Autonomous On-Board Orbit Control: Flight Results and Applications

Abstract:

Microcosm, under Air Force Research Laboratory (Space Vehicles Directorate) and internal funding, developed and recently flew the first fully autonomous, on-board orbit determination and intrack and cross-track control system. Results show the technology maintaining in-track position to ± 1 km indefinitely while using less propellant than traditional orbit maintenance. This technology provides a capability never previously available: specifying a satellite’s position months, if not years, in advance with great ease and accuracy with simple geometric calculations rather than complex orbital mechanics and propagation. This will allow all system components (ground based and on-orbit) to know factors such as the current location of all satellites in the system, location and direction to the nearest satellite, parameters of current or future ground passes, when satellite transitions occur, and when a given satellite will next be over any location for all future times. For constellations, the technology eliminates the need for re-phasing as the in-track position is maintained as well as the altitude. Implementing autonomous orbit control significantly reduces operations costs, eliminates many of the traditional payload planning cycles, and creates added system robustness. This paper provides results of the flight demonstration and discusses additional applications of this technology.

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Gurevich, G., R. Bell and J.R. Wertz. AIAA 2000 Conference and Exposition, Long Beach, CA. September 19–21, 2000.