Tech Briefs

A Ka-band integrated range and bearing- angle formation sensor called the Autonomous Formation Flying (AFF) Sensor has been developed to enable deep-space formation flying of multiple spacecraft. The AFF Sensor concept is similar to that of the Global Positioning System (GPS), but the AFF Sensor would not use the GPS. The AFF Sensor would reside in radio transceivers and signal-processing subsystems aboard the formation-flying spacecraft. A version of the AFF Sensor has been developed for initial application to the twospacecraft StarLight optical-interferometry mission, and several design investigations have been performed. From the prototype development, it has been concluded that the AFF Sensor can be expected to measure distances and directions with standard deviations of 2 cm and 1 arc minute, respectively, for spacecraft separations ranging up to about 1 km. It has also been concluded that it is necessary to optimize performance of the overall mission through design trade-offs among the performance of the AFF Sensor, the field of view of the AFF Sensor, the designs of the spacecraft and the scientific instruments that they will carry, the spacecraft maneuvers required for formation flying, and the design of a formation-control system.

This work was done by Jeffrey Tien; George Purcell, Jr.; Jeffrey Srinivasan; Michael Ciminera; Meera Srinivasan; Thomas Meehan; Lawrence Young; MiMi Aung; Luis Amaro; Yong Chong; and Kevin Quirk of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Dean Paschen of Ball Aerospace Technology Corporation. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at under the Electronics/ Computers category. NPO-30813.

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