Jean de Lafontaine is President and founder of NGC Aerospace Ltd, and Professor at the Université de Sherbrooke. He graduated in engineering physics at the Royal Military College (Kingston, Canada) and obtained his PhD in aerospace engineering at the University of Toronto. From 1982 to 1986, he worked for the Canadian Government on the development of a military satellite project. From 1986 to 1996, he was employed with the European Space Agency (ESA) as a satellite system engineer both at ESA and at the NASDA Tsukuba Space Centre near Tokyo (now JAXA). Jean returned to Canada in 1996, became a professor at the electrical and computer engineering department of the Université de Sherbrooke and founded his company NGC Aerospace Ltd. As the president of his flourishing company NGC Aerospace Ltd, Jean currently manages a number of space projects with the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and various aerospace companies. He also continues to teach control system theory as a professor at the Université de Sherbrooke. One of his many achievements was the development of the flight code for the PROBA-1 spacecraft (launched in 2001), the first fully autonomous and automatically-generated guidance, navigation and control software to be flown by the European Space Agency. The innovative PROBA design philosophy has been extended to the PROBA-2 (launched in 2009), PROBA-V and PROBA-3 spacecraft as well as planetary exploration vehicles to the Moon and Mars.
Traditionally, the control of Earth satellites has relied and still relies on human intelligence at the ground station instead of computer intelligence on-board the spacecraft. Recent developments in powerful space-qualified microcomputers, computer-aided software engineering tools and failure-detection-identification techniques have displaced the equilibrium point in this trade-off toward more autonomy. In this context, the European Space Agency (ESA) initiated in the 1990's the PRoject for On-Board Autonomy (PROBA) with the objective of demonstrating the benefits of on-board autonomy. The program also prepared the way for missions where autonomy is essential, such as planetary exploration missions.
This presentation will describe recent developments in the autonomous guidance, navigation and control (GNC) of space vehicles achieved through the PROBA program. It will review the innovative work that enabled the migration of the GNC functions from the ground control station to the spacecraft on-board computer, leading to the concept of `satellite for the non-expert'. In addition to PROBA-1 and PROBA-2 accomplishments, which have accumulated more than 12 years of flight experience, the latest innovations in autonomous spacecraft control developed for PROBA-V and PROBA-3, both under development, will be briefly reviewed. The presentation will proceed with the recent extensions to the PROBA technology for application to robotic planetary exploration missions where autonomy is an enabling technology for Orbiter, Lander and Rover operations. The presentation will conclude with a review of the benefits and drawbacks of spacecraft autonomy so far observed via the PROBA program, and with an outlook on the remaining challenges to be addressed.