will benefit our current and future customers all over the world. The same tools and algorithms that can get a launcher from earth to orbit, Moon, or Mars can also be used to take decisions on autonomous cars or quadrotors", as shown by the autonomous RC car racing project at the Automatic Control Lab at ETH Zurich.

(Picture: ESA Twitter)