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-to-all, static relative sensing. New algorithms are proposed that are scalable, modular, and robust to variations in the topology and link characteristics of the formation exchange network. These distributed algorithms rely on a local information exchange network, relaxing the assumptions on existing algorithms.

Distributed space systems rely on a signal transmission network among multiple spacecraft for their operation. Control and coordination among multiple spacecraft in a formation is facilitated via a network of relative sensing and inter-spacecraft communications. Guidance, navigation, and control rely on the sensing network. This network becomes more complex the more spacecraft are added, or as mission requirements become more complex.

The observability of a formation state was observed by a set of local observations from a particular node in the formation. Formation observability can be parameterized in terms of the matrices appearing in the formation dynamics and observation matrices. An agreement protocol was used as a mechanism for observing formation states from local measurements. An agreement protocol is essentially an unforced dynamic system whose trajectory is governed by the interconnection geometry and initial condition of each node, with a goal of reaching a common value of interest. The observability of the interconnected system depends on the geometry of the network, as well as the position of the observer relative to the topology.

For the first time, critical GN&C (guidance, navigation, and control estimation) subsystems are synthesized by bringing the contribution of the spacecraft information-exchange network to the forefront of algorithmic analysis and design. The result is a formation estimation algorithm that is modular and robust to variations in the topology and link properties of the underlying formation network.

This work was done by Nanaz Fathpour and Fred Y. Hadaegh of Caltech and Mehran Mesbahi and Amirreza Rahmani 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-46812

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

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

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