Proximity operations of nanosatellites in Low Earth Orbit
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A mission architecture consisting of two NASA LONESTAR-2 satellites in Low Earth Orbit is considered. The craft are equipped with cross-communication radios and GPS units. Analyses are conducted for ejection, thruster and attitude maneuvers to achieve objectives of the mission, including sustained communications between the craft. Simulations are conducted to determine the duration of the communication window following the initial separation of the two craft. Recommendations are made to maximize this window while accounting for attitude constraints and the effects of atmospheric drag. Orbital mechanics and control theory are employed to form an algorithm for filtering GPS position fixes. The orbit-determination algorithm accounts for the effects of drag and Earth’s oblateness. Procedures are formed for verifying the initial separation velocities of two spacecraft and for measuring the velocity imparted by impulsive thruster maneuvers. An algorithm is also created to plan the timing and magnitude of corrective thruster maneuvers to align the orbital planes of the two craft. When the craft pass out of communication range, a ground station is used to relay data and commands to conduct state rendezvous procedures. A plan for coordinated attitude maneuvers is developed to strategically utilize the cumulative effects of drag and orbit decay to align the craft over long time periods. The methodologies developed here extend prior research into close proximity operations, forming the foundation for autonomous on-orbit rendezvous under a broader set of initial conditions.