Design of the European Lunar Penetrator (ELUPE) Descent Module Controller

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To obtain unambiguous ground truth of water-ice residing in permanently shaded regions of the Moon and to characterise the local regolith, ESA considers a mission involving an instrumented penetrator implanted there by high-speed impact. Released into lunar orbit, the European Lunar Penetrator (ELUPE) Descent Module will autonomously traverse a controlled trajectory to its designated target. The associated attitude control problem involves highly nonlinear large-angle slew manoeuvres and unstable minor-axis spin manoeuvres. To establish a benchmark, a controller based on classical control techniques was designed, verified and tested in a simulation. Legacy control algorithms were implemented and extended. A thruster management function was developed to translate the control commands into thruster actions. For the simulator, accurate models of the descent module and its environment were created.

A Monte Carlo simulation was run to determine the success rate of the ELUPE mission from a descent-and-landing perspective, and to assess the performance of the controller under off-nominal conditions. From the results, it was found that the success rate was 58.5% for a surface slope of 20°, and 74.2% for a slope of 10° or lower. Key factors affecting the success rate were identified to be the centre-of-mass offset and the solid rocket motor thrust misalignment angle. As further constraining these parameters would be unrealistic, it was recommended to modify the thrust curve of the solid rocket motor to improve the success rate.

Analysis of the attack angle and the nutation angle just prior to impact, revealed their success criteria were met in 98.7% and 99.8% of all cases, respectively. These successful results confirmed the attitude control problem could be satisfactorily solved by a 'classical' controller. However, despite its good global performance, the proposed controller was found to also exhibit some serious shortcomings. For this reason, it was recommended to explore the possibilities for a different controller.

To the best of the author's knowledge, this thesis represented the first known attempt at designing a comprehensive controller for a fully actuated, thruster-controlled penetrator mission targeted for an airless body. In addition, it was the first known study to provide insight into the feasibility and success rate of such a mission from a descent-and-landing perspective.