An attitude estimation was examined in fractioned free-flying spacecraft. Instead of a single, monolithic spacecraft, a fractionated free-flying spacecraft uses multiple spacecraft modules. These modules are connected only through wireless communication links and, potentially, wireless power links. The key advantage of this concept is the ability to respond to uncertainty. For example, if a single spacecraft module in the cluster fails, a new one can be launched at a lower cost and risk than would be incurred with on-orbit servicing or replacement of the monolithic spacecraft.
In order to create such a system, however, it is essential to know what the navigation capabilities of the fractionated system are as a function of the capabilities of the individual modules, and to have an algorithm that can perform estimation of the attitudes and relative positions of the modules with fractionated sensing capabilities.
Looking specifically at fractionated attitude estimation with startrackers and optical relative attitude sensors, a set of mathematical tools has been developed that specify the set of sensors necessary to ensure that the attitude of the entire cluster (“cluster attitude”) can be observed. Also developed was a navigation filter that can estimate the cluster attitude if these conditions are satisfied.
Each module in the cluster may have either a startracker, a relative attitude sensor, or both. An extended Kalman filter can be used to estimate the attitude of all modules. A range of estimation performances can be achieved depending on the sensors used and the topology of the sensing network.