Satellite Formation-Flying for Future Space Science and Exploration


Tuesday, August 02 2016 - 12:00 pm, PDT
Simone D'Amico
Stanford University

Two key technologies are revolutionizing the way humans conduct spaceflight, namely, the miniaturization of satellites (e.g., micro- and nano-satellites) and the distribution of payload tasks among multiple coordinated units (e.g., spacecraft formation-flying, on- orbit servicing/robotics, fractionation, swarms). The combination of these techniques promises breakthroughs in space science (e.g., through imaging of earth-like planets, characterization of gravitational waves), remote sensing (e.g., through synthetic aperture radar interferometry, gravimetry), and exploration (e.g., on-orbit servicing, assembly of large structures).

Irrespective of the specific application, future formation-flying missions require a high level of autonomy to maintain and reconfigure the relative motion of the participating vehicles within the prescribed accuracy and range of operations. Since these requirements cannot be generally met by state-of-the-art spaceborne technology, the goal of current research is to pave the way for the autonomous Guidance, Navigation, & Control (GN&C) of the participating space vehicles.

After an introduction of the author’s contributions to the most recent satellite formation- flying missions in low earth orbit (TanDEM-X and PRISMA), this presentation will address the astrodynamics and GN&C algorithms which are under developments to enable a new class of formation-flying instruments. A novel low-cost mission concept developed by the author is introduced, the so-called miniaturized Distributed Occulter/Telescope (mDOT). mDOT consists of two small formation-flying satellites precisely positioned in high elliptical orbit to directly image exozodiacal dust and exoplanets. Finally, the high-fidelity virtual reality and physical testbed under development at Stanford for the verification of the formation-flying sensors and navigation algorithms will be described.

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