Autonomous Formation Flying of Spacecraft


Formation Flying of satellites is an area of increasing interest in the field of technology demonstration and science. The concept allows for the establishment of a distributed space segment able to achieve objectives that are far exceeding of what the sum of the individual space elements can achieve. Enhanced coverage of space and time are among the unique opportunties which formation flying offers. The concept of formation flying will be addressed with its scientific and technological opportunities and challenges.

A key area of research within formation is guidance, navigation and control for autonomous formation flying. For modeling of the relative motion, typically the Cartesian formulation of the Hill-Clohessy-Wiltshire (HCW) equations are applied. However, a more suitable representation is given by the relative orbital elements which are less commonly known. Their introduction allows to formulate safe separation strategies in a straight-forward manner. Also, perturbations to the HCW equations may be expressed in an appropriate manner when using relative orbital elements. Examples of using this representation for the autonomous control of a satellite formation will be given. The sizing of the control system for formation flying will be covered as well.

The topic of formation flying of spacecraft will be presented embedded in the context of the educational, research and development projects currently conducted at the Department of Space Systems Engineering (SSE), Faculty of Aerospace Engineering of Delft University of Technology.