A formation estimation architecture for formation flying builds upon the local information exchange among multiple local estimators. Spacecraft formation flying involves the coordination of states among multiple spacecraft through relative sensing, inter-spacecraft communication, and control. Most existing formation flying estimation algorithms can only be supported via highly centralized, all-toall, static relative sensing. New algorithms are needed that are scalable, modular, and robust to variations in the topology and link characteristics of the formation exchange network. These distributed algorithms should rely on a local information- exchange network, relaxing the assumptions on existing algorithms.

In this research, it was shown that only local observability is required to design a formation estimator and control law. The approach relies on breaking up the overall information-exchange network into sequence of local subnetworks, and invoking an agreement-type filter to reach consensus among local estimators within each local network. State estimates were obtained by a set of local measurements that were passed through a set of communicating Kalman filters to reach an overall state estimation for the formation.

An optimization approach was also presented by means of which diffused estimates over the network can be incorporated in the local estimates obtained by each estimator via local measurements. This approach compares favorably with that obtained by a centralized Kalman filter, which requires complete knowledge of the raw measurement available to each estimator.

This work was done by Nanaz Fathpour and Fred Y. Hadaegh of Caltech and Mehran Mesbahi and Marzieh Nabi of the University of Washington for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-46902

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.