Autonomous On-board Orbit Control: Flight Results and Cost Reduction


Microcosm, under Air Force Research Laboratory (Space Vehicles Directorate) and internal funding, developed and flew the first fully autonomous, on-board orbit determination and in-track 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. Implementing autonomous orbit control significantly reduces operations costs, eliminates many of the traditional payload planning cycles, and creates added system robustness. In addition, 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 onorbit) 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. This paper provides results of the flight demonstration and discusses the cost reduction associated with implementing this technology.

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Wertz, J.R., G. Gurevich. JHU/APL Symposium on Autonomous Ground Systems for 2001 and Beyond, Laurel Maryland. April 25–27, 2001.