Purdue University Graduate School
LaFarge_Thesis.pdf (5.89 MB)

Autonomous Guidance for Multi-body Orbit Transfers using Reinforcement Learning

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posted on 2020-05-01, 19:04 authored by Nicholas Blaine LaFargeNicholas Blaine LaFarge
While human presence in cislunar space continues to expand, so too does the demand for `lightweight' automated on-board processes. In nonlinear dynamical environments, computationally efficient guidance strategies are challenging. Many traditional approaches rely on either simplifying assumptions in the dynamical model or on abundant computational resources. This research employs reinforcement learning, a subset of machine learning, to produce a controller that is suitable for on-board low-thrust guidance in challenging dynamical regions of space. The proposed controller functions without knowledge of the simplifications and assumptions of the dynamical model, and direct interaction with the nonlinear equations of motion creates a flexible learning scheme that is not limited to a single force model. The learning process leverages high-performance computing to train a closed-loop neural network controller. This controller may be employed on-board, and autonomously generates low-thrust control profiles in real-time without imposing a heavy workload on a flight computer. Control feasibility is demonstrated through sample transfers between Lyapunov orbits in the Earth-Moon system. The sample low-thrust controller exhibits remarkable robustness to perturbations and generalizes effectively to nearby motion. Effective guidance in sample scenarios suggests extendibility of the learning framework to higher-fidelity domains.


NASA Grant 80NSSC19K1175


Degree Type

  • Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics


  • Aeronautics and Astronautics

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Professor Kathleen C. Howell

Additional Committee Member 2

Professor James M. Longuski

Additional Committee Member 3

Professor David A. Spencer

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