Formations of Microsatellites: Maintaining Satellites in Free Orbital Formation

Abstract:

Microsatellites have become a major player in the recent thinking of space agencies. The fast development time, low cost and exploitation of technological advances make small satellites very powerful tools for space applications. The potential to use low cost satellites for multi-point measurements by employing large numbers of satellites in a single mission will enable us to develop a much greater understanding of our local space enviroment and Earth monitoring on the large scale.

This talk will look at the potential for putting groups of satellites into similar orbits about Earth so that they remain in close proximity to each other over the mission lifetime. Since small satellites are limited in propellent budget, then we will look to formations that exploit the natural dynamics in low Earth orbit to the full. We shall discuss dynamical models of the motions of such formations of satellites, how to place satellites into a predefined formation, and the long term modelling of their behaviour. The models presented will form the basis of estimation and control alogrithms that will enable Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd to realise formation flying missions in LEO in the near future.