Computationally light attitude controls for resource limited nano-spacecraft

Craig David Maclean, Daniele Pagnozzi, James Biggs

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

4 Citations (Scopus)
202 Downloads (Pure)


Nano-spacecraft have emerged as practical alternatives to large conventional spacecraft for specific missions (e.g. as technology demonstrators) due to their low cost and short time to launch. However these spacecraft have a number of limitations compared to larger spacecraft: a tendency to tumble post-launch; lower computational power in relation to larger satellites and limited propulsion systems due to small payload capacity. As a result new methodologies for attitude control are required to meet the challenges associated with nano-spacecraft. This paper presents two novel attitude control methods to tackle two phases of a mission using zero-propellant (i) the detumbling post-launch and (ii) the repointing of nano-spacecraft. The first method consists of a time-delayed feedback control law which is applied to a magnetically actuated spacecraft and used for autonomous detumbling. The second uses geometric mechanics to construct zero propellant reference manoeuvres which are then tracked using quaternion feedback control. The problem of detumbling a magnetically actuated spacecraft in the first phase of a mission is conventionally tackled using BDOT control. This involves applying controls which are proportional to the rate of change of the magnetic field. However, real systems contain sensor noise which can lead to discontinuities in the signal and problems with computing the numerical derivative. This means that a noise filter must be used and this increases the computational overhead of the system. It is shown that a timedelayed feedback control law is advantageous as the use of a delayed signal rather than a derivative negates the need for such a filter, thus reducing computational overhead. The second phase of the mission is the repointing of the spacecraft to a desired target. Exploiting the analytic solutions of the angular velocities of a symmetric spacecraft and further using Lax pair integration it is possible to derive exact equations of the natural motions
including the time evolution of the quaternions. It is shown that parametric optimisation of these solutions can be used to generate low torque reference motions that match prescribed boundary conditions on the initial and final configurations. Through numerical simulation it is shown that these references can be tracked using nanospacecraft reaction wheels while eigenaxis rotations, used for comparison, are more torque intensive. As the method requires parameter optimisation as opposed to optimisation methods that require numerical integration, the computational effort is reduced.
Original languageEnglish
PagesPaper IAC-11-C1.6.8
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2011
Event62nd International Astronautical Congress 2011 - Cape Town, South Africa
Duration: 3 Oct 20117 Oct 2011


Conference62nd International Astronautical Congress 2011
Country/TerritorySouth Africa
CityCape Town


  • nano-spacecraft
  • time delay
  • geometric control
  • repointing


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